One homeowner is demonstrating how the best defense against extreme weather events may be Mother Earth herself.
LAist’s Jacob Margolis shared pictures and video footage of an incredible fire-resistant house built into the side of an excavated hillside in Topanga Canyon, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles.
The only part of the structure visible from the outside is the white stucco front face, as the rest of the home is underground, but the inside appears spacious and comfortable.
Stuntman Eddie Conna told Margolis on the podcast The Big Burn that he greenlit the home in the canyon after experiencing a fire in his in-ground dome home in Chatsworth, another community in LA at risk of fires.
“I mean, there was a piece of me that was like, you’re gonna be OK, because three sides of the house are buried, and the amount of exposure you have to a fire is minimal,” Conna said, adding that he initially liked the idea because the insulation provided by the thick concrete shell of the house would lower his utility bills.
“It started with the energy efficiency. Then as I did more research, it was, ‘Oh, geez, I’m building something that is also resistant to fires,’” he said.
Conna explained that the home took 13 years to complete, and he believes the unique design is one of the reasons why, as it created issues with permitting and construction.
Interestingly, while the design may seem novel by today’s standards, earth-sheltering — the method of constructing protective shelters underground — is “one of the oldest forms of building” known, going as far back as 15,000 BCE, according to the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.
Margolis wrote that a concrete home in the state of Washington was “the closest comparable situation” to Conna’s Topanga Canyon structure, as the building survived a wildfire in 2015.
Conna’s house, which he sold to another owner, reportedly hasn’t been put to the test thus far.
As wildfires have grown in severity and frequency because of rising global temperatures, though, many people have begun drawing on ancient wisdom to adapt, with Indigenous prevention techniques, earthen building blocks, and straw some of the tools experiencing success.
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