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Interview with Intern Bret from the Texas Earthship Build

Q: Tell us about yourself
A: “My name is Bret McCormick. I am a media executive and consultant that also owns a local market digital brand management company, www.ournewscafe.com. I am the father of 3 kids with our youngest being a senior in high school. I have been married for 27 years to the love of my life, am a native Texan, and am loving life.”

Q: Why sustainable housing?
A: “Having a total annual utility bill of $100 captured our attention in a big way. My wife and I just celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary. After some rough calculations we estimate we’ve spent in the neighborhood of $150,000 in utilities during our time together. Our latest monthly water bill was over $300 dollars for our home in suburban East Texas. One must wonder how much that will jump in the years to come. It’s safe to assume our utility bills will continue to increase exponentially as population growth fuels demand and traditional resources decline.

 

Looking forward, it’s not hard to imagine a couple getting married today, following the path my wife and I have taken with a large suburban home and green yard, that may end up spending $1,000,000 in utility bills during their life span. I doubt my calculations fit everyone, but they fit my family, and that’s where I’m coming from. We’re at the point in our lives where retirement accounts are becoming more important to us. During the past 10 years we’ve taken hits up to 50% and in this tumultuous economy we have serious concerns about the security of our retirement accounts. The Earthship biotecture type of sustainable housing is one aspect of our retirement risk avoidance. We believe investing in a home that eliminates utilities in perpetuity may be worth $250,000 to $500,000 to us in savings over the remainder of our lives. That’s a big number for us!

The savings don’t stop with utilities. Anyone shopping at the grocery store lately knows how expensive vegetables are getting. In our grocery store cucumbers cost over $1.00 each and tomatoes are $1.99 a lb.. We easily spend over $30 a week on fresh vegetables. This is just another way the system saves money that could be added right back to our retirement account. Saving only $10 a week over the next 30 years adds up to a big number.

This leads to our 3 children. If we can help them build their own sustainable home as they are getting started in life, we will have, in a sense, bequeathed them a million dollar gift over their lifetime.”

Q: You are not our typical intern candidate. Tell us how you came to be here.
A: “For me, it’s a really quirky story. My wife has been researching self-reliance and sustainable living for the past couple of years. This past summer I was channel surfing and I came across the documentary Garbage Warrior. I told my wife she needed to see this movie about an eccentric architect who was building homes that she had been reading about.

Skip forward 6 months and we’re taking a quick weekend camping trip to a local National Forest to unwind and rest. In the middle of the night a couple pulls into the site next to us and sets up camp. They run their car battery down and come to our site in the morning looking for battery cables. We help them out and then we begin to visit. We find they are from Canada and have come to Texas as interns on the Earthship project a few miles from the campground. It doesn’t register with me that this is the same organization that I saw on TV until they begin talking about packing tires with dirt to use as the walls. NO WAY! Teri and I couldn’t believe it. Steve and Liann, the Canadians as they became affectionately known, left and went their way and the wife and I began to talk.

We realized that an opportunity to see how sustainable building works just fell in our lap. It was too good to pass up. After some quick rescheduling and search on www.earthship.com, I contacted Earthship to see if they could get me in the program on short notice. Of course, I found they were full, and had been for some time, but after a talk with Tiffany, the onsite intern coordinator, they had a no-show and she said she’d give a fat old man a shot if I could stay out of the way. By the way, Tiff rocks.

Now to answer the question of not being the typical candidate…No, I’m not really into recycling, or saving the planet. (Laughing) Those that know me know I’m the least green person around. My 10 mpg truck pretty much says that before I ever open my mouth. However, I am into saving what little hard earned retirement my wife and I have built up. Maybe I’ll become greener with age…maybe.”

Q: What did you like most about your time as an intern?
A: I absolutely cherished the time spent sitting around the campfire at night with the group of interns. We had people from all over the world and no topic was off limits in our discussions. It was extremel enlightening and entertaining. Every night was different. Some were filled with uncontrollable laughter as we discovered the comical differences between cultures and other nights were filled with serious “save the world” discussions. The food was always a mishmash of delectable delights with everyone contributing in some fashion. I made some great friends and will treasure the friendship of those folks for the rest of my life.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit I equally liked the meal Chris Reynolds prepared each day. I lost 17 lbs on the Earthship diet, but she fed us like we were family. No one ever left hungry. Note: this was also the first time I’d eaten a Hummus sandwich, and it was delicious. My friends think that this is pretty comical coming from the world’s most notorious meat eater.

Q: What would you recommend for others interested in the program?
A: I discovered just how out of shape I was physically. (Laughing) I lived on a prescription of muscle relaxers and Aleve during the month. The Earthship crew are much more than a construction crew. No joke, they are athletes in peak physical condition. Even Michael Reynolds pounds tires every day. They come to work. The pace they set is mind boggling and they never let up. However, it’s such a positive and fun environment I found myself giving everything I had each day. I went back to the camp completely spent each evening. The internships are not for the faint hearted. Be forewarned, this is a construction environment and if you leave your tools unattended someone is sure to write witty sayings that will prevent you from taking them to your next Church work project. The expectation is to work hard, play hard, and get covered in cement to the point to where your clothes standup in the corner.

Each intern has different objectives. As with me, there were several that came and worked because they are on a short path to build an Earthship, or some variation of sustainable housing. Others come for overall knowledge in “Sustainable” living. I can only speak for the Texas build, but if you wanted to learn, you had to ask questions. The crew was always accommodating in answering a question. The first couple of weeks it was tire pounding, insulating the earth wall, and building can forms. It was easy to stay up with daily progress and understand what was going on. At the end of week two the vigas rolled up and after that the progress moved at such a rapid pace it was extremely difficult to capture everything that was happening each day. If I had it to do over again I’d write down all the questions that came up each night around the campfire and spend 15 minutes each day talking to the crew about each aspect of the systems.

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