The Earthship crew has recently begun a new build in its headquarters’ home state. The clients are working to begin a new life living off the grid by building a 1-bedroom global model Earthship in a small rural town outside of Albuquerque called Estancia. Crewmembers have been called down for different stages in the building process for periods of time spanning 1-4 weeks at a time. There have been two separate monthly groups of interns with representation from all over the United States and other countries such as New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and the Czech Republic. This build is scheduled for two months for completion, September-October 2012.
Amongst the key members of this build, Anne Tempel works as the managing coordinator at the jobsite in Estancia alongside building manager and foreman at Earthship Biotecture, Rory Morlan. Anne has been with the company working for a year and a half but has been involved in the company as a repeat intern as well as a volunteer coordinator for an Earthship built in China. This build is her first employed experience as managing the logisitics for a start to finish build, but has experience coordinating jobs around the world such as China, Wyoming and Vermont. In the last six months, Anne has been staging jobs throughout New Mexico as well. She is at the jobsite in Estancia everyday working to oversee the building tasks of the Earthship and ensuring that the build moves along smoothly. To begin this job, a lot of planning needed to be done. Contacting the Construction Industry Division (CID), inspectors, and consulting for permitting to make sure that this building meets codes are only some of the initials steps for the process. Anne is responsible for the ordering of materials for each process of the build and figuring out what to order, quantities and where to order them from. The staging process of the building is worked out ahead of time and as Anne explained, as coordinator, one must be one, two or three steps ahead at all times to guarantee as best as possible that the build will move along well. Anne had to correspond with interns to come out and make sure that they had everything they needed to be able to camp onsite. She is also available to work during the process to educate and help the construction. Although there are constantly unexpected changes, such as a client changing their mind or permitting processes, the building has been moving along at an efficient pace.
Rory Morlan has been working with Earthship since 1998. He is a foreman for the company and is working as building manager for the Estancia site for the past five weeks. He and Anne work together to ensure the staging process of the build is running proficiently and to schedule and that the people on site are learning and have everything that they need in terms of tools and instruction. Talking to Rory about this particular job, he explains that he has worked as a foreman on jobs prior to this build but is working with fewer crewmembers and more interns who are fresh to a construction site. This gives him more responsibility with regard to teaching and supervising a larger group of people. For this particular Earthship build, there have been some obstacles in this process such as working with the Land Planning Department to be able to initialize the construction in this area being that it is not considered to be a Pocket of Freedom, as well as the difficulty at times of getting materials shipped out to the remote area. In conjunction with the clients’ goals in mind, Rory believes that Earthships, and this build is empowering the clients to live a self contained lifestyle, as well as empowering the interns and crew members to learn and practice the skills to live sustainably.
The atmosphere of the job-site was upbeat and cheerful with each intern and employee both expressing their excitement to be involved and giving explanations of their individual jobs as participants in this experience. The concept of this building practice compared to that of prior knowledge to those with architectural experience was an adjustment process. New ideas for the new volunteers and the existing employees are a constant occurrence for Earthship Biotecture.
One interesting concept that was introduced here was the alternative the clients took to the battery bank. Typically in the past, eight 12-24 volt Lead-Acid batteries would be used with the eight panels on the front face of the house. Instead, the clients decided to use a 1.2 Volt Nickel-Iron battery bank. The 20 batteries take a liquid electrolyte mix rather than Distilled water. The electrolyte for an Alkaline Storage Battery is a solution of chemically pure potassium hydroxide (commonly known as caustic potash) mixed with powder lithium hydroxide dissolved in ion-exchange purified or distilled water. LiOH comes in fine powder form and looks like table salt. These chemicals are prepared by mixing them in to Distilled water. Client Rodney Garcia says they chose the batteries mainly because of their expected life. “I’d read that some of these batteries are still functioning about 80 years after they’ve been installed,” he says.
We all went on to do a walk-through of the battery box and the control panel with Kris Wallin, a well-versed Earthship crewmember for about 3 years. Kris works as an electrical systems coordinator as well as maintenance staff member, and works often with the licensed electricians to install receptacle cells and switch boxes as well as the entire solar array and power systems. At this site, he worked to add locations for electrical fixtures and remove adobe to add chases in for electrical wiring. This saves both time and money. He further explained the Nickel-Iron batteries as beneficial components to the building. They require minimal ventilation and also have no memory in regard to charge, meaning they can be charged down and back up again without causing damage to them. The lifespan again, is mentioned in comparison to the L-16 Lead-Acid batteries that often last for about 10 years.
The clients, Rodney Garcia and Janis Pauliks, are incorporating many different practices to live as sustainably and self-contained as possible. Their extended property lines are not laying dormant – they are taking advantage of their land to the fullest extent. Touring their 2-acre garden, one would not think that you were walking around the mesa in New Mexico. Janis, who otherwise works as a Lutheran Pastor, spends a lot of time each day in the garden to ensure its functionality as a necessity for survival. The lush gardens and outdoor greenhouses have many varieties of fruit, grains, vegetables and herbs along with a dozen or so chickens. Rodney, a physician, explained that they also are growing their own medicinal herbs for their own use. They have applied permaculture practices and drip irrigation from an onsite well to conserve water and amend the soil in order to have successful food production. When talking to the clients, they explained that they grow 80-100% of all food needs.
The coordination and communication between clients, crew members, management and all other interns or volunteers involved is crucial in the construction of any type of project. The dedication of each person involved allows for a richer experience and provides for a better-suited jobsite. While new ideas and faces are constantly being introduced into the Earthship structures and components continue to evolve, we are continuing to strive to empower people to be self-sufficient. Combining the workings of all involved in the build process with those who wish to live alternatively and free is what generates the efficiency of sustainability and Earthship Biotecture as an effective answer.