While the conventional housing market is suffering a critical siege of "financitis," more Americans are likely to listen to a young man who built his own underground house for less than $8,000.

People who live in subterranean dwellings don't have to worry about fire, tornadoes and earthquakes -- or painting or gutter cleaning, says builder Robert L. Roy in his new book, Underground Houses (Sterling Publishing, $5.95). But more important, he said, are the heating and cooling advantages of an underground home, as well as the low cost of construction.

Roy describes his own experience with the underground house he built on a 44-acre tract in upper New York State. "I could do it again today for less than $10,000," he said, during a recent tour to publicize the book.

"By my calculations, many people work one-third of their lives to take care of their cost of shelter. That's why I think it's worthwhile to take one's own time to build a cordwood masonry house under ground. . . .

"I figure that roughly 1,800 hours of work were required to build Log-End Cave (his house). This includes about 450 hours of outside help -- some of it paid, some of it volunteered." But he conceded that the actual time needed to build a similar house might vary because "everyone works at different rates. . . ."

What is important to Roy is that it took less than six months and cost $4,750 in cash. The house has 1,000 square feet of living area.

He said people often tell him that they can't afford to take six months to build their own houses.

"I reply that to save 14-1/2 years of work (that part devoted to paying for shelter) they can't afford not to build, even if it means losing a job. Granted, the $6,750 has to come from somewhere but this is no more -- and probably less -- than the down payment on a contractor-built house and less than half the cost of a new mobile home of similar living space. And you can't compare the end product."

Although admitting that living underground might not be for everyone, Roy insists that it's comfortable and energy-efficient, while enjoying a low-maintenance dwelling.

How much does it cost Roy to heat his house, with its 16-inch walls? He said he used only three cords of wood for heating and cooking last winter. The cost for propane gas heating in summer was $42. His electricity comes from a wind generator (he sells them).

Roy said that a subterranean house, much like his, can be built to conform with most local building codes. He insisted that his two-skylight house is not dark or damp. The southern view is nice and allows the sun to warm the place, he said.

"If I did it over again, however, I'd put an inch of styrofoam sheeting under the stone floor to retain both interior radiant and solar heat," he said. u