Are Earthships Any Good? How This Passive Solar Home Changed My Life

solar house

People often talk about not feeling connected with the planet. That they’re surrounded by concrete structures that cut them off from the natural world. One of my most recent clients is one of those people. We’re building an Earthship for them in  Bozeman, Montana . It’s their attempt at reconvening with the earth. The journey has been more strange and rewarding than any other project I’ve ever worked on. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring you all into my life and to share a bit about my work. 

First Contact:

Rodger, the soon to be owner of the Earthship, called me up late one Tuesday evening. He’s a peculiar man who handles most of his business after business hours are over. That’s one of the first things I learned about him. When I answered the phone he talked with a gravelly voice that was nearly impossible to understand. Nothing is convenient with Rodger, that’s one of the first things to understand about him. When I was finally able to understand him though, I learned the other side of Rodger. That he is impossibly charming. Normally my phone calls with clients last for thirty minutes. They are quick, the client tells me what they are looking for, I tell them how I can make it happen. My call with Rodger went for two hours. In that time, he told me all about his life and why this   Earthship was the culmination of it. I didn’t talk to Rodger again for three years. 

Not that I didn’t reach out. I did a couple times, but never heard back. That is, until six months ago. I got another late-night phone call, but this time Rodger set up a time for me to look at the land. Let me tell you, it’s absolutely stunning. Nestled between gorgeous trees with  Mount Ellis  as its backdrop, there’s not a more idyllic piece of land to call home. From that moment, I knew that I needed to work on this project.  

Getting Started:

The process has been slow going. For those who aren’t well acquainted with Earthships, they are beautifully complex. Built as  solar shelters  that are meant to passively take in solar energy, the entire structures are built from natural and up cycled materials. Meaning that simply printing out the right materials doesn’t work for these sustainable homes. Instead, Rodger, myself, and a friend of mine have scoured Montana looking for bits and pieces that can all be unified to build the whole.  

There are all sorts of designs that have been boasted as the ideal Earthship style. The original architect,  Michael Reynolds, believed in building oblong, strange formations that looked less like a home and more like a biological preserve. His core ideology focused on the natural world being one of imperfection and change, versus the finely tuned structures most people call home today. This is how Rodger imagined his home to look.  

In the early months I would talk with Rodger about faster ways to make his dream a reality. A  contractor’s job is often to help the client’s expectations come down to Earth. With Rodger, that was an impossible task. He had fought in the Vietnam war, he had been an iron worker in South Dakota, and he had worked at a slaughterhouse for twenty-seven years. The man had seen much and more, he had fought, struggled, and lost. I learned a few months into working that Rodger’s wife, Meredith, had suddenly died three years ago. Shortly after we had our first phone call. In that moment his dreams of a home they could share were dashed. It took him three years to pick up the phone and call me again.  

Almost Built:

We’re now about two months away from finishing the house. It looks like no other house in Bozeman, Montana but it’s perfect. Its strange formation somehow feels more human than any other house I’ve ever built. Its solar paneled exterior  will bring in enough energy to pay the monthly bill. The water filtration system will help preserve hundreds of gallons of water each year. The garbage management routine will cut carbon emissions to nothing. And there Rodger will be, nestled inside, living in the Earthship of his dreams. There aren’t any other houses on the road where we built Rodger’s house, so he was able to give it a name. Next time you come to Montana, make sure you stop by Meredith Lane to see the strangest house in the world.