Earth House

This rustic haven was “green” and “off the grid” well before those terms were coined, and four decades later it is still self-reliant and durable. The small earthen-roofed cabin enjoys a panorama of the Green Mountains while nestling into a hillside field that all but hides it from view. Conceived and built during the oil embargo, it continues to draw virtually all of its energy from the sun and the earth.


Private Residence

Location Green Mountains
Size 600 Sq. Ft.
Year Completed 1975
Photo Credit Centerbrook

Supported by thick, insulated concrete walls, the wood roof structure is crowned with 18 inches of sod, camouflaging the entire 600-square-foot hideaway, except for the sunlight-reaping southwest façade of clapboards and glass. A wood-shingled porch shades the summer sun, while its decorative gable recalls the vernacular of New England farms.

Daylight streams through four skylights at the rear of the wooden cave to keep the subterranean rooms bright in winter and well ventilated in summer. Interior finishes for the bedroom, a reading/sleeping nook, and the kitchen, bath, and living rooms are local wide-board white pine along with exposed two-by-twelve Douglas fir rafters, arrayed six inches on center to bear the considerable weight of saturated earth. Maple bobbins made locally for cotton mills are set into the walls, like Shaker pegs, to organize vacation necessities efficiently, living space being at a premium.

When the weather outside is frightening – as in 30° below zero F – the inside, even when vacant, survives handily at more than 30 degrees above zero. Though lights alone warm the rooms in spring and fall, occupants can stoke a wood stove to be toasty warm in deepest winter.

While a gas generator powered water pumps in the past, newly installed solar panels now declare complete independence for a hearty dwelling that has stood the test of time and harsh Vermont winters. Sustainable then, even more so today.

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  • Design Award, AIA New England