Located in Taos, New Mexico
These homes are in a subdivision west of town, where every home is off the grid and catches their own rainwater. There are no utilities out here – no power lines, no wells, no gas lines – the homes have propane tanks for cooking with, they use solar or wind energy to power the entire house, from the water filtration system to the television set, and every drop of water in the house is from the cisterns that are part of the home’s design. There is even internet access from a WAN network from the earthship offices. You can use electricity and take showers just like you do at home. You are not hooked into any city utilities, but it doesn’t feel any different than at home. What a great feeling that must be to have no bills!
The reason that they can be off grid without worrying about things like heat in the winter is because earthships use thermal mass to store and retain heat from the sun all day. The heat comes back into the house at night, keeping the temperature inside the home at around 65 even in the dead of winter – without heat.
The windows are situated to take full advantage of the winter sun, which is low in the sky and can penetrate all the way to the back of the home, hitting the thermal wall. In the summer, the sun is higher in the sky and only comes in the windows a few feet – enough to hit the interior planters. This keeps it cool in the summer, without AC, as the cool earth temp stays constant even if it is hot outside. There is a planting bed inside the house that allows you to grow herbs, flowers, bananas – anything you want.
The back and side walls are made from old tires packed full of dirt and covered with adobe plaster, and are buried about 4 feet into the earth, where the earth’s core temp stays the same day and night in all seasons. As for how you can make 3,000 gallon cisterns last as long as they need to out there in the desert, the water in earthships is actually used 4 times. First off, the water is caught in the cisterns coming off the roof, and the fresh water is filtered heavily and used conventionally for showering and drinking water. That really is the only time that “new” water is ever used in the house, which makes total sense. Once you use it for drinking or showering, the water gets filtered again naturally inside the interior planters (called botanical cells) and sent back to be used in the toilet – after all, why use fresh clean “virgin” water just to flush a toilet? Once the toilet is flushed, the water is sent outside the home, where the liquid is used to fertilize the outdoor planting area and the solids are put into a conventional septic tank. And no, the house doesn’t stink, the water doesn’t taste funny, and everything works just like a normal house – you wouldn’t even know the difference unless someone told you. It is quite amazing.
These homes make so much sense today, with water and energy shortages, groundwater and river pollution, and wasteful homes being built all over the world. Using tires and dirt to make exterior walls, bottles and cans and mud to make interior walls, and a small amount of wood to frame out the windows and doors, the houses have not only a minimal impact on housing supplies, but also has a tiny footprint on the earth itself – water from the sky, energy from the wind or sun, and a self-enclosed and maintained sewage treatment plant.
I believe "The Good Life" is a good example of what these individuals are seeking out to achieve. They want to live the good life, while doing as little as possible impact to the planet as possible. The individuals in this community are promoting a share vision of the way we could be living, while also promoting sustainably. Another pattern I see in this group is "Dematerialization". The materials used to build the homes are all recycled or from the earth directly (dirt). There is nothing wasted, and it keeps more garbage out of the landfills. "Sustainable Design" is also a pattern seen clearly here. These homes are sustainable, and are using the earths physical resources, material cycles, and biological processes to make a structurally sound domain.