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Earthship community building interest

The Pikes Peak region has developed a name for itself in recent years as a hub for alternative and sustainable home-building ideas. The Tiny House Jamboree, now planning its third year in Colorado Springs, brought the idea of compact, mobile living to tens of thousands of visitors. In the windswept prairies between Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases, another alternative style of home is being built, ìEarthships.îIn June, the Earthship Village Colorado team will start building the first of 40 to 65 Earthship homes in a planned 400-acre community. Like the Tiny House movement, the Earthship movement has been struggling with building permits, financing, zoning and water issues.ìWe have a long way to go. This is a big bird to get off the ground, but we’re going to do it,î said Sara Foster-Berry, land and project manager.While Earthships and Tiny Houses both try to be a path away from existing traditional wood-frame suburban homes, the movements have key differences. Tiny Houses try to have less impact on the environment by being mobile and encouraging residents to downsize, especially material belongings. Earthships try to incorporate the home into the environment. ìEarthships are different through their resiliency and permanency ó their ability to grow food and capture rain water, heat and cool themselves,î Foster-Berry said. ìA young lady who was living in a Tiny House on our property jumped ship when everything froze up in the winter after she only had it six months. Earthships are going to be standing strong many years from now; whereas, a Tiny House would probably eventually blow away with the prairie winds out where we are.îEarthship homes have been designed and built since the 1970s, when Taos, New Mexico-based architect Michael Reynolds researched ways to build sustainable homes with materials that could be found at any location around the world. The weight-bearing walls of Earthships are generally built out from rows of used tires, which are filled with rammed earth from the building site; instead of wood and plaster. Interior walls are often adobe-like clay or ìcob” over cores of earth, bottles and cans. A greenhouse lines the south face of the home to grow food for the occupants and to allow the winter sun to enter the home and warm the thermal mass walls to heat the interior. The bermed north facing wall creates a cooling effect during the summer.ìWe are working toward creating resilient housing for future generations,î Foster-Berry said. Off-grid homes built largely out of rammed earth and recycled materials are less likely to be destroyed by fire, wind or other threats.There are several existing Earthship-style homes throughout the Pikes Peak region that were built on individual properties over the years. The concept is popular in areas like Southern Colorado that have cold but relatively sunny winters. There are variations on the design that private designers have created in Black Forest and Peyton that use other materials besides rammed earth, including straw bales, poured concrete and giant cubes of shredded tires.Older Earthships had a bad rap because of leaky roofs and overheating in the summer. The problem has been resolved with the latest designs from Earthship Biotecture, Reynolds’ firm in Taos, said Chris Berry, builder manager at Earthship Village Community. Older designs had changes in roof pitch that led to leaks, and the newer models include an interior glass wall between the greenhouse and the living space, which keeps the home cooler during the summer.ìReynolds said that if someone gave him 10 million bucks and said ‘design the best Earthship you could,’ he said we’ve already hit it,î Berry said. ìThey’ve been working on this for 30, 40 years. Yes, there’s room to tune stuff, but we’re there, and it does everything we dreamed it could do.îThe EVC team has been working six to 12 months at the site south of Highway 94 to create what Foster-Berry calls ìthe invisible structures,î before starting the first full build. ìWe are absolutely planning on starting construction on our first Earthship June 1; we’ve placed this deadline on ourselves, come what may,î Foster-Berry said. ìRight now we’re working on the behind-the-scenes stuff like securing financing, the help we need, finding interns, getting permitting and engineering in place.îFitting the round Earthship building concept into the county’s square permitting hole has been a challenge for the team, as well as the expensive and lengthy water law proceedings typical of any subdivision in Colorado, regardless of how sustainable the community will be with the water. ìWe are caught up in water court with people upstream of us who are trying to slow our roll a little bit,î Foster-Berry said.ìReynolds told us rather than trying to fight all these fights, think of it like when your dog needs a pill,î Berry said. ìYou don’t just give the pill to the dog, you take some hamburger and stuff it in there. And that’s what the permitting process is like, you have to sugar coat it to give them what they want, and then your overall sustainable agenda is hiding in the middle.îThe team hopes people throughout the region and around the country interested in the Earthships and planned development areas will support the crowd-funding campaign that launched Feb. 1. While banks are becoming more comfortable financing the purchase of existing Earthship homes, construction loans are still nearly impossible under current regulations at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage associations, Foster-Berry said.ìWe hope to get it off the ground, and then it will be available to the community as a community center, event center, overnight rental and model home,î she said. ìIt will start generating money for the community and bring in investors. But my plan is that we are eventually able to finance these homes within the structure of the community, rather than having to outsource it.îThe team hopes to raise about $350,000 to pay for the first home and finish the subdivision legal process. In exchange for donations through the Indiegogo campaign, backers would get a variety of benefits like overnight stays in the finished home and access to on-site special events.More information about the community and the crowd-funding campaign can be found at their Facebook page,

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