Unique as it seems

By LINDA LANE linda@prairiepress.net
Posted 1/10/22

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a planned series of stories about unique homes in Edgar County. The main goal is to feature those homes that are a departure from normal stick-built houses. …

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Unique as it seems


(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a planned series of stories about unique homes in Edgar County. The main goal is to feature those homes that are a departure from normal stick-built houses. We are open to featuring frame buildings that were constructed for one purpose and subsequently rehabbed into a house, such as a barn conversion. Nineteenth century mansions and manicured landscaping may come later, but the immediate goal is to locate and tell the story of those properties that defy the traditional concept of a home. If readers have, or know of, a home that can be featured please contact ghenry@prairiepress.net.)

The underground home Bill and Marsha Duke built in 1980 had an unusual start.

The Dukes were watching cartoons on television when a story on underground homes came on the screen. This sparked their interest and they both remarked, “Let’s do this.”

Prior to building their earth-sheltered home, they lived in a mobile home, which brought its own trauma. High-powered winds during a Dec. 15, 1971, storm flipped the trailer on its side, destroying most of the interior. They repaired the mobile home, but never fully felt safe in it after that storm.

They ordered a book on underground homes and began planning their design.  Their first step was to find a concrete contractor willing to take on their project. 

JB Esker & Sons Concrete Construction Company of Teutopolis was hired to pour the shell. Esker’s son had an underground home similar to the one the Dukes wanted so the company did not hesitate to take on the job. 

“The walls and ceiling are eight inches of concrete, and the floor is six inches for a total of 292 yards of concrete,” said Bill Duke.

In addition to the concrete, there is a support beam that runs the entire length of the house.  There are also support posts in every room of the house.

Esker’s put up the shell, and Bill Duke completed the remainder of the home.

The structure of the home is 84 feet long and 31 feet deep. It is 124 feet across the front of the house. It has 1,798 square feet of living space, and the garage brings the total area to 2,548 square feet.

The home is total electric, and utilities are economical, especially after the May 8, 2019, installation of solar panels. The Dukes have not paid a light bill in many months.

They have discovered two key advantages to having an underground home — it is quiet, and utility costs are low. They live just off state Route 1 and never hear traffic or storms when they roll in. 

The one disadvantage is there are no windows to open. A potential disadvantage is if a plumbing problem occurs in the future. All the plumbing lines are encased in concrete in the flooring, which will be an expensive repair if a line fails.

“We have not had any water or moisture issues,” said Bill Duke. “We have two humidifiers, one on each end of the house, and that takes care of any moisture.”

In regards to heating the house, an underground home has seasons different to a normal stick built home. It operates on the structure of the home rather than the temperatures outside.

One might think that an underground home would have very little light. But that is not true of the Duke’s home. 

They have two skylights and in addition, they built on a sunroom on the front of the house to add additional light. This is where they spend most of their time enjoying the sunshine in a porch swing they had specially made by the Amish to put in the sunroom. 

It is a beautiful home, very unique and one the Dukes thoroughly enjoy.