The first official Earthship, Reynolds’s home, was built in 1988. The first outside– New Mexico Earthship was the home of late actor Dennis Weaver and was constructed in Rigway, Colorado, in 1990; the first European ones included a public building in Brussels, Belgium, built in 2000, and a residential home in Normandy, France, finished in 2007. There’s even what’s called the Greater World Community in Taos, New Mexico, which is made up entirely of Earthships and became a legal subdivision in 1998. Reynolds estimates that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 Earthships in 15 to 20 countries, and production has increased rapidly over the last few years.
The composition of the structures is simple: They’re made of material scoured from the local dump, like cardboard, glass, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and tin. “We’ve [also] started harvesting the baked-on enamel panels off of the mountains of refrigerators, ranges, and washing machines that every dump has,” Reynolds adds. The main building blocks are tires rammed with dirt, which create what he calls “400-pound bricks.” Reynolds claims they are earthquake-resistant, store temperature through their heating system, and are very resilient and low-tech.
“We set the buildings up so the low winter sun comes up and heats the mass, and the high summer sun is blocked out by the way you configure the roof,” Reynolds explains further. “You’re getting heat when you need it and blocking it when you don’t. The new models stay between 70 and 75 degrees year round, without a stitch of backup heating or cooling. And we get to 20 or 30 degrees below in the winter and up to 102 in the summer [in New Mexico].”
While many view this as the best form of green housing available, building authorities have given Reynolds plenty of friction, especially because of the massive profits at stake, most notably through public utility companies that handle and control power, water, and sewage. Although he voluntarily turned over his architect’s license to the state of New Mexico, Reynolds still holds licenses in Colorado and Arizona. He now calls himself a “biotect” rather than an architect.