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Rural Home Construction in CHINA,
ZED Low-Income Housing

China has a growing population that is more than three times larger than the U.S. With 1.3 billion people, the implications of its rush towards American-style energy gluttony has sobering worldwide consequences. China is starved for the energy that they need to grow rapidly. Like the U.S., most of China’s electricity comes from very dirty coal fired power plants. Their sulfur and mercury air pollution is causing major health problems in urban areas. China knows it needs cleaner energy solutions. They are about to complete the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. China has recently acquired major photovoltaic electric equipment manufacturing capacity. They are working on what will become the world’s largest solar electric power plant, and they are likely to soon become the world’s largest manufacturer of PV equipment. China has also begun building a number of large wind farms. These are all excellent growth trends, but they are sadly still insufficient to meet China’s rapidly escalating energy demands.

China is the dominant source of new dirty coal-fired electric power plants in the world. China is currently adding 562 new coal-fired plants by 2012 - nearly half the world’s total expected to come online in the next few years! India is likely to add 213 such dirty coal plants, and the U.S. (under the Bush Administration, which refuses to adhere to the Kyoto Greenhouse Gas Treaty) plans to build 72 dirty coal fired electric power plants. China, India, and the United States - are expected to emit extra 2.7 BILLION TONS of carbon dioxide, according to a Monitor analysis of power-plant construction data. In contrast, Kyoto countries have agreed to REDUCE their 2012 CO2 emissions by 483 million tons. China, India AND U.S. arrogant ignore-ance of our environment are destroying our delicate atmospheric and rapidly accelerating devastating man-made Global Warming. In 2007, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled AGAINST the Bush Administration’s EPA failure to reduce CO2 emissions. We hope that the U.S. will change its downhill CO2 course, BUT what China is doing is far more significant for our planet’s future.

China MUST develop agricultural land that has never been cultivated before. China needs 400 million new residences in the next 12 years! Many of these must be built in rural areas where there are no power plants of any type. They must implement these plans at the lowest possible short-and-long-term costs that are possible.

China needs innovative “off-the-grid” Zero Energy Homes that cost far LESS than conventional homes to build. This is a challenging goal that very few American architects have ever even thought about, must less solved. Traditional thinking says it is “impossible”, but it turns out that the original practical solutions are already being demonstrated TODAY, based on many ZED concepts that have been around for a long time. It certainly requires aggressive Holistic Systems Engineering. Achieving the goal is much easier when we can apply economies of scale to build entire housing additions and new communities as efficiently as possible.

Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart have published an interesting book titled “Cradle to Cradle” about sustainable product development and environmental architecture. They are not energy scientists, (and they are unfamiliar with much of the ZED material in this book), but they have integrated a number of low-cost, low-energy sustainable building techniques that are being used in China today. They have been widely recognized by China’s top government leaders for the contributions they have made to help meet China’s aggressive housing goals.

The topsoil (dirt) found at most construction sites is often a mixture of (large grain) sand, and (fine grain) clay. Too much sand can be a problem, but in many cases, sufficiently strong “dirt” bricks can be made by merely compressing the dirt found at the jobsite in a portable machine that uses relatively little energy. Such dirt bricks do NOT need to be “fired” as conventional bricks do. They are immediately usable when they come out of the machine. Maximum construction rate is determined by the speed of the machine and the number of machines onsite. This is a MAJOR reduction in energy and construction cost. The inside of the dirt bricks can be coated with a plaster or stucco-like compound, without any sheet rock requirement. If insulation is added to the outside of the dirt bricks, the high thermal mass of the bricks helps keep the interior temperature stable, with small day / night (diurnal) temperature swings.

(ZED does not like using combustible materials like hay in construction, but in China it may be all that they can afford – some type of exterior insulation is required for ZED, but we don’t want it to provide a pest habitat. ZED would prefer at least 5 inches of low-cost expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) exterior insulation covered with Exterior Insulation Finishing System (EIFS), where available and within budget.)

Chinese HousingThe idea of using local dirt for construction is NOT new to China. There are about 30,000 “earth buildings” remaining today from the ancient Ming and Qing dynasties. In August 2005, the Chinese government commissioned Dongtan Eco-city, a new urban development for 100,000 people just outside Shanghai. Opening in 2010, it will be a showcase for low-impact modern development and will be the largest of a number of projects that China is undertaking to demonstrate cost-effective environ¬mental sustainability.

 

China Huangbaiyu Sustainable Village Prototype China Huangbaiyu Sustainable Village Prototype Since China needs hundreds of millions of new homes to be built “off-the-grid” with no nearby power plants necessary (or available), China is supplying photovoltaic electric systems, and domestic solar hot water systems for the homes in its picturesque Sustainable Village prototype. The streets are arranged to maximize solar exposure, with no western summer windows, but they need white roofs.

China is gearing up to become the world’s largest manufacturer of solar energy equipment (for profitable export and internal use in hundreds of millions of new Chinese homes). There are new PV technologies (from nearby New Zealand) that are likely to reduce the cost of PV electricity to one tenth of what it is today. China’s future housing plan is based on excellent environmental and economic planning. They have many problems, but they ARE solving them.

 

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