I recently relocated to Albuquerque from Portland and am spending some time checking out the amazing things New Mexico has to offer. I recently took a trip up to Taos and not only is the Rio Grande gorge phenomenal, and Taos a great small town, but outside of Taos about 10 miles is an Earthship community and Earthship World Headquarters. Here you can take a self guided tour of some earthships or even stay the night in one.
A earthship house is made up of rammed earth and tires. The tires are stacked (staggered) like bricks. Each tire has earth pounded into them until firmly packed. Once the tires are packed, they are very difficult to move and form quite a dense wall. The walls are load bearing and provide thermal mass which is an important attribute to any energy efficient house. Thermal mass stores heat and releases the heat slowly. This keeps indoor temperature constant while outside temperatures fluctuate. On top of the tire walls the builders use concrete and cans/glass bottles/plastic bottles to form the remaining walls. Once the walls are in place, the walls are quite often plastered over and appear very similar to an adobe style house.
Earthships are generally Off-the-grid homes, they provide a large amount of thermal mass which helps keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
The homes are designed to take advantage of natural resources. The homes are typically built in rectangular form and oriented to take advantage of passive solar radiation.
The homes are powered by solar energy, some use wind too.
Rainwater is stored inside the home in cisterns.
The water is filtered, and gray water is recycled 4 times for all human living needs and for watering the indoor gardens.
The homes in Taos are self sufficient in gathering all their water from the small amount of water that falls there.
here are some photos of one in the process of being built:
Michael Reynolds a Southwestern US architect is credited with building the first earthship. The company he started, Earthship Biotecture, was recently in Haiti building some Earthships homes there, more info on that here.