Earthships: Recycled Houses Made of Dirt

Just 15 minutes from Taos is the world’s Earthship headquarters—and my New Mexico trip wouldn’t be complete without a quick look at these odd, but imminently practical, houses.

The Earthship entrance shows off beautiful stucco walls. The ?polka-dots? are the bottoms of old beer bottles embedded into the mud.

The Earthship entrance shows off beautiful stucco walls. The “polka-dots” are the bottoms of old beer bottles embedded into the mud.

What’s an Earthship? It’s an ultra-sustainable home built from recycled tires, aluminum cans and bottles packed with dirt, then plastered over with natural mud.

That’s right: no brick and mortar, no wooden studs. Just junk and soil.

In fact, one of these buildings diverts 500 to 5,000 tires away from the landfill.

Because Earthships are banked into the earth—with a southern exposure for maximum sunlight—they’re extremely energy efficient. Their earthen properties keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.

Earthships are designed with all the rooms open along a corridor with a huge bank of windows. This way, natural daylight eliminates the need for electrical lighting as long as the sun shines.

A lot of these New-Age structures on the sage- and rabbitbrush-covered land around Taos use solar panels or small wind turbines to create electricity from renewable resources.

There must be almost 50 Earthships dotting the northern New Mexico landscape with its dramatic Sangre de Cristo mountain backdrop. Clearly, this form of architecture is here to stay.

This is what an interior wall looks like before it?s plastered over. Inside are old tires, cans and bottles.

This is what an interior wall looks like before it’s plastered over. Inside are old tires, cans and bottles.

Water Harvesting

New Mexico is dry land, so another advantage to Earthships is that their roofs catch water from rain and snow melt. The water is then filtered and used for drinking or bathing. After you take a shower, wash the dishes or do the laundry, the used water is recycled, filtered again, and pumped to gardens. (Used water is called graywater.)

I think Earthships are pretty nifty—and rather unconventionally beautiful—inventions, although I’m a bit skeptical about the used tires outgasing fumes into the air. However, because they’re surrounded by thick layers of dirt and mud, I suppose the earth absorbs the toxins.

Still, to many people, Earthships look like houses on Mars. Over breakfast at our B&B, La Posada de Taos, a woman described them as “weird, but fascinating.”

“They’re actually built into the dirt!” the woman added with a shudder. I suppose Earthships are an acquired taste.

Curious? If you’re in Taos, slap on some sunscreen and stop by the Earthship Visitor’s Center (located on U.S. Highway 64, west of Taos.) They have displays explaining Earthship technology and offer tours of the area’s demo homes. ($5 per person).

You can also rent an Earthship (a room or the whole house) by the night or week.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

One thought on “Earthships: Recycled Houses Made of Dirt

  1. Hello Laurel,
    Speaking of which, The first thing in the morning I like to give thanks to the universe, to my source, and to all life for the day ahead. It gives me a great feeling of unity to know that I will express myself in the now, in a way I had not done before, or remembered. Gratitude brings well being; Forgiveness brings connection to my thoughts. It is a treat to feel myself in that way.
    Thx.

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