Do You Fancy Living In A Hobbit Hole?


Image: Evgeni Dinev/

People have adapted a great variety of concrete culverts, tunnels, mine shafts and abandoned missile silos into living spaces, and others have made a space from scratch. This is, effectively, a hobbit hole, and just like in The Hobbit, it could easily be “Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole and that meant comfort.”

You have more chance of building such a home than purchasing one, as most earth-sheltered homes were built by the owner, who is less likely to move, and there are no specialist estate agents for such a small market segment. Building your own would be deeply satisfying and allows for complete customisation, with an unending prospect of expansion. If you did attempt to buy an underground home, perhaps your best bet would be Green Moves, the only UK website dedicated to greener housing.

The easiest way to construct an underground home is by using modular construction, which is fast to assemble. Professional expertise will almost certainly be required. Advice can be gleaned from the Sustainable Building Association and British Earth Sheltering Association. The best soil in which to build is granular, such as sand or gravel. Cohesive soils along the lines of clay are the worst option. Groundwater is a major consideration. Building regulations must be met to assure the safety of occupants.

When it comes to a mortgage, perhaps the best option is the Ecology Building Society. Cost may not be a problem, as evidenced by Mike Oehler’s famed work, The $50 & Up Underground House Book. There’s no foundation, which constitutes a goodly chunk of the cost of a regular house, and less building materials and labour will be required for that reason and because, after all, the walls are earth. Excavation could itself provide materials like stone and gravel. Exterior walls will never need to be painted. So long as air is changed at least 0.5 times an hour, radon, found in the Earth’s crust, shouldn’t be a problem.

There’s a reason that deep within Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, behind two 3.5-foot thick steel doors, is the North American Aerospace Defence Command, NORAD. It can withstand a 31-megaton nuclear strike, so you’d have to use 32. Companies store valuable thingies underground, such as credit histories and other sensitive data. Living underground is safe. Although the United Kingdom does not see earthquakes of any note or tornadoes, the risk of a meteor strike a la Chelyabinsk is negligible, and nuclear war and Godzilla have yet to happen, there is no roof that can sustain hail damage, high winds are no longer a concern, noise is absent and the risk of fire is reduced, particularly if everything’s concrete, hence so is the cost of insurance. With fewer entry points, physical intrusion is harder. An underground home would be a place to run to, not from.

Another plus point is that temperature is constant, which was noticed even in prehistoric times, and is why the Blaenafon Cheddar Company stores specialist handmade cheeses in the 11-mile cave system of Dan yr Ogof, yielding a unique “cave cheese” taste. The caves were first explored by the brothers Jeff and Tommy Morgan in 1912; they took a revolver in case they encountered something nasty. In real life, there’ll be no troglodytes, and there’s no better place to keep wine.

Conservative energy use is the premier attraction of a subterranean home. Even unheated and in winter, an underground home won’t see less than 50 degrees of heat, saving between 85 and 90 percent of heating and cooling costs and ensuring that pipes never freeze. This is useful now that fuel poverty is a growing problem, and it also benefits the environment, with 6,400 pounds of carbon dioxide generated in the course of heating or cooling the average American home.

Given the cool temperature of the United Kingdom, particularly in the north, an underground home would be better for gardening. An underground greenhouse is known as a walipini, although it isn’t known much, and the word returns no results from, which checks dozens of dictionaries. The word comes from the Native American Aymara language and means “place of warmth.”

A walipini allows for gardening even in the harshest of weather conditions. Unless UV lamps are used, a window will be necessary, which should be made of a translucent material such a plastic rather than glass, as this filters out the rays of the light spectrum that inhibit plant growth. The location of a walipini calls for careful consideration to maximise the effects of the sun. Reflective walling makes the most of the available light. A manual is available if you wish to construct one yourself. Materials will cost about USD300/GBP191/EUR224.

When an underground home fails, it’s usually due to condensation, which leads to mould and mildew. Hence the home must be extremely well-insulated to keep the temperature of walls and ceiling approximately equal to that of the air within. Three inches of urethane or six inches of styrofoam will do the trick. Even so, it might be necessary to dehumidify.

You won’t be able to spend all your time underground. People derive physical and mental health from the sun. We have a circadian rhythm, a biological clock dictating sleeping patterns based on the cycle of sunrise and sunset. People require vitamin D, without which rickets – improper bone development – arises in children and the elderly experience bone loss. Vitamin D is also connected to immune system function and without it, hypertension results. Vitamin D is not obtained from external sources and is instead produced in the body through photosynthesis. Sunlight also generates serotonin, which creates a positive mood, and without it, seasonal affective disorder occurs.

With the population of the Earth rising steadily, interest in underground homes is likely to increase. All those people have to go somewhere. We speak here of the most aesthetically pleasing form of home, being practically invisible and making a pleasant change from a ticky tacky box of painted lumber or a hunk of concrete and steel. And you have to admit, it’s a hell of a conversation piece.

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

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