A few months ago it was announced that the Great Barrier Reef had died. It may have been a little premature but nonetheless it is well on its way to being destroyed. Just like many things on Earth, things are being destroyed. Temperatures are raising, glaciers are melting, tornado and hurricane storms are more intense and yet very few are doing anything about it.
You have probably heard the term “reduce your carbon footprint”. Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and carbon emissions you use. I was curious as to what my carbon footprint is. I do most of my traveling via car, which is not the best form of travel for my footprint. However I have not flown on a plane in about 2 years and I did trade in my gas-guzzling truck in 2013 for a more fuel-efficient car. I also have a pretty kick ass house. My home is certified silver level green as well as being rated an energy star home.
Based on a quiz I took from The Nature Conservancy I felt better about the damage I was personally doing to the earth. I use 14 tons of CO2 per year. Sure I can do better, but according to the results, I am 44% better than similar households. And while that may not be too impressive, I’ll take it. It is better than my neighbor who owns the mirror image of my house. He doesn’t recycle, drives a huge truck and produces more garbage than I have ever seen.
Yes, I am one of those neighbors peeking out from behind my blinds. Be glad you don’t live next door to me. Although if you did I would invite you over for a beer. I would request that you recycle that bottle once you are done, however.
Sustainable living has been on the quick rise over the past few years as people are starting to realize their big-ass SUV’s, unnecessarily large homes and consumption of damn near everything is ruining the place we live. We are starting to see people scaling back with smaller homes, more efficient forms of transportation and being more diligent about recycling… well with the exception of some.
While I was in Taos New Mexico last year I found Earthship Biotecture nearby. It’s odd name caught my attention, which sparked further research. Earthship Biotecture are sustainable building developments found all over the planet, including Africa, Australia, Europe, North and South America, with their headquarters located in New Mexico. The name Earthship Biotecture sounds almost alien-like to me, which I think is also reflective of the appearance of the homes as well. The houses resemble what I would imagine an alien colony to look like, or at the very least futuristic homes. They definitely do not look like anything you would find in sprawls of suburbia tract homes.
I arrived mid-day in early April to a busy site with patrons touring, as well as students enrolled in The Earthship Academy bopping around. That’s right, they have their own school teaching people how to build these eco-friendly homes.
After checking in at the visitor’s desk I took the self-guided tour through a fully functional Earthship that also doubled as the visitor center.
The tour starts near the front door where you walk down a long corridor of windows facing the south. Large windows fill this south wall, which happen to be majority of the windows in the building. These windows are strategically placed on the south wall. Placement of the windows is to take advantage of the southern sunshine for both light and heat. The south-facing windows have louvers on them allowing the homeowner to adjust the internal temperature inside their home.
Heating and cooling are also controlled by the Earth’s internal temperature. This is one of the reasons Earthships are built into a hillside. The internal temperature of the Earth’s surface, about 4 feet (1.2 m) below the surface, maintains around 58 F degrees (14 C). Working in combination with the heat received from the sun and the insulation of the home, the internal temperature of the home is comfortable for the homeowner.
Also found inside the corridor is a garden that produces year-round food for the homeowner. The plants are watered with recycled water that has previously been used throughout the house.
Speaking of water. Water in an Earthship is collected from rain and snowmelt in a catch-water system. The water is then filtered and used throughout the house. Water is heated from the sun with a natural gas backup. Natural gas is only used when the water is not heated enough by the sun. Water is reused four times before being completely disposed of.
So what about power? Earthships have lights, washing machines, and kitchen appliances, just like a traditional home. But unlike most traditional homes power comes from the sun and sometimes wind, if the Earthship is set up to collect wind power. A POM, or Power Organizing Module, takes energy from either source and converts it into usable energy. The energy is then stored in batteries and supplies electricity to the home. Amazingly enough, Earthships can be wired to code by any electrician just as they would wire any other home. After wiring the home it gets hooked up to the POM allowing the non-traditional electricity to be used throughout the house.
Lastly, let’s talk about the sewage. Yep, it’s gross. Yep, we all make it and yep we all have to deal with it. Earthships deal with it in a 4 step filtering process. Water is used throughout the house and filtered four times, with its last use as watering exterior landscaping before it retires from service. This process pretty much puts conventional homes to shame. Most of us flush our toilets and water our lawns with fresh water still in its first round of being used.
After touring the interior of the Earthship the self-tour took me outside where a trail that led up to the top of the visitor center granting me a view of the development. Earthships dotted the horizon line with several in the process of being built.
From the outside of the Earthship you can see the non-traditional uses of used tires, bottles and aluminum cans, all recycled in the process of construction. The bottles and cans provide no purpose other than being decorative in non-load barring walls. The tires, along with rammed pack dirt inside the tires, are instrumental in the sturdiness of the home.
The trail then led out to the final viewpoint of a distant look at the Earthship Academy. After completing the tour I left thinking that my previous observation of the alien or futuristic look was perhaps the point. They look futuristic because Earthships represent the future of what home building may become once we deplete our current resources with our traditional building techniques.
To tour the Earthship Biotecture site they are located at #2 Earthship Way in Tres Piedras New Mexico. The site is located about 1.5 miles from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (GPS doesn’t work well in that area). The self-guided tour is $7 USD plus tax.