NOTE: This is continued from Part 1 of David Quilty's guest blog post.
You might be wondering at this point what makes the home so energy efficient, and here is the part that turns some people off to the homes - the back and side walls are made from old tires packed full of dirt and covered with adobe plaster, and are buried about 4 feet into the earth, where the earth's core temp stays the same day and night in all seasons. However, you would never know it unless you built the house yourself.
As for how you can make 3,000 gallon cisterns last as long as they need to out there in the desert, the water in earthships is actually used 4 times.
First off, the water is caught in the cisterns coming off the roof, and the fresh water is filtered heavily and used conventionally for showering and drinking water. That really is the only time that "new" water is ever used in the house, which makes total sense. Once you use it for drinking or showering, the water gets filtered again naturally inside the interior planters (called botanical cells) and sent back to be used in the toilet - after all, why use fresh clean "virgin" water just to flush a toilet? Once the toilet is flushed, the water is sent outside the home, where the liquid is used to fertilize the outdoor planting area and the solids are put into a conventional septic tank. And no, the house doesn't stink, the water doesn't taste funny, and everything works just like a normal house - you wouldn't even know the difference unless someone told you. It is quite amazing.
These homes make so much sense today, with water and energy shortages, groundwater and river pollution, and wasteful McMansions being built all over the world. Using tires and dirt to make exterior walls, bottles and cans and mud to make interior walls, and a small amount of wood to frame out the windows and doors, the houses have not only a minimal impact on housing supplies, but also has a tiny footprint on the earth itself - water from the sky, energy from the wind or sun, and a self-enclosed and maintained sewage treatment plant. Plus, no utility bills at all! How can you go wrong? If you want to learn more about earthships, check out Earthship Biotecture or watch the documentary Garbage Warrior, about Michael Reynolds the designer of these homes.
So now that you have learned a lot about the house, you might be interested in staying in one. Well, lucky for all of us, Jill and Michael, owners of the HelioHouse rent the house out year round for the same price you would pay for a hotel room in town. (Believe me, we wish we had stayed there all week instead of in a hotel room) They live right next door in their own earthship, and were so nice to take the time to talk with us about their home and their rental. HelioHouse was so well-decorated and well-appointed that we felt like we were right at home! The bed was very comfortable, there was fresh organic coffee for us to make in the morning, wood for the fireplace, and chocolates on the bedside table - how much more could one want?
Oh, and if you do stay there, wait until about 11pm and then walk outside - you have never seen stars like what you see out there on the mesa!
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.