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.
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.
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.) At the Visitor’s Center, you’ll see displays that explain the details of Earthship technology. You can also choose between a self-guided visit through the center ($8 per person) or a guided tour through the center and several of the area’s demo homes ($15 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
Originally posted: September 2008
Updated: August 2019