Michael Reynolds, the Taos, N.M., acclaimed visionary of the concept of using discarded tires and aluminum cans to create environmentally responsible homes called Earthships (HCN, 9/1/97), may be sailing a sinking ship. And he may be taking naive people with him.
I moved from the East Coast three years ago and signed an agreement to have Solar Survival Architecture (SSA) and Michael Reynolds manage the construction of our Earthship. I felt in tune with his philosophy, "the necessities of life should be made easily available to all, independent of economics," ... "while perfectly interfacing with the planet that we are all traveling on" (Volume III, Earthships).
But after grossly exceeding both SSA's expected building costs and time, I moved into an unfinished Earthship with leaking windows and roof, a solar system that could not support the Sunfrost energy-efficient refrigerator (ordered through SSA), a backed-up toilet and failed water pump, all in the first week. Two years later, I do not go to sleep with pleasant sounds of rain on the roof, thinking how good it is to be catching this water and putting it to use, but rather how many leaks will I find inside, and must I go outside to loosen the lids on the cisterns because no overflow was plumbed for this purpose.
Confronting Mr. Reynolds, I was told this was all part of the "stress at the end of a project." I was asked to confer with SSA and find solutions. I understood this to mean to just reach a little deeper into my pockets. Add this to a house that I already paid SSA $290,000 for 2,500 square feet for an unfinished project and an extra $20,000-$30,000 paid out-of-pocket for floors, cabinets, sinks, toilets, stove, building products and some tools, and many more items considered construction costs. What's more, our house, halfway into each room, reaches 95 degrees with an outside temperature of 90 degrees during the summer with cellular shades on all windows. This house was designed by SSA architectural staff for another client and appears in Volume I of the Earthships manual. We made no modifications to the plans other than those suggested by SSA and their representatives.
Whatever the outcome of Mr. Reynolds' legal clashes with the Taos County Planning Department, perhaps he should take note of the (more than just a few) people with serious building concerns. Could it be that he needs the "harassment of county planners and developers who want us to be a common subdivision'? Earthships, regardless of their positive qualities, will remain problems if homeowners do not control or own the land beneath it, or if a house does not meet coding standards and is not resaleable at or above costs.
Santa Fe, New Mexico