Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In the Beginning There was a Hill

We purchased the property in May 2008 and shortly thereafter had a rough idea where our earth sheltered house would be located.

Part of the Hillside Where the Earth Sheltered House Would be Located
Before we could finalize our house design, we needed to know how the land was laid out so the house would fit into the hillside and not interfere with the surrounding trees. Our daughter Jennifer and I took our rod and level out to the hillside in June and July 2008. Then we waded through weeds and brush over our heads, and swatted mosquitoes and bees to get an elevation profile on a 10' by 10' grid.

Elevation Profile with Top View of Earth Sheltered House Superimposed
This image shows the hill's elevation profile obtained from the rod and level measurements. North is to the right and about 42.5° above horizontal. We took the elevation measurements from right to left, starting at the top of the surveyed area, and then we worked our way down the hill. We assigned zero elevation to the upper-right corner. The hill drops about 37' to the lower-right corner. Each line represents a one foot change in elevation. The elevation numbers are negative, so the hill slopes downward from top to bottom in the image.

The elevation profile shows that the hill slopes downward roughly toward the southeast. We wanted a relatively narrow, rectangular house with its long side facing south so that we could take maximum advantage of solar heating. But this meant that the house would not fit very well into the hillside. As a compromise we split the house into two overlapping rectangular pieces and rotated the second part counter clockwise 45°. When we laid the modified drawing out on the surveyed profile, it wouldn't fit within the trees that we wanted to keep. In the end we had to rotate the second part of the house counter clockwise 55° as shown in the drawing above. The modified house fit better into the hillside as well.

The above drawing also shows a bunch of tubes and two junction boxes. They are part of the Passive Annual Heat Storage (PAHS) air movement system, which I will describe in another post.

Patricia and I at the Base of the Hill the Day Before Excavation Begins
Here we are, standing at the base of the hill that will never be the same starting tomorrow. Excavation for the earth sheltered house began September 8, 2009. The weather was clear and dry for the few days it took to move the many, many cubic yards of dirt. And then it rained and/or snowed for the next ten months (well, just about every day, it seems.)

This Sad-Looking Hillside is Ready for Our House
This is what the hillside looked like on September 11, 2009. I took the photo from about 30' east of where the northeast corner of the garage will be. The view is roughly to the west. On the far right of the image is where the root cellar will be located. To the left of that will be the garage and entryway portions of the house. And beyond the dozer and around the 55° corner will be the rest of the house.

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