Some Days I’m A Super Genius

wileI want to build a large addition to my house. The town limits my above-ground square footage to the point where all I can build is a relatively small addition.

But underground square footage doesn’t count! So I toyed with the idea of building a 3/4-acre basement under my 3/4-acre yard.

This turns out to be rather expensive.

Therefore, I used my brain.

My new plan is to completely bury my existing house under an enormous mound of dirt, declare the whole thing a basement, and build a new house on top of it, with an internal staircase going down into the old house. The new construction can then be quite large, since I’m starting from zero above-ground square feet. A system of periscopes will preserve the views from the new “basement” windows.

This has got to be far cheaper than fresh underground construction. Dirt is notoriously cheap. That’s where the expression “dirt cheap” comes from.

Unfortunately, my wife has expressed some resistance to this plan, as she often does when I solve problems without her input. I’ll be grateful for suggestions toward helping her appreciate the brilliance of the idea, and, for that matter, any tweaks or improvements you can suggest.

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34 Responses to “Some Days I’m A Super Genius”


  1. 1 1 Tristan

    Convert house to tardis?

  2. 2 2 Roger Schlafly

    In California, you would need special permits to move that much dirt. You would not get one.

  3. 3 3 Doc Merlin

    I tried to get my wife to let me build a hobbit hole.

  4. 4 4 rednecktech

    In my experience cut and fill underground construction is not that much more expensive than normal above ground construction. Depending on zoning and permitting, it should be possible to cut an addition area down four feet or so and pour a monolithic slab. Waterproof walls and roof that are more expensive than conventional construction are partially offset by the lack of need for visual gingerbread. Use the excavated dirt for earth cover on the completed structure.

    Normal cost of interiors is normally a multiple of building structural costs. I very strongly suggest multiple bids and continued research into why the underground construction cost is so much higher in your area. In Florida, it might be 10% more expensive for most applications. Also, roof and wall maintenance goes away compared to conventional structures.

  5. 5 5 nobody.really

    Dude, dude, dude —

    You’re already bald and have a beard.

    People already call you “Doctor.”

    You already revel in confounding people’s sense of right and wrong.

    You’re already engaged in weird training involving suspending yourself from ribbons attached to the ceiling.

    And now you’re pondering an underground lair.

    Is anyone else getting a bad feeling about this…?

  6. 6 6 Ron

    A genius, yes; an engineer, no. The other characteristic of dirt
    is that it’s heavy. The cost and mess of the extra bracing to bury
    your house is probably more than you think.

    You could always just bury the first story. For the wife problem,
    stress the enhanced privacy and the lack of sun fading for the rugs
    and furniture, along with how much cheaper the heating and cooling
    will be.

  7. 7 7 Justin Ross

    Is there some reason why you can’t just move into a bigger house, or have a new one built at a different location where the zoning is less strict?

    Zoning is often less strict than people realize. You can apply for special variances or ordinances that could exempt you from the rule. You will be assisted if you can demonstrate it will not hurt anyone else’s property values, and will expand your share of the taxbase.

  8. 8 8 Pat T

    I sure hope my neighbors don’t decide to fill my house with darkness and water.

  9. 9 9 Jeffrey Sorensen

    Below ground square footage, even a “finished” basement, typically isn’t reflected in the house sale price. In the middle of a historic housing slump, is any home-improvement investment wise for someone who teaches economics?

  10. 10 10 Joseph Zaccardi

    How many sides of the house need to be covered for it to be considered below ground? If you only covered 2 or 3 sides of the house, and then built above it, would the original house be considered a basement that is carved out of a cliff?

  11. 11 11 Ken B

    Sod on the roof.

  12. 12 12 Alan Gunn

    Today’s not my day to be a super genius, but I’m alert enough to spot a metaphor now and then. Not entirely sure what this one is. Maybe it’s too politically expensive to cut spending (building new underground space) so we’ll raise taxes instead (putting the old space underground) and then we’ll be even and can add on more new spending? Because spending that’s “paid for” doesn’t count?

    Maybe (probably) this is the wrong thing the metaphor is about, but I’m pretty sure Prof. L. isn’t really planning to bury his house and look at the scenery through periscopes.

  13. 13 13 Dave

    I think Allan Gunn wins the prize. I haven’t checked but there is probably a new Krugman article out today.

  14. 14 14 Scott H.

    You haven’t got the guts to do it!

  15. 15 15 David Pinto

    The problem is a actually quite simple, solved by both the Road Runner and Ringo Starr. Find an appropriate hole, pick it up, and carry it to the place with you want the new hole.

    See this.

  16. 16 16 cmprostreet

    You could:

    Buy the neighbor’s house and connect them via tunnel.

    Put a sign out front that you’re providing economic consulting services, then make sure the floor of the addition is on a slight slope- it’s your ramp to comply with ADA, large enough to avoid congestion issues.

    Flood your yard and put the house on pontoons- not sure if this would still count as square footage.

    Petition to have closets not counted in square footage restrictions, and have your extension be a large walk-in closet.

    Instead of building an addition, anchor a blimp in your front yard.

    Build the addition out of ice blocks and explain that it’s simply a snow fort.

    Build the addition as you planned anyway and then purposely infest it with a rare species of termite or other endangered species so that it’s illegal to remove the addition.

    Explain that the existing square footage doesn’t count because you got stuck with it when you bought the property from the previous owner.

    Subdivide your lot, sell the other piece to your wife, then build a new house on that lot. Connect via tunnel, bridge, or high-wire.

    Pour a concrete slab, install solar panels 8 feet or so above it, and park your car under them. Use the garage as the addition.

  17. 17 17 Andy B

    Some days you’re a super genius and then there is today. I agree with Alan in that I too suspect you are really after something other than how to sell this to your wife. Could the moral of the story be as simple as under closer examination it is an impracticable idea, and rather than dig in (pun intended) and try and rationalize it, you should just say “yeah, what was I thinking” and move on?

  18. 18 18 Floccina

    How about if you just make a living roof and build the addition and count on plausible deniability? It is underground in a sense. http://www.livingroofsinc.com/

  19. 19 19 Jace

    Well, what depth is considered “underground”? Perhaps beneath the foundation of the house?

    If that’s the case, the task might not be as ostensibly impractical, onerous, expensive, or time-consuming.

    Hire the neighborhood kids this summer to dig a hole with the desired dimensions. Pay them a reasonable fee, and go on with the plan as intended.

    If all else fails: renovate some underutilized space in your house, let your wife decorate it, and call it good.

    Lmao.

  20. 20 20 Floccina

    cmprostreet reminded me that I know a business man who added some trailers (truck containers) for storage because they would not allow him to add a warehouse. He has to keep the wheels on them but that is a small problem.

    Maybe one of these would do:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=container+houses&hl=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=mhWDT6mvD8ru2gXBi72EBw&ved=0CGoQsAQ&biw=1178&bih=888

  21. 21 21 KHodge

    Perhaps if you sodded your roof (a very ecologically friendly thing to do), defined the high level of your lawn (the sodded roof) as the new ground level (an economist’s prerogative), and build your new addition leaving a foot or two around the edges, everyone will be satisfied.

  22. 22 22 Neil

    And it slowly dawned on Mrs. L that she married a very weird guy.

  23. 23 23 Chas Phillips

    I suspect that most women are offended when referred to as “dirt cheap”; is it possible that, when describing your brilliant plan, you were unclear about the context in which you were using the term? Perhaps your wife was so upset by what she perceived to be a slander on her on character that she was unable to assess thoughtfully your rock-solid plan. Has she seemed distant since your discussion?

  24. 24 24 Terry

    You want a raised ranch.

    Raise the first floor up 4 feet. Put a lot of windows high up in the basement. Some window wells too. With enough windows and some window coverings, it will have lots of light and you won’t even notice it is a basement.

    Build out the first floor to the maximum coverage ratio. Your first floor will be larger than most houses in the area. Your second floor will be underground so your total square footage will be enormous.

    You can do almost all your living on the first floor, so no stairs. Lots of room in the basement for spare kids and their toys and blanket forts. Lots of room to have kids over and run amock in the winter.

    Get very good, redundant sump pumps with backup power.

    Basement will be toasty warm in winter and cool in summer because of the floor slab and basement walls.

  25. 25 25 A Marchant

    Sorry to be a spoil sport, but from an optics point of view the periscopes are a really really bad idea. You’d be much better off to install outdoor cameras upstairs (on the roof!) and flat screens in place of the basement windows.

  26. 26 26 Jonathan Kariv

    declare the part of the house you live in to be the outside and say the extra room makes it smaller…

  27. 27 27 Eric Nilsson

    This is a problem confronting engineers who must economize. In other words, you make the most amount of living space in the least amount of available space. Assuming no height restrictions, add floors in a manner similar to apartment houses as are found in most major cities.

    Problems to be expected will literally raise the roof, for a time rendering the house uninhabitable. I have no idea the dimensions of your current house, nor am I familiar with the property size and the restrictions on distance from property lines, but you should consider the limits at the existing level.

    Ron brings up an interesting point about dirt and its weight. I’m assuming that your basement is concrete block and a slab; the house’s frame is supported by that (and probably more). Adding the dirt and another house of comparable weight could add unbearable stress to the existing frame, assuming the existing frame.

  28. 28 28 JLA

    Some people build their home into a hill. Perhaps you could build a hill around your home. Rather than completely burying the existing house, you could bury the back of your house and leave the existing front of the house still visible to the street. How high above the ground the house is becomes a matter of perspective. From the front, the height of your house is as the same as it’s always been. But from the back, it is zero above ground feet. This may be able to skirt the regulation.

    Marriage is about compromise right?

  29. 29 29 Alan Robinski

    Heh, I read halfway through cmprostreet’s comment thinking it was one single plan rather than a set of suggestions.

    I was thinking “Wait… why would you buy the neighbor’s house, install a tunnel, flood the yard, and then also anchor a blimp in the yard? This doesn’t make sense” before I got it.

    Still excellent ideas though.

    And I think Alan Gunn and Dave are right. What’s Krugman wrong about today?

  30. 30 30 Steve Landsburg

    Jonathan Kariv: This is the best idea yet.

  31. 31 31 Robert

    So long as she gets exclusively to use the above-ground bit, you are on to a winner.

  32. 32 32 ML

    Dirt’s cheap,
    but it’s expensive to move.

  33. 33 33 Kirk

    I’m sorry – Super Genius is copyrighted for my blog…Tax Super Genius. You’ll need to pay me 1.5 cents for using it.

  34. 34 34 NC Lawyer

    Just cover the new addition in solar cells and call it a solar farm. Who can object to your “green” initiative.

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