Mike Oehler

Tour of His Original $500 Underground House

$50 underground house eco building

Mike Oehler guides us on a video tour of the house he wrote about in "The $50 and up underground house book". At the time the video is taken, this underground house is 35 years old. The property has about six underground houses. This underground house was his home for most of the 35 years.

A good example of an off grid tiny house build a long time ago.

Mike's book is the ultimate "how to" tutorial on cheap underground housing. He said that if he could do it all over again, he would call it "earth integrated". This book is the core to many other alternative building books.


post shore polyethylene

$15 earth berm eco house filmed 30 years later

Another Mike Oehler creation. This one is called "the sleeper". Mike if famous for his $50 and up underground house book. This house is an above ground earth berm house. Very small, but a family of three did live in the house recently for 18 months. There are cedar trees growing out of the roof.

eco house - mike oehler PSP ridgetop eco house

Author of the $50 and up underground house book is building another eco house masterpiece! This is an above ground structure on top of a steep mountain ridge in north idaho. This may be the sixth eco house built on this property. Some of Oehler's eco structures are underground and some are underground-ish. This eco house is clearly above ground and just has a thick earthen roof.

Official "Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse"

This is the official solar greenhouse per his popular book "The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book". The solar greenhouse is drafty, but he gets tomatoes in mid december with no added heat.

Oehlers Ridge House

Author Mike Oehler takes us on a tour of his partially completed earth-integrated Ridge House

Mike Oehler on Cattails

Mike agreed to tell me what he knew about cattails on video so the information would be there for those who could use it and learn from it. A good place to start in learning more about edible natural plants.

About Mike Oehler

"This guy literally wrote the book on subterranean housing and sold more than (105,000) copies of The $50 & Up Underground House Book

He lives in his own creation. It's a little snug but it's custom built and has all the creature comforts. 

You can barely see it, a dream get away nestled deep in the mountains of scenic Northern Idaho on 40 acres of land. 

Imagine it, all yours for $500. 

That's what subterranean pioneer Mike Oehler created when he... built one of the nations first underground houses in 1971... 

Today his little house in a hillside is a rustic gem... It's like having an underground log cabin... and somehow eight feet underground there's still lots of light here. 

Mike has developed what he calls an Up Hill Patio, a cut behind the house and into the hill, where plants can grow and light and air flow through the house. 

MIKE: "I think I've got the only system in the country, maybe the world where you get light, air and views from two or three directions in each and every room in the underground house.'

   "A beautiful mountain side, custom design, self-sufficiency and plenty of natural light even though you're underground, and all for $500. And maybe best of all, tranquility. MIKE: 'Its easy to heat, easy to cool, It's easy on your ears because it's much more soundproof in there.'

   So what's next for Mike Oehler? Well, he's writing a new book and he's designing and building a new (1800 sq. ft. underground) home. It's got a patio, and a tree house, and an underground pool and jacuzzi. And how much for this super house? $15,000.

Wofati EcoBuilding article here
with lots of diagrams

wofati eco building
Imagine living in something that looks like a log cabin from the inside, but:
  • it has more light
  • it doesn't need heat or A/C
  • it is three times faster to build
  • it costs about five times less
When it comes to eco building, there appears to be a lot of enthusiasm for straw bale homes and for cob homes. In either case, this is usually nothing more than replacing the exterior walls. 

Cob could also be used for interior walls, but for the moment, I would just like to examine the simpler case of replacing the exterior walls.
With straw bale, the cost of the materials for the exterior walls is higher than a conventional home. 

The cost of labor is significantly higher, although some of the work can often be replaced by workshop labor. 

Unless you live on land that produces straw and you have a baler, you will have to buy straw and have it moved to you. The beauty of straw bale is the insulation. Straw itself is not a particularly good insulator, but a really thick wall of it is. Of course, to stay warm on a really cold day, it helps if you're sealed up inside like being in a ziplock bag.

With cob, you will need a source for clay and good sand. Sometimes you are on land that has clay, so then you just need a dumptruck load or two of sand. And the amount of time to build a cob wall is far greater than conventional. The beauty of cob is that you can shape it to anything! 

And it is soooooo easy to do. If you can supply lots of time, you can build a fantasticly lovely home from cob.
In the fall of 1970, Mike Oehler (pronounced "Ay-ler") lived in a crappy shack and struggled to stay warm. He decided that the following spring he would build a better place to live. He spent the winter drawing all sorts of designs to calculate heat efficiency. He also wanted to keep his materials costs low. He came up with a design that was unlike anything he had ever seen anywhere else. The result is a home built in 1971 with a total cost of $50.

Later, Mike added on to that house and then wrote a book about it. His choice of title was so bad, that I avoided the book for more than a decade. Even the pictures on the cover bothered me. It was only after seeing so many other authors refer to the book that got me to look at a library copy.

Mike's design eliminates many of the complexities of conventional construction. Further, if you live on wooded land, most of the materials consist of what you cut from your land when doing sustainable forestry thinning. No importing straw bales or dump truck loads of sand. In fact, everything you import could fit into one pickup load: some doors, some glass, some plumbing and electrical stuff - all of which you would bring in for any type of house.

Mike then enhances his original designs to come up with a variety of ways to get sun into his structure from all directions, while keeping the costs low. After teaching dozens of workshops on his techniques, he puts the workshop on video. I have seen these videos. They are excellent.

In a nutshell, Mike's design is a pole structure with a green roof. 

A green roof is usally more expensive than a conventional roof, but, if you can follow one simple design principle, you can dramatically cut the costs of the whole structure! The one simple design principle is: every drop of rain must always have a complete downhill soil path. Encountering the edge of the roof is not okay.