Underground house

Going down….Earth house
In cool Canada, there are varied examples of homes unconnected to local power and water.

Anthony Ketchum, 70, lives part-time in his weekend cottage in the Hockley Valley, a 20-minute drive from Orangeville, Ont.

His house gets its electricity from seven photovoltaic panels that feed a battery bank. A small wind turbine boosts the system in winter months.

“We took the plunge to be off-grid and heat the house from earth sheltering,” says Ketchum, who lives in Toronto.

The 4.2-acre property is on a steep hillside, and the house was built a decade ago. Two sides of the three-bed, two bath home are below ground. So it benefits from natural geothermal heat and stays above 10 degrees even in winter, with no added heat source. A wood fire is all it takes to keep things comfortable.

The south and west faces are exposed, with large windows to capture solar heat. The house also has custom krypton-filled windows that are heat mirrored (an interior film effectively makes them triple-glazed) and insulate to R8. The windows cost about $12,000 Canadian, Mr. Ketchum says, but “over time they paid for themselves.”

Although it is a getaway cottage for him and his wife, he estimates that if it were heated for year-round use, it would take about a cord of wood a year, at a cost of about $600. When he does use wood, it is burned in a special masonry heater that is common in Scandinavia; it weighs six tonnes and holds heat long enough to keep the place at room temperature for 24 hours, he says.

“You have to learn how much [electricity] you can use,” Mr. Ketchum says of living off-grid. “We have to be careful how much we use and know how much everything uses.” The pump for the well, for example, draws a lot of power.


By choosing energy-efficient appliances and using the electricity carefully, the couple enjoy many conveniences including power tools, a vacuum cleaner and a dishwasher. But inefficient ones that convert electricity use to heat, such as a clothes dryer or hair dryer, are out.

The house has two composting toilets and a 9,000-litre underground cistern fed by rainwater from the roof.

“I can’t stand the waste of electricity in our society and am not a fan of nuclear. I grew up in a time when you conserved electricity,” Mr. Ketchum says “The chance to do something off-grid was a dream I had that I never thought would be possible.”

2 Responses

  1. I am interested in building a true OFF GRID home in northern Nevada. I have seen many building layouts on the internet, but little in the way of actual functional systems. I wish to have adequate knowledge prior to commiting to a methodology or an architect. Concrete construction methodology, which is best (poured foundation and block, precast ceilings, or entirely poured systems, etc.)? Ventilation, circulation and air exchange? What is the best fireplace construction? Waterproofing, drainage? Sewage disposal? Rain and snow harvesting? Water purification? Most efficient solar and wind generation? Best back up generator? Is your home truley OFF GRID? Do you have actual system plans?

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