Ever wondered what happens with the millions of used auto tires disposed of every year? Ever dreamed of utility bills of less than $100 for the entire year? Just outside Taos, New Mexico is a large community of sustainable housing. These homes are built from used tires, packed dirt, adobe mud, aluminum cans, glass bottles and other recycled items. Concrete is used to fill in some walls and provide a smooth surface. Solar panels provide the electricity. Rain water is collected and reused/recycled four times.
If you’ve ever wanted to consider how to build a home and have less impact on the environment, the Earthship neighborhood may be the place for you! We visited the neighborhood on a trip to Taos in July 2011. We were driving back to Taos from Ojo Caliente Hot Springs and noticed some very interesting, very low profile homes in the desert landscape. They literally looked like housing from another planet. Just off Highway 64 there is a visitor’s center which charges $5/person to visit. Please respect the private roads and homes of the area’s residents.
Here’s a little information on the sustainability features of this unique housing:
Electricity is produced through solar power and stored in batteries. DC power is used for lights, pumps and refrigeration. A power inverter converts DC power into AC for TV’s, computers, power tools and other needs.
Rainwater is gathered during the wet season on the roof and stored in cisterns below. Through solar power, water is pumped into a solar hot water heater and as needed throughout the home. Water from sinks and showers is recycled through gray water treatment planters, feeding plants (like a vegetable garden) and flowers. Many earthships have extensive gardens-growing fruits and vegetables all year long, and thereby growing their own fresh produce. The water is pumped into toilet tanks for use. The black water is then pumped into a typical septic tank, and recycled for use in landscaping plants.
Used tires are hard-packed with dirt. The packed tires create the walls and foundation. Their thermal mass qualities passively heat and cool the house by absorbing heat in the summer and releasing heat in winter. We were surprised at the pleasant temperature in the earthship on a pretty hot July day. The house is low profile and surrounded by earth. Most walls can then be covered with adobe mud (a mixture of dirt, sand, straw and water), which becomes very durable when dried. In some cases concrete is also used for walls and support, as noted above.
For more information, check out earthship.com. You can rent an earthship for a night to check it out, too!
I have to admit coming back to our home in Colorado and using large air conditioning system to cool (and gas furnace to heat) a rather large, open home suddenly felt very wasteful and expensive. We all can benefit from the science and knowledge of sustainable living from the Earthship Community. I’ll never look at a soda can or old tire the same way again.