By Robert Lucke
It has been 20 years since Jo and Dick DonTigny built their earth home at 66 15th St. W. And in spite of some modifications, they would probably do just about the same now as they did then if they had to build a new house.
Their house is large two stories. One is completely in the ground with a daylight southern exposure. The other is on top of the ground on all four sides but with a mountain bermed around three sides of it.
Windows? Not many. But if silence, strength and economy are what new home builders are looking for, don't overlook an earth home like DonTigny's.
And the answer to a few windows is simple. Just find a million dollar view like DonTigny's have to make windows really count.
"This is an earth berm home," Dick DonTigny said. "We did have some problems with construction. We had a hard time getting the roof sealed up and then it was good for awhile, but a few years ago we had to put a conventional roof over the original dirt roof."
The whole house is cement and steel. Walls are cement. The roof is cement in waffle panels each 8 by 14 feet and each weighing 5,000 pounds. Outside walls on the east, west, and north are bermed with dirt.
As might be imagined, the house is easy to heat.
"The whole house is like a heat sink," DonTigny said. "The heat in the house does not vary much at all. If it is real cold, temperatures might drop four degrees during the night. We turn off the furnace in the night and next morning we turn it back on. It has heated the whole house in about 10 minutes."
The highest heat bill ever in the house was $135.00 and that included heat, lights and running a pump for water.
The house is so solid that voices and sounds have a different meaning encased in all that cement and dirt.
"There is not a tornado that would do me much harm," DonTigny joked.
How did the DonTigny's get an idea for a Havre earth house? Just where you might expect 20 years ago.
"Back 20 years ago, the Mother Earth News was doing stories about earth houses. I had the other house paid for and we had the property, so we just did it," DonTigny said. "Who knows what craziness strikes us."
What strikes visitors is the silence in the house.
"I had an insurance man come out and tell me it was the best built house he had ever seen," added DonTigny. "You can't hear rain or anything in here. But if you want to add on, you are SOL, though."
So the greatest question, 20 years later: Would the DonTignys' do it all over again?
"I know I would have finished it better inside," Dick DonTigny said.
"I don't think I would do it again," Jo DonTigny said. "It is really hard to hang pictures, and we have no views at all of sunsets and sunrises. There are no east or west windows. Just little things, but one thing that is nice is that we can cool the house all summer without air conditioning."
"The biggest plus is that it seems solid and secure and is inexpensive to live in," Dick DonTigny said. "We did get a little tax break for building an earth house, but our taxes are quite high for what we have, considered we have no roads and no garbage to pick up."
"I still don't know if I would build this house again," Jo DonTigny continued. "But I do know that if we built it now, the technology is much better."
"Well, I do know one thing," Dick DonTigny said with a laugh. "If I lived in tornado country, I would build this house again in a minute. Then, too, the house is built out of at least 80 percent fire-resistant materials."
With the silence, the house made even warmer with beautiful cedar inside walls and that view, the DonTignys might have some reservations if doing it all again. But there is no doubt that they have thoroughly enjoyed the 20 years of their earth bermed south-of-Havre home.