Striving to go green in Taos

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One would think that living in what 101.9 KTAO-FM calls “the solar capital of the world,” Taos would be quick to adapt to new technologies in the green construction arena, but that’s only true if it’s cheap, if not free. I find that most of our good folks know about green, care about green, want to be green. However, most of our good folks have limited funds, so those technologies need to get less costly and friendlier to those of us in that 99 percent.

Taoseños are very good at recycling. Heck, we don’t have curbside pickup like some towns and cities, but most of us find our way to Bertha Street, where we drop off our newspapers, plastics and beer bottles. That only takes a little time and a little gas, and most of us have some of both. But when it comes to design, construction, maintenance and the like, folks here tend to back off when the cost comes in.

Some stuff is easy and doesn’t cost much. For example, folks around here didn’t need architects or designers to let them know that the sun was hot during the summer, so they needed smaller windows to keep the heat out. They didn’t need any consultants to know that any north-facing walls will be cooler any time of the year, nor did they need much education before seeing how strong and lasting our mud could be when used as a building material. The same can be said with the sighting of a house that can mean so much in terms of energy savings and comfort for those who reside inside.

I suppose at some level, Jemery Kaufman and Tim Eckert had the ultimate approach when it came time for them to build their nest here in Taos. While they owned land in Arroyo Hondo with a live river on it, they didn’t want to burden the earth with another home. They saw that as unnecessary in a world that already had plenty of structures. They found a home on some land they liked and then went about making it theirs. I frankly think that was a very cool thing to do.

In Taos, if you are going to build your own, there are plenty of considerations that will cost you something, but won’t be deal killers. Some may actually save you money. I don’t know that cost was a consideration when Mike Reynolds created Earthships – homes made of beer bottles and old rubber tires – but I bet they don’t cost more to build than traditional homes. Straw bale homes are cool, literally, and I love when the builders create a window through the interior walls so one can see what is really inside.

We have a whole community of Earthships on the Tres Piedras side of the Gorge Bridge. While not for everyone, I have been in some that are really charming. The key, from my perspective, is to be only one room deep. When they get big and are two rooms deep, they become like a cave, at least to me. Those that have wraparound windows to the east and west provide another dimension that makes it even better.

Solar power? We have plenty, but it’s clear that the costs of installing a system have not yet become low enough to attract many of us. Perhaps we need to hear more about the savings recapture. One can use the sun for a home, but one may need to be a little flexible if that is your sole source of power.

My son, Jonathan Blaustein, and his wife, Jessie Kaufman, are green in at least two major ways. They used steel as their construction material for the skin of their home. Not many think of it as recycled, but it often is. They also have an active solar home, so they pay virtually nothing for power. But I have also known my son to go a day or three with no hot water – not something I would enjoy often. Maybe it’s generational.

In Taos, we have wind – sometimes more than we want – but that’s hard to harness for a home. At least I can’t think of anyone here who powers their home using a windmill. Personally, I think it would be intriguing and it reminds me a bit of being grounded to the earth in a way that teepees make me feel. But this isn’t Holland and while solar panels have proliferated for commercial use, at least, I don’t expect to see wind harnessed for home use in the near future.

Our good people care about Mother Earth. However, our good people must work with what they have, so our good people do what they can do in the ways they can. And all things considered, I think we do a pretty good job. 

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