The Earthship appears to be emerging out of the rocky hillside. Its structure is carved deeply into the earth with expansive windows that gaze out onto the vast Pacific. It will soon be the home of Sandra Moffat, builder and visionary. Sandra is the first person to build an Earthship in Rosarito Beach and it will surely inspire many to follow her example. Determined to pursue her dream to completion, she is making good use of her retirement years. In her own words she said, "So, this is a story about a crazy old lady that meets this cute young guy and they both realize they have been looking for each other."
Architect, Diego Colinas, is the "cute young guy" who is passionate about bringing ecological living and sustainable housing to Mexico. He was introduced to Sandra and her eight year dream to build an Earthship. It was an instant match. Diego prefers to call his design a "rammed earth thermal mass dwelling," not quite as romantic sounding. But Earthship is a trademark belonging to Michael Reynolds of Taos, New Mexico, who first had the idea of a passive solar house made from natural and recycled materials, such as earth-filled tires. Diego's education included an internship with Reynolds. Now, in the final stages of construction it is obvious this is a most unique structure to Rosarito Beach. Yet, it is also the most sensible in every facet of its construction. Besides low cost building materials, it is smart recycling. Concrete block that has been favored for years in most building projects, is costly by comparison. Once completed, the Earthship will cost nearly nothing to heat or cool, where as the concrete block is influenced by all outside temperatures. Adobe is applied over the earth-filled tires creating a warm earth-tone finish. No exterior paint is needed. Glass bottles embedded in the graceful curving walls give it an artist's touch. Light plays through the glass creating colorful patterns of moving art.
Sandra suggests that this Earthship design could actually change Baja California. Part of her dream beyond a retirement home is also "making a difference," specifically about humans living "eco-friendly." She stresses that is it very important to have someone who knows the proper construction as the design was created using a formula producing "thermal mass." This will maintain a 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) inner temperature both summer and winter. Even the slant of the windows can not be taken for granted. The angle is set precisely to direct the sunlight. Diego states, "If we keep our use of energy consumption down, we don't need an expensive solar system." He goes on to say that his rammed-earth house must be orientated to the sun's movement. This is the difference between an Earthship and simply building a home with tires. Diego brought architectural students from the IBERO university of Tijuana to visit the site. At first they were very skeptical, but there is no doubt these young minds recognized a bright and completely unique future in home building for Baja California.
Sandra was quick to dispel the myth about the tires' toxicity. This is not a problem when filled with dirt and sealed tightly with adobe. It is much more problematic when they are discarded in open fields or in the ocean; where she did much of her collecting. At first her new neighbors were very upset, "They thought we were creating a dump in their neighborhood! Of course, we were bringing in tires, plastic, bottles, cans, newspaper and leaving it there." The local labor force "thought we were nuts and it was just a job." But as the project proceeded, one 66 year old man, having built concrete block homes for forty years, became very excited. "He couldn't sleep at night for thinking up new ideas." It is noteworthy that only the existing tools that the Mexicans build with were used. Sandra grins and said, “but we do have one electric saw.”
At this juncture for Sandra's 1,300 square foot home, both wind and solar power are being considered. They will be putting in a solar hot water heater. The roof is constructed in such a way to catch rain water and channel it into a pila. Gray water recycling is also one of the important features, as having sufficient water is a real issue for all the Californias on both sides of the border. Diego urges people to consider this type of building based on the fact that, "We are facing a crisis in energy and water..." Sandra is very pleased with the low overall cost of the project, because almost everything was recycled. Labor was the biggest expense based on the local pay scale. The custom windows had to be custom made and a large part of the overall cost. But once complete Sandra smiles, saying, "Basically, it isn't going to cost anything to live here."
Sandra has visited many exotic places around the world. She chose northern Baja for both climate and being near her family in the US. "I also love the slower pace....and because it is safer here. As a single woman it is the best place, if your car breaks down on the road - you will always be helped." The ocean view and cool summer breezes makes this area a perfect retirement destination. Sustainable living does not have to be "primitive." Diego took Sandra's dream house and created a reality that is beautiful, functional, smart and sustainable.
Visit the Ecocasa Popotla Facebook page
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com