Taos 'Earthship' community highlights sustainable living

In this 1997 photo, architect Michael Reynolds walks on the roof of an “Earthship” he designed and built in Taos, N.M. Made from tires, bottles, cans and dirt, the home uses no outside power, doesn’t produce sewage and doesn’t pump water out of the ground. A new Taos community of Earthships is working to show how residents can live in sustainable housing.

TAOS, N.M. (AP) — It’s 29 degrees in Taos this early morning in late December when Kate Noonan, 38, walks out of EVE to start up her car.

EVE stands for Earthship Village Ecologies, a self-sufficient, three-story building made with empty cans, bottles and used tires that resembles a modern cathedral because of its complex structural form.

It includes high ceilings held up by a partial fan-vaulted wall decorated with colorful mosaics, pillars and a staircase that leads to the different levels. Its most unusual feature is perhaps an open space at the end of the upper level with a toilet at the center.

EVE is still under construction. When finished, it might house 25 people who also will work and grow their own food in its greenhouse and gardens. At least, that was environmental architect Michael Reynolds’ goal when he started planning and designing this building at his Earthship community in Taos more than a decade ago.

“We are talking about building a building up with things that you throw away,” Reynolds said. “Over the years I ended up developing these points that I’m responding to, and they are what every village, town, city, tribe has to deal with. They are in fact the issues that all of humanity is having to address. And they are not doing a very good job of it. And, therefore, we have dumps, sewage pollution, endless problems because we are not addressing these issues and we can’t expect the government and corporations to address them.”

Reynolds was referring to the need for comfortable shelter, to catching rain water, to producing food and energy with the sun or wind, and to disposing of garbage and sewage. He said that all of his buildings are self-sufficient and address these issues, and that EVE will be the first to house a large number of people to address the additional question of “economics,” because the occupants will live and work at this building.

EVE has been Noonan’s home for the past 3 1/2 years. As her vehicle warms up, she walks back inside.

The temperature stays at 40 degrees in the building even though it has no furnace or electrical or gas/propane heaters. Rather, the building is heated by the sun and with thermal mass technology.

Technically, Earthships are enclosed within three walls made with used tires filled and covered with dirt, and plastered inside. This makes them look like bunkers or as if they were buried underground, but they are above ground. The tires are an important component because when the sun heats them, they radiate the energy into the building.

Ideally, when EVE is completed, the temperature in the interior rooms should not go below 60 degrees even on cold days like this. Until then, Noonan heats her room at night with a wood stove. For now, she is the only occupant.

“This is an experimental Earthship,” she said, walking along an indoor garden where a tomato vine is climbing over a fence and geraniums she planted a few years back are in full bloom. “The temperatures are all different in the old models. The new Earthships are awesome. The temperature stays in the 70s.”

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