Thursday, January 14, 2010
Surface . .
Theme Thursday has struck again, this week "Surface". After a week of 40 plus temperatures in South Australia, Victoria and inland NSW and just 3 days of oppressive heat in Sydney, I'm wondering why this time held idea hasn't been propagated world wide
After heat waves before and after Christmas, just ask any Australian whether they think living on the surface is fun. It's hot, it's expensive to run air conditioning and swimming pools, there's no relief other than heading for the shopping centres or movie theatres and even blackouts are blamed on overtaxing the energy grid.
In the north, they're besieged by snow and blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and a similar story with the overconsumption of energy to retain warmth. So, why is such a simple prospect as living below the surface not more common?
If you've ever been caving or even just touring a cave, you'll appreciate the constant temperature, the stillness, the fantastic acoustic value, the fresh springs and the sheer beauty of this world beneath the surface.
Half way between Adelaide and Alice Springs, is Coober Pedy. It is an opal mining town in the middle of nowhere and produces more opal than any other place in the world.
Coober Pedy's population hovers around 4000 - give or take a few thousand, depending on the time and size of the last notable opal find.
But you wouldn't guess it when you first look at the place, because most of the people in Coober Pedy live underground.
The name Coober Pedy developed from the Aboriginal "kupa piti", meaning "white man in a hole".
If living underground sounds horrible, as in dark, damp and cramped, think again entirely livable, environmentally practical and retain a constant temperature.
Much is built underground to avoid the oppressive heat from shops, hotels, motels and backpackers quarters to even a swimming pool and churches.
Maybe it's my recent career move into housing project management that has me focusing on sustainable living, energy efficiency and teaching us how to deal with a warming planet but there are many good reasons to build underground:
Underground dwellings can be built on steep surfaces and can maximise space in small areas by going below the ground. In addition the materials excavated in construction can be used in the building process. They can be built inexpensively. Ah therein lies the rub. Imagine a third world revolution building houses for humanity underground that are affordable, safe, energy efficient and comfortable. Perish the thought. Ask the Haitians what they think about living above ground!
Underground dwellings have less surface area so fewer building materials are used, and maintenance costs are lower. They are also wind, fire and earthquake resistant, providing a secure and safe environment in extreme weather.
Most importantly, they are energy efficient. The earth's subsurface temperature remains stable, so underground dwellings benefit from geothermal mass and heat exchange, staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This saves around 80% in energy costs. By incorporating solar design this energy bill can be reduced to zero, providing hot water and heat to the home all year round. An additional benefit of the surrounding earth is noise insulation. Underground homes are exceptionally quiet places to live.
Finally, underground houses can be created so easily to blend with the natural landscape, and have minimum impact on the local ecology. This is not only aesthetically pleasing but ensures that the maximum habitat is left alone for flora and fauna. Ironically, our own Parliament House, the Federal seat of Government is built largely underground.
I am constantly sick of Governments barking on about global warming and climate change when they need to actually address it in a practical way. It really is time to begin thinking outside the box. As I'm typing this I'm listening to some boxhead politician talk about 'environmental action' and 'time to do something' but not coming up with any other solution than 'Australians will judge me on initiatives . . ' Boloxy bastard. Our new economic, political and environmental climate needs change and innovative solutions if we are to exist for decades to come.
Frankly it's a win/win situation if only we can convince levy hungry councils ad the captains of industry to embrace environmental innovations, to pass development applications in suburban areas for alternative living and to encourage industries to branch into more environmentally sound construction methods, we might have a glimmer of hope.
However I feel that the concept, like the head on a good pint of Guinness, will take a long time to rise to the surface.