Lord of the Rings showed the world that everyone should live like a hobbit. They party all night, embrace nature and live in cozy, earth-sheltered homes. Recently, Green Magic Home, a Florida-based startup, launched a custom home kit that lets you live out your Shire-inspired dreams with peace and confidence.
From a distance, the group’s offerings appear to be a direct path to sustainable living. Engineers create a design based on your personal preferences, which is then loaded into a system that generates the frame of the home. The piece is delivered to your neighborhood and dirt is packed on top. It’s up to you what you want to plant in the soil. You could grow thick grass or vegetables that thrive in roughly eight inches of soil (according to the FAQ). The cost for the living quarters is priced at $41 per square foot of shells. Most homes on display range between spacious and tiny-home living.
The technology behind the green houses is simple. Like putting on a blanket, the thick soil is supposed to provide steady insulation to trap heat during the winter, and cold air during the summer. In theory, this makes perfect sense. But on paper, well let’s just say that you’re better off investing in a homemade log cabin.
“They are also not taking into account that in northern climates, frozen soil has not much of an R value at all; dirt is a lousy insulator. In fact, judging from the installation photos, these would be useless in cold climates without a lot more insulation and a lot more dirt on top,” wrote Lloyd Alter from Treehugger. “However it appears that most of these are going into warmer climates where the thermal mass of dirt can be very useful at keeping the place cool.”
So if you’re residing in regions with devastating winters, it’s probably not a good idea to live in earth-sheltered houses. In addition to poor insulating qualities, the way Green Magic Home manufactures the bunkers could make any devoted hobbit run towards the hills in disgust. The startup uses fiber-reinforced plastic panels with questionable resins for the frame. Such materials are not only toxic to the environment, but also poisonous when burned. Ideally, the group should’ve considered using reinforced concrete. The only downside with the heavy material is the space it takes up onsite. Builders would also need to waterproof the top with expensive plastic, which can be costly. In the end, the company’s homes defeat the whole purpose of earth-sheltered housing. According to Malcom Wells, an expert in green architecture and design, the buildings should be able to support the natural environment by consuming its own waste or footprint.
“…We live in an era of glitzy buildings and trophy houses: big, ugly, show-off monsters that stand–or I should say stomp–on land stripped bare by the construction work and replanted with toxic green lawns. If the buildings could talk they would be speechless with embarrassment, but most of us see nothing wrong with them, and would, given the opportunity, build others like them, for few of us realize that there’s a gentler way to build,” highlighted Wells.