Earthship: One Family’s Adventure in Learning About Sustainable Construction and Living
In March 2014, my family bought an earthship. Earthships are homes built of dirt-packed tires, dug partially into the ground in most cases, with upper walls made of cans, bottles and concrete. They are designed to use discarded material (tires, cans, bottles), and to be self-contained, off-the grid, and energy-efficient dwellings.
In the Taos, New Mexico area, there are three earthship communities, and many more individual earthships. Ours is in the most remote of the three established communities. When we found the listing for the property, we wondered how such a cool building in such an amazing spot could be so reasonably priced. What we discovered was that the structure had not been completed, and had been worked on and abandoned twice, for years at a time. It was filled with junk from the two previous tenants, inhabited by pack rats, and the roof was leaking and sagging.
However, the main structure is solid. It is built into a steep mountainside, with a bare rock wall as the back wall of the structure. It is one room, with the typical large south-facing windows, solar panels, rainwater collection system, and indoor garden space. It’s amazing.
We are learning a lot about sustainable building and living. We are not living in the earthship full time, but working on it as we can travel to it from our full-time jobs hours away. Solar technology is evolving and becoming more affordable since construction on our home began, and we are still figuring out the water system that was constructed to re-use graywater, but we are amazed at the ease of living off electricity and water. We have learned how to do a little adobe, and a lot of concrete. We’ve harvested indoor tomatoes and begun to finish partially-constructed rooms with reclaimed doors and windows. We own a cement mixer—which makes us feel like we’ve arrived as a DIY construction family. We are no longer abstract and idealistic about composting toilets, but we appreciate the reality of having to think about the waste we generate: this includes thinking about the importance of living simply and reducing our consumption rather than relying in heroic recycling and reusing efforts.
As a family who takes our Christian faith seriously, and tries to live it out in the ways we interact with others and with creation, we are on an adventure of learning, building, and growing.
You can learn more about earthships here:
They were intended, in part, to be a model of sustainable building and living. We are enjoying our family adventure in figuring out the realities of that ideal—and the ideals of that reality.
- Carmen Retzlaff, DIY environmentalist and Lutheran pastor