“In a hole in a ground lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing to sit on or eat: It was a hobbit hole and that means comfort.”
The famous words of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings novels has inspired a new generation of interest in eco-homes, affectionately termed “hobbit houses.”
This concept of an earthen home is hardly new. Many ancient cultures built semi-subterranean structures: in the American West they are known as pit-houses or kivas (a kiva being more of religious structure) to protect against the heat of the desert while the ancient Scandinavians and Vikings built sturdy green-roofed structures to protect them from the bitter cold.
Hobbit houses are intended to be a modern take on an older eco-friendly housing design. When done properly, hobbit houses are low impact on both natural resources and on viewsheds.
True hobbit houses can be built with very simple tools by anyone willing to invest the effort. They are small, cozy, and are not extravagant. The core concepts are integration of a green roof, passive heating and cooling, and made with local materials. A hobbit house is an example of utilizing the concepts of permaculture into building design and construction.
Other key aspects of a hobbit house are to efficiently use energy for everyday living. For example, a refrigerator can be cooled by air coming underground through foundations in the traditional concept of a root cellar or a springhouse. Windows and skylights are used to let in natural light and reduce the reliance on electrical lights. Solar panels are used for electricity needs and rain barrels are used to collect water for use in the garden. Most important, the structure is built into the earth to provide insulation and protection from temperature extremes.
However, many larger modern homes have also been built on the concept of being a hobbit house but their extravagant and non-sustainable nature indicates they are a hobbit house in name only and not a part of the green building sustainable movement.
Homes are not the only structure type that can be built using the concepts of hobbit house and permaculture. An outdoor playhouse, office, or shed can easily be integrated into the hillside of a backyard. The key is to be responsible with materials: use sustainable building materials and low impact construction methods.