The Natural Home Building Source
The Natural Home Building Source
The Natural Home Building Source

8 - HTM earthtubes (earthtubing) non-electric heating, passive geothermal low-tech solar heating & solar cooling systems for sustainable architecture. Click here for the main chapter of our free HTM Passive Solar Design eBook

Earthtubes (earthtubing) are a most highly recommended low-tech, sustainable, non-electric, zero-energy, geothermal passive solar heating and solar cooling system. Earthtubing utilizes conventional, thin wall plastic sewer drain vent pipe to passively pre-heat your home's fresh air intake with zero-energy consumption. Filtered fresh air enters a series of non-porous pipes embedded around the interior of your home's foundation, absorbing energy from the surrounding soil, moderating the temperature of fresh air intake. When done correctly, air drafts naturally through your earthtubes for a truly sustainable, non-electric, zero-energy, passive geothermal system that perfectly supplements a high thermal mass HTM home's back-up heating and cooling system. Please be careful with earth tube details though... while 'Green architects' are warming to the idea, they are making very elementary mistakes, such as using large diameter concrete culvert pipe for their earth tube air inlet pipes. Concrete is nearly impossible to clean and question-able to coat with chemical sealants to attempt to make it clean-able.

Limiting your home Fresh Air Intake to a set of four inch plastic pipe makes for very cost effective ventilation systems. Easy junction-box filtration is possible with commonly available activated charcoal furnace filters. Straight-forward return air systems have been common practice in commercial construction for years. Schools, for instance, require a certain number of full air interchanges every hour and use tempering systems just like earth tubing to meet that standard without completely wasting all that energy it took to heat and cool the air. In a commercial building, incoming fresh air is drafted through a series of ducts, allowing outside air to cool or warm a bit before mixing through heating and cooling system with inside air. Indoor environmental health is a critical design issue and should not be taken lightly by residential architects and engineers in their search for energy conservation. Modern passive solar design must be holistic in its approach or it will suffer the same fate as early attempts at earth sheltered housing that failed to address water transference in unsealed concrete foundation walls and no wing insulation. Poor earthtubing designs must be highlighted and critiqued to avoid repeat errors or the entire concept of earthtubing, and passive solar design in general, is negatively affected. The ultimate goal is to encourage wise passive solar construction, moving towards energy independence for all.

Conventional homes are typically High R-value and airtight, such that all of the heating and cooling energy is stored within just the air temperature. With convection systems, if you let the air escape you lose all your personal comfort. High thermal mass building materials allow the heating and cooling energy to be stored within the home's walls and floor for non-electric mechanically-free radiant heating and cooling. This allows you to vent the inside air of an HTM without 'losing' all your heating or air conditioning energy. Constant venting in the winter is common practice for HTMs, with fresh air being pre-heated or pre-cooled before it enters the home. Please note that earthtubing is not meant as a summer cooling system in hot and humid climates where moisture would reach dewpoint and collect in the tubes. Weep holes are drilled in the bottom of corner fittings, but these drains can become overwhelmed in a very humid climate. If you must alter your indoor humidity in the summer for personal comfort level, you will likely need some mechanical means. There really is no truly healthy passive method to de-humidify. But there is a new generation of central de-humidifying systems and heat pump water heaters HPWH that are very energy efficient. Basically, just central air conditioning systems that install inside the home, not outside where the heat removed is wasted. In effect, HPWH extract heat from inside the home and use it to warm the hot water tank. James Dulley's website provides research details and manufacturer listings on such mechanical systems. Please see our Research Links page, where this columnist's page is first up.

Earth tubes are sustainable, non-electric, passive geothermal heating and cooling systems.

The drawing above illustrates a set of four earth tube ventilation pipes as they're normally installed within a monolithic slab. Please note the use of 45 degree fittings which help accentuate airflow and make alignment and spacing easier. Greater spacing between pipes, as seen below, allows for more surface contact with thermal mass and thus better heating and cooling performance. Monolithic slabs are confined in terms of space available to separate pipes, but their being imbedded in solid concrete helps make up for the close design loss. Please note this drawing shows insulation under the interior floor slab. With sloped glass, this layer of insulation is typically not installed to allow more transfer into earth storage layer wing insulation. The typical number of earthtubes is four, which is enough to supply average household air volume. One pipe is generally considered to carry enough air for at least one large room. In theory, you could have as many earthtubes as you wish, but the slower the draw-time through pipes, the warmer/cooler the air moving through it has a chance to moderate.

Most importantly to indoor air health, cleaning earth tubes is a relatively easy matter. Simply lay nylon cord in the pipes while constructing and use it to pull a bleach, peroxide, alcohol or disinfecting solution soaked towel through the tubes. Tie a second cord to the towel so that you always leave a cord in the pipes after the towel has been pulled through. We suggest installing a standard furnace filter at the earthtubing inlet grate to prevent dust and insects from entering the pipes. Keep in mind that mold only grows on surfaces with fuel to support it and clean pipes will not support mold growths. Curiously, people worry about keeping the earth tubes clean, but you rarely see folks cleaning their home heating and cooling ducts. Earth tubes are nothing more that fresh air intake pipes and round pipes are much, much easier to clean than rectangular galvanized steel duct work. Earthtubing is a very simple and cost-effective means to temper air intake for any home. They are especially important for high thermal mass homes, which can be very aggressively vented, ensuring quality indoor air, versus air-tight conventional construction that is famous for sick building syndrome.

Here's a shot of four geothermal earth tubes as they are installed against one of the frostwalls.

The photo above shows a set of four passive geothermal earthtube pipes being installed around an HTM's foundation. Shown below, are these four earthtubes going around an inside corner of the home's frostwall. Later, these pipes will be backfilled with fill dirt and gravel, then covered with a concrete floor slab. Earthtubing technology is not geothermal heat pumping. Earthtubes are sustainable, non-electric, passive heating and cooling systems. Unlike geothermal heat pumps, earthtubes do not involve any exotic machinery or special type of pipe that we are trying to sell you. All parts are locally available. Earthtubing pipe can be installed outside the home foundation, but that is generally only done for cooling purposes in a hot, dry climate. Exterior pipe installation is relatively expensive since you are digging long, deep gravel filled trenches for the vent pipe. Runs of at least 20 feet, if not up to 100 feet, are needed outside to get a noticeable cooling tempering effect. Moisture in return/intake air will condense on pipe walls at some point in a more humid climate. With exterior earthtubing, the technique involves dropping the inlet end of pipe in yard, down as deep as possible/practical, and then angling up towards the home foundation. You always make a straight run uphill at slight slope or a 1/4 inch per foot drop, at the very bare minimum. Bed your pipe well in 3/4 inch or smaller crushed gravel to prevent any chance of cracking during backfill and to promote better energy transfer. With slope running downhill towards inlet, accumulated condensation can at least be dealt with by drilling weep holes. Cleaning of these long runs in a hot humid climate can be a chore unless you are located on a sloping hillside, where the pipe inlet can level out to grade.

Here's a close-up of a set of geothermal earthtubes being laid around an inside corner.

The waterproofing treatment shown above is a simple mop-on coating. If you have the money in your budget, we highly recommend using vertically applied, roll-on roofing underlayment, such as Grace® Ice and Water Shield, for the exterior of your foundation walls. Don't forget to use their primer first, though!

In the picture at right, we have left the earthtubes exposed for better illustration (normally they are hidden in wall or floor). The two pipes seen at right top of photo below log are entering from outside. They drop down to the base of the frostwall and encircle the home giving fresh air plenty of time to warm up or cool down before it vents into the HTM. In the lower right corner shadows you'll see the two grated pipes where air finally enters. These two pipes originated at the opposite end of the planterbed. Earthtubes are a very simple, low-tech system without any moving parts. Zero-energy passive solar design at its best.

Earthtubes are sustainable, non-electric, passive geothermal heating and cooling systems.

The question of earth tubing layout is never a simple one, but it does boil down to installing as much pipe as is practical. Whenever possible, with any type of ventilation pipe, one should always use '1/8 bend' 45 degree fittings to limit drag on the air. When using 45's is not possible, a 'long sweep' 90 is nearly as efficient, but don't use an abrupt '1/4 bend' 90 degree fitting. And don't create manifolds and patterns that you cannot clean effectively by pulling a towel through. For a perspective: eleven (11) lineal feet of 4 inch diameter pipe has a volume of One (1) cubic foot. If your building is air tight, and you are not burning a wood stove, the whole house exhaust fan dictates air movement and speed through the earth tubes. For instance: 35 cubic feet per minute of stale air out of the building is clearing almost 400 lineal feet of pipe every minute. Ideally, your slab temperature is elevated by excess solar energy for optimal earth tube tempering effect.

The most important factor to successful earthtubing is warm DRY EARTH. As the wing insulation sketch below outlines, we stress the need for waterproofing and insulating up to a 20 foot perimeter around the home. Wet earth acts as a constant heat sink pulling energy away from your foundation walls. Dry earth under and around an HTM stores an amazing amount of energy. Earthtubes utilize this energy by allowing fresh, incoming ventilation air to passively gain or lose heat energy before it enters your home. This sustainable ventilation system exchanges indoor air more often, keeping your home's environment fresh without the drawback of 'losing all that HVAC energy'.

This sketch's details are typical of waterproofing and wing insulation throughout.

With any earth tube system, it is key to note:

  • earthtubes enter wherever and drop down to bottom of footers
  • after entering, they encircle the interior of the frostwalls
  • routing pipe through indoor planterbed soil is very effective
  • a small amount of slope in the earthtubes is not vital, but nice
  • drill 1/8th inch weep holes in corners to drain condensation
  • use 45's or long sweep 90's, not abrupt 1/8 bend 90's in the corners
  • separate pipes by 4 inch minimum to ensure maximum energy transfer
  • use thin wall SCH2729 four inch diameter sewer pipe (thinner than SDR35)
  • drag several nylon cords through AFTER the glue sets with a wire fish
  • cover inlets and outlets ALL THE TIME during installation to keep clean
  • protect inlet and outlet grates from water/dust intrusion with furnace filters
  • It is common to bring all earthtubes into the central utility room. Terminate the pipes in a small junction box, if you wish to filter the ventilation air and/or add a fan to power draft and/or use as fresh air intake for HVAC system. The junction box can be a simple wooden cabinet sized for the filter being used. We have seen distribution D Boxes like those used for septic systems used to create a very effective interior junction/filter box. It is also possible to simply terminate the pipes in a wooden framed 'wet wall' and install standard galvanized grate vent duct box (cold air return) for each individual room.

    Earthtubes are common practice for non-electric, passive geothermal solar heating and solar cooling systems

    The outlet ends of your earth tube vent pipes can be spread out around the home or clustered in a single room. Using tempered air tubes as the 'cold air return' for boiler or furnace is common commercial construction practice. A common upgrade to any earth tube system is powered venting to assist passive draft. Your home is constantly venting out through open windows, bathroom vents, furnace, water heater, dryer and range hood. This air is coming in from somewhere, hopefully the earth tube pipes same as in a fresh air return system. Earth tubes can end in a central terminus box (plenum) and be fan powered (air handler) or you can individually fan assist each earth tube pipe as shown below. We commonly suggest installing a 4 inch axial fan (12 VDC computer cooling fan) in the end of each earth tube pipe and covering with a protective vent grate. Standard 80mm computer axial fans fit nicely into a four inch pipe coupler fitting and can be run on a small solar panel, car battery, or transformer. A nice touch is pulling cheesecloth across pipe end for filtration and aromatherapy, where one drips essential oils onto the cheesecloth.

    Earthtubes can be powered assisted with small computer axial fans Earth tubes can be non-electric or with small fan assist Earth tubes are sustainable passive solar heating and solar cooling systems

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    Shade Panel Production

    Our commercial grade knitted shadecloth carries a one year manufacturer's replacement warranty against defects in material and workmanship. You can expect at least 5 years of service when installed properly and well over ten years when used seasonally in a temperate climate. Client must inspect shade panels within one week of delivery in order to be able to report any damages. Rips, tears, and aesthetic damage you find more than one week after delivery are not reimbursed or replaced by the freight carrier or Additionally, merchandise that has been installed is not eligible for return or replacement for damage claims. Fabric is knitted polyolefin, primarily high density polyethylene HDPE, specially treated for durability and UV resistance. Wind damage from loose panel whipping, snagging, and abrading against the structure or cable framework is much more harmful in the long run than simple exposure to sunlight. Knit shade material should be installed hung underneath, not pulled across the top of cable or framework, to avoid abrasion and snagging damage. Chemical, fire, heat, abrasion, and snagging damage are not covered under manufacturer warranty. Shade panel warranty inspection returns must be authorized in advance and returned freight prepaid to designated location for visual inspection. will only pay the cost to ship warranty repaired or replaced merchandise back to client after inspection confirms damage was a material or workmanship defect. The following are trade-standard, non-valid reasons for requesting warranty inspection: First, there is no up-down, right-left, top-bottom or front-back reference point for any panel. Panel 'Width and Length' are measured from outside-edge to outside-edge of the sewn perimeter hem at the four corners only. Knit material has inherent tension and flex in the looming process that will resolve aesthetic issues when installed taut with rope lacing. Grommets on one side of panel are unlikely to line up with grommets on the opposite side or from one grommeted pinch pleat to the next. Exact one foot on-center grommet spacing, specific grommeted pinch pleat centering, and special placement on a particular side for grommets is not warranted. Any panel over 12 foot wide may have a noticeable factory knitted loom splice seam without notice in advance since the 20, 26, and 32 foot wide stock roll width fabrics are manufactured on side-by-side looms. We traditionally cover this seam with a grommeted pinch pleat, but it is possible to order plain cloth without a center GPP, per automated quoting form. Aesthetic issues are not warranted. For instance, the White 50% color knitted shade material can sometimes arrive with patches of orange discoloration and spotting as a result of the manufacturing process. This discoloration will dissipate after installation in the sunlight. Shade material may always be slightly wrinkled from rolling onto storage tube or shipping and knit appearance can vary from sample swatches presented and may also vary between various stock widths. Minor aesthetic flaws in knit appearance, stitching, and snags are not a structural panel failure problem and not warranted. Shade material is lockstitch knitted to prevent structural unraveling. Longevity is the same regardless of aesthetic appearance flaws in the fabric knit or perimeter webbing. If need be, one can use needle and thread to pull small flaws together and super-glue sealed. It is not considered a warranty-related defect unless it affects panel performance. Special fire resistant certified shade materials are not available. The finish 'Length' ordered is what we produce by cutting enough fabric to fold hem and GPP. The only time to anticipate deviation in finish dimension purchased is when 'Width' is a stock material width of 6, 8, 10, 12, 20, 26 and 32 foot. Then, finish 'Width' is likely going to be two to three inches less after folding and sewing perimeter hem and any length-wise grommeted pinch pleats. ALL other times, the size panel you request is the finish size we do our very best to produce. Knitted shade netting is inherently difficult to work with due to tension releasing when cut to custom sizes, so trade-standard warranty for free replacement is a four inch tolerance. As measured at four corners, any error of five inches, or more, is warranted for free remake, replacement, or refund at our sole discretion. This accuracy guarantee does not apply to shapes other than rectangles or any panel dimension over 32 foot. Errors of less than five inches are considered for remedy on a case-by-case basis only when the panel has not been installed and can be resold as a new-unused remnant. Special grommet placement requests are not warranted and grommet spacing at exactly one foot on center is not warranted. Click here for knit shade material engineering specifications and product MSDS sheet.

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    Merchandise purchased from is covered only under that product's manufacturer warranty. Client is solely responsible for presenting all claims under those warranties directly to the warrantor. makes no consultation, service work, or system design warranties, whether express or implied and shall not in any way be held responsible for any customer misuse of Our products or misunderstanding of any and all of Our designs, whether express or implied. All responsibility and liability for any and all damages caused by viruses contained within the electronic files of this site are disclaimed. All information contained within this site and supplied by any and all consultations, design work and service work is governed by the following information disclaimer. Be aware that septic tank effluent, composting toilet materials, and greywater alike contain bodily fluids and as such are regulated as Hazardous Materials by the Federal government. Such hazardous materials (raw sewage) should be handled only by licensed professionals trained in the proper safety procedures and using proper safety equipment. If you are unsure of the correct handling and safety procedures, please check with your local health department for more detailed information.

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    Merchandise purchased from or through must be installed by a licensed professional installer and in accordance with manufacturer's specifications and local/state/federal electrical, plumbing, health and building department regulations. Building department regulation requirements differ from one town to the next and it is the Client's sole responsibility to ensure compliance. This is particularly important with hard-wired electric kitchen appliances and hoods, gas refrigerators, septic systems, greywater projects, and composting toilets. Even shade panel installations can come under local regulatory scrutiny (pull permits) in some parts of the United States. Client understands that shade panels are not rated for any fire resistance and hereby confirms that no fire resistance has been expressed or implied by Seller for Merchandise. Client is solely responsible for purchasing (pulling), and coordinating all of the inspections for all of the necessary electrical, plumbing, grading, road, health and building permits for their project. Some of these services, as requested, can be provided to Our Summit County, Colorado Clients where is a licensed and insured general Contractor (license number 6) and septic system installer (license number 69). is not an architectural nor an engineering firm. We do Our best to consult on your project, but site specific engineering, load calculations, soil viability testing, and/or custom blueprinting are not included in any consultation service or system package We sell.

    Art and Data Release

    Client does hereby irrevocably consent to and authorize the anonymous use and reproduction by Us, or anyone authorized by Us, of any and all artwork, digital images, or stories submitted via email, phone or fax. Our primary concern is protection of your privacy. We never release Client information to anyone for any reason, so any use would be purely anonymous. We will not pay a fee or provide compensation of any sort, now or hereafter, for information, solicited or otherwise, that We share. Client hereby agrees to allow reproductions to be presented online or in printed format and hereby gives Us unrestricted right and permission to copyright and use, re-use, publish, and republish artwork, stories or digital images submitted without restriction as to changes or reproduction hereof in color or otherwise, made through any and all media now or hereafter known for illustration, art, promotion, advertising, trade, or any other purpose whatsoever. This agreement shall be binding upon Client and their heirs, legal representatives and assigns.

    Information Disclaimer

    The information from or through this site and from or through Architerra Enterprises, Inc. (d.b.a. The Natural Home Building source and is provided 'as-is', 'as available', and any and all warranties, express or implied, are disclaimed (including but not limited to the disclaimer of any implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose). We are not an engineering or architectural design firm. We are not licensed electricians or plumbers. We do not accept any legal liability whatsoever for any 'errors and omissions' perceived or otherwise. Any and all consultation given, or website information provided, may contain typos, errors, omissions, problems, or other limitations. Merchandise specifications are subject to change at any time by manufacturer without any advance notice from Our company or the manufacturer. Product specifications and installation instructions are likewise subject to possible error and may change at any time without Our knowledge. Blueprints, sketches, and any written consultation are provided for informational educational purposes only and not intended for construction-ready application without approval first by locally licensed structural engineer and local building department regulations. Our sole and entire maximum liability for any inaccurate information, for any reason, and user's sole and exclusive remedy for any cause whatsoever, shall be limited to the amount paid by the customer for the information received (if any cost was involved). We are not liable for any indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages including but not limited to damages for loss of business, loss of profits, litigation, or the like, whether based on breach of contract, breach of warranty, tort (including negligence), product liability or otherwise, even if advised of the possibility of such damage. The limitations of damages set forth above are fundamental elements of this website, communications, and information provided without such limitations. No representations, warranties or guarantees whatsoever are made as to the accuracy, adequacy, integrity, reliability, currentness, completeness, suitability or applicability of the information to a particular situation. Complaints by Client to any rating agency, company review, or personal referral concerning Merchant or Merchandise in direct disregard of this terms of service agreement are to be considered libel and will be prosecuted as such, if need be.

    Consultation and Service

    Written and verbal consultation on the specifics of any project is governed by this terms of service agreement, with or without purchase of Merchandise. Technical assistance is different with us because Our staff members live with what We sell. Housing, septic, composting and greywater systems all include free on-going consultation, so We'll take the time to answer your questions and ensure your project is a success. At the very least, We strive to save you money by avoiding costly mistakes, both short and long term. If We don't have an answer to your question right on the spot, We'll take the time to research it further and get back to you. We can consult on the phone, if you wish, but email allows us to much more completely answer your questions with sketches and links to related articles. Keeping everything in writing is a sure way to avoid any confusion with "you said he said" situations later. Our sustainable housing products are low-tech in nature, but their design is typically complicated by the seemingly endless installation variables for unique locations and applications. Any and all consultation (blueprints, photos, written word and sketches) purchased from are the intellectual, copyrighted property of HTM house plans, septic system packages and greywater kit components Were designed and priced for the typical home and based upon the average soil type. Whether or not your local building department requires stamped engineer approval, you are well advised to take sample blueprints, sketch plans, and system consultation suggestions to a local professional engineer (PE). Local PEs are familiar with your soil type and more aware of unique building codes and concerns in your area. Most importantly, a local PE is readily available for the necessary site visits. your PE is then responsible for preparing a folder of notes and details which confirm the structural integrity, viability and liability for your project. is not an architectural design nor an engineering firm. We do Our best to consult on your project, but site specific engineering, load calculations, soil viability testing and/or custom blueprinting are not included in any consultation service or system package We sell. Communication is intended only for the paid Client recipient(s) and may be confidential and/or legally privileged and must be treated as such in accordance with state and federal laws. Any disclosure, copying, distribution or action taken in reliance on the content is strictly prohibited.

    Fiberglass Water Tubes

    Water Tube and Cap ("Item") is manufactured for Client on special order basis by an independent company ("Manufacturer"). Manufacturer's warranty and guarantee, and special terms and conditions of sale and delivery apply to this Item. No warranty or guarantee is provided, expressed, or implied by Merchant, Merchant and Manufacturer do not assume any liability or responsibility for damage in transit. Only the transportation company is responsible for damage in transit. Before signing and receiving Item from transportation company, Client should demand to see packing list from Item shipment. If shipment is short Item (for instance: three caps, not four) or damaged (any Item defects), refuse the goods until the transportation agent notes the shortage or damage in writing on the freight receipt waybill. Always require a copy of the annotated waybill with shortage or damage noted in writing and signed/initialed by driver.Watch for hidden damage and inspect all Items fully before signing and accepting the shipment from a freight carrier. Client signature is testament that Item arrived in the proper amount and in undamaged condition. Hidden damage or shortage (anything found after delivery) is Client's sole responsibility to file claim with transportation company. Merchant and Manufacturer do not assume any responsibility or liability for Item damage during/after installation. Manufacturer guarantees Item is up to its established standard of manufacture as to material and workmanship. In all claims, liability is limited to replacement of the invoice value of any Item claimed to be defective. Client assumes all risk and liability whatsoever resulting from the use of such Item, whether used singly or in combination with other substances. The materials purchased hereunder (Item) shall be examined and tested upon receipt thereof, and before the materials are used and within thirty days from such receipt, Client shall notify Merchant in writing of any claims on account of quality thereof. Failure to so notify Merchant shall constitute a waiver of all claims with respect to Item, and in any event the use of Item by Client shall be deemed to mean satisfactory performance on the Item and Merchant. No claim of any kind (whether as to Item delivered or for non-delivery of Item) shall be greater in amount than the purchase price of Item covered hereby with respect to which any damages are claimed. Merchant and Manufacturer will accept no returns unless previously authorized in writing with Return Merchandise Agreement. Item returned without RMA written permission is liable to non-acceptance and return at expense of Client. RMA will specify 25% restocking fee on Item, plus deduction for original cost of crating and shipping, plus Client is responsible for all return shipping arrangements and all related expenses. There are no promises, agreements, or understandings between Client and Merchant and Manufacturer not contained in this document. Should you use your own form to make a purchase based on a price quote from Merchant, the conditions contained herein shall be deemed to be incorporated in said order or contract or invoice.