LIBERTY HOMES     Liberty House

Earth-formed : Earth-sheltered Building

Presently, provision of living quarters for oneself and one's family demands more time and effort than perhaps any other necessity of life. This new method of construction can provide more than just shelter. Clean water, fresh produce, cost-free warmth and cooling, and increasingly important protection from extreme natural and social disruptions are possible contributions of its design.  Persons strong in body can manually hand-build their own homes with minimal instruction, and with much less expenditure of energy and materials than required by standard construction. 

At present, underground and earth-bermed structures constructed with "state of the art" methods are even more costly to build than conventionally built, exposed, 'stick-built' structures. Usually about 20% higher.  Special attention must be paid to structural strength, careful insulation (unprotected, wet soil is a negative insulator with an unmatched capacity for drawing heat out through a wall, ceiling or floor). Meticulous moisture-proofing, and the added costs for excavation and earth-moving are required.  The extra labor and materials costs for form-work and for skilled concrete work also adds to standard underground or bermed construction methods. 

The Liberty Home method uses structurally optimized arched and domed shapes formed by sculpting the earth on location, then pouring or shooting concrete over the form, casting a relatively thin monolithic shell. The earthen forms can be carved either by hand or with equipment depending on circumstances and size.  Little or no wooden, metal, or expensive inflatable membrane form-work is required. All pouring and/or shot-crete work is performed  safely on the exterior of the form, not from underneath as some thin-shell concrete methods require. Working with gravity, not against it is safer, faster, easier and less costly.

Creating an easily placed insulating and moisture-proofing umbrella over, and extending beyond the perimeter of the entire structure, eliminates the need for insulation of all walls, ceilings, and floors. This is avoided since the natural dynamics of this method take great advantage of absorption of heat through the walls in summertime, and storing it in the protected huge earthen bank surrounding the structure. In the wintertime the btu's then move back through the walls and into the cooler living spaces. This happens spontaneously, and at no cost and maintenance year after year. 

In the summer time, the direction of the heat flow naturally reverses. This insulating umbrella concept allows for non-uniform, irregular, free-form design without the limitations is design usually required for insulation from moisture and heat. 

Although a visible southern exposure can be designed to most any chosen appearance, a greenhouse can adds a great deal of heat into the heat bank when desired, and can fine-tune the temperature by simply opening a door or vent. At other times, the temperature of the greenhouse itself can be warmed by the earth sheltering the home. 

This greenhouse's bell-shape aerodynamically aids air circulation and convection into the house when desired. The latest models are designed to actually generate some electricity from the convection of warm air, gaining in velocity as it rises through the decreasing volume under the the bell-shaped glazing. The central windowed "goblet" serves several functions, including water distillation, water-heating, variable hued lighting, humidity regulation and use of other low-tech, natural principles.


  Cut-away view of the Liberty House    

A Liberty Home (and other-use structures) are formed in the earth, using mounded and sculpted earth as a reverse mold as illustrated in this animation. Shot-crete or poured Portland cement mix is applied over the earthen hemi-spherical mound. After Construction animationsetting and curing of the concrete, the soil is removed from under the reinforced shell and placed on top of it. More earth is then bermed over the structure. Then the shelter and surrounding earth bank is covered with an umbrella comprised of several alternating layers of insulation and polyethylene sheeting, extending beyond the perimeter of the structure 20'. The insulating, water-shedding, 'umbrella' itself is then covered with more earth sufficient to adequately support growth of vegetation for ground-cover. 

If heavy equipment is not available or affordable, it is feasible that the entire form can be hand-sculpted with only a shovel and other hand tools.  It is surprising how much dirt can be moved by one healthy person in a short period of time. .. or even by an aging, out-of-shape codger such as myself. The reverse mold for my 20' diameter model was created in only twelve hours of hand-digging with a spade. A design including several such intersecting domes instead of a single, larger diameter dome, still makes hand-digging of multiple-roomed structures possible.  

A small 'Bob-Cat' type back-hoe/front-end loader or excavator, a powered conveyor belt, or for larger buildings, larger earth moving equipment, obviously can get the job done much quicker and with less muscle power.

Many circumstances in the near future will prove labor-intensive activity of positive benefit, rather than a burden. Otherwise unemployed persons can build their own homes...and help others build theirs. There are few localities with soil structure or water-table issues where provisions cannot be worked around to allow such a structure to be built. Earth formed, sheltered buildings can be constructed completely above ground by mounding earth (and other) materials for use as a form, and then bermed over with earth. They can be designed to be built partially below grade and partially above ...  or completely underground. 

The greatest negative now is the requirement for Portland Cement and iron reinforcement materials such as rebar and welded wire mesh. These materials are costly in terms of the environment and the huge CO
2 emissions involved in manufacturing and transportation. Someday soon, hopefully both of these materials too can be replaced with structurally safe, and less environmentally harmful and local materials. 

Considering the low maintenance and incredible life-span of these structures, the environmental costs amortized over the long-term are probably less, even now, than those for standard construction methods and materials. Until other ways are perfected to support the weight of the soil, to the author, a real necessity for the days ahead, using concrete may be the only safe way to build underground or earth bermed structures. 


(09/2008)  I am presently hopeful about the recent developments in passing CO2 from the atmosphere and power plant smoke stacks, through sea water to produce a calcium magnesium cement, similar to the biological creation of shells and corals. The day may soon arrive when building with concrete structures will be used to sequester excess carbon we have already placed in the air by burning fossil fuels. My reservations are turning into excitement again. If the concrete already being produced can be made as hard as clam shells perhaps we can do without the rebar altogether. Now that would be great, would it not?

And the second material, iron, used for reinforcement, now appears to be surpassed in many ways by the production and sale of basalt (lava) products, many times lighter and stronger than iron. This makes building domes a whole lot easier and faster, with no deterioration of the shell by rust or different coefficients of expansion and contraction between concrete and the reinforcement.

Check out .


Earth-forming can be used to create buildings of any size and most any purpose. The method particularly lends itself to inexpensive storm shelters and emergency protection from many catastrophic circumstances, including nuclear blast and fall out. (Three feet of earth will reduce the amount of gamma radiation 1000 times over an unprotected area.) This and other benefits result from berming the finished shell with bermed earth. 

The buildings can be built underground, undetectable to passers-by.  Entire communities can be designed, with environment friendly structures for shops, common areas, emergency shelters, workshops, and storage facilities. The structures can be well lighted, and ventilated ... artistically designed , satisfying and pleasing to the eye, and made to blend harmoniously with the environment. 'Underground' does not necessarily mean cave-like.  From root-cellars, saunas, special livestock shelters, from plain-domed shapes to free-form sculpted rooms ... shopping malls? churches? all earth-formed and earth-sheltered at lowest cost available.

"Dirt-cheap" housing, healthful, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing should be a reality for anyone who needs and desires it. Gifts from the Creator: Earth, the Sun and all the laws of nature, available for the responsible use and taking. All other creatures seem to have accomplished this. Why can't we humans?

Being earth sheltered, storms can blow, temperature records broken, earthquakes can shake, fires rage. This may be the safest place to sleep and live in the chaotic days ahead, not just for emergency shelter. With the use of simple, age-proven principles, there may still be life left to carry on, and still standing structures to use in the new start. 

My first hand-dug, earth-sculpted
 'form' for a 20' dia room took only 
12-hours to dig

Earthen Reverse Mold Domes

The top half of the dome stands
  5' above grade, and the bottom
half, 5' below grade.

These pictures do not convey very well the size and mass of the earthen hemi-sphere. The hand-dug trench around the dome is a minimum of four-feet wide at the top, five-feet deep, and at least eighteen inches wide on the bottom. Cave-ins which could entrap one while digging are a risk at this depth, so be very careful if you decide to try it yourself.  Wider trenches would be no problem using earth-moving equipment.

The next step will be to smooth the dirt surface by scraping and packing, and placing rebar for reinforcement, preparatory to pouring the concrete shell.  The footing for the structure is poured the same time the rest of the monolithic shell is shot or poured. The flooring, if not treated earth, but concrete, is poured after the earth is removed from under the set and cured shelled.

Working alone with only a shovel and dig bar, this form for a model large enough for a guest house/storm/fall-out shelter/root-cellar, or any other purpose room, like I say took twelve hours of actual work to complete.  

For the next model I dig, The sides of the below-grade base of the earthen form will be near vertical, allowing for more usable floor space. This will form the walls, and consists of undisturbed earth, holding it's shape well and easily carved. The more horizontal domed cap rests on this firm base and is easily packed, shaped and smoothed.

A dome this size can comprise one of several  rooms in a multiple domed structure, all, or some, completely earth protected.

I have decided I will focus on making this first structure as secure as possible from storm and whatever might eventuate: all surfaces will be covered and protected with at least three-foot of earth.  It will be illuminated within by a solar-tube, rather than exposed windows, and the entrance ways are designed with a 90 degree bend to prevent radiation penetration. The next room to be built will provide more windows for outside views and light. More details will be included as work proceeds. GAB

Update: April, 2003

When I first took shovel in hand and began work in our field here in Northern Neck, Virginia, I basically wanted to test my idea of digging out a circular trench, throwing the earth into the center of the scribed circle.  I was aware that the water table rose pretty high at times, so I didn't intend to  finish a structure for permanent living quarters; perhaps for use as a root-cellar or emergency storm shelter. Since moving here, the water table had not risen above five feet below-grade, the depth of the floors of this model. 

Well, this Spring and Summer, with very few days that it did not rain, and I can report that the water table does rise higher here. In fact up to within inches of the surface, and it remained this way for many days.  If I had completed the cement shell and floor, it may have probably floated right out of the ground, or at least had five feet of standing water inside.  

Another result of this rare weather pattern was that there were very few days when conditions were suitable for pouring or 'shooting' concrete.  I am adding this to my growing store of information.

For anyone keeping tabs of progress on my own experiments using these methods, I am reporting there has been none.  When time comes that I can consider beginning again in this high water-table location, I will probably use mounded earth or other material as the reverse form, piled above grade level, then earth berm over the entire structure after the shell is 'shot'. Another option I am considering is running a French drain around the perimeter of the building and across the field 200 feet into a deep creek gully, as much as 15 foot Lower than the floor level of the house.  With the proper equipment, this would be feasible. What the land-use inspectors might have to say is another matter.

This high water table also seriously limits the PAHS (Passive Annular Heat Storage) umbrella methods of heating and cooling I am
enthusiastic about trying.  20' of dry, protected soil is required around the perimeter and underneath the floor of the structure creating the huge insulated soil bank desired for heat-storage. I am interested in hearing from anyone that wishes to experiment with these ideas in a more suitable locale, i.e., somewhere where the water table remains 20' below the surface.

Again, my intention, when I can, is to mound soil (and other items such as straw bales  for fillers) above grade, smooth, then apply reinforcement and concrete, and berm over the hardened shell.  If you do any experimenting with these methods, or use them, or have any other suggestions and comments, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. I still intend, as soon as possible to publish illustrations of  working models along with instructions based on hands-on builder's experiences. 

A SketchUp model of a Liberty House design I am working on  (01/09)

A Sketchup 3-d model slideshow 

Thanks for your interest     Gerald Brittell

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