Recipe for Sustainable Living
633 damaged acres
1,126 bald tires
600 aluminum cans
8 solar panels
3,000 gallons of rainwater
999 bottles of beer on the wall
Bake in the warm rays of the ever-burning sun for a lifelong sustainable home.
Serves: the entire planet.
Most of the time, massive piles of blown out tires, aluminum cans, and glass bottles are an eyesore. They’re environmentally and visually polluting, are non-biodegradable, and are considered to be waste products by most people, unless you’re someone who use piles of trash to construct beautiful, artistic, fully-sustainable homes that are powered by the rain and sun.
In Greater World Community, New Mexico’s largest neighborhood of Earthship homes, one man’s trash is another man’s home. There is no available water, no power lines, blazing hot sun, and dry, dusty winds making Taos County perfectly appealing in every way for Earthship construction. Located 12 miles northwest of Taos, 1.5 miles east of the Rio Grande, Greater World literally rises out of the dirt. Just below the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, floor to ceiling southern-facing windows and slanted solar paneled roofs add a slight glimmer to the mix of tumbleweeds and dust tornados that dance along the horizon.
Michael Reynolds, president of Earthship Biotecture, designed his solar survival architectural concept more than 35 years ago using the knowledge he gained as an architecture student at the University of Cincinnati as his springboard. After studying traditional architecture, and largely dissatisfied by traditional building methods, Reynolds began to think outside the walls and designed an alternative way of building commonly referred to as “off-grid.”
Off-grid living, a method of construction that relies on renewable energy rather than tapping in to traditional public utility sources, is the latest trend in environmental activism. Using natural resources like wind, water, and solar energy, Earthship homes don’t rely on fossil fuels, but renewable resources, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Their 3-foot-thick, earth-pounded, adobe-covered tire walls are not only made of materials indigenous to the entire planet, but act as an insulator and cooling method, making them an ideal habitat to construct in any climate on the globe. This thermal mass concept is what makes Earthships structurally ideal, no matter what the weather is like outside.
Funky, glass-bottled wall designs, stone floors, and smooth, U-shaped rooms offer something that most traditional cookie-cutter suburban homes don’t: individuality. Banana trees, organic vegetables, fruits, and flowers can be grown in every Earthship’s very own built-in planters, using recycled water from the sinks and showers to sustain the vegetation. The water that is unused by the plants gets filtered in to the toilets for flushing, and is then transferred outside into a leech field.
So what type of people live in these kinds of homes? Environmentalists? Lovers of the outdoors? Penny pinchers? Those preparing for doomsday?
According to John Kejr, associate broker of Dreamcatcher Real Estate and “The Earthship King” of New Mexico, all of the above.
“People buy land here for various reasons,” Kejr said. “But it wouldn’t be economically viable to develop any other types of homes in this particular area.”
According to Kejr, the Rio Grande River acts as a natural drainage system, absorbing any available groundwater in to the canyon and making the closest access to water over 800 feet deep. Aside from the lack of groundwater, Greater World was built on land that was once used as a gravel pit for highway construction, which left the land one giant dirt mound. Not only did this make the land dirt-cheap (pun intended), it also made it all the more ideal for the environmentally conscious to build homes on.“These homes are not just being built out of recycled materials but are recycling the gravel pit itself,” Kejr said. Earthships need to be lived in in order for them to function and are not recommended for vacation homes. Without the human element of an Earthship home, its systems wouldn’t function properly. If humans aren’t there to wash their hands, the plants wouldn’t get water and they would die.“An Earthship is a living organism,” Kejr said. “They need to be living and breathing. If you were shut off the water supply to your body it wouldn’t be too happy, and Earthships are the same way.”
Buried on three sides and with dirt for a roof, Earthships are the modern equivalent of Hobbit homes found in Middle Earth, except Earthship owners can fit through their front doors without ducking under the door frame. But there is method to the madness; the temperature inside an Earthship is largely dictated by its architectural design.
Members of Earthship Biotecture have traveled the globe educating third-world countries about the benefits Earthship homes have to offer. Architectural planners from Andaman and Nicobar Islands contacted Reynolds just weeks after the 2004 tsunami to help with shelter, sanitation and water issues that were intensified by the storm. Locals were taught how to replicate his biotecture design to secure a future for themselves and their communities.
Constructing Earthship communities for families in impoverished countries has an enormous impact not just on the environment, but also on a socio-economic level. The construction of Earthships in third-world countries means so much more than a roof and a floor, it means breaking down class barriers between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. Most notably, it means an immediate and sustainable solution to a very real, and very pressing sanitation issue.
“Garbage Warrior,” a documentary that follows Reynolds’ quest for sustainable housing and his geo-political struggle was released in 2007. New Mexico law viewed his construction methods “illegal,” confiscating his architect and contractors licenses, but Reynolds has since lobbied for a sustainable test-site law at the state legislature, with then Gov. Bill Richardson by his side.
“If you create your own electricity, heating, and water systems, you create your own politics,” Reynolds said in a statement on the Garbage Warrior website, “maybe that’s what they’re afraid of.”
Reynolds is a world famous architect who has spent forty plus years refining his vision for sustainable living and is the unsung hero of architectural anarchy. Earthship construction is the materialization of his genius and his unending dedication to serving humanity and saving the planet.
Greater World Community offers unique, fully-furnished homes available as nightly rentals for the public to experience first-hand the benefits and comforts off-grid living. More information about Earthship Biotecture and the Greater World Community, as well as reservation information may be found at www.Earthship.com.
Live simply, so that others may simply live.
Featured photo credit: Earthship Biotecture https://www.facebook.com/earthship
Article Photos: Theresa Marcucci