NOTE: David Quilty has a renowned green blog called the Good Human and is my guest blogger for the day. This story is in 2 parts.

Last year before we moved to Taos, NM full-time, we stayed at an earthship for a vacation. Earthships are the brainchild of Michael Reynolds, who started a community of them out here on the mesa. They are 100% off the grid, collect their own water, and use passive solar heating and cooling in order to keep residents comfortable. Well, I talked to the homeowner of the one we stayed in so that I could post pictures and talk about our experience, so let's take a look at our stay in the HelioHouse earthship, about 15 minutes from Taos Plaza.

The home is in a subdivision of earthships west of town, where every home is off the grid and catches their own rainwater. There are no utilities out here - no power lines, no wells, no gas lines - the homes have propane tanks for cooking with, they use solar or wind energy to power the entire house, from the water filtration system to the television set, and every drop of water in the house is from the cisterns that are part of the home's design.

There is internet access from a WAN network from the earthship offices, and my laptop and iPhone worked perfectly fine with it. The HelioHouse, that we stayed in, had 6 solar panels and 3,000 gallons of water storage - and we used electricity and took showers just like we do here at home. It was strange to think that we were not hooked into any city utilities, but it didn't feel any different than here at home. What a great feeling that must be to have no bills!

This model is what is called the "packaged" earthship, in that it is a standard design from Michael Reynolds that just plain works - the systems are all in place and have been designed to work in harmony. This rental is the one bedroom version, but they come up to 3 bedrooms in size. There is a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a single bedroom here.

The reason that they can be off grid without worrying about things like heat in the winter is because earthships use thermal mass to store and retain heat from the sun all day. This heat comes back into the house at night, keeping the temperature inside the home at around 65 even in the dead of winter - without heat. The HelioHouse had a woodstove that we lit for the ambience, not for the heat - although it was about 20-something degrees outside that night, it was very comfortable in the house.

So how does it retain all that heat? First off, the windows are situated to take full advantage of the winter sun, which is low in the sky and can penetrate all the way to the back of the home, hitting the thermal wall. In the summer, the sun is higher in the sky and only comes in the windows a few feet - enough to hit the interior planters. This keeps it cool in the summer, without AC, as the cool earth temp stays constant even if it is hot outside. Wait, what? Planters inside? Yep, the planting bed inside the house that allows you to grow herbs, flowers, bananas - anything you want. Check it out:

Read on for Part 2.

David Quilty runs the website The Good Human -- a place where people can learn about environmentalism and sustainability issues without being made to feel guilty or like they aren't doing enough to help out.

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