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Old 03-04-2007, 01:47 AM
Malienation Malienation is offline
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House height limits: why not just build down?

In a nearby town, there was some sorta scandal in which some builder built some houses higher than the maximum limit set by law. Apparently, he took advantage of the fact that there is some ambiguity in the definition of height. He got caught, sued, blah, blah, blah. He did this for some hifalutin' buyers who were pretty pissed, I assume, at the fact that now their houses are gonna have to be shaved down. What I wanna know is, if there are height restrictions, what's to stop builders from building down really far? Periodically, there are articles in the paper about some uproar about a huge house being built on a tiny lot. The neighbors always hate it. Not in character with the rest of the neighborhood, etc. Why can't the house be smaller above ground and simply go down further? Same square footage, less big scary house frightening old people and little kids. Are there laws to prevent this? Is it really that much more expensive to do this if it is legal? You'd think more people would take advantage of the sound insulation characteristics (both going in and out) of being surrounded by all of that earth. Yeah, I know, less windows means less natural sunlight. Still, privacy would abound. Builders?
Old 03-04-2007, 02:32 AM
Peanuthead Peanuthead is offline
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To build up is easy. There is nothing in your way. To build down you have solid earth that needs to be removed. Expensive. You may run into bedrock or even water which may make it impossible to go down more than a few feet. Also, it's not much of a selling point. As you stated, no windows means no sunlight, no view, and no fresh air (okay you'll have ventillation but it's just not the same). Then there's the claustraphobia factor. Just knowing that you're so far underground is enough to scare the hell out of a good number of folks, including myself.
As for the legality of it I don't know, but there are sure to be issues with utilities and local government.
Hmmm... just thought of something else. If you go down lower than the city's sewage/drainage system it creates a whole new set of problems. You'll need to prevent sewage and storm water from coming in, and have some way of getting waste water out, as the normal means of removing waste water from the home is gravity. More expense or legal barriers there.
I have seen underground houses on the TV and some of them are just beautiful works of art and arcitectural masterpieces but they are uncommon and probably very, very expensive.
Old 03-04-2007, 02:35 AM
lazybratsche lazybratsche is offline
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Well, local geography might make it impractical or impossible. My parents' house, for example, backs up to a marshy area. The basement, were it to exist, would extend below the 10-year flood plane. There could be other issues as well: rocky ground, shallow water table, etc.
Old 03-04-2007, 02:39 AM
boytyperanma boytyperanma is offline
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It gets very expensive to dig deeper and you run into more issues.

The equipment commonly used for excavating residential basements has limitations on how deep it can dig easily.
The deeper you go the wider the original whole is going to be or more time and money will have to be spent shoring up the ground around your pit.
Likelihood of hitting bedrock and having to blast increases.
If water tables aren't already an issue they can become one by going deeper.

If you manage build your multistory underground structure you then have to deal with other issues.

It is dark. It has no windows. More lights more ongoing cost.
It is cold. A basement is the most expensive area of a house to heat.(though it would save a bit on AC.)
It is wet. Moisture will always be an issue. More expensive steps can be taken in the construction phase to combat it but there will always be the raised possibility or mold or water damage.
Old 03-04-2007, 03:36 AM
NinetyWt NinetyWt is offline
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Originally Posted by lazybratsche
flood plane.
Flood plain. As in the rain-in-spain-stays-mainly-on-the-plain.

Here we have a lot of expansive clay soils. Basements are prohibitively expensive due to these soils. Also many 'burbs have height restrictions on buildings.
Old 03-04-2007, 08:08 AM
Booker57 Booker57 is offline
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Jumping out a window is possable, not so easy to crawll up thru the dirt.
Old 03-04-2007, 08:32 AM
seenidog seenidog is offline
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Ground water. It can be overcome, but not easily, or cheaply. Proof it can be done resides in missile silos, (some of which have been converted to other uses) but as I recall, they were not cheap. And as a person who has been through a house fire, I have to agree with Booker57. I didn't jump through a window, but running out the front door was incredibly handy as opposed to digging out...
I have this all thought out, what could possibly go wrong?
Old 03-04-2007, 08:39 AM
postcards postcards is offline
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Originally Posted by Booker57

Jumping out a window is possable, not so easy to crawll up thru the dirt.
I'm sure Booker57 meant impossible.

And that's exactly the reason why building codes (at least where I am, in the NYC-LI area) don't allow basements to be used as sleeping areas (bedrooms). This will further limit the viability of the project, unless the plan is to design the underground area as a giant gym.
Talking Pictures
Old 03-04-2007, 10:45 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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In many, many parts of the country there aren't any basements at all because the water table is so high. Nobody here has a basement.
Old 03-04-2007, 11:54 AM
anson2995 anson2995 is offline
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In many areas there's also the problem of radon gas.
Old 03-04-2007, 01:08 PM
Sonia Montdore Sonia Montdore is offline
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Building underground extensions is the trend in London, according to this article:
Old 03-04-2007, 03:16 PM
nivlac nivlac is offline
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The only houses I've seen built below ground are built on the side of a hill. The entry level is on the regular "street level", but the other stories are built below street level along the hill in the back. The square footage of such a house can be quite large.
Old 03-04-2007, 03:27 PM
Bobotheoptimist Bobotheoptimist is offline
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Originally Posted by boytyperanma
It is cold. A basement is the most expensive area of a house to heat.(though it would save a bit on AC.)
I suspect this isn't entirely true. Outside the upper floor of my house it was below zero recently, outside the basement wall it was 50 or so. The temp is fairly constant underground, I think.
Old 03-04-2007, 04:04 PM
Billdo Billdo is offline
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Another issue is the requirements for a legal bedroom. In most localities, a bedroom requires a window, among other things, which is impossible in a basement below one set partly above and below the ground.

Although there usually won't be building inspectors checking to see if anyone is sleeping in a room that isn't a legal bedroom, it won't be able to sold as a bedroom.
Old 03-04-2007, 05:48 PM
N9IWP N9IWP is offline
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What, no reference to the missle silo home?

Old 03-04-2007, 09:49 PM
Sleel Sleel is offline
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Underground homes are good green homes. An add-on will not be as good as a home designed from the start to be underground, but there are some good things about building down. Insulation is superb, you won't need much in the way of heating or cooling to keep it comfortable. Better use of land, can landscape on top of house. Properly designed, you will get quite a lot of natural light, maybe even more than a conventional building. Even without skylights, there are other ways to pipe light underground; optical fiber has been used in some places.

There's a Wiki article that covers some pros and cons.

At this point, underground homes can be a bit more expensive to build. Usually, the savings in energy offsets the greater initial cost though. Digging below an existing home is much worse than the case for a home that's built from scratch. Building codes are a problem in that some areas don't make provisions for non-standard construction. But often there's no good reason for denying approval other than it is different from what's in the code. Architects who have done underground designs are working with some of the best and most up-to-date stuff out there, so standards are often higher than most existing structures.

Personally, if I lived in tornado territory, I don't think I'd ever want a home that's mostly above-ground. I'd build that sucker to be practically flush with the ground. I spent a summer in Kansas with my aunt when I was about twelve. We had to go to the basement twice while I was there. I thought it was nuts to have a two-story house anywhere in the area.

There are at least two businesses that come up in a quick Google search on underground architecture. Both of them have been around for a while. The Earth Sheltered Technology site features a lot of stuff like what nivlac mentioned.
Terra Dome is a company that makes and designs construction systems.

There are a few other sites that are interesting.
Discussion about underground architecture.

Underground buildings, designed, planned, or built. Articles on principles.

Article on a unique design by designer/resident William Lishman.

His personal web page, with pictures.
Old 03-05-2007, 06:55 PM
chorpler chorpler is offline
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Originally Posted by postcards
I'm sure Booker57 meant impossible.

And that's exactly the reason why building codes (at least where I am, in the NYC-LI area) don't allow basements to be used as sleeping areas (bedrooms). This will further limit the viability of the project, unless the plan is to design the underground area as a giant gym.
Booker57 meant that it's possible to jump out a window if you build above-ground -- heck, even if you're in a big house and on the fourth floor or something dangerously high like that, they make nylon roll-up ladders that can be hooked over a window sill and unrolled to the ground in five seconds flat. But in a below-ground structure, there's no chance of getting out if the exits are blocked.
Old 03-05-2007, 09:26 PM
Full Metal Lotus Full Metal Lotus is offline
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Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
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Way up north..

In northern Alberta, Canada, and beyond, Basements can be problematic as permafrost (essentially ground that stays frozen all yr round) can be as little as 6 inches below grade, and it can go down far!

Imagine trying to heat a basement surrounded by frozen mud. Imagine what happens when the heat leaking out of your house begins to melt that watery dirt...

Old 03-06-2007, 01:39 AM
Critical1 Critical1 is offline
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the expense of digging the basement is a one time cost and wont really affect the over all price of a new home when you factor in the savings in heating and cooling year round. (yeah I know basements are cool...until the outside temp drops far enough at that point your basement is free heat)

that said I would love to have the silohome...anyone got a hundred mil laying around I can have?
Old 03-06-2007, 02:43 AM
mhendo mhendo is online now
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When my university built its current library in the 1960s, they didn't want a large "stack" building to ruin the look of the campus, so they built a six-floor building with four floors underground.

The aesthetic vision was fulfilled, but the fact is that such a small building is not large enough to house the main library of a major research institution. Tens of thousands of books are stored off-site, and have to be ordered and brought to the library. Admittedly, the order system generally works quickly and efficiently, but it's still a pain in the ass not being able to browse the stacks.

The university has finally realized that something needs to be done, and has a new library in the planning stage. Not sure exactly what the building will look like, or even where it will be.
Old 03-06-2007, 11:07 AM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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As far as permafrost, you generally don't want to build any sort of house on permafrost unless it is on jacks. Even houses without basements built on permafrost settle and the house will a wreck in a couple of years.

A house will melt the permafrost under it, the water will drain away, and the soil will settle, and your house will eventually disappear into a giant sinkhole. Not a good plan.
Old 03-06-2007, 11:32 AM
WorkInProgress WorkInProgress is offline
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Location: Down South, USA
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I know of a local executive who has made some excavation renovations to his home due to being in a historic district. He was unable to add-on due to the city regs for historic homes, the money difference was not a big deal and since the home is on a hill, he had plenty of room. As I recall the rooms were a wine cellar, a theater, a laundry room, a network/security system room, a bathroom, and a large area around the spiral staircase. All these renovations free'd up space on the upper floors.


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