Touch the earth and the earth breaths back – that’s what it feels like standing in Julie Parker’s poured-earth home overlooking the Río Grandé Gorge.
This relatively small footprint of 1,800 square feet incorporates two beautiful bedrooms and two baths, and a large, open-plan kitchen and living room, a perfect configuration for entertaining.
Parker designed and built this small dream home in 2006, all according to state-of-the-art design that far exceeds LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.
“The whole reason I built that house,” she said, “was because I was tired of having a house so poorly constructed that you spend years fixing up what was never right in the first place.”
“Poured-earth” technology eliminates virtually all that vulnerability, offering a structure that is often maintenance-free for generations.
Very low utility bills
Poured-Earth tech, plus the small space footprint, practically eliminates heating and cooling costs. Parker notes that her electric bills are between $35 and $57 per month, come rain, snow or shine.
Optimally situated at “true south” allows maximum solar gain in the winter months when the sun is low in the sky. All south-facing walls have double-pane windows and doors, offering 180-degree-views of sunrises and sunsets.
Concrete floors have zoned radiant heat, augmented with occasional wood stove heat if winter storms block the sun from warming the house walls.
Typically, the massive 20-inch-thick walls with 4-inch-R34 sheet-insulation in the middle, provide a maximum-efficiency building that stores heat in the winter and stays cool in the summer.
A “tromb wall” in the master bath stores solar energy during winter’s low-angled sunlight, keeping the bathroom cozy year-round.
In the summer, living-area windows and ceiling fans pull in cooler air from below and vent warm air out the roof line. The 6900-foot altitude has relatively low summer temperatures, plus cooling updrafts circulate from the gorge and the west – enviable rewards of the small space, creating the “green” and sustainable design.
Unlike concrete, Córdova said the Poured Earth – PE – mixture, designed by Living Systems architect Michael Frerking, replaces most of the Portland cement that is typically used in concrete, with more earth-friendly binders (like fly ash, just one more waste-stream product recycled by PE).
“The result is a sizable reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide produced,” Córdova says. He quotes Frerking’s estimate that the concrete industry “is responsible for 7 percent of the carbon dioxide released around the world every year, due to its use of Portland cement. With the addition of colored oxides (pigments) these high-mass, low-maintenance walls beautifully reflect the varying earthen tones of the site (livingsystemsarchitecture.com/poured-earth/).”
Soul and solar gains
You just want to run your hands on every wall as you walk along, almost like a tactile prayer to Mother Earth. Soul and solar gains radiate from every corner of Parker’s perfect plot.
“It has privacy, is very quiet and has very clear, dark skies,” Córdova reports. “The Milky Way is very visible at night, with almost no ambient light.”
The Historic Manby Hot Springs is nearby, with an easy hike 700 feet down into the gorge. Córdova said during the monsoons, from the front door of the house you can see a large waterfall off in the gorge.
Though relatively small, the house is literally rock solid, with a foundation that is four-feet-deep, with submerged and fortified footers and piers.
The 450-foot-deep well supplies laboratory-tested water purity. A 500-gallon propane tank is buried near the well house, supplying propane to water heaters, dryer and cook top. Only the oven, refrigerator, washer and lighting are electric.
Even sweeter, however, are unopened solar panels, an inverter and a 15-foot steel pole for mounting the panels that Parker has stored on the property and has ready for installation. Fiber optic cables are already at the driveway, with additional conduits already in place from well house to house utilities for existing fiber optic internet.
There’s also a half-buried 40-foot shipping container for storage, use as a studio or as an additional dwelling.
The Taos Way
Located immediately adjacent to Bureau of Land Management property, no construction of any kind can be erected between the property and the Río Grandé Gorge, a national historic monument.
The 14.5-acre property can be subdivided into five-acre parcels, however. Road maintenance is provided by Stagecoach Hills Road Maintenance Association – a provision attached to the property deed; and annual road dues at $10 per acre.
With the abundant opportunities to observe wild life – herds of longhorn sheep, bobcats, mule deer, rabbits and various other critter frequenters – and with stunning views of the Rockies to the east, the Río Grandé Gorge to the west, Colorado mountains to the north and Taos mesa to the south – all rich for hiking and biking, Córdova says Parker’s careful, land-loving design is the new standard of living that everyone now wants for their home and the planet.
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