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CNHI News Service

December 21, 2012

4 People Who Are Doing it: Living Greener, Off-the-Grid:


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Earthship — Taos, New Mexico

Eighteen years ago, Kirsten Jacobsen moved to Taos to build Earthships — sustainable buildings made with recycled materials such as earth-filled automobile tires, aluminum cans and glass bottles. The brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds, the Earthship exceeds LEED standards and building codes while integrating its own power, water, sewage treatment and food systems.

Jacobsen — now Education Director for Earthship Biotecture — finished her own New Mexico home in 2006. It heats and cools itself with no utility bills in a climate that reaches 100 degrees in the summer and minus 30 in the winter. She customized the functional design with “more modern-looking finishes and other things like stainless steel, a clear glass bottle-brick wall and bamboo floors in the bedroom.”

Solar panels being installed at Dancing Rabbit EcoVillage. Source: Dancing Rabbit

EcoVillages — Rutledge, MO and Fairfield, Iowa

Alex Whitcroft, an architectural designer from the UK, first came to Dancing Rabbit EcoVillage in rural Missouri to learn natural building techniques. He returned two years later in 2011 as one of its 60 or so residents.

Like most buildings at Dancing Rabbit, the home Whitcroft shares with his partner, Jennifer Martin, and two of her children is made with natural materials: sustainably harvested or reclaimed wood, natural plasters, and straw bales harvested from surrounding fields for insulation. “It’s very bioregional,” said Whitcroft.

Wind turbine at Abundance EcoVillage. Source: Abundance EcoVillage

While half of their community reconnected to the grid in 2011, Dancing Rabbit is net positive — producing more energy than it consumes. And there are plans to install a medium-size wind turbine within the next couple of years.

At Abundance EcoVillage near Fairfield, IA, real estate developer Amy Greenfield shares a Bergey 10 kW wind turbine and 7 kW solar array with 13 neighbors.

This type of system currently costs around $170,000. With that cost shared among many, the investment would pay off in 10 to 16 years in avoided energy bills.

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