Monday, June 18, 2012

Earthships: the future of self-sustainable living ?

Self-sufficient Housing/Earthship Biotecture

Generally whenever this subject has come to my attention in Yahoo News or some other Eco-News Source trying to tell me about what the future will one day look like, I suddenly get visions of some sort of planet wide Apocalypse where civilization as we know it has been destroyed and the world has been reborn by all the leftover rural Mililitia Group Survivalists who left the city decades ago because they somehow had an uncanny insight as to what was coming. Suddenly they change and lay down their Arms and take up a Bohemian New Age Lifestyle. They then proceed to create a newer enlightened civilization who rebuild towns and cities patterned after something like the scenes from  "Planet of the Apes Village".

"It Takes A Village"
However, the funny thing about those futuristic Utopian Societies who have supposedly advanced towards a more enlightened secularistic society, is that they can quickly revert back into bad old habits of their ancestors causing the Utopia to become Dystopia.
There they go again!
But this subject is not about another Science-Fiction. Though it seems like Charlton Heston worked with quite a few of them. No this is about a movement with the ever popular modern catch phrase, "Sustainable Living". I'm all for sustainable responsible living, but I also like normalcy in my life and a comfortable traditional feel in the world around me. I don't think being a person who loves the natural world and caring enough to choose more ecologically responsible solution to living which more accurately reflects the natural world, necessarily means that a person need physically change their personal decor by sporting a Pony Tail, some John Lennon type spectacles, being Sandal clad, bead necklace toting and Yoga meditating on what my next move in life will be. Unfortunately that is where most of the opinions on people promoting sustainability move towards. No doubt there are still those Counter Culture Folks out there somewhere, but I think the majority people advocating true greener solutions now days are just tired of the same flawed Industrial science-based technologies that are driving our planet into the ground.

But let's get back to the subject of this latest terminology labeled "Earthships". I'll be the first to say the name doesn't help it any. Many of the building materials don't offer much better, though I do advocate and encourage recycling. The very name though has a sort of Agent Mulder-ismness about it. I've never seen such time as now where folks are fascinated that there just may be Extra-Terrestrials, Aliens or some other Entities from the Spirit Realm out there somewhere who are only wanting to help us if we'd just let them. Wow, if this isn't a testimonial to the utter failure of this world's leadership of it's Politicians, Clergy or Big Business Gurus, then I don't know what is. I generally run away in the other direction when this subject comes up.

I don't have such a problem with the material's used so much as the bizarreness of the outcomes of some of these buildings decor & designs. I will however agree that the first line of defense towards an energy efficient home is just how well built it is in the first place. For example, I think of a thick-walled Straw Bale type House with double or triple pane windows and in-floor heating is perfect. In fact my very first book about the subject was purchased from Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano, CA back in the middle 1990s. The Nursery itself is featured very prominently in the book as they have several Strawbale builds.

The first and most prominent buildings being their huge Barn for which they run workshops and store seed at 60 degrees. The even had a volunteer workshop on building with Strawbale construction and education on it's basic fundamentals which helped in the Barn raising. The other building of course is the Navajo Indian style rounded Hogan Retail area where customers pay for their plant purchases. Then also their main Sales & bookkeeping Office where they run the entire Nursery from and help their commercial client accounts. The image to the upper left is a great resource for strawbale construction ideas and techniques.

Tree of Life Nursery Sales Building
Behind this building is a newer building which we saw last year with all manner of featured books for sale on Sustainability and the growing popularity of growing California Native Plants.

Casa La Paz at Tree of Life Nursery

Now to me, this is what normal should look like. Nothing bizarre or extreme in the way of decor and I happen to prefer Hispanic Architecture and surroundings. But take a look at some of the interior construction and design. All very familiar and something comfortable that I can live with. The other thing that is attractive about them is the insulation factor of the thick walls for both winter's cold and summer's heat. In both cases this draws the most energy, depending of course on your geographical area.

Aside from the actual material for building a home, for me the windows have got to be number one in quality and especially triple pane or at the very least dual pane windows. This doesn't matter whether we are talking hot or cold climates. The insulation factors for both sound and heat retention or keeping interiors cool in summer is dramatically improved. It may seem expensive at first, but the savings are awesome. Also you need a good glass that has a high performing Low-E (emissivity) Coating. 

This prevents the Sun's rays from penetrating the inside heating up interior objects while infrared heat radiation from the sun during summer is reflected away, keeping it cooler inside. This coating results in more efficient windows because radiant heat originating from indoors in winter is reflected back inside. If nothing else, these windows are a must. 

One way to illustrate this is if you've ever driven through the desert in the summertime during a hot day and even if have the Car's air-conditioner on full blast, the Sun, if on the Driver's side still penetrates and you feel the burning sensation, despite that fact that the Air Conditioner is on Maximum. If you do anything, no matter what the building material used, get good quality windows and other insulation. Of course this is why Car Window Tinting became so popular starting in the 1980s to the present. Now having said all of this, when it's all said and done, you've got to be comfortable with the right look for your own home. Again I'm not into the odd-ball looks of many of the poster child eco-green housing, but I don't mind a bit of natural interest added to the design. For example I love what the Escondido Creek Foundation did with their Elfin Forest Interpretive Center. And I really love the artwork inside.
Elfin forest Interpretive Center - Harmony Grove
Here is one other example of Dick Clark's home which was on the market for sale. While it has an Earthship stylishness about it, it truly has a naturalness that blends in with the surrounding landscape. Take a close look.

Now there is some bit of quirkiness to this and no doubt a whole lot of expense, but still these home can blend in perfectly with the surrounding natural landscape if the right choices are used. Although I must say, no amount of landscaping will improve much on a lot of the Scandinavian Design from the 1960/70s which has popular down to the present. Trust me, I know these things.
I'd almost even prefer that New Mexico Earthship Commune that Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper stayed at briefly on their way through the southwest. Somewhere near that Sacred Mountain Gas Station. Hmmmmmmmm - Okay, well maybe not!

For those interested in the concept, below are some further important reading resources on the subject for your further interest. This just came out recently:


  1. Wow!!! Those homes/area really are cool looking places. Look like something from the Shire in Lord of the Rings. We have a ways to go before we find self sustaining places. All we need to do is look at Tucson's Biosphere. I had a student who gave me free tickets to visit this place and with the heat going on right now, I actually might escape this week to revisit this place. It's too hot outside!!!:)

    1. You know Dennis Weaver built one of these very homes with the tires long before it has become popular now. I believe his house was in Colorado. He came by a place where I once worked and dropped off a video for us all to see. This was in Temecula with the guy you saw me speak with at the Rancho Fruit Market story there in old town. He and Jack Klugman both use to come by regularly. Both had houses out in the country there.




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