Monthly Archives: March 2014

Bored of whats on TV?  Considering building your own earth sheltered home? Check out these episodes of Grand Designs

The host, Kevin McCloud,  is usually a bit pessimistic, and some times the home owners do struggle.  But it is certainly one of the best TV series on the challenges of custom home building and they have a number of episodes on underground homes.

You can find even more examples if you just want episodes about homes with green roofs, or eco homes.


Posted on March 22, 2014 by

Mid March Update…


Posted on March 15, 2014 by

Progress Update

Well, according to our Gantt chart (schedule), my wife started getting permits last week…  Except we are not actually there yet.  Instead we will be filing banking paperwork on Monday.  I don’t want to bother with the permits until the loan is approved.  And we were waiting on a tax return and an extra paycheck to beef up our funds before we applied for this year.  So, its a good thing I padded the schedule a bit so this delay shouldn’t affect the date we hoped to break ground.  I am still nervous about dealing with the mortgage company though.

Virtual Build

Things have been a bit busy at work and I am working on a paper for my “adult onset MBA”, so progress on the virtual build has been slow the past few weeks.

I did manage to get the Skylight curbs on. They look like industrial chimneys now, but they will be mostly covered in earth and that should soften them up.  I may need to adjust their elevations a little.   Originally, I had them over the showers.  I installed skylights above the showers in my current home and I really enjoy showering in the sunlight.  Of course, it would be a lot easier for someone to just walk up and look in the skylights of an earth sheltered home, so I will need to use frosted glass.  The architect moved them to the middle of each room (for symmetry).  But the virtual build revealed that I would need to cut central steel arches, so I moved them back.

I also worked a bit on the front of the house.  I got the steel structure up in the front wall and added the concrete sun shade to the front of the house.  It still has a long way to go.  For instance, I need to put the steel structure to support the concrete shade, add a bunch of roof structures and the front door is still missing.


One thing to note is the way the foundation dips on the right hand side…  This is the cost of having a basement that comes closer to that corner.


As we get closer to the build, I have been getting updated prices on things like the steel arches.  The price has actually come down some what.  Also, since I get charged “by the bend”, regardless of how long the bend is, I have adjusted the order so that pieces of the same radius can be bent as one long piece and then be cut to length.  That will save me some money.

I did find that the 5/8th inch thick steel support plates that the engineer specified in many locations are somewhat difficult to find.  All the steel suppliers I called said they would need to order that specially for me.  I had only needed a few square feet, and special ordering has some minimum area requirements which will raise the cost for me significantly…  Not sure what to do about that yet.

Do-it-yourself Electrical?

The biggest change to my sourcing plan was due to a conversation I had with an electrician two weeks ago.  He is out of the business now, but still licensed in my state.  He looked at my pictures and said he could understand why the bids were so high.  Electricians don’t want to figure out how to do my unusual house when they can just get regular jobs.  The FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) translate into a high bid.  But there were also real reasons why it would cost more.  They would need to use more conduit, need to more carefully secure the boxes, etc.

He suggested that I should just do it myself.  I told him that I was already planning on taking on too much of this build myself.  I have wired a few outlets and lights, but never something as serious as an electrical panel or a large as a whole home (or even a whole room)…  He said he thought I was smart enough to take care of it and I could save 3/4 of the bid price.  Anyway, I am seriously thinking about it and got several books on wiring and the electrical building code this week.  I do know some home builders who did their own electrical.  Perhaps, I will do most of it and hire someone to come out and give it a once over…?  At the very least, I can handle my own “finish” electrical.

We also attended a local building show this week.  It cost us $10 at the door, plus we bought some of those roasted nuts for $6 more…  Those shows are never really worth going to, are they?  We talked to a few people, but nothing really changed.


Well, I am up to about 2700 visits a month (over 5000 page views), which isn’t bad even if half of those are robots or mistakes.  This past month I had a couple interesting encounters on the web.

Comment on other sites?

First, someone on the the Malcolm Wells Yahoo group posted a link about Earth Tubes.  I jumped on it right away and found it was my page on Earth Tubes, but on another site.   It was the sort of site that has a number of revenue generating adds and the writing at the top of the page said “Written by David”.   They had done a full copy and paste, so the images were actually still on my site, but hyper-linked into place.  The site had no contact information anywhere on it, but using some Google search, I found a video related to the site.  Scrolling down in the YouTube chat, I found where “David” had a conversation with someone and ended up giving his email address.  From that I was able to find his google+ page and his LinkedIn page.  Eventually, I even found his mailing address (in the USA).  I emailed “David” and asked them to give credit where it is due.

While waiting for a reply, I looked around the site and found that pretty much everything was just copied from other sites, but all claiming to be written by David.  About 2 hours later, he wrote me back to say he was sorry and had added a line at the top with my name and a link to my website…  Oh well.

I saw another website (in Czechoslovakia) had also linked to my site and described it as a “very long, but detailed, overview of Earth tube design”.  I guess I need to work on being more concise ;^)

Comment on my site?

Of course, the opposite also happens.  I had referred to Larry Larson on my page about Earth Tube design.  However, while I gave him a “nod of the hat” as an expert in the field (literally since he professionally installs earth-tubes out in the “field”), I disagreed with his opinion that the tubes need to be corrugated and laid in a serpentine path to generate heat exchanging turbulence.  I also made some generally disparaging remarks about the use of corrugated HDPE pipe ;^).

Larry contacted me.

Actually, nothing too dramatic.  He just wanted to discuss my concerns.   He writes even longer emails than I do, but we had a number of back and forth email exchanges.  It may not be quite over yet, but I am still pretty certain that his serpentine layout is detrimental to performance.  However, I have softened on my critique of the corrugated pipes in general.  He argues that they win in terms of “bang for buck”, and perform well if installed well.  When I have the time, I will go back and adjust my text a little.

One good thing that came out of our exchange is that Larry is going to post some earth tube performance data on his site.  The data (which I am privileged to have already seen) shows the inlet and outlet temps and humidity of the earth tubes in his own home (in Iowa) over a 10 year time frame.  He showed me some graphs and they were pretty interesting, but the samples were taken by hand.  He said that my soil temperature experiment inspired him to get some small data loggers from Thermoworks and install them in his home and in some of the other homes that he installed earth tubes for.  Including one that has better performance than his own home.  He plans to publish the graphs of the inlet and outlet temps for each home every 3 months or so.

I also plan to adjust my plans a little and have a corrugated earth tube come into my new home “for experimental purposes”.  If it causes any problems, I will just block it off.  The delta cost will be small since I plan to use my drain tile for the job.


Eye Candy March


Posted on March 2, 2014 by

  1. Eye Candy

Eye Candy

After that last boring budget post, lets take a look at some fun eye candy.