A Home Built for Solar Mass

Environmentor Dennis Weaver gives his Southwestern-style home a solar boost.

| May/June 1999

It sounds too good to be true. An elegant Southwestern-style home ­surrounded by dramatic mountain views, able to maintain the optimally comfortable temperature year-round, with neither heating ducts nor air conditioning. Sometimes in the winter, it may get a little warm with the low rays of the sun streaming through all that south-facing glass, but then Dennis Weaver simply opens a few windows.

“It’s a wonderful feeling, that surrounding warmth, with a cool, fresh breeze,” says actor and activist Weaver, his voice familiar as an old friend’s from his years in such popular roles as “Chester” on Gunsmoke and the cowboy-in-the-city detective McCloud. For the house in question is Dennis Weaver’s home in Ridgway, Colorado—his “Earthship,” to use the terminology coined by architect Michael Reynolds, who designed not only this ship and several others surrounding it, but a whole community of the homes in Taos, New Mexico.

And the too-good-to-be-true aspects of Weaver’s home don’t stop there. Rather than gobbling up some of the earth’s precious resources as one would expect from a luxurious two-level home encompassing nearly 10,000 square feet, this self-sustaining, energy-efficient retreat actually helps solve an environmental problem: The walls are made of used automobile tires.

Weaver acknowledges that it sounds strange, and that people sometimes picture unsightly treaded black-rubber walls, but nothing could be farther from the truth. His wife of more than 50 years, Gerry, calls in from the other room, “We do not advertise for Firestone or Goodyear,” and Weaver laughs as he explains that the tires are never visible. Laid in courses of dense “tire bricks”—tires each rammed full of 400 pounds of earth in a labor-intensive process—the finished structure is covered with adobe to create lusciously tactile curvilinear walls two and a half feet thick.

While the textured results would delight the most discriminating interior designer, it’s the environmentally sound concepts underlying the lovely surface that excite Weaver, who was converted to the Earthship way of life nearly ten years ago.

“We were looking to build a home that was more energy efficient and more solar,” says Weaver. “We were lucky enough to be introduced to Michael Reynolds, who we’d heard was building solar-use houses. He was using discarded automobile tires. He’d found a way to make an asset out of an environmental problem, and it excited us.”

10/13/2017 3:34:09 AM

Way ahead of his time.

10/13/2017 3:34:06 AM

Way ahead of his time.

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