August 22, 2011

What The F*** Is An Earthship? ~ Lee Graham

Earthship? What the fuck is an Earthship?, I said turning to my wife as we were standing in line at the grocery store. The blank stare indicating that, she too, was clueless. The lady helping us bag our groceries smiled and said, Just go Google it.

This serendipitous exchange started innocently as we were purchasing groceries in Santa Fe. We were going to be in the area for a few days and thought we’d ask one of the locals what we should see. She asked if we were planning on checking out Taos. I said, Yes. Her advice was immediate, enthusiastic and mysterious.

As we walked to the car, something told me that this Earthship thing had potential. Was it some Native American tourist attraction? Or maybe it was some route 66 alien roadside attraction. After all, New Mexico feeds off of Roswell. We discussed the possibilities on the ride back to our room, but nothing prepared me for that Google search.

Lying on the bed later that evening and finally getting a chance to plan the next few days, I decided to Google this Earthship thing. Whoa, I said. My wife, sitting in the other room, heard this exclamation and asked what was going on. I just Googled Earthship, and now I want one.

Photo: Lee Graham

I’m not sure how I missed this one. The founder of Earthship Biotecture has been working on this stuff for 40 years. The concept is familiar: Personal sustainability, living off the grid, radically simple, whatever you want to call it.

However, they are successfully promoting this green living in several communities and many individual houses all over the world.

The structure itself is built largely with recycled tires, cans and bottles. They have mostly realized being able to provide your own electricity, water, sewage, heating and cooling and food. Everything sounded good on the web site, but now I had to see it for myself.

Out on the high desert plains about 15 miles outside the town of Taos, we came to the headquarters. My first impression felt as if we were on Tatooine.

The houses looked a bit unconventional and initially a bit gaudy, noticeably different than the typical adobe architecture you see across New Mexico. They are built partially in to the side of an earth mound or hill in order to provide more efficient heating and cooling.

The roof collects rainwater and they claim that even with as little as 5 inches per year, you will have enough water for the entire year. They have intelligently designed the ability to grow a decent size garden right inside the house.

Photo: Lee Graham

The expense to build one is comparable to the price of a similar standard house except the cost to run it over the course of the year is almost nothing. The building plans seem a bit expensive, but other than that, they don’t seem to be looking to make a quick buck.

I’m sure there are many others out there doing similar things, but it did make me feel good knowing that this is no longer a pipe dream and to have witnessed it for myself. Maybe in the not to distant future this type of building will be the norm and not the exception.


Lee Graham is a reformed carpetbagger and symptomatic nomad who is trying hard to undo the karma accumulated during the first 36 years of his life while attempting to maintain a sense of humor at the insanity of his own ways and the world around him. When not doing yoga, diving, or skiing, he generally spends time attempting to perfect his savasana. He can be reached at [email protected].

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