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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of May 18, 2001

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

This week, facts about Underground America Day. About 6,000 North Americans have chosen to make their home not only on the earth, but in it.

Transcript

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: John Lurie, "Nose Punch")

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under: Tom Waits, "Underground")

CURWOOD: If you're worried about energy shortages, you might want to do like Tom Waits and consider heading underground. May fourteenth is Underground America Day, a time to honor the 6,000 or so North Americans who make their homes not only on the Earth but in it. Underground America Day began in 1964, when architect Malcolm Wells came up with the idea. He writes, "I woke up one day to the fact that the Earth's surface was made for living plants, not industrial plants." Many underground homes are built into hillsides with soil covering three walls of the house, letting in light from the fourth, glass-sided wall. This way the Earth acts as an insulator and as a source of heating or cooling, depending on the season. That's because in most of North America, the deep soil is a steady 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so, which is a lot warmer than winter's low. In Minnesota's blizzard of 1978, for example, a study by the Department of Energy showed that underground houses never got colder than 41 degrees Fahrenheit, despite minus 30 degrees outside. And of course in summer, the 55 degrees keeps things nice and cool. Interest in underground houses peaked in the 1970s as the Arab oil embargo drove energy sky high. Since then, demand has dropped, with only 100 earth-covered houses being built at any time nationwide. But there is a version of the underground house that is becoming popular. Instead of putting the whole house underground, you can lay a system of pipes to tap the 55 degrees for heating and cooling, and bring it into the house through a pump. Over the long run it saves a lot of energy and cash. President George W. Bush has installed just such an energy-efficient system at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

 

 

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