‘We want a house that has windows on all four sides,” he explained. “Not everywhere on all four sides but enough so that each room has light coming in from two directions. That is very important.”
As he learned more and more about what worked and what doesn’t work in underground home design, Oehler began to find his own comfort zone. He called his inexpensive low-tech approach to building “PSP” for post/shoring/polyethylene, and he is particularly proud of what he calls his “uphill patio.” The uphill patio is a terraced space that allows for light, gardening space, outdoor grilling and water run-off.
Throughout the interview, Oehler mentioned the many advantages of living in an underground home, or what he prefers to call an earth-insulated home. Among the benefits:
- Less property tax.
- Warm in winter and cool in summer.
- Serves as fall-out shelter with radiation protection.
- No foundation needed.
- Low maintenance.
- Sound proof.
- Increased growing space.
- Environmentally sound.
- Weather resistant
Probably the most striking thing about Oehler’s designs is that they do not have the feeling of being underground. In fact, largely because of their use of natural light, the homes seem traditional from certain perspectives.
“With an earth-integrated house, you are working with the earth, not overwhelming it,” Oehler said, adding that some Native American tribes saw the advantages of living underground centuries ago.
He finds home sites “by instinct.”
“I will sleep at the site for a while to get a feel for the space,” he said. Although he cannot do the construction of the homes he designs any longer due to health reasons, Oehler said his home sites are all hand dug. He enjoys digging and finds it to be good exercise.
One downside of his underground home in Northern Idaho? It is attractive to bears. Oehler has had more than one very close encounter with a bear who thought Oehler’s abode looked appealing.
Although Oehler thinks the soil in Northern Idaho – with its mixture of sand, silt and clay — is ideally suited to underground homes, he said you can build an underground home anywhere.
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