Page 1

INT GR O TH Ear E E ths EN hip A rch


















A Model Home 5-10

Magic Man 11-18

The New World 19-22

Inhabitant 23-28



Feel The Heat 33-34

Nature Shock



MODEL HOME Out in the sands of the Baja desert in Mexico, a structure that would be right at home in the Star Wars franchise is lightly dusted by a passing sandstorm. Earthship architecture is a form of radically sustainable architecture that uses little or no fuel-generated power sources to run the home. Instead, all earthship homes rely on the construction materials, solar energy and turbines to regulate the house’s temperature and power its lights and ventilation. The earthships are also marketed as a form of architecture that is suitable for any terrain, hence it is widely used worldwide.


It also serves to educate the public on the benefits of sustainable housing by means of opening earthships for rental. The earthship is built on the foundation of sustainable architecture that has been cultivated over a few decades. Ever since architects have tried to integrate buildings into the natural environment, they have been sourcing for ways to create buildings that do not have any severe environmental impact, and are still able to support a modern way of life with basic amenities. The Earthship was created in mind to use only materials indigenous to the entire

“The Earthship was designed as a structure that would exist in harmony with its environment” planet, or the area that the structure is located in, as well as any suitable found materials. One of these examples is the Simple Survival Model Earthship evolved from the very basic prototype constructed in Port Au Prince, Haiti. The purpose of the humanitarian project was to reevaluate the concept of necessity. No matter how well the “developed world” Earthship prototypes work, they are absolutely out of the realm of “affordable” in Haiti. The Earthship is made to last for around 30 years, during which it should achieve the following aims: shelter / comfortable living space, water, sanitation (sewage treatment/containment),


needs to be able to handle the three systems of water, electricity, and climate. While these systems are not exclusive to Earthships, a properly designed Earthship must have these systems.

energy, food & garbage recycling concepts. The main aim is to provide these basic necessities to people without incurring huge costs and mortgages. These are currently being developed for both tropical climates and for countries that have 4 seasons. To achieve maximum sustainability, earthships are built “off-thegrid�; disconnected from power lines, gas lines and water lines. All processes are carefully considered in the construction of the building. The Earthship was designed as a structure that would exist in harmony with its environment and be freed from the constraints of modern shelters which rely on centralized utilities. It is important that the Earthship creates its own utilities as well as uses readily available and sustainable materials. In order to be entirely self-sufficient the Earthship



MAGIC MAN Michael “Mike” Reynolds is the primary architect and founder of Earthship Bioctecture, the company responsible for building the Earthships. Hewas trained as a conventional architect in flamboyant artistic ideas about design, a concept of architecture that he despised. According to Michael, “building in today’s world is a machine that has to be designed by someone who understands all of its layers.” The idea started almo=st thirty years ago after he watched a television special with Charles Kurault and Walter Cronkite.


This was back in the times when soda and beer cans were made of steel rather than aluminum as they are today. The special showed the tremendous amount of cans and bottles that were littering our national parks and streets. Charles predicted a major garbage problem in the future. That was thirty years ago, before the word “recycle� became part of our everyday vocabulary. Some years later, when the energy crunch hit, people were trying to figure out how to store temperature in buildings by using thermal mass. Mike and a few fellow architects were already building with garbage, and they decided to see if there was any solution to the


current situation by finding some type of garbage that they could utilize to solve the problem. We looked at tires, and found that if we beat earth into them we created thermal mass, which is an essential feature to regulating temperature within the Earthship. They then added tires and solar electricity to our experiments with sustainable building.

When the news started talking about water shortages, and rivers and streams being polluted, they began catching water on the roof of our structures rather than drilling into the aquifers. They also began treating sewage in contained systems, reusing the water we caught from the sky, and didn’t let anything go into the aquifers, rivers and streams that would result in pollution.

Michael says that evolution of their ideas is based on listening to the news, where problems reported become a challenge for them to incorporate solutions into their building concepts. He starts explaining a metaphor of human life. “I was in the mountains of Nevada a while back where a lot of Ponderosa pine grows. I saw a very healthy pine tree with a little bit of mistletoe on it. Mistletoe is a parasite, and as long as the pine tree is healthy, the mistletoe is healthy. And I looked around and saw a tree with a little more mistletoe, and it was starting to look a bit ragged. I saw another pine tree with a lot more mistletoe on it, and it was literally dying. Then I saw a dead tree with a bunch of dead mistletoe.

“If you’re trying to cross the ocean in a boat, your main concern is that it will float. You don’t care about what it looks like. And that’s kind of how we developed this.” That’s the way I see us humans on this planet. We are basically a parasite. If we do not completely suck the earth dry of everything it’s got, then the earth can support us. But if we kill the earth we will suffer too. What I’m saying is, we can change our method of relating to the earth, and rather than extracting from the earth, we can simply

“encounter” the elements, the phenomena of the earth — especially the phenomena you don’t have to worry about running out of, such as sunlight or rain.” One of the things he thinks is archaic and ridiculous is how people rely on pipes and wires going everywhere to deliver energy — “not


to mention the production of energy itself, which is devastating to the planet, through nuclear power plants and coal fired power.” The talk turns to how people have reacted to the availability of Earthships. According to him, a group approached him and they talked about setting up a sustainable community. Then the conversation turned to their need to have underground caves and places to store ammo. They said they were going to have it all together when the “shit hit the fan” and when that happened people would want what they had and come and try to take it away from them.


They wanted to be able to defend themselves. Michael replied that even if they had the stomach to shoot that many people, there was no way to store that much ammo to protect themselves from people who don’t have what they have. “The best way of protecting oneself is to help everyone have what you have. I think

this is a very good global philosophy as well. There wouldn’t be any war if everyone had everything they needed — and by everything, I mean the means to survive. I don’t mean gold and oil and wealth and all of that. I mean, if every creature, every human were provided with the knowledge and minor technology that it takes to make homes for themselves, homes that encounter the elements so they don’t have utility bills, then everybody would be alive and happy. Then if you want to go be a capitalist? Go for it! But the thing is,

most people on the planet don’t even have “survival,” even though the survival I’m speaking of is very, very available.” After being in the business for 30 years, Michael has this to say of his project and his aspirations. “If you’re trying to cross the ocean in a boat, your main concern is that it will float. You don’t care about what it looks like. And that’s kind of how we developed this. Now I have to say that after thirty years we know what we’re doing. So now we can play with the aesthetics

to a certain degree and try and make it palatable to more and more people, because looks alone will stop someone from going in this direction. What I want to do is make the Earthship available to everyone on an emotional, physical, and financial level. Then if they don’t want it, fine — pay utility bills, be lost in the shuffle when the power goes down, or whatever. It’s up to you — it’s just logic.”



THE NEW WORLD Ever since the construction of the first Earthship, a small community has been set up in Taos County, Mexico. They call themselves the Greater World Earthship Community. The community’s primary aims are to remove the economic and institutional barriers between people and sustainable housing, to reverse the overall negative effect that conventional housing has on the planet and to create a less stressful existence for people in an effort to reduce the stress that they in turn place on the planet and one another.


MANIFESTO The manifesto states that they seek to interface economics and ecology in a way that immediately and tangibly affects current issues and changes existing lifestyles, and to provide direction to and empower those who wish to convert to a more sustainable lifestyle. The Greater World Community is located on a tract of land in Cerros de Taos, Taos County, New Mexico. Greater World is committed to exploring and demonstrating ways to design homes and modify their lifestyles in order to live without polluting and without depleting resources; to use no more of the planet’s natural resources than is sustainable. Their proposed lifestyle is based on how much is available, not how much they customarily consume.




This project reflects the experience gained from over 30 years of designing, testing and improving independent homes. These homes are built using recycled materials from Taos County; they make their own electricity from solar panels; catch their own water from rain and snow melt; contain and reuse their own waste water; and provide their own heating and cooling without the use of fossil fuels via passive solar and thermal mass architecture. The community continues to evolve basic mechanical components and to simplify structural details toward this eventual goal.

An objective of the transportation plan is to keep the impact of roadways to a minimum in order to preserve the beauty of the natural terrain as much as possible. To that end we are proposing one major through road servicing many small low impact roads ending in cul-de-sacs. The main through road of the Greater World Community is called Earthship Way. It enters the community near the southern boundary of the property and exits near the northern boundary.



Greater World’s goal is to make available the valuable lessons we are learning here to anyone interested in living more sustainably. There is a school, seminars, tours, publications, a web site and Earthship nightly rentals to “test drive.” GW has a lot to offer Taos County and any county with concerns about dwindling resources. GW has been doing this work without public funding and under the direction and approval of the appropriate NM State regulatory agencies. As a result of this research, many cottage industries providing employment for Taos County residents have emerged.

The Greater World Sustainable Community project has included within it a project designed to illustrate the potential for the rejuvenation of gravel pits, quarries, mines or other damaged lands through “positive” impact sustainable architecture. This “positive” impact architecture facilitates reuse of all household water and compost for soil building and plant nourishment in and around low profile semi-buried buildings. The very use of these low profile buildings (with their contained sewage systems) provides rich growing areas for both indigenous

and exotic plant life. When used together with permaculture techniques to direct and trap surface water run-off, this “positive” impact architecture can steadily reclaim a previously discarded worthless piece of damaged land.




The Greater World community is intended as a demonstration of sustainable living concepts already tested and proven by Earthship Biotecture. Earthship Biotecture is working in cooperation with the New Mexico Construction Industries Division and Taos County and enforces specific sustainable mechanical systems designs. Aluminum can domes are allowed as long as they are associated with enough thermal mass so as not to require back up heat. Earthship Biotecture will build all structural shells with functioning sustainable mechanical systems except for specifically documented owner/builder exceptions. In the case of these exceptions the Earthship Biotectural Staff will inspect buildings under construction to enforce restrictions of this document at their own discretion. Owners may secure supervision, consultation or guidance from Earthship Biotecture. Owner built projects will be limited to specific areas with specific documentation to allow such and will be inspected periodically byEarthship Biotecture staff to insure soundness of structure, proper installation of electrical and plumbing systems and compliance with the Land Users Code.

Propane is not meant to be the primary source of heat for any building. Propane tanks are allowed to provide heat for cooking and as a back-up for hot water and space heaters. These tanks must be incorporated into the landscape and painted to blend with such.


POWER No power grid electricity shall run on this land. All energy is required to be solar or wind produced independently by home owners under supervision of Earthship Biotecture. . All electrical wiring shall be done by licensed electricians or by home owners who have passed the home owners wiring exam with appropriate electrical permits and inspections by local officials. It is assumed that all Greater World members are aware of the fact that energy conservation is mandatory in a home that employs solar and wind as the sole supply of electricity. To this end, people who are not capable of energy conservation are discouraged from purchasing a home or lot in this community. Roof water catches will be built into each dwelling by owners to be used as the primary water supply. These catches will feed individual cisterns from which the water will be filtered and pressurized for household use by solar pumps. These catches designed by Earthship Biotecture ensure that the catch water will be suitable for drinking. A community well is in place in case of fire and/or emergency situations. It is assumed that all Greater World members are aware of the fact that water conservation is mandatory in a home that employs roof catch systems as the sole supply of water. People who are

not capable of living with a conservative approach to the use of water are discouraged from buying a home or lot in this community. Sewage systems for this community are absolutely conventional septic systems. In that water conservation is an issue, Earthship Biotecture has designed and developed a grey water recycling branch that is in addition to (not in place of) a conventional septic system. These grey water branches will be mandatory in each home as they extend the use of the limited supply of the water catchment systems described above. Members will reuse grey water for landscaping with guidance and approval of all systems from Earthship Biotecture. All toilet systems will employ conventional septic tanks and drainfields and will use additional rubber lined treatment cells for capturing the effluent for landscaping. People who are not willing or capable of maintaining the additional aspects of this sewage system are not encouraged to buy a home or lot in this community.




The Greater World Community is considered a demonstration of the best applications of the Earthship concepts. For this reason all utility apparatus (PV panels, hot water heaters, etc.) must be designed and built into a reasonable aesthetic subject to approval. All exterior finishes are required to be color coated to blend with surrounding foliage and/or earth for purposes of lowering the overall impact of the architecture on the plot of land. Like any other community, All construction sites and home sites are required to be kept organized, neat and free from blowing debris, stacks of junk, garbage, etc. All construction sites are subject to Greater World standards of neatness and organization. Once buildings are complete, storage must be kept inside. Members are advised to allow sufficient storage space in their original building to allow for projected storage since no portable exterior storage units will be permitted. Members are advised to allow an unfinished “U� module specifically for storage.

The Greater World will immediately provide areas for collection and redistribution of tires, aluminum cans and glass bottles. All biodegradable compost will be used, by each member, for appropriate landscaping and permaculture methods. All other garbage will be taken to one of two Greater World transfer stations and removed. It is the members’ responsibility to get all recyclables and garbage to the collection areas and/or transfer stations. Burning of trash is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated.



INHABITANT It takes a while to absorb and understand the scale of Thom’s adobe house and studio in Taos, New Mexico. If at first glance from the outside it looks like an ancient castle, with its large tall entrance ways and wooden beams, then stepping inside is like entering the great hall. The high ceilings, giant fire place, and Thom’s amazing art everywhere overwhelms the senses. I came to see Thom’s place because I wanted to understand the possibilities of adobe in contemporary architecture and construction.


Although not intended as a low cost or particularly ecological build it does help illustrate the creative potential of adapting ancient techniques for new environments. Thom said he chose adobe for aesthetic reasons but has found the house to be ideal for retaining heat in winter and being cool in summer (his main heat source is radiant under floor heating). It is the ability to mould and shape adobe that is particularly appealing here – the curved sculptural look and as Thom says ‘you can’t get a perfect finish with adobe and that imperfect look makes it wonderful’.

“With walls 30 inch (76 cm) thick there is a solid and secure feeling to the structure and of course its historical precedent in this region of New Mexico…It is also exceptionally long lasting and has been designed to last 1,000 years.”


Completed in 1985 it was built using 3,600 adobe bricks from Ohkay Owingeh (previously known as San Juan Pueblo) and local wood for the beams, and its floor footprint is a total of 4,200 square foot, though 1,000 foot of that is just for the porches. Most unusually compared to other contemporary adobe builds it is two storey with 16 foot (almost 5 metres) ceilings. There is something to be said for the robust safe feeling that a house this size made from adobe gives you. With walls 30 inch (76 cm) thick there is a solid and secure feeling to the structure and of course its historical precedent in this region

of New Mexico helps it sit in the landscape. It is also exceptionally long lasting and has been designed to last 1,000 years. Adobe, especially on this scale, is expensive and Thom argues that ‘adobe is the most expensive way to build a new house. It is very labour intensive and you have to maintain it. It takes a long time and most people don’t have two years to build a house for themselves. He has tried to mitigate some of these requirements by using stucco on external walls to reduce the amount of maintenance needed. Stucco is a render which was traditionally made from lime, sand and water, but

now tends to use Portland cement instead of the lime, making it less than ideal environmentally. It is a difficult compromise given that adobe buildings need recovering every few years which is labour intensive and thus expensive. Thom’s house is one of the ways in which earthship architecture can be incorporated into conventional housing. Though deviating from Mike Reynolds’ true vision, every little bit counts.



FOUNDATION We’ve now explored these marvelous ecological structures, but do we know how they’re built?


The earth-rammed tires of an Earthship are usually assembled by teams of two people working together as part of a larger construction team. One member of the two person team shovels dirt, which usually comes from the building site, placing it into the tire one scoop at a time. The second member, who stands on the tire, uses a sledge hammer to pack the dirt in. The second person moves in a circle around the tire to keep the dirt even and avoid warping the tire. These rammed earth tires in an Earthship are made in place because, when properly made, they weigh as much as 300 pounds and can be very difficult to relocate.


Recycled bottles are embedded in non-load bearing walls, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also to allow filtered daylight in when the sun is up. Other non-load bearing walls may be built with recycled or found materials such as aluminium cans and bottles.





FEEL THE HEAT In a hot desert climate, the key to surviving is being able to stay cool in the blistering heat and keep warm in the frigid nights. Mike Reynold’s Earthship model built with rammedearth tires allows the house to do just that, by way of a scientific principle called thermal mass. Thermal mass is ideally placed within the building and situated where it still can be exposed to winter sunlight (via windows) but insulated from heat loss. The thermal mass is warmed passively by the sun or additionally by internal heating systems during the day. Thermal energy stored in the mass is then released


back into the interior during the night. It is essential that it be used in conjunction with the standard principles of passive solar design. Any form of thermal mass can be used. A concrete slab foundation either left exposed or covered with conductive materials e.g. tiles; is one easy solution. Another novel method is to place the masonry facade of a timber-framed house on the inside (‘reverse-brick veneer’). Thermal mass in this situation is best applied over a large area rather than in large volumes or thicknesses.

GETTING TECHNICAL Since the most important source of thermal energy is from the Sun, the ratio of glazing to thermal mass is an important factor to consider. Various formulas have been devised to determine this.As a general rule, additional solar-exposed thermal mass needs to be applied in a ratio from 6-8:1 for any area of north facing (Southern Hemisphere) or south facing (Northern Hemisphere) glazing above 7% of the total floor area. For example a 200 m2 house with 20 m2 of north facing glazing has 10% of glazing by total floor area; 6 m2 of that glazing will require additional thermal mass. The exact requirements vary from climate-to-climate.

HOT CLIMATES This is a classical use of thermal mass. Examples include adobe or rammed earth houses. Its function is highly dependent on marked diurnal temperature variations. The wall predominantly acts to retard heat transfer from the exterior to the interior during the day. The high volumetric heat capacity and thickness prevents thermal energy from reaching the inner surface. When temperatures fall at night, the walls re-radiate the thermal energy back into the night sky. In this application it is important for such walls to be massive to prevent heat transfer into the interior.


EARTH & MUD Dirt’s heat capacity depends on its density, moisture content, particle shape, temperature, and composition. Early settlers to Nebraska built houses with thick walls made of dirt and sod because wood, stone, and other building materials were scarce. The extreme thickness of the walls provided some insulation, but mainly served as thermal mass, absorbing thermal energy during the day and releasing it during the night. Nowadays, people sometimes use earth sheltering around their homes for the same effect. In earth sheltering, the thermal mass comes not only from the walls of the building, but from the surrounding earth that is in physical contact with the building. This provides a fairly constant, moderating temperature that reduces heat flow through the adjacent wall.

RAMMED EARTH Rammed earth provides excellent thermal mass because of its high density, and the high specific heat capacity of the soil used in its construction. This is the primary concept used in the construction of the Taos Earthships and other true Earthships worldwide.

ENERGY IS MONEY Here’s how you can save without building an earthship. Turn down your water heater thermostat. Thermostats are often set to 140 degrees F when 120 is usually fine. Each 10 degree reduction saves 600 pounds of CO2 per year for an electric water heater, or 440 pounds for a gas heater. If every household turned its water heater thermostat down 20 degrees, we could prevent more than 45 million tons of

annual CO2 emissions - the same amount emitted by the entire nation of Kuwait. Select the most energyefficient models when you replace your old appliances. Look for the Energy Star Label - your assurance that the product saves energy and prevents pollution. Buy the product that is sized to your typical needs - not the biggest one available. Front loading washing machines will usually cut hot water use by 60 to 70% compared to typical machines. Replacing a typical 1973 refrigerator with a new energy-efficient model, saves 1.4 tons of CO2 per year. Clean or replace air filters as recommended. Energy is lost when air conditioners

and hot-air furnaces have to work harder to draw air through dirty filters. Cleaning a dirty air conditioner filter can save 5 percent of the energy used. That could save 175 pounds of CO2 per year.


NATURE SHOCK More than 2 billion scrap tires are stockpiled in illegal or abandoned piles throughout the US. Apart from being an eyesore, these case serious health and environmental damage when they catch fire, and the fires are difficult and sometimes impossible to put out.


Cement manufacturers cause 10% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

In the developed world, other building materials account for a further 10% of emissions.

Energy used in the home for heating, lighting, cooking and cooling contributes another 30% of total emissions.


Into The Green  

Green housing is one of the upcoming solutions that the world has to global warming. This publication outlines the methods used to build an...

Into The Green  

Green housing is one of the upcoming solutions that the world has to global warming. This publication outlines the methods used to build an...