Another Earthship: Let the Sun Shine In

Another Cerrillos Earthship!

Just when I thought I knew most of my neighbors, I meet three more. Go figure, they also live in an Earthship! Yesterday I hiked from my place to the Swans’, a one-way trek of about five miles, for lunch and a tour.

Earthships are a bizarre and beautiful form of adobe architecture invented in the 1970s in Taos, New Mexico by eco-architect Michael Reynolds. Always artful, these homes range in size and intricacy from casitas to castles. Walls are built using stacked rubber tires, packed with adobe as well as empty soda cans and glass bottles. Adobe is filled in between the bottles and then plastered on the outside to form a smooth outer finish.

Earthship, In progress

My Earthship is a unique and beautiful Earthship, full of artistic touches and creative flair. The main house was built – by the owners’ own hands – in the early 90′s. Earthship’s have come a long way since then.

The basic concept of an Earthship  is an off grid, fully sustaining, passive solar adobe made from tires, cans and other recycled materials. Within that loose definition exists lots of room for innovation and Michael Reynold has worked hard over the past 40 years to ensure that his original idea keeps evolving.

My neighbors’ Earthship was designed and built by the Biotecture team from the Earthship World Headquarters in Taos, New Mexico in 2000 and it’s interesting to see how the design differs from my older do-it-yourself building, as well as the brand new Earthship I visited in Santa Fe in September.

Passive Solar Windows

Like mine, this one is also built into a hillside with wall-to-wall passive solar windows across the south facing side. The most obvious design difference between this place and mine is that these windows are perpendicular to the ground whereas mine are angled.

Angled windows catch more solar energy, but there is such thing as too much: even with the perpendicular windows, this place gets really hot in the summer months. On a chilly winter day, we ate lunch inside in t-shirts, warmed by no other heating source except the sun.

The other big difference were the water collection and storage systems. Both Earthships have a metal roof for catching rainwater, but the newer model has a much more efficient gutter system. Water runs towards the front of the house and through two big scuppers directly into the 9,000-gallon cistern, which is buried in the hill behind the house. In fact, the back inside wall of the house curves inward, around the cistern. All that water, along with the thick walls and earthen bank surrounding on three sides, provide a great deal of thermal mass, which helps to keep the interior temperature of the house steady.

Rainwater scuppers channeling water into the house and into the cistern. The contraption in the middle is a solar water heater and that's a tracking solar panel on the roof, which moves throughout the day, following the sun. This Earthship is finished with metal panels instead of adobe.

I have to admit, I was a little jealous of all their water! Having extra storage space really allows you to take advantage of the summer monsoons. Halfway through a relatively dry winter, their gauge is at 8,600 gallons, whereas my 1,500-gallon tank is about a third-full (or two-thirds empty).

This place also has a pretty epic solar set up that pulls in three times more power than mine:

Rooftop tracking panel facing south, towards the Ortiz Mountains

Two more panels behind the house bring in 3,600 watts of power

The Swans need a bit more power than I do since they run a documentary film production company called Snow Goose Productions out of their Earthship! Keep an eye out for their latest collaboration: Wild Justice, a reality show about California Fish & Game Wardens on the National Geographic Channel. The new season starts March 11th.

Andrew & the Blonde Coyote on the roof. The 9,000-gallon water cistern is under the dome.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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3 Responses to Another Earthship: Let the Sun Shine In

  1. Pingback: Misty Aqua – Water Collection in the Desert » Innovation Toronto

  2. Pingback: Another Earthship: Let the Sun Shine In « Travels with the Blonde … »

  3. I really enjoy the photos of the earthships I was wondering if u knew of any built in the south ga,tn,ala ?

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