Thursday, January 14, 2010

Surface . .

Sustainable Hobbit House . .Wales

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.

Temple of Bahl . .Jenolan Caves NSW

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.

Not too shabby?

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.

What's good for the goose isn't necessarily what's good for . . .

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.


Ribbon said...

Nice pad.... but having worked underground I can't honestly say that I would like to live there too.
I love daylight way to much to give it up just yet.

Yep the surface has definetly been hot... we just need more holidays to enjoy it. It's nasty weather to work in.

I like what you've done with Surface... but I'm ok with being on it rather than under it at the moment :)

Great post.
x Ribbon

Ocean Girl said...

I'm scared to be the first to comment. Or do you display only after approval.

Aye Aye Ms Baino. Let's go underground.

steph said...

Good thinking! Baino

I spent three year's living underground (basement of a large 4-storey Georgian building) and only surfaced when mushrooms starting growing between my toes!

Our flat maintained a constant temperature, cool in summer and warm in winter but we only got sunshine in high summer. In the northern hemisphere, we need all the sunshine we can get!

I like the concept of your modern underground kitchen with a large skylight for natural lighting. Cool!

Anonymous said...

I'd be one to live anywhere( and prob'ly have ). Something like the Hobbit house would work well. nice theme take, Baino ;)

Brian Miller said...

i would love to live underground. it would be way cool! i tried to dig an underground fort as a boy, though never made it quite far enough.

Sarah Lulu said...

Been so hot hasn't it?! Nearly driven me over the edge.

I could so so so easily live in that hobbit house in Wales!!!!!!!!

Alan Burnett said...

What a wonderful idea. There are a few earth covered houses around here but going underground seems a much more adventurous solution to so many of our problems. And there are a load of disused coal mines around here. Perhaps once I've finally dug all the snow off the path I will just keep on digging.

Melanie said...

I ll go underground , no worries, great idea. But the first person to call me a hobbit gets punched. I hate hobbits, leave em on the surface to frazzle to a crisp I say.

Poetikat said...

I think it's a great idea as long as I can keep out the bugs.
Loved that line about the Guinness, Baino.

Kate Hanley said...

Funny, I just read about Coober Pedy in a book of my daughter's (The 39 Clues). And I agree, let's explore all these other options but I'm afraid that people resist change--at least in the US, just look at the healthcare reform issue.

nick said...

Sounds a very sensible idea with a lot of advantages over conventional housing. Personally, not liking the dark, I prefer a house with plenty of daylight coming in. Though with light-emitting wallpaper on the way, which actually mimics sunlight, that problem might be fixable.

Also I'd be a bit nervous about people tramping about and doing who knows what all over my roof. Or is the roof fenced off?

But first we have to win over all those hidebound politicians who're wedded to conventional housing and won't be easily converted to such a radical alternative.

willow said...

No, not too shabby at all! I'm so claustrophobic, I would have to convince myself that I wasn't really under ground.

California Girl said...

Before the computer would scroll down below your first pics, I immediately wondered if you'd shot photos of Frodo or Bilbo's house from the "Rings" movie. I could definitely live in that Hobbit House.

Good points you make and appropos of the subject. I poohed out and posted photos with a short comment. lol.

Roy said...

Great post, Baino! And I so want to live in that Hobbit House.

Don't Bug Me! said...

How can it already be Theme Thursday - have only just posted Macro Monday?!
As for living underground - an excellent idea - I have always wanted some sheep grazing on my roof, but I suspect it would not work so well when you live on a delta. I can see a few damp issues.

Mrsupole said...

Well I can see this happening someday. They build a big enclosed circular hole straight down, kinda like a missile silo. That is the center rotunda, so to speak. The sunlight streams in and then on each level a house is built and with mirrors set at the correct angles then each house gets the the maximum benefit of sunlight each day. And with the enclosed rotunda all the hot and cold air stays there. Although I guess windows could be provided for on those days when the weather is actually great. And the first floor would be like the common area, kinda like an upside down, underground condo community. Then above the condo the outside land would be a park with trees and bike paths and picnic areas.

And if they had a row of condos then maybe they could even put in a little pond or an outdoor swimming pool, while also having an indoor one available for when the weather sucks.

I wonder why no one has thought of this before.

Okay so this is my idea and you all heard it first. So if anyone wants to buy my idea, just let me know. LOL.

I love the Hobbit House, it really looks like it would be a cool place to live.

Oh and I have finally started back with installments of Opal Nation again. I hope you like it.

God bless.

Ropi said...

I would pick the last house because it is clean, there is order there and it shows superiority to me.

A very long series ended on Wednesday. After 2 years 11 months I got 4 at history 8actually i got 2 fours but not because my history knowledge). I got one because my history knowledge was very good but the teacher was not satisfied with the way I perform it. I got the other one because on the advanced exam you need to get 60% to get 5 and I got 74%. :D :D

The funny thing is that even my classmate who wanted to see my human side that I make a mistake and get 4 at history said that it was not very fair from the teacher.

Janice said...

Great idea...I could go for it!

Susan at Stony River said...

Oooo dream houses! The Hobbit house is just too wonderful.

I read about Coober Pedy years ago and was fascinated, but I never knew where the name came from until now. I love it!

Amen to getting politicians to shut up and *do* something. Surely governments could offer major incentives to homebuilders of environmentally friendly houses -- especially those that have little or no dependence on heating oil and air conditioning.

Jill said...

That underground living arrangement looks very chic!

I, for one, CRAVE sunlight EVERY DAY and seek it out at all costs...I believe I would wither away underground!


Darlene said...

I think I could live underground in the summer here when the temperatures can climb to 110*F. I would call it my summer vacation house, but winter calls for sunshine.

i beati said...

i want that first house please get it for me thanks sak

JeffScape said...

Bring the beer, Baino. Let's dig.

Baino said...

Well you could have a roof garden! Actually I don't see that much daylight anyway thanks to work! Now there's a plan, more holidays!

That's OK Ocean! Ribbon beat you to it. No, I don't approve just yet .. only word verification to keep that Japanese spammer away.

Steph! Mushrooms between your toes!

I rather fancy that little house, Hes a Welsh architect although my spiders would love all that wood!

Music sounds awesome in a cave too Brian. They have recitals at Jenolan quite often.

You'd probably still have to dig yourself out even if you were underground Alan. I wonder if the coal industry would embrace such an initiative.

Aww Mel! You afraid of their funny feet?

I've never been there Kate and frankly their underground dwellings are a bit 'rough' looking but it's one way to keep cool. I get very frustrated at Governments reacting to things rather than leading the way. All this talk of Carbon Trading and emissions doesn't solve the problem. We need to embrace new technologies and think of viable alternatives. Then that's another post.

I think there could be a balance Willow. I mean my block is gently sloping so you could build the living areas above ground and have say bedrooms and bathrooms below. I'm sure an innovative architect could do it without you really feeling hemmed in.

Cali . . any post is a good post! No he's a Welsh architect building Tumnus/Hobbit houses. So cute!

Hmm . . thought it might appeal to you Roy!

I know DBM. Mind it's a good thing when the working week goes fast. Just hope things slow down on the weekend. This is my first post since Sunday! Even my sister prompted me on Facebook! Yep, you'd have to pick your place pretty carefully I imagine.

Wow Mrs S, you have it all worked out! Good for you, I'll be catching up on the weekend.

Ropi you're so predictable. That's our Parliament house. Most of it is built underground on a hill in Canberra. It is indeed clean and symmetrical. Fantastic news about your history exam, that's a great result.

Me to Jan, especially after the heat we've been having.

Fortunately, Suze, where I work, sustainability is a big part of home design so it is happening. Sadly at the moment on too few homes. It'll take the population to complain about the expense of heating and cooling before Governments show any initiative. We can get rebates on water tanks, insulation and solar panels though so it's a start.

Love the flashy house Jill, you'd never know it was underground! And you can still have windows and skylights.

Banana lounge on the roof I think Darlene

I'll try my best Sandy.

Hehe . . .great way to keep your plonk cool as well Jeff!

Stephanie said...

The hobbit house is so fine. I'd like to live there.

Tom said...

love the hobbit holes! If i had to do it over again, i think i'd love to build a house into a hill. Right now i'm in a split level, and the basement 3rd actually has NO heating or just gets by with whatever filters in from the laundry/furnace room and what falls down the steps. Seems pretty comfortable summer and winter...i'm with you---'specially as i keep my temp set to a cool 68 farenheit all winter. We need clearer heads to get us through these next years...keep up the good work Helen!

Wings said...

Love the look of the hobbit house, but I am sure the maintainence is out of this world! ;)

Renee said...

Oh my God you are so fucking funny. I burst out laughing that if there was a god you would punch his lights out. har har

If I believed in a god that had any control of this and let it happen I would punch his lights out too.

I laughed at your comment here about your new job in housing. Just funny I don't even know why.

I love the houses underground.

Your guys heat is as bad as our cold, neither can stay outside.

Good news Camille is in and her and Jacquie have taken transit to go see my Mom.

Love Renee xoxo

Pam said...

Did a teaching exchange in Coober Pedy Baino, when I lived in Port Augusta. The aboriginal population called white people "Gubas" so am wondering if that original word was actually "Guba Piti".Interesting living and sleeping underground, and residents never have to find a bigger place to live, just dig another room out! There were some pretty classy dugouts when I was there.It can be a dangerous place to live though- disused mine shafts etc. A young woman,British tourist disappeared there a few years ago - never found.

Grannymar said...

I had friends years ago who lived in a house that looked like a bungalow. Living room, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom were on the ground floor. A stairway led down to a floor below ground where the other four bedrooms and bathrooms were.

After years of going 'up' to bed, I found the arrangement strange. I have to admit I like to look over the countryside and see for miles.

Babysis said...

I'm a big fan of second breakfast so I'd like a holiday in the hobbit house. I definately like the "mod" house - and I quite like parliament house's lawn - could play a mean game of polo on it! But alas as Ben Fold's Five says - Everythings Heavy Underground! So I'll stay above thanks.

Annie Ha said...

Ooh! I like the hobbit house!!

Skip Simpson said...

Underground housing is definitely a way to go!

otin said...

The hobbit house looks pretty cool, but I want to live above ground, damnit! haha! You are trying to drive me underground. Do I stink that bad? haha Just giving you a hard time.

Ronda Laveen said...

Great take on the theme Baino and the first I've seen on underground. Those buildings are fantastic and I really like that idea of living underground.

Vagabonde said...

One of our neighbors has an underground house – we rarely see them. Our daughter used to babysit their children and told us that it was very comfortable inside. I worked for almost 26 years in a building with no windows and I would go to the farthest loo in the place, just because it was near an outside door and I could look at the sky. I think it would take a while to get used to living without sunshine. Those shots of the caves are great.

Vita said...

I'd like to live in the Hobbit Home!!! :-)

Lizzie said...

Although I really love the "hobbit" homes (SO COOL!) I am not sure how well I would do living underground. It would be interesting to try, though! :)

Rowe said...

I once stayed overnight in a partially underground house built into the side of a hill at Dural. It was a beautiful modern design, there were windows looking outside which made it more desirable. I read in my local paper about a couple who were facing stricter building guidelines that are climate/environmentally friendlier for new housing stock, and this couple were not happy because it made the building process more expensive for them. I think it will take some time to get the balance right.

River said...

I've been looking at and reading about earth covered sustainable homes for years, I've always wanted one. There's one here in the hills and I read that getting approval to build it was hard and took forever. Seems councils don't like deviating from the norm.

Mmm said...

Oh what an interesting take on this theme adn I so agree about underground living, especially with heat. You know the pioneers did that a fair bit the West --sod houses etc as seen in Laura Ingalls Wilder's story "On the Banks of Plum Creek."

There are quite a few here too and it also helps wiht the wind. The biggest issue of course is lack of real light and feeling hemmed in as it were.

Baino said...

Cute isn't it Stephanie. . I wonder if there are cakes . . .Tumnus and Frodo would have cakes

The beauty of building 'into' the hill is you still get the benefit of sunlight Tom. Thanks Tom. I remember visiting my aunt in England and their house was 80 degrees all the time. It was horrible. I just tell mine to put a jumper on!

Probably right Wings. I just think of the cobwebs I'd have to dust!

Thank you Renee. I wasn't trying to be funny! I guess Nick Cave was right. He doesn't believe in an interventionist God either. My new job? Nah the same one I've just been shafted by she who no longer wants me! And it's very serious business thank you very much. Although the guys swear a lot then apologise cos I'm the only woman. . .how little they know me! I'm glad Jax is going to get to see your mum.

You're lucky Pam. I've never been there. One day maybe. Could be a connection I guess . . wouldn't you eventually 'smell' the tourist. Perhaps she came out the other side! Then if she hadn't fallen down a mine, some backpacker murderer would have got her . .or a dingo . . or a crocodile!

Actually Grannymar, a lot of two storey houses here, particularly those built in the 70's have living upstairs and sleeping down. Strange.

Haha . . and elevenses Lou? Wouldn't you like to do some damage to that lawn on a wet day. "Chippy . . . ."

Cute isn't it Annie.

Otin, I haven't a snowball's chance in hell of driving you anywhere but crazy. Besides, who drives their crush underground.

Still got to get around Ronda but it's 6pm on Friday evening, weekend's here so catch up time! Cin Cin!

I love the fresh air Vagabonde I must admit. I'm an open window/door girl so it would have to be very well ventilated. The caves are part of a large network about 2 hours from Sydney, well worth a look.

I thought it might suit you Vita!

Tis cool Lizzie. I could live underground as long as there was a roof garden and some escape into the fresh air.

Dural? That's about 20 minutes from me. The kids are house sitting out there as I type. Bloody councils. They just want the levies and rates and to be as obstructionist as possible.

Yeh I think approvals would be difficult mainly because planners can't think outside the square. Also our newly litigious society makes them cautious.

Thanks Mr Toasty. I didn't know they did that in the US. I wouldn't feel 'hemmed in' if it looked like that kitchen!

Sorry Sarah . . missed you tucked in there at the top. Yeh, nice and cool this weekend though. Wouldn't you know it, just as I get the pool clean and swimmable.

Ces said...

Global Warming! Try telling that to the people dying of the cold! Hahaha! The UN scientists now admit we are getting into the global cooling phase. I wonder what Al Gore will invest on now?

Ropi said...

I was talking about the photo above that. I knew that is your Parliament, so who is the predictable, eh? :)

Megan said...

This is really interesting.

There are berm homes in some spots of Nevada. Definitely decreases the air conditioning bill but very difficult to get permits for or finance.

Baino said...

Well I prefer to call it Climate Change Ces . . it's been one weird winter for you guys that's for sure and we've had our hottest year in the southern hemisphere although we 'tied' acording to Nasa with 1980 and 1997

Yes Ropi I am very predictable. And you're very cheeky!

I wonder why it's so hard to get finance for them? I mean if they're architecturally designed and structurally sound I don't see the problem. Could be a burgeoning industry for savvy builders I think

Anonymous said...

You don't have to be living underground to feel deprived of sunlight. In the past I've spent days at work completely ignorant of what the weather has been like, tucked away in the innards of buildings.
But some of your places pictured above look excellent - especially the hobbit house.
Anyway, the dwellings don't necessarily need to be completely subterranean - just a bit recessed.

Dreamhaven said...

Sadly, my claustrophobia would keep me from living underground. The idea of underground around a deep open space might work.

Jay said...

Interesting thoughts... My first one in response is that people like to be able to look out at the world and see daylight. Not so easy if you're largely underground, although much can be done with mirrors to bring light into the building, it's not the same as actually looking out of a window for yourself. I think the human psyche might suffer long term living underground.

Having said that, there was a race of desert dwellers in Utah who built largely underground structures, simply to survive in the extreme temperatures.

Are you sure about the earthquake resistance? I would have thought that if the earth moved and cracked, it could split a house in half and possibly bury the inhabitants!

studioJudith said...

How great to know about this community!
Here in northern New Mexico (US), we have several small groups of berm houses built partially underground , with the actual structures using discarded car tires. I've been in a few and they seem to be a good idea that needs some refinement. Not nearly as attractive as the ones you've featured.
Great take on the Surface theme ... .

CatLadyLarew said...

What beautiful homes those are! The first one looks absolutely magical. People don't realize how airy underground homes can be.

Baino said...

Blackwater that's true. Even shopping centres are built here with no access to direct sunlight so that people don't know what time of day it is . .dupes them into staying longer. And you're right the 'recessed' scenario is preferable.

Again Dreamhaven, we're not talking totally submerged.

Must admit Jay, I'm a 'leave everything open' person. Apparently they're earthquake resistant because amplitude of the vibration decreases with depth into the ground when distant from the epicenter of the quake, and because the home would not be shaken soley through its foundation. Some architect's words, not mind.

Hmm Judith, puts a new light on reusing and recycling!

Certainly the ones I've seen on the net seem to be very comfortably and airy Cat.

Candie Bracci said...

wow nice one Baino!

Jen Chandler said...

I love the Hobbit house :) I have to have windows. HAVE too. There's no way I could live underground. If I don't get sunlight I think I'd shrivel up and die. Yep. I would.

Great post. Especially about politicians talking too much and doing nothing. I soooooooo agree.


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