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Earth China News

Millions In China Live In Energy Efficient Caves 210

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.'"
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Millions In China Live In Energy Efficient Caves

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  • Nice... not (Score:5, Informative)

    by jimshatt ( 1002452 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:13AM (#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.
  • arable land (Score:5, Informative)

    by markhahn ( 122033 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:22AM (#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:Problems... (Score:5, Informative)

    by tp1024 ( 2409684 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:34AM (#39439175)

    Exactly those. Just read up on the Shaanxi Earthquake in 1556 [], when almost a million people died in such caves.

    But hey, it's energy efficient and it's not radioactive. Who cares about the people who die without any radioactivity involved?

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

    by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:36AM (#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.

  • ...And? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @09:18AM (#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 []. 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 wisty ( 1335733 ) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:00AM (#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.

Matter cannot be created or destroyed, nor can it be returned without a receipt.