Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth China News

Millions In China Live In Energy Efficient Caves 210

Posted by samzenpus
from the cave-sweet-cave dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Barbara Demick reports in the LA Times that more than 30 million Chinese people live in caves, many of them in Shaanxi province, where the Loess plateau, with its distinctive cliffs of yellow, porous soil, makes digging easy and cave dwelling a reasonable option. The better caves protrude from mountains and are reinforced with brick masonry. Some are connected laterally so a family can have several chambers. Electricity and even running water can be brought in. 'Most aren't so fancy, but I've seen some really beautiful caves: high ceilings and spacious with a nice yard out front where you can exercise and sit in the sun,' says Ren, who works as a driver in the Shaanxi provincial capital, Xian. 'It's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It's quiet and safe.' In recent years, architects have been reappraising the cave in environmental terms, and they like what they see. 'It is energy efficient. The farmers can save their arable land for planting if they build their houses in the slope. It doesn't take much money or skill to build,' says Liu Jiaping, director of the Green Architecture Research Center in Xian and perhaps the leading expert on cave living. Liu helped design and develop a modernized version of traditional cave dwellings that in 2006 was a finalist for a World Habitat Award, sponsored by a British foundation dedicated to sustainable housing. Meanwhile, a thriving market around Yanan means a cave with three rooms and a bathroom (a total of 750 square feet) can be advertised for sale at $46,000. 'Life is easy and comfortable here. I don't need to climb stairs. I have everything I need,' says 76-year-old Ma Liangshui. 'I've lived all my life in caves, and I can't imagine anything different.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Millions In China Live In Energy Efficient Caves

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:06AM (#39439007)

    Will advanced civilizations one day find our remains and conclude we were cave dwellers?

    • Probably. It actually makes a lot of sense, especially here in Norway where most of the country is mountainous and the arable land is very limited. Of course, carving caves in granite is a bit more demanding than in porous soil...
    • by Idbar (1034346) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:43AM (#39439247)
      Nah. I think this is just Foxconn PR to make people believe that living in caves is the best their employees can have and an awesome green environment. Next, they will say, they even have caves for their workers in their factories. Kiddiiing! ;-)
    • by jc42 (318812) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:49AM (#39439299) Homepage Journal

      Will advanced civilizations one day find our remains and conclude we were cave dwellers?

      That's already a reasonably common observation in our current civilization (which sometimes characterizes itself as "advanced"). I've seen any number of descriptions of houses as artificial caves. This especially applies to houses made of brick or concrete materials, which are really just artificial stones. If you're living in an area that's mostly flat terrain, making your own mini-hills with a door in the side can be very practical. And we even make "hive" dwelling, which we call apartment building.

      Recently, there have been a number of articles published about the old middle-eastern house construction, that amounts to thick (1 meter or so) outer walls, typically of cheap mud-hay mixtures, covered with a layer of stucco for a harder, waterproof outer shell. The thicker the walls are, the better insulation they provide, and the more stable the internal temperature is. There are old and new "hacienda" style houses in the southwestern US built like this (and fakes that are made with thin stucco-covered walls that don't work nearly as well). It's not unusual for people to observe that this type of house is really an artificial hill constructed around a "cave".

      It's not much of a stretch to call most of our houses "cave dwellings". The difference is mostly a matter of terminology, not function. Pretending that we're "modern" is all well and good, but does somewhat mask the fact that the connections between our dwellings and our ancestors' caves is fairly clear once you get past the pretense that they're something totally different.

      • by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:38AM (#39439751)

        That makes it sound as if cave dwelling was the norm for humans in the Pleistocene. Actually the reason prehistoric people seemed to dwell in caves is because all the above ground structures they resided in disintegrated in short order, which only makes sense when you think about it. Cave dwelling likely was the exception to the rule, given how uncommon suitable caves are in the first place - the loess plateau in China is the largest of its kind in the world, so it's not surprising to see people take advantage of its properties.

    • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @09:10AM (#39440093) Homepage Journal

      Will advanced civilizations one day find our remains and conclude we were cave dwellers?

      Humans have never been cave dwellers. They just happened to live in caves, too. That we find traces of human settlement in caves is a selection bias -- outside of caves, the evidence has been washed away. It was never a predominant form of settlement.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes. Some of us even live in mobile caves that never go anywhere. Fascinating.

    • by dcw3 (649211)

      I think that I can speak for all married men when I say that we prefer our "man caves" or garages. The rest of the house belongs to the woman (at least in the U.S....yes, we have no balls here, she keeps them in her purse).

    • by PRMan (959735)
      In a word... Yes.
  • Nice... not (Score:5, Informative)

    by jimshatt (1002452) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:13AM (#39439025)
    It's all well and good to praise this: "Life is easy and comfortable here". But... really? I would only live in a cave like this when my previous house was in a slump and this is slightly less miserable.
    • Re:Nice... not (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:17AM (#39439049) Homepage

      Too bad you are narrow minded. I would pay $2,000,000 to live in a hole in the ground.

      http://www.silohome.com/ [silohome.com]

      I would LOVE to live in a decommissioned Missile silo.

      • by Like2Byte (542992) <Like2Byte@yMONETahoo.com minus painter> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:59AM (#39439377) Homepage

        I would pay $2,000,000 to live in a hole in the ground.

        Good news! Some day, you'll reside in one for free!

      • by na1led (1030470)
        If the cave is not properly engineered, it can be a death trap. Just look at all the miners that die from collapsed tunnels. If you're living in a mountain, then you're going to be dealing with ground swells, and potential tunnel collapses.
        • by magarity (164372)

          If the cave is not properly engineered, it can be a death trap. Just look at all the miners that die from collapsed tunnels. If you're living in a mountain, then you're going to be dealing with ground swells, and potential tunnel collapses.

          That doesn't seem to be the problem for the caves in the article. Some have been handed down so many generations the family doesn't know anymore which great*n grandparent first carved it out.

    • Re:Nice... not (Score:4, Insightful)

      by necro81 (917438) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:25AM (#39439107) Journal
      When you are sitting inside, how can you tell the difference between one of these finished caves and a house? Look around and its just walls.
      • Re:Nice... not (Score:5, Insightful)

        by wisty (1335733) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:27AM (#39439127)

        If there's an earthquake, a house has a lower chance of burying you alive.

        • Re:Nice... not (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ed1park (100777) <ed1park.hotmail@com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:45AM (#39439271)

          Also, it's nice to have a bedrooms/bathrooms with a window. Not only for a view and some fresh air, but it serves as route of escape in case of fire or some threat at the main and only entrance.

          I wonder if radon and other poisonous things are a concern. But if your alternative is living out of cardboard boxes or a landfill with your children, then a cave doesn't seem so bad.

          Families living on landfills:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wfjgcSxEw8 [youtube.com]
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o9z43l55PU [youtube.com]

          • by steelfood (895457)

            Fire isn't nearly as big a deal when your dormitory is not primarily made of flammable materials. Minor fires will naturally ventilate through an airshaft that you'd presumably already have for cooking under.

            Radon's a problem for underground dwellings. But these caves are on a mountainside. Which means they're actually elevated.

            Earthquakes are a problem though. But they'd be a problem irrespective of whether you're in a cave or a house. There are always engineering solutions for that, irrespective of whethe

        • Only if it's built properly. On the other hand, a cave is less likely to burn down.

        • I've lived all my life in apartment buildings (Second and fifth floor, not counting the ground floor) and were an earthquake to occur, I'm not at all certain that it's preferable over small-ish caves containing a couple of rooms... Naturally, that's not that important if they aren't in area prone to earthquakes.

          Hell, I'd love to live in a cave like that, provided that it'd have electricity and all.

          • by wisty (1335733) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:00AM (#39440595)

            Buildings are generally engineered to stay up in earthquakes. The worst earthquake *ever* was in Shaanxi, 1556. It killed over 800,000, because so many people were living in caves (which collapsed). It was estimated to be magnitude 8, about the same size as the 2008 Sichuan quake (which killed about 70,000 people, despite the higher population, and some buildings being badly made).

            With 30 million people living in caves, you don't need a huge proportion to collapse for it to be an unbelievably horrific disaster. It's happened before. It can happen again. And it's no longer the 1500s, when there weren't as many lives at risk, no-one had the knowledge or resources to mitigate against it, peasants were expect to die unnatural deaths anyway. A large quake near Manila might be worse (due to the density, potential for a stronger quake due to it being on a bigger fault, and tsunami potential) but it's it's one of the worst predictable (as in - it could happen, so people should be planning on what to do to prevent too many deaths) disasters that can occur in the world.

        • You can't put any kind of earthquake isolation system on a cave either...

        • yes..but if there's a tornado or hurricane, a cave has a lower chance of being blown away.

        • http://lmgtfy.com/?q=cave+home+collapse [lmgtfy.com]

          Indeed.

          I believe that claustrophobia is a natural instinct as much as standing in a fire is uncomfortable. And I've seen The Descent and read The Hobbit and I know what's down there.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      My lady has lived in a cave in Greece and she said it was wonderful, just don't run around on the rugs or you'll slip and break your head.

  • Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bosef1 (208943) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:14AM (#39439029)

    I haven't read the articles; are these the same caves that collapse every time that area gets a strong earthquake, causing a huge humanitarian crisis as all of the occupants are buried under the hill?

  • Not legal in the USA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:15AM (#39439039) Homepage

    All the silly safety laws here will make cave dwelling illegal as there are no egress windows in every room and at least two exit doors.

    Because if the cave burns, you cant get out.

    • Except I've seen several cave houses for sale in places such as New Mexico and Arizona.
      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Not in any city area, always way out beyond zoning and typically they are grandfathered. I.E. built before we started electing Low IQ morons to government positions.

    • It's not unheard of in Europe though (Mostly in Espane)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DigiShaman (671371)

      begin sarcasm

      That's a bad thing? A cave fire provides food, reduces population, and frees up a unit for someone else that needs shelter. You see, your problem is that you're not thinking like an environmentalist.

      end sarcasm

    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      You can build a cave dwelling that still meets those requirements.

  • Big deal (Score:5, Funny)

    by arglebargle_xiv (2212710) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:16AM (#39439047)
    I have a cave at my place as well. It's got a beer fridge, wide-screen TV, and power tools. Belching and farting is not only permitted but encouraged.
  • by drainbramage (588291) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:17AM (#39439055)

    between living in a cave and your parents basement?

  • Cue the straw men. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204)
    I expect, within a week, to find at least one person rambling that 'All the liberal ecocommies want us to go back to living in caves and mud huts.'
    • by operagost (62405)
      Meanwhile, MSNBC reports that western capitalists' greed for profits are causing Chinese factory workers to live in dank caves.
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I often wonder why people, especially in places like Tornado alley don't just build the entire dwelling underground. Sure it would be a little more expensive, but it can't be more expensive then rebuilding the houses every time there's a tornado. Add to that the increased heating and cooling efficiencies, and it almost seems like a no brainer. Let some grass grow on top, and you have a much bigger yard too. There are some downsides, like less sunlight, but that could be fixed with modern lighting systems
      • I think it'd more more than a little more expensive - it'd probably cost at least twice as much, maybe more. You've also got the powerful societal pressure to conform, and it'd obviously be a Very Bad Idea if there is any possibility of flooding. Legal issues, too - fire codes require things like multible points of egrees, which is difficult when underground. Possible (Escape ladder), but difficult. I think it's mostly the social issue though... not many people want to be the local freak who lives in a hole
    • Trixxy Hobbitses!

    • by dcw3 (649211)

      I was about to say "if the shoe fits", but then they're shoeless.

  • arable land (Score:5, Informative)

    by markhahn (122033) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:22AM (#39439089)

    why is it that arable land counts for so little in western (at least north american) societies? isn't it a bit of a shame we devote so much land to lawns, rather than something productive? yes, I know: the crops that could be grown are not worth the cost of maintaining them. but why is that? is food too cheap, or labor too expensive? is it a distortion caused by exchange rates?

    I wouldn't mind a part-cave house, especially since a cave would presumably be near some sort of elevation (hillside, escarpment). I think everyone values a bit of a view, some sunlit rooms, etc. but one-story houses on flat plots of land are pretty boring once they scale past a cottage.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Waffle Iron (339739)

      So much land is devoted to lawns because no matter where people go, they prefer to transform their surroundings to look like the savannas where humans first lived.

      • by rolfwind (528248)

        It's not that absolute. I used to live in a place where no one could give a fuck if your lawn was all mud or weeds growing 3 foot high. Then another place where the township called a 3rd party mower if your lawn was 3 inches above ideal cut and send you a $400 bill for it too.

        Lawns are primarily an American tick with English roots:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawn#18th_and_19th_Century [wikipedia.org]

        And one that will go out of fashion in more places and more I predict once oil gets too high (end of this decade).

    • Re:arable land (Score:5, Interesting)

      by necro81 (917438) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:43AM (#39439239) Journal

      is food too cheap, or labor too expensive

      For many people, I think the calculus goes something like this for, say, growing tomatoes:

      Spend anything from $10-40 per plant in potting soil, pots, cages, seedlings, etc.
      Devote a couple hours of labor, per plant, over the entire growing season to coax them into being productive
      Be inundated with tomatoes for all of three weeks at the height of summer, at the same time when...
      Their grocery store sells tomatoes for $2/lb. all year 'round

      I personally don't take this view. I enjoy my garden, even the modest amount of labor it requires. It's productive enough to do better-than-breakeven on cost, especially when I amortize the upfront costs over many years. Plus, although I wouldn't boast that, say, my tomatoes are world-class, they are a damn sight better than what the grocery store offers. I don't eat much out-of-season, so having fresh tomatoes in January just seems silly.

      • by ifrag (984323)

        Plus, although I wouldn't boast that, say, my tomatoes are world-class, they are a damn sight better than what the grocery store offers.

        I thought this is why people grew their own in the first place. In my experience homegrown have a lot more flavor to them, store bought tomatoes taste bland in comparison after.

        Or I suppose like yourself, actually enjoying it. I'd be more outcome driven about it myself, the work involved might not be completely proportional to the perceived increase in quality.

        • by Inda (580031)
          There are certain crops that make sense in a kitchen garden. Most are not economical, or require too many chemicals.

          I've just planted first early potatoes for two reasons:

          1) I'm able to crop them when they are small and tasty

          2) They are extremely expensive to buy early in the season. I do not grow main crop potatoes because they are cheap plus I have a common scab and blight problem.

          Tomatoes: Grow the small ones like Sweet Millions. You don't end up with a glut and they're small enough for finger food. I gr
        • by necro81 (917438)

          I thought this is why people grew their own in the first place. In my experience homegrown have a lot more flavor to them, store bought tomatoes taste bland in comparison after

          In my experience, most people simply don't give a damn. If it's red and shows up on a burger or in a salad, it's a tomato. This is only a recent innovation, a trained perception. This is good, because it means people can be deprogrammed and realize that the red slab on their burger at McDonald's bears as much resemblance to a rea

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          Picking fresh off the vine and eating is one advantage, the other advantage, if you grow enough, is being able to can your own preserves. Much better than the store bought stuff. We did this with the fresh fruit from the local farmers market (Peaches and strawberries). With a little work, we had enough jam to last the whole winter. And it tastes way better than just about any store bought jam. Pumpkin, other squashes, tomatoes, and many other things can be easily canned or frozen, saving you a lot on y
      • Re:arable land (Score:4, Insightful)

        by El Torico (732160) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:45AM (#39439829)
        My gardening experience is somewhat different -
        Spend anything from $10-40 per plant in potting soil, pots, cages, seedlings, etc.
        Devote a couple hours of labor, per plant, over the entire growing season to coax them into being productive.
        Step outside one day to see a deer enjoying the last of the tomatoes after devouring everything else in the garden.
      • Spend anything from $10-40 per plant in potting soil, pots, cages, seedlings, etc.
        Devote a couple hours of labor, per plant, over the entire growing season to coax them into being productive
        Be inundated with tomatoes for all of three weeks at the height of summer, at the same time when...
        Their grocery store sells tomatoes for $2/lb. all year 'round

        That's possibly true in some states. One approach might be to select plants that grow naturally in the environment. I have all manner of spices that just seem to

    • Because they have,
      1. Comparatively low population density.
      2. The best agricultural technology ever invented to squeeze all the food possible from that land.
      Far from being in food crisis, most of the western world has problems with overeating. They even throw energy away turning corn into beef just because it tastes good.
    • Why should an average Joe try to farm his yard for food he doesn't need and can't sell competitively with those that know how to farm and do so efficiently with multi-hundred thousand dollar combines?

      Besides, you pose a false dichotomy. The options aren't having farmed land or having a lawn. The lawn is a vast improvement on the dirt yards of the early 20th century, and on unkept woodland scrub before that, in terms of both carbon capturing ability and ambient temperature (dirt yards are hot).

      It makes more
      • It makes more sense to put more people on smaller land (do away with yards altogether) for energy efficiency/cost reasons than to have millions of sub-acre semiproductive farms.

        Along the same lines: Why give 100 people each tiny yards, when they can have nice apartments next to a large park instead? I think the New Urbanists have it right.

      • And that are low-maintenance....

        Namely, fruit trees. Pick the right varieties and you don't even need to spray them.

        My yearly maintenance burden for them is, I'd say, below 8 hours including harvest--though part of that 8 hours is late-summer pruning to keep the trees SMALL.

        They also require far less water than grass, maybe by as much as a factor of 10.

        Best,

        --PM

    • by Pecisk (688001)

      It's because of globalisation of food market, which gaves Western countries dangerously false sense of security about food resouces they have. It is not like goverment institutions aren't aware about this danger, I guess they know it allright, they just tend to overlook it.

      From other side, it gives something for farmers in my country (and frankly, most of Europe) to export. Still, it is heavily subsided. But it's not definitely very black and white - while middle men as definition is plague, lot of farmers

  • Earthen berms.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:36AM (#39439187)

    Earthen berms (Hobbit holes) were all the rage in the early 1970's, just after the OPEC crisis. By the late 1970's, lots of people discovered firsthand the problems with trapped moisture, lack of ventilation, lack of natural light, and lack of egress options.

    I think the soil and climate conditions in Shaanxi are relatively unique, so they might get away without the moisture problems.

    • by hey! (33014)

      By the late 1970's, lots of people discovered firsthand the problems with trapped moisture, lack of ventilation, lack of natural light, and lack of egress options.

      That's a result of lacking engineering and architectural know-how. You get some guy who's never designed a house who suddenly gets the brainstorm that he's going to build himself a hobbit hole, or a geodesic dome, or a house made out of discarded glass bottles. The spirit of DIY was a very 1960s (roughly 1965-1975) thing: you don't have to rely on "the system", you could build your own house, grow your own food, weave your own cloth etc. DIY's the second coolest thing about the 60's (after to the conjuncti

      • Definitely can be done, some of the better earth-berm buildings I have seen in Florida basically make an artificial hillside with a concrete wall, then the actual structure is set back from the wall 6-10 feet for air circulation and light, you still have the massive heat sump nearby, and blocking of the direct blazing sun, without getting much more damp and musty than a conventional building.

    • Yeah it's a very arid region, the soil is porous and soaks up moisture, and is easy to dig into.

      So basically it is only useful because of local conditions. Kind of like wind power in that regard.

  • You're lucky to live in a cave! We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank.
  • The permit process would dash any hopes. Habitability inspection.... Sanitation requirements.... In most places, electrical hookup to the grid is a legal requirement. Also, if childrens services found out, there goes your kids.
  • Do they sometimes set aside rooms for the husband to pursue his hobbies in and call it a man house?
  • ...And? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:18AM (#39439579)

    I like how the article makes out as if living in a cave is some sort of revolutionary idea.

    While it seems the Chinese have been doing it in much greater numbers for a great many more years, they aren't the only ones to know how much sense it can make.

    If you ever visit Australia and venture into the outback, there are a number of places where people live in caves, the most famous being Coober Pedy [wikipedia.org]. The cave homes and even the hotel are very cozy in winter and very cool in summer and I found them to be quite charming in the couple of times I have been there.

  • by tenzig_112 (213387) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:29AM (#39439671) Homepage

    I can't be the only one who thought of Minecraft while reading that.

  • Problems: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <erauqssemitelcric>> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:25AM (#39440931) Homepage Journal

    Radon

    Air quality (unless all the bathroom business and cooking is done outside).

    You better like the temperature inside, because you're certainly not burning anything to keep warm: carbon monoxide and low oxygen.

    But not a lot of noise complaints I bet.

  • Queue obligatory GEICO commercial...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5JV0Fs_GE8 [youtube.com]

  • Millions in China Live in Energy Efficient Caves"

    Meanwhile, back in the US, millions of slashdot subscribers live in energy efficient basements.

  • by deek (22697) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:06PM (#39446895) Homepage Journal

    Many dwellings in Coober Pedy are underground. Very practical, considering the temperatures it can reach outside. Much more efficient than using air conditioning to cope with the higher temperatures. Some of the dwelling interiors look very nice indeed! Yes, some do look like holes; I know, what did I expect. There's even an underground church and underground hotel. All in all, looks like a very pleasant way to live.

I am here by the will of the people and I won't leave until I get my raincoat back. - a slogan of the anarchists in Richard Kadrey's "Metrophage"

Working...