I stayed in an earthship and it felt like I was on another planet

I stayed in an earthship and it felt like I was on another planet

In December 2020, my partner and I went to Taos, New Mexico to visit the Earthship Greater World Community on one of my first trips out into the world since the pandemic almost a year ago. Having spent time in New Mexico in the 1990s and having anthropologist friends who had done ethnographic fieldwork in New Age communities in Taos, I was familiar with Earthships but had never seen one up close. We figured it was a pretty COVID-safe way to take a getaway, so we set off on our adventure.

What is an Earthship? According to the website of Earthship Global, the group that runs the Earthship Community in Taos, including the rental we stayed in, an Earthship is: “A type of house built from natural and recycled materials to conserve energy . It is designed to produce water, electricity and food for its own needs.” Earthships have six basic design principles, “all of which take advantage of Earth’s existing natural phenomena”:

BUILD WITH NATURAL AND REUSED MATERIALS

Thermal/solar HEATING AND COOLING

SOLAR AND WIND POWER

WATER HARVEST

CONTAMINATED WASTEWATER TREATMENT

FOOD PRODUCTION

The concept and design principles for Earthships and the Earthship community in Taos Earthship were conceived and executed by architect Michael Reynolds, who came to Taos in 1969 after graduating from architecture school. Earthship Global describes the beginning of the Earthship movement:

Inspired by TV news about the problem of garbage and the lack of affordable housing, Michael created the “Can Stone” from discarded steel and tin cans. Ten empty cans, four flat and six non-flat, were wired into a brick.

The early buildings used discarded steel or tin beer cans (this was before recycling). These cans were empty and used simply as free space units to form light, strong concrete walls. Built out of “junk,” these houses got immediate press coverage, although they weren’t nearly as sophisticated as today’s Earthships. All over the world today, garbage, especially tires, is highly available and highly polluting if left in nature.

Over the next decade, designs continued to evolve to incorporate thermal mass, passive solar energy, and natural ventilation. The houses we are now building with rammed earth tires are so strong that no foundations are required, giving load-bearing walls and thermal mass storage. Solar glazing along the entire front of the building allows the sun to heat the floors and walls, providing comfortable, stable temperatures inside without using fossil fuels or wood. Operable windows and skylights provided natural ventilation to cool the buildings.

There are now around 60 homes that are part of the Earthship Greater World Community located outside of Taos, NM. The site describes the community as “the world’s largest off-grid, legal subdivision.” There is space for 130 apartments in total:

Community members own their land, fee simply. There are currently about 60 apartments in the municipality. Members own properties ranging in size from 0.75 acres to 3 acres. More than half of all land is in community ownership. This 347 hectare “green belt” must never be built on. The community consists entirely of Earthship homes. There is a board that enforces the land user code. Annual dues for the community are currently $150 for road maintenance and the community improvement fund. Property taxes are collected by Taos County.

Earthship Global also teaches a variety of Earthship building workshops, has a Visitor Center where you can learn all about Earthships, and some Earthships that you can rent if you’re curious what it’s like to live in one. The earth ship we stayed in was amazing. I felt like I was on another planet! They’re literally built out of junk – discarded tires, glass bottles and more. It’s pretty amazing how artistic and creative the designs are, and really cool that they’re all self-contained and capable of producing clean water, fresh air, electricity and more, all off the grid. According to the UC Boulder Environmental Center:

Earthships provide their own electricity through photovoltaic (converting light into electricity) and wind power. They hold and treat their own wastewater. They capture water and can even function as indoor greenhouses to grow food while treating the water.

If you’re looking for cool accommodation and want to learn about off-grid living, I highly recommend staying in an Earthship!

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