Waste of Space?

Some people despise hallways as a “waste of space”.   It seems like many of them go to extremes to eliminate hallways in order to reduce their costs.  This seems particularly true of earth sheltered home builders who are particularly cost conscious   I personally think hallways are essential for separating private space from public space, but that all hallways should do double duty to avoid the “waste” aspect.  This page will focus on design tips to get the most out of hallways in your earth sheltered home.

Many architects and home builders will talk about costs per square ft.  In the end, you will be able to take the cost of your home and divide it by the number of square feet and say something like, “my home cost 103$/sqft”.  The national average (in the USA) is about 87$/sqft for a mass produced home and closer to 150$/sqft for a custom home…  But certainly not all square feet are equal.  A square foot of bathroom or kitchen or stairwell costs much more than a square ft of bedroom or hallway.  Widening a hall by a couple ft adds very little cost but would allow you to get much more out of it.  You want to minimize your halls for several reasons, but you probably won’t save as much as you would like.

An image of the Entrance Hall at Bag End, not sure if this is from the LOTR trilogy or just fan art…

I recently came across this “architectural plan” for Bag End, the earth sheltered home of Bilbo Baggins as can be seen in “The Hobbit”, due out at the end of the year.  Most people who watch the movie or the earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy  love the look of his entry hall and other halls that are shown in the movie.  Looking at the house plan, I was struck by how much of the home is hallway.  In many cases, the halls are larger than the rooms they lead to or rooms can be reached by more than one hall way.  Part of this is due to the large number of rooms and the presumed “dug out” construction method that resulted in a sprawling house plan.

The “architectural plan” for Bag End, the earth sheltered home of Bilbo Baggins as can be seen in “The Hobbit”, created by Daniel Reeve, although I couldn’t actually find it on his website.


My own plan has lots of “bonus” rooms.  I tried to be more efficient than this, but found that I still had a lot of space “wasted” as walking space to get around.  Some of this is traditional “hallway” and some is just walking space thru rooms.  I hesitate to show my plan here because it is not finished, but I will talk about my own halls on this separate page (not uploaded yet).  Instead, lets look at what you should do…


Hallway Basics

If the home is small enough, or not shared by many people, hallways may be optional

As we discussed in “Earth Sheltered Basics”, passive solar and earth sheltering go well together, but work best if your home is only one room deep.  If you have more than a 3 rooms, without hallways, you would need to pass thru one room to get to another, like a rail road car.  I have actually seen this work well for a very small house where the bedroom was on one side, the bathroom on the other and a living/cooking space between.  But if you have more than a couple rooms and more than a couple people in your family, walking thru one room to get to the next is going to get awkward.

The more rooms or people you add to a home, the more awkward it becomes to pass thru rooms.

The solution is a hallway.  Starting from our long thin train car house concept, you could add a hall behind or in-front of the rooms.  The hall behind leaves the rooms up against the front wall of the house, which is a concept many people are more comfortable with.  Except that the entry is on the opposite wall, this is the typical “apartment layout” and many superbly efficient and livable designs are available.  A number of passive solar designers put the hall in front of the rooms and call it a “sunspace”.  This sun-space can be sparse to function as a more effective solar collector.  The wall between the bedrooms and the hall acts like a tromb wall and sheilds the bedrooms from uncomfortable daily fluctuations and glare.

Earth Sheltered homes frequently use a hall behind the rooms


Passive solar designs (such as “Earth Ships”) often use the hall as a “sunspace” in front of the rooms.


The rooms on the ends of the structure can be a little more efficient because the hallway only leads too them and not thru them, but the rooms between can “waste” 20 to 25% of the depth on hallway.

One way to alleviate some of this “waste” is to press the hallway into double duty.  Storage seems to be the easiest solution, but even mechanical room components and laundry facilities can be fit nicely in the closets along the back of a home.   If you have a separate room for these activities, you need a door and walking space within each room (and perhaps still a hall leading to the room).  But when you stretch these out along a hallway, the hall its self becomes the “walking space”.  Instead of standing in your laundry room, you are standing in your hallway.  Instead of walking the isles of your storage room, you just walk down your hallway.   This solution adds to the depth and increases the square footage in that area, but if you can remove a laundry, mechanical and/or storage room, the overall square footage could be reduced.  Again, this “hall closet” is a common design element found in space-saving apartments.

Running closets down the length of the hall allows it to perform a double duty, possibly saving space elsewhere.

This isn’t too bad in a smallish house (such as a 3 bedroom, 1 bath, living/kitchen/dining room), but it doesn’t scale well.  By the time you add a couple more bedrooms, bathrooms, a play room/den, office, workshop, etc. the one room deep layout becomes very inefficient.   The ratio of perimeter walls (and cost and heat loss) to floor space increases dramatically and you end up with very long and wasteful halls.   Eventually the house needs to be “folded” back on its self.  You can fold back vertically and get a two story house, or you can add to the depth and put rooms on the back side of your hallway (or both).

If you add a second story, you also need to add a second hallway, plus a stairway (which is even worse than a hall in terms of “wasted” space).  Some point to the savings of one roof to cover twice as much area, but don’t forget the additional costs and difficulty associated with working more than 10 ft off the ground.

If you put rooms on the back side of the hall, they can share the same hall way.  You can still keep the hall closets, but you need to provide openings to access the rooms behind.  Of course, these back rooms will not have easy egress, so you probably shouldn’t place bedrooms or “habitable” space back there.  But bathrooms and other “utility” rooms can be placed back there.  If you need egress on this back “earth covered” wall, you can add a light well with a fixed ladder or go with a “penetrational” earth shelter design (more expensive, more difficult, often more interesting) where you would add egress windows as needed.  If you just want sunlight in these back rooms, solar tubes or crestory windows are the easiest solutions.

As more rooms are added, it may become necessary to have more than one room deep


Other tips which I may illustrate later include…  If your hall runs along a public space, consider leaving it open as a “gallery” so its space can be shared.  If structural reasons require support, try columns (instead of walls) for a more open feel.  Longer halls can be depressing if the ends are dark.  Consider placing skylights at the end.  If there is a door at the end of a hall with a room beyond it, consider lining up a window in the room with the hall.   If there is a bathroom at the end of the hall, be mindful of the view and try to avoid positioning the toilet or shower in a directly visible position.  If the above layout used a crestory window to light the back rooms, you could line up the windows with closet doors below to give the impression of being closer to an exterior wall.  And so on…


Short Halls

Some times the hall is not strictly “needed” to help traffic flow around rooms, but a short hall should still be used to improve the “feel” of a home.

For instance, I have often seen cases where the home owner (architects know better) wants to “save” space by eliminating the hallways and decides to have rooms open directly into the great room.  However, the end result is a lack of privacy.

In this case, the home owners “saved” space by avoiding a hallway, but I think they lost more than they gained.

Adding a short hall in these situations can make the home feel much more relaxed.  It also looks better than having all those doors coming into the one room.  In this case, the hall doesn’t even waste space since it does double duty with the laundry.

Adding this short hall significantly reduces line of sight between the public and private areas of the home making it feel more comfortable.


In my own plan, I have a “central” hallway that connects a number of rooms.  It is a circular atrium which should bring in light and air.  In general, circles are not really space saving, but a small circular hallway lets a number of rooms connect in a small area with a short walk between them.


Response to Hallways

    • Thanks, I guess I thought those green bits were meant to be tea stains or something like that. Now I see someone tried to erase the wetanz watermark… I guess I will need to delete that picture now.

Leave a Reply