Our friends often ask Craig and me how we could go from a cozy townhouse in northern Virginia to an earthship built of tires, bottles and cans, in the middle of hundreds of volcanic craters in northern Arizona. The answer is simple. Sustainability, responsibility and freedom.
I have been interested in sustainability for years. In the townhouse, I had a vegetable garden in the backyard. I grew herbs instead of flowers in the front flowerbeds. I had a compost pit. I worked out ways to be more self-sufficient, and knew that someday we would be living off the grid. Craig, being from Brooklyn, had his doubts.
In 2010 we decided it was time to move to the southwest. I loved the idea of the earthship. Designed by Michael Reynolds in New Mexico, it is a home made of tires, bottles and cans. Facing south and utilizing the sun, it has growing space indoors and recycles water. Most earthships are in northern New Mexico but I wasn’t too thrilled about living on the Carson Mesa. Being born in Arizona I preferred to go back to something just a little more familiar.
I made a trip west in search of the perfect home. We knew of only one earthship for sale in Arizona and it seemed too small. After not finding THE house, I made a visit to see the little earthship. Two and a half miles off the main road, 25 miles from the nearest town, on 20 acres was our new home! It was only 2 rooms. A straw bale studio was just outside the house. It was an older earthship with dark mud walls and smelly grey water planters. It was obvious by the traps that there were rodents. The solar system was too small and it was PERFECT! There was work to be done but I was certain we could make it beautiful!
I called Craig and he made the offer without seeing the house. Now THAT is trust! By July, we were here and Craig saw his new home for the first time. He loved it, too. It was uninhabitable at first, so we took an apartment in town. While Craig telecommuted to his job, I worked to make the earthship livable. Finally, in October, after the rodents moved out, we moved in.
We use solar power, catch rainwater, grow food indoors, and rely on the sun for warmth in the day which is stored in the walls and floors to be released at night. We have 3-foot-thick tire walls to keep us warm. It’s called thermal mass. I don’t understand it yet, but it works. We haven’t had a night that we needed a fire, but it’s really romantic to have. Our water heaters are solar powered, too. The bottle walls inside the house are beautiful.
We have no utility bills (except a cell phone and satellite internet for work). No blow dryers, TV, microwave, coffee maker, crock pot or a clothes dryer. We don’t miss any of that.
We don’t have to worry about the rising cost of utilities, power outages, traffic jams, pollution, air conditioners failing on the hottest day of the year or furnace failure on the coldest. We don’t miss any of that, either.
We no longer pay top dollar for organic vegetables because they grow in the kitchen. We grind our own flour and other grains, guaranteeing that our bread is fresh and also organic. There’s no need to go to a stuffy, germy gym so that we can pay dues to wait in line to use a machine covered with sweat. We get plenty of exercise and fresh air hiking on the craters that surround us. Our trips to town are limited so we save on gas, but there isn’t too much we need there, anyway.
We conserve, recycle, re-use. The compost barrel is rodent proof and our grey water is saved in an underground tank for watering outdoor plants. I am collecting bottles and cans to build additional planters and some walls outside. We take care of our home and respect our environment.
They take care of us in return. We are a team and it feels great!
In spite of all the gadgets, gizmos, and technology, we are living a healthier, happier life without them. Sure, we have some gadgets that have replaced the old ones. Oil lamps that we like better than electric lights. Olive oil lamps that burn all night, giving a warm glow to the house. They can’t catch on fire and they don’t smell. Now, we have a hand crank food mill and have a special fan on top of the wood stove. It runs on heat from the fire. We hang my laundry inside on a rack if it’s raining and the fan will dry it. Outside, there is a clothesline and when it’s sunny, clothes dry quickly and smell fresh. We have doormats made of recycled tires. We like them because they “match” the house. They will last for years. The dutch oven gets used a lot. Cooking in a fire pit is easy and the food is tasty. There is a propane stove but I love NOT using it. Cooking inside the woodstove has been successful as well.
There is a lot to learn. Every day is a new adventure. We make mistakes, learn the hard way and have some disasters. We laugh at ourselves.
Some things aren’t so wonderful. The natural order of life here is interesting. Mice and rats eat garbage or food. Food in mouse proof containers and garbage tightly sealed. We adopted a working cat. This is very important because SNAKES eat mice and rats. So far, there have been 2 snakes looking for dinner in my living room. Hopefully they got the message that the mice have moved out. Even the garden of Eden had snakes.
When we tell people why we came here, some understand and some just think we’ve lost our minds.
Waking up with the sunrise each day, we know it was the right decision.
Glynis B. DeYong
Off the grid newbie.