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Know anything about these houses?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Pa, Jul 4, 2007.

  1. Shot this from the car window on Carson Mesa west of the Rio Grande near Taos. There were several like this. Looks like a whole community trying to live off the grid.

    Does anyone know any details? I'm especially interested in the wire cages on stilts to the left of the house.

  2. That's one bad a** Hummer limo too !
  3. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    Neat image, fun colors and shape.

    Have no idea though

    Looks like all solar power
  4. GBRandy


    Feb 28, 2006
    Green Bay, WI
    What the heck is that? I am also curious about the wire cages on stilts....what for I wonder?

    Perhaps a water heater of sorts? Perhaps they are pipes and absorb the suns rays, as the water is pumped through it is heated.....nighttime showers might be brisk however :) 

    Wild stuff.
  5. Yes, how silly. And there's a logo on the side of the Hummer that I can't quite make out.

    ...and wind; note the windmill.

    Can't be water heaters - solar radiation is much to diffuse to heat water in a contraption like that.
  6. Jim,

    This looks fascinating. A study in contrast between excessive power consumption [Hummer} and conservation! I did a little google search and Taos seems to be a hotbed for alternative living. Between "Earthship" style houses to these Adobe/wood structures and less sophisticated passive type dwellings there's a lot to be found. Your picture seems to show a whole community. I hope that somebody can shed some light on this.
  7. adrianaitken

    adrianaitken Guest

    The cages generate static electricity as the wind blows through them. When you need to start up the Hummer, attach jump leads to the cages :smile: - OK, who believes that ?
  8. Here's another one - unfortunately shot through the glass of the car window. Click for larger res version.

  9. Jim,

    I grew up a couple hours n. of Taos, and we had a good friend who lived in Taos itself. The owner is Robert Plarr; he started some sort of alternative energy festival there and his stretch Hummer runs on biodiesel. He's a bit unusual, to say the least.

  10. cwilt


    Apr 24, 2005
    Denver, CO
    I've been by those a couple of times.

    Strange, indeed.:eek: 
  11. Wow - the web site is an assault on the senses, just like the houses.

    The "bird cages" are apparently "DNA wind turbines" :) confused:) .
  12. GBRandy


    Feb 28, 2006
    Green Bay, WI
    Wild stuff. But pretty cool just the same.....Can you imagine 8 hours in an elevator with that guy? !!!!
  13. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Jim :


    Well, Taos is still home to a lot of "alternative" people, including a large contingent of the old hippie movements. The community you passed by is a part of the so-called "Earthship" movement. Many of these homes are off the grid, or, in more common language, not hooked up for electricity or suchlike things. Many attempt to be wholly self-sufficient including electricity, heat, water and sewage systems.

    A lot of this dates back to the era of the Whole Earth Catalog and similar environmentally driven movements. Earthships are often composed of what many would consider "waste materials" such as used tires, typically rely heavily on passive solar principles, and many times use a specific packed/rammed earth architecture.

    I've looked at several homes from that era and set of systems, and some are actually rather interesting to consider - the energy savings are substantial, and one could reliably expect to survive long losses of local power or natural gas in comfort. Some of the other houses are, well, quirky, and could be described as being part of a lifestyle commitment (nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as even the majority of Prius automobile owners admit that their choice is lifestyle based, see, Hybrid Choices). I guess the ultimate answer to what I found is that I didn't purchase one of these homes... :rolleyes: 

    From my perspective as a scientist and engineer, I regret that these systems weren't given more long term development and consideration, as the basic principles in them are reasonable. The difficulty, IMO, is that the designs remained in the "crunchy granola" kind of realm, and didn't transcend further to a more mainstream direction. While passive solar aspects of house design have been mainstreamed to a small to medium degree, a lot of the conservation aspects of the Earthships didn't get so much attention. Even the water conservation efforts of this area of the USA, some water conservation cases of which are quite well considered, could still gain from some of the principles of the Earthships.

    Ah, well, good design and technology doesn't always prevail. Anyone still use a Betamax ? :wink:

    John P.
  14. wbeem


    Feb 11, 2007
    Sanford, FL
    William Beem
    Do you get the feeling that the excess the spent in building this place will far outweigh any cost-savings from living off solar & wind energy. I'm thinking the extra-long Hummer outweighs any good karma they get, too.
  15. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    William :

    Well, your first comment is a good corollary to my remark about longer term development in this area. Building prototypes and initial models always entails relatively high costs, where longer term research and development allows for both improved efficiencies in construction and economies of scale.

    Imagine, for example, that you're the one getting the first of the higher efficiency natural gas or oil furnaces for a home. The net costs are extremely high, and the return on investment relatively low. And yet, most of the new furnaces installed in houses today are far more efficient than decades past.

    Some of the water efficiency systems, the various passive thermal systems, and a number of the construction techniques fall into this area. They've been used now for a fair period of time, but the mainstream applications that could lower costs have still not been applied fully. Some of this has been clouded by the "crunchy granola" flavour of the designs, which isn't terribly well received by a lot of folks. If people could look past that issue, there are useful lessons to learn.

    As for the Hummer, well, that one's a definite oddity, but it's consistent with this area. The most affluent ultraliberal people out here will have a bumper sticker with a high minded goal stuck on the back of a gas-guzzler. "Do as I say, not as I do" is very much the way for a lot of folks here, mostly California transplants, but not a few locals, sad to say. :mad: 

    John P.
  16. John:

    Thanks for your input.

    I'm quite happy to see people do this sort of thing, because eventually some of it may trickle down to the average user. But my reading and thinking convinces me that there is no way one can achieve net savings being "off the grid" with solar and wind, except perhaps in very special circumstances. I would think that Carson Mesa might be closer to those "special circumstances" than most areas of the country, with the abundant sunshine and wind. But one certainly couldn't break even doing this in my part of the country.
  17. Johnny Yuma

    Johnny Yuma

    Jun 27, 2007
    SE MI
    Thats Taos for ya. Its a strange place!
  18. I vividly remember in 1984 that my wife and I really liked to buy an existing "active solar" house that was for sale in the Northern VA suburbs, but would have had to move "heaven and earth" to get a mortgage. After some efforts we gave up.

    My guess is that even at this point in time it probably will still be the same to get financing on what the financial community regards a high risk because it is not conventional in design.
  19. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Jim :

    For the most part, much of the Earthship design isn't applicable to your part of the country. However, and it's a substantial however, there are indeed many aspects of the designs that could be used with profit in most of the US (Alaska's a special case, for example). Orientation of passive solar aspects, for example, is quite usable most places. Better use of cross ventilation as well as better orientation of ventilation systems can be profitable. There are a number of useful lessons to be taken and applied.

    The problem, IMNSHO, is that some of these approaches have been presented as an all-or-nothing discussion by some proponents, where a lack of total agreement with all aspects of the design is taken as a betrayal of environmental principles, lack of commitment, etc.

    For the most part, that sort of anti-dialogue has impeded better consideration of some pretty usable alternatives. Some alternatives, such as photovoltaic systems, are still not close to cost effective. That doesn't mean that such alternatives are a bad idea, but that they then fall into a personal commitment for the alternative.

    My first engineering job involved several projects in this arena, and I've kept up with the area to a fair degree over the years. There are a lot of areas for significant improvement in new construction that are being missed, and a number where retrofitting existing houses would offer opportunities. But, in a business environment where cost cutting for new construction comes down to using inferior stop valves on toilets to save about a buck per toilet installation, there's little incentive for builders to add cost when they perceive no direct return.

    As a corollary, changes in building construction that would significantly limit hurricane damage in Florida were opposed and successfully blocked for many years arguing that the increased costs wouldn't be supported by purchasers. Hurricane Andrew and subsequent hurricanes put paid to that notion with the enormous losses experienced by homeowners.

    But there's simply not been a sufficiently large energy cost spike to push the measures for conservation...

    IMO, anyway. :rolleyes: 

    John P.
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