Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
In a hole in the ground there lived...maybe you.
Am I in Florida or the Shire?
Have an opportunity to ask yourself that question every single day in a Green Magic Home, a line of prefabricated, earth-sheltered homes built by a company whose American headquarters are in Key Biscayne.
Each module can bear about eight centimeters of soil and plants at its peak—the least structurally sound section of a pod home—meaning that these potentially leafy-green houses are perfect for playing out all your hobbit fantasies.
They are also relatively eco-friendly. Shipped fully formed from the manufacturer in Cancun, Mexico, the homes are assembled on site with glue and steel screws. Their fiber-reinforced plastic shells could be better for the environment—they’re plastic, after all—but they are built to last, so owners won’t have to keep spending resources on upkeep and repair.
Once covered in soil and plant life, the homes’ roofs act as a natural insulation, cutting wind and trapping heat and cold. Still, someone who intends to live comfortably in this kind of space might need some heating and cooling infrastructure. As the Department of Energy points out, earth-sheltered homes are “less susceptible to the impact of extreme outdoor air temperatures than a conventional house,” (italics mine) but may need some help at either ends of the thermometer.
These babies come relatively cheap. The smallest house—the “Martinica,” at just under 700 square feet—costs about $35 per square foot; the largest—the 1,900-square-foot “Mediterraneo”—about $42.
But what’s that money to you? As a king under the mountain once said on his deathbed, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”