The Miles City Earthship built for Scott Elder and Karla Lund is not the only one in Eastern Montana.
Next door, artists Tucker and Glenna Bolton, are building one themselves.
The couple has already spent two summers working on its construction and hope to have half the house ready to occupy this winter as they continue working on the rest.
North of Big Timber, on 64 acres with a killer view of several mountain ranges, Monte Koch has hired an Earthship crew to build his home.
Led by Earthship pioneer Michael Reynolds, a crew spent two weeks working on Koch’s home last fall, building the rear tire wall and shaping the terrain around it.
Next September, the group will return for about a month to complete the shell. Koch will work with local contractors to finish the interior.
Koch, 48, was raised in Billings and graduated from the University of Montana. Although he works with commercial real estate in Dallas, Texas, he has always planned to eventually return to Montana.
Initially, he considered a traditional log cabin. A renewable energy fair stirred his interest in eco-friendly housing.
In New Mexico, Koch rented a couple of Earthship homes for overnight stays to test their design.
His custom plan includes two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a solar-heated garage. A high-efficiency soapstone stove will provide backup heat.
Koch liked the simplicity of the Earthship systems.
“You could maintain them for the most part for yourself,” he said.
“The systems we normally rely on to provide water, to provide heat, to provide power, they’re all fairly complicated and integrated, and, if some central component goes down in your dwelling or at the heating plant or water plant, you’re dependent.”
The Earthship allows homeowners to chart their own course, but they need to understand how to maintain the system.
“It’s more of a relationship between owners and the house than we’re used to,” Koch said. “But I definitely get the sense, if you take care of this thing, it will take care of you.”
When you walk into an Earthship, it’s like being hugged by your dwelling, said Tucker Bolton, paraphrasing a description used by friend and fellow Earthship homeowner Karla Lund.
A feeling of softness comes from the curved interior walls and earthen, adobe-like surfaces, Bolton said.
He and his wife intend to create many custom touches for their one-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot home and their freestanding art studio.
“This is going to be the biggest art project I’ve ever looked at,” Bolton said.
He expects the completed project to cost $30,000 to $50,000 in addition to their years of back-breaking labor. Bolton, who turns 64 in May, admits to being envious when he saw how quickly his neighbor’s Earthship went up this summer.
Most of the work crew and volunteer interns were in their 20s, had washboard stomachs and swarmed over the work site like ants, he said.
Last August, Guy Duffner, a sociology major at Montana State University Billings, was one of those volunteers.
Duffner worked for two weeks on Elder and Lund’s Miles City home, then spent the last two weeks of his internship working on a pair of Earthships in New Mexico. In September, he also spent a day pounding tires at the Big Timber home.
“As hard work as pounding tires is, and it’s really hard work and it’s really physical, but it’s very satisfying as well,” Duffner said.
“It’s very hard work, but you see progress as the Earthship starts to take shape. It’s so satisfying; it takes away from the fact that it’s so labor-intensive.”
The hired crew readily offered pointers, and everyone seemed to have a vested interest in conserving resources, he said.
Duffner, who spent five years as a hospital corpsman in the military, got interested in yoga and alternative lifestyles while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California. He teaches yoga and works part-time on an ambulance crew in addition to his studies.
When he graduates in May, he intends to move to South America. He’s convinced that, if he ever builds a house, it will be an Earthship.