Intelligent Living
Modern tiny house
Housing Sustainability

A Bermed Home Is Extremely Energy Efficient And They Don’t All Look Like A Hobbit House

Earth-sheltered homes are popular among eco-friendly homeowners but they should be popular among everyone. They are storm-proof, earthquake and fire-resistant, plus extremely energy-efficient, soundproof, less susceptible than typical houses to extreme temperatures, and require less maintenance. These are all features anyone can appreciate.

Modern tiny house by Bercy Chen Studio
Bercy Chen Studio
Modern tiny house by Bercy Chen Studio
Bercy Chen Studio

Bermed Earth-Sheltered Homes

A berm house is one of two basic types of earth-sheltered house designs (the other type is – underground). A bermed house may be built above grade or partially below grade (If it is completely underground it’s not bermed), with earth covering one or more walls. They are created to integrate seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.

Earth sheltered home by Aloni

Elevational Bermed

Typically, they are constructed as a design called – “elevational” bermed – where one side (one elevation or face) is exposed and the other sides are covered with earth to protect and insulate the house, including even the roof sometimes. The exposed front of the house is facing south to allow the sun to light and heat the interior.

Earth sheltered home by Villa Vals
Villa Vals
Bermed home by Villa Vals
Villa Vals

The floor plan is arranged so that common areas and bedrooms share this light and heat from the southern exposure. To ensure adequate ventilation and daylight in the northern portions of the house, skylights are strategically placed in appropriate locations. An elevational bermed house is the least expensive and simplest way to build an earth-sheltered structure.

Pachacamac House

Penetrational Bermed

Another design type for a bermed home is called a penetrational bermed design. With this one earth covers the entire house, except where there are windows and doors. The house is constructed at ground level, and the earth is built up (bermed) around and on top of it. Unlike the elevations bermed that relays on one side only for exposure, this type allows cross-ventilation and access to natural light from more than one side of the house.

Luxury hobbit home
Luxury hobbit home


  • They offer protection from natural disasters like tornadoes and hailstorms.
  • House insurance costs are lower because of the extra protection against high winds, hailstorms, and natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
  • Climate control: It is less susceptible to the impact of extreme outdoor air temperatures (hot and cold) than a conventional house.
  • The home has a consistent indoor temperature all year round, cutting down on energy consumption.
  • It is more efficient to heat and cool thus resulting in energy cost savings of as much as 60-85 percent.
  • Less outside maintenance is required since most wall surfaces are not exposed to weathering.
  • Overall maintenance is cheaper. The piping for one is all underground so there is no chance of them freezing in cold climates. Plus, the homes are made of stronger waterproof materials so leaks are less of an issue.
  • The earth surrounding the house provides soundproofing. The reduced sound from outside creates a much quieter and serene interior environment.


  • The initial cost of construction can be up to 20% more than a conventional house.
  • There is an increased level of care required to avoid moisture (humidity) problems, both during construction and over the life of the house.
  • Because the home is less traditional looking reselling it tends to be more complicated and therefore buyers may also face difficulties with the mortgage application process.

Now when most people think of an earth-shelter they picture a Hobbit House… but they can look like anything you want them to; It all depends on the design. Imagine the possibilities.

Lakeside Retreat in Adirondack Mountains, New York
Lakeside Retreat in Adirondack Mountains, New York
James Turrell's Twilight Epiphany Skyspace on the Rice University campus in Houston.
James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace on the Rice University campus in Houston.

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