Sunday, August 8, 2010

Smoking Vans and Roller Girls

End of my first week here in Taos and I can say without a doubt that Earthships and the crew working on them are pretty awesome. Contrary to what everyone believes of the internship (what? you mean they don't pay you??), there was minimal tire pounding and infinite opportunities to ask questions (why bottle walls? do you build a foundation before tires? how far down do you dig for the greywater system in the planters?). This week I got to build a bottle wall from cement and beer bottles, built into the side of the hill in order to backfill around the cistern which is buried behind the building. That task was pretty monotonous...3 parts sand : 1 water : 1/2 bag cement, plus a pinch of fibers...throw it in the mixer and BAM! start packing out the wall. Luckily, I had brought my chalk line along and was the only intern with a chalk line, so I was promoted to a more technical task...working on closing in the greenhouse roof alongside our foreman for the next 2 weeks, Seth. The weather is gorgeous, if a little sunny/hot. I am getting my fair share of a tan, despite my best efforts to smother my body in SPF 50, and I am now forcing myself to drink 2+ gallons of water a day just to stay hydrated. Ick, water STILL tastes gross. Working 9-430 heavy labor everyday in the hot, hot sun perhaps seems like a terrible idea to most, but I am enjoying the absolute exhaustion I feel at the end of the day, and my body is definitely getting stronger because of it.

Pictures/stories for this week:1. Joe forgot to put the oil cap back on his van...we were dying in the fumes (as Sean demonstrates)

2. Went to a roller derby match. Those girls are wayyy intense...some girl walked away with a neck brace, and another girl got her nose smashed up a bit, not to mention the HUGE bruises on the players' arms/legs.
3. Playing with fire...met the boys for dinner on Saturday at the Angel's Nest (a modified earthship) and made a frosty the snowman wax sculpture, sitting/melting by the fire!

I already have a million questions about earthships, but I think just one suffices for this week...
How does one decide between permanency of structure and natural materials? Much of the outside of earthships uses cement and stucco the embedded energy of cement justifiable since cement will last longer? Typically, portland cement must be heated to extremely high temperatures in kilns before it can be sold as the final product...think of the carbon footprint involved in processing and shipping such materials, not to mention the toxicity of the exhaust from the kilns that often burn things such as tires or other industrial waste. There is something about the cement that feels wrong to me, but at the same time I understand the justifications for using's a solution to not having to re-mud a building every year...but, cement doesn't breathe! It locks out moisture, or in (which can present problems), depending on if it's well sealed. Is there a medium ground? Not cement, but not adobe/mud that weathers more easily? Ultimately, do we want structures to last 100s of years? Or is it better to follow the thought that if not maintained, we would want these buildings to eventually be able to recycle themselves back into the ground?


  1. well, how reusable is concrete? When we start mining our landfills and deconstructing abandoned structures for materials, that concrete might come in handy. I know it takes energy to break it up, but at least its not like vinyl or other materials that are hard to reuse/recycle. also, since the southwest is so dry, do the moisture retention issues matter? Just curious! :)

  2. What do you mean by the moisture retention issues? Of cement? As doesn't breathe and if moisture gets behind it, it will freeze and then crack in the winter? There is still snow, at least in Taos anyway, so that could be a problem. Mostly in dry places, some sort of adobe house can be constructed, and oftentimes the exterior can be some sort of is a much more breathable material and I think ultimately better for the environment...