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Rodriguez: weirdly normal
It was a slightly reluctant sign-off from CBS Early show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez. She could not resist profiling people who live off the grid as “weird.” But it was still an undeniable three minutes of morning prime-time. The subject was Architect Michael Reynolds and his amazing Earthships near Taos,New Mexico. And reporter Bianca Solorzano was also two-edged, enthusiastic about the concept but still referring to the Earthship dwellers as a “hippy cult.”

SOLORZANO:Hi. Good morning, Maggie. Well, in these very tough economic times, there are people in America living very comfortably with a zero, yes, zero utility bill. They live in Earthships, beautiful homes made out of recycled tires and bottles, built completely off the grid

It’s hard to guess what they are, strange, futuristic-looking structures dotting the Taos, New Mexico, desert. They’re actually eco-friendly houses, built almost entirely from garbage. They’re called Earthships, the creation of Michael Reynolds.


Buy the book, build the building
MICHAEL REYNOLDS (Founder, Earthship Biotecture): They’re much more than houses. And it provides shelter, heating, cooling, power, water and sewage.

SOLORZANO: Straight from architecture school, Reynolds walked away from what he calls wasteful building. He started making bricks using tossed out beer cans and built a beer can home in 1971. He’s worked continuously to perfect the building concept that’s developed into this community of 60 homes and growing, all fully sustainable, no power, water or sewage lines. This is the latest Earthship. It’s designed to keep a family of four alive.

REYNOLDS: You’re seeing not only flowers but banana trees, grapes, cucumbers.

SOLORZANO: Food: the house makes its own; fruits, vegetables, a pond of fish, the yard would have chickens. Temperature: several layers keep the interior a constant 72 degrees. Water: a system captures rain and reuses it for everything from showering to landscaping. The internal walls are made of tires filled with dirt.

And what does this do for heating and cooling?

REYNOLDS: Well, it’s massive, it’s on the order of mass is known in physics to hold temperature.

Freezer and refrigerator, all powered by the sun.

SOLORZANO: Flat-screen TV, high-speed Internet, four bedrooms, 6,000 square feet.

Mr. REYNOLDS: All without fuel. So the total utility bill for a home like this would be–well, it’s kind of unheard of, but $100 US per year.

MICHAEL BALASONE (Earthship Owner): These are our homegrown tomato plants.

SOLORZANO: Michael Balasone left his standard home to live in this two-story Earthship.

Tell me, you’ve been here almost a year, what is your utility bill?

BALASONE: So far, really none. We have a propane tank and it was mostly full when we got here and don’t expect to fill it for probably two more years.

SOLORZANO: Earthships aren’t only here in New Mexico; as the word has spread, people have had them built in every state in the US, and Earthships are being developed around the world.

From Japan to Bolivia, India and Spain, Reynolds and his team travel the globe, teaching this simple concept of building self-sustaining shelter.

REYNOLDS: With one person making dirt and he other one pounding it, it shouldn’t take anymore than 10 or 15 minutes to pound a tire, if that.

Every kind of person is wondering right now, `Am I going to be able to flush my toilet? Am I going to have power? Am I going to be able to keep my kids warm?’ I think it’s their birthright, I think that this is a direction that they can get it, a pretty low-tech way of getting it.

SOLORZANO: Now, building an Earthship, it costs really about the same amount as building the same home about the same size, but you have to imagine you’re not paying the utility bill. So that’s where people are saving all that money.

RODRIGUEZ: It can be a very attractive option. But it does seem so radical right now.

SOLORZANO: Right. I asked Reynolds that, what type of people are living in these homes? And he said that, really, you are getting that kind of hippie cult that was living–I don’t want to say cult, but that hippie group.

RODRIGUEZ: Mm-hmm.

SOLORZANO: But he says more and more people, more mainstream people are moving into these homes because they just want to save money.

RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. Being green was considered weird not too long ago, so who knows?

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

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