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Earth-sheltered homes appealing

July 18, 2008
By MIRIAM MOELLER, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Lorana Jinkerson's house on Marquette's Altamont Street isn't easy to find. That's not because it's in a hard-to-get-to part of town, but because it is hidden underneath a field of grass and native wildflowers.

Retired education technology professor Jinkerson lives in an underground house - or earth shelter - that not only offers more green space to its neighborhood but also is energy efficient and more economical.

"It's because underground temperatures stay relatively constant," said Jinkerson, adding that the concrete walls and dirt cover insulate her 2,500 square-foot house well, keeping it cool in the summer and holding in the heat in the winter. In fact, the building is so efficient that - with two hot water heaters - Jinkerson spends less than $1,000 on energy costs a year. In the winter, she turns off the heat at night, and the temperature never drops below 60 degrees.

Article Photos

Lorana Jinkerson stands in the living room of her earth-shelter house on Altamont Street in Marquette. The construction of her house provides Jinkerson with natural air-conditioning and more constant inside temperatures. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)

"I've always been conscious of conserving electricity and fuel," said Jinkerson, who lived in two environmentally friendly houses before moving to Marquette from lower Michigan. She has lived in the house since 1993. It was built in the 1980s by the local business North Country Terra Dome, headed by Charles, Sanford and David Drury.

Although an earth shelter may cost more with initial construction, the savings on heating and cooling costs pay off in the end, Jinkerson said.

Her house is steel-reinforced poured concrete full or half modules, which makes for strong and thick walls and ceilings in the form of arched domes. The exterior is waterproofed and then back-filled with a dozer. Years ago, Jinkerson planted native wildflowers on her roof, which makes her shelter more ecologically sound.

While some may believe earth shelters lack light, Jinkerson's house is not dark at all. For instance, it has a huge skylight to bring in natural light into her kitchen and dining room. This helps keep down electricity costs for artificial lighting.

The front of her living room has passive solar, which heats the tiled floor.

Earth shelters are also a lot more sustainable than conventional homes.

"It doesn't rot," Jinkerson said. "And for a storm it's a natural shelter."

For instance, after last summer's hail storm, Jinkerson's house was the only one in her neighborhood that did not have to have roof work done.

Also built in the 1980s was the 5,000 square-foot Marquette Township Center earth shelter off of U.S. 41 at 161 County Road 492. Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard said the unusual structure was chosen for the township for several reasons.

"It was at a time (1983) of energy efficiency," he said. "And because K.I. Sawyer used to be a strategic air base, this building was initially built as a shelter."

Girard added that the building has saved taxpayers money by having low heating costs, no cooling costs and less maintenance costs. Since the building is also more durable, the structure will last the township "for many, many years," Girard said.

Exterior painting and upkeep, roof replacement and extreme winterization are all things with that the township does not have to deal with.

"It's a very viable building concept," Girard said.

Because the building faces south, it supports passive solar systems and less use of artificial lights.

On the economical side, earth shelters cost less to insure because they can't burn.

Soon after the new earth shelter Marquette Township Center opened in 1983, it won an award from the federal government that helped offset the $420,000 construction costs.



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