No one type of housing solves all problems and presents no new concerns. In this respect earth-sheltered housing is not different. Although it reduces energy consumption, enhances the environment and provides increased protection from climate, noise and disasters, it also poses problems in cost control, construction and financing. Also, the public perceives earth-sheltered housing as being experimental and novelty. The result is that many unnecessary, unobjective and unfair barriers to this type of construction exist in building codes, zoning ordinances and especially financing. Such impediments were assessed by the Underground Space Center at the University of Minnesota; the recommendations made to alleviate these impediments are reported in this article.
Most of the code provisions that might hamper earth-sheltered housing are prescriptive ones written with conventional construction in mind. They indicate specific ways in which such matters as fire egress and ventilation should be achieved. A performance-type code which states a general goal of what requirements must be met but which does not specify how they must be met may seem preferable for earth-sheltered or any other type of new construction. However, it also puts the burden of proof on the builder or owner. With performance codes, the builder must show that the construction and design will meet the performance requirements. This inevitably costs in additional time, work, money and hardship.
In general, there is no need or desire for separate standards to be applied to earth-sheltered housing in building codes. Modifications of existing codes can be made to apply to all types of housing. This could be done with any of the noted suggestions in the areas of: fire exits, natural light and ventilation, guardrails, prohibition of below-grade space, structural design, waterproofing, and energy use.