Can old tyres, beer cans and wine bottles help build a home?https://indianexpress.com/photos/picture-gallery-others/earthship-community-phoenix-old-tyres-beer-cans-wine-bottles-home-4476691/

Can old tyres, beer cans and wine bottles help build a home?

An Earthship is an off-grid structure that offers all the comforts of modern living without any power or water bills.

Can old tyres, beer cans and wine bottles help build a home?

Yes. And if the 'Earthship Community' in the high desert of American southwest is anything to by, then it's all you need to build a dream home that can survive an environmental apocalypse.

An Earthship is an off-grid structure that offers all the comforts of modern living without any power or water bills. It grows its own food, harvests snow and rain for water and recycles its waste water. Electricity is generated from reneweable resources, mostly solar. In other words, it's the epitome of sustainable living.

The first Earthship was first built in 1988 in the deserts of New Mexico, US, by Mike Reynolds, an architect who is also endearingly known as the 'garbage warrior'. He called it Earthship because like a ship, these houses are self-sufficient vessels. The community just outside Taos, New Mexico, has about 75 such homes, probably making it the world's largest off-grid colony.

Here's what living independently of all public and municipal utilities looks like:

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An Earthship is very Suessian and experimental in its appearance. This one’s called Phoenix. It’s a three-bedroom home that can accommodate six people and is equipped with all modern amenities such as plumbing, power and even internet. One-third of Phoenix is dedicated to food production.

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The inside of an Earthship is quiet, cosy and looks like a work of art. This is one of the three bedrooms in the Phoenix. “Living off-the-grid usually paints a picture of living in a teepee. This is nothing like that,” says Rohan Guyot-Sutherland, an education coordinator with the Earthship Academy that offers training in the Earthship philosophy, design principles and it construction methods.

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Most rooms have stained-glass like walls. Recycled glass and plastic bottles are used as masonry units and set in concrete to build a strong, but light wall of any shape. When viewed from inside an Earthship, they create beautiful patterns.

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This is the boundary wall of the Earthsip community just outside Taos, which has been created with hundreds of used glass bottles sourced locally.

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This is the kitchen and dining area of the Phoenix. The residents of an Earthship drink, cook, and wash with filtered water harvested from rain and snow that collects on the roof. Since water is scarce in a desert, it is used reused four times.

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The front of an Earthship always has large glass windows. Each has its own greenhouse that runs the length of the front wall, acting as an air barrier between the living area and the extreme weather conditions outside. Since an Earthship has no auxillary heating, the insulation and sunlight helps keep the house warm in winters.

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The teeming greenhouse in the Phoenix has a food garden thatproduces fruits and vegetables, including grapes, artichokes, lemons and hot peppers, all year-round. It also supports parakeets and cockatiels. Since water is reused four times, the plants are usually nourished with the black water from the bathrooms.

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This is an Earthship currently under construction in the Taos colony. The exterior walls are built with recycled automobile tyres packed with earth. “These walls are indestructible and can withstand an earthquake. They also act as a heat battery during winters. They absorb heat from the sunlight in the day and release it at night,” says Guyot-Sutherland. In summers, instead of air conditioning, the building is cooled with operable skylights and knee-high vents which expel cool air.

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The cost of building an Earthship can be anything between $10,000 and a few hundred thousand US dollars depending on a numbers factors such as interior design, area, and local cost of building materials. A plush home like the Phoenix (5,300 sq feet) can be constructed in two months for over a hundred thousand dollars. “But this is a one-time investment. You’ll be saving on your electricity bills and you won’t be paying for water. You might be producing all or some part of the food you are eating. And you are not spending any energy to cool or warm your house. Your cost of living, in the long run, is next to zero,” Guyot-Sutherland toldThe Indian Express.

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Apart from home owners, the Earthship community in Taos hosts several volunteers, who help run the visitor centre, maintain some of the residences, train interns and even build new homes. Ryan Halpin, 33, (in picture) is among them. He quit his cushy sales job in Denver, Colorado, three years to volunteer here. When asked about his experience, he admits sustainable living has its share of challenges too. “You have to constantly be aware of the fact that you don’t have an unlimited supply of things out here. You have to control a lot of things. You are the power company, the water company, the sewage-treatment plant and the food production,” he says.

(The journalist's trip to America was sponsored by the US foreign office)