By Scott Morgan, Evergreen’s Director of Sustainability.
What is the value of diverting ‘wastes’ from the landfill to build homes with a minimal amount of ‘new’ resources? What is the value of an inspirational, personalized, unique living space surrounded with green space? What is it like to live in a home that captures and recycles usable heat and water, lives within its energy and resource footprint and supports year-round food production?
Earthships are homes that ride lightly on the earth. Developed by Mike Reynolds over 40 years ago, and now designed and built by Earthship Biotecture, based in Taos, New Mexico. I knew a little bit about Earthships, but just enough to be curious. So, on a whim, I signed up for a trip organized by a friend to visit New Mexico and learn more. I only knew one other person out of the 13 who made the trip, so it was a bit of a leap of faith that a crazy road trip would be a fun experience. But, it worked out beautifully.
Thursday morning, April 7th, I stepped into a car with three people I had never met, and we began our 28 hour road trip (one way) to learn more. It was epic – five days, six states, 3,000 miles, and nearly 60 hours in the car. Sound exhausting? It was amazing.
Part of that was the company. This trip had been advertised through the personal networks of people very interested in either Earthships, sustainability, or both. As a result, we had self-selected for people with an avid interest in collaborative community. Everyone worked together, sharing the challenges (we had a few), costs, and joy without contention or conflict.
The other amazing part was our destination. We took a few, also amazing, side trips to see waterfalls and cliff dwellings, but the two days we stayed in Earthships in Taos were the most inspiring.
The homes were comfortable, unique (the Phoenix is an exceptionally creative space), and off the grid (though most do use propane for cooking and back-up water heating).
Earthship homes are shaped by six design principles:
- Thermal & Solar Heating and Cooling
- Solar & Wind Electricity
- Contained Sewage Treatment
- Building with Natural & Recycled Materials
- Water Harvesting
- Food Production
They also tend to have more organic forms as a result of using building materials and techniques that encourage curves and flowing shapes rather than squares. In addition, the materials selection and construction methods allow for and encourage creative expression as the home is built. In fact, the homes are often so unique that they get names. We stayed in the Phoenix and the Euro. The end result can easily seem like a fantasy home, even though it is very practical.
Drawing on the words of Earthship Biotecture:
Earthships are thermal mass homes first, passive solar homes second.
Humans need comfortable temperatures, light, electricity, hot water, food, sewage treatment, etc. These necessities are all available within the framework of a certain “rhythm” in the Earthship. The more we are able to align our priorities and needs with the prevailing rhythms of the planet, the easier and less expensive (both in terms of economics and ecology) they will be to obtain.
If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterns of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet.
This is easier said than done due to the “reality” and the “gravity” of mortgage payments, utility bills and the generally high cost of eating and living. Most of us have no choice. We have to be places at certain times looking certain ways in order to make the money needed to make those payments. However, many people have built Earthships themselves and ended up with little to no mortgage payment. They also have little or no utility bills and their ability to grow food year-round inside the Earthship has greatly affected what they have to spend on packaged, processed foods. (http://earthship.com/blogs/systems/comfort-in-any-climate/)
I’ve been trying out the tiny house lifestyle for a several months now, and have liked it. But, after seeing the Earthships, I’m ready to take a very serious look at a different kind of low impact living. I encourage anyone who may be intrigued to connect with Earthship Seattle. I’m pretty sure that we’ll do another crazy, inspirational (long) weekend tour next year.