Resources for Sustainable Living

velacreationsbottles2.jpgMy brother, Abe, and his wife, Josie, built an amazing house down in Terlingua, Texas, basically out of mud and empty bottles. OK, that’s oversimplifying it, but they built the dwelling with their own hands, mostly out of adobe, rocks they collected from their property, and other scrounged materials. It’s a beautiful, self-sufficient abode that includes a rainwater catchment system, solar and wind power, and a groovy Tolkienesque fireplace. They’ve now moved to the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, and are working on another house while raising a new baby.

During it all, they’ve been chronicling their work and documenting their research, so that others can benefit from their mistakes (just a few) and hard-earned knowledge (lots and lots). For anyone considering a life off the grid, or just interested in what it takes, their Vela Creations website is a great resource, full of practical information and in-depth how-tos.


Vela Creations

(Shawn Connally and Bruce Stewart are guest bloggers)


  1. Looks great, and I’d love to do the same… BUT… didn’t they get hassled by the town to build everything to code, etc?

    I put new siding on my house a few years ago, and was fined by my town for not obtaining the proper permits.

    I can imagine if I tried to construct my own adobe house… they’d crucify me!

  2. i just got an apprenticeship to build an “earthship” down here in fl. sounds like a very similar thing: use materials that were discarded ( tires, bottled, cans, etc…) and build a domicile that is completely self-sustaining. just waiting for the permits to go thru. they are truly gorgeous structures and can be viewed here:

  3. With all due respect, I’m afraid the age of sustainable off-the-grid living is past (if it ever even existed). The costs of commuting from a remote place, the impact of people on dwindling wild land, and the sheer eco-porn of it all mean we need to see much less of this kind of thing. We need to see — and celebrate — much more living in towns and cities as members of communities.

  4. silkox, with all due respect, fuck that. with the advent of the personal computer, the commute can be virtual. also, u don’t have to build on wild lands, and one can remain ‘communal’ and still be sustainable. i, for one, would never be happy living in a city again. for me, the “era” of sustainable living has just begun! get me off the motherfuckin grid!

  5. Outstanding! I’m looking to start a similiar project myself. I’d love to see that fireplace also.

  6. So the builders moved to one of the most remote parts of Mexico? I guess the ghost town Terlingua, Texas was too uppity and urban for them… :-)

  7. silkox.. ehm, why does sustainable living have to equal in the wild? earthships are all about community

  8. Reesemlm, my point is that living in the wild is not sustainable, it’s selfish. But for some reason it’s a common eco-urge; a friend of mine calls it “the bush dream.” I think earthships are wonderful, and they’ve been around for a long time because they are a great solution to some of the challenges of ecobuilding. My beef is with off-the-grid living, which usually means living somewhere away from civilization and community.

    Quite some time ago I saw a talk by an architect who said, “we need to put the delight back into living in towns and cities.” Mintphresh, I hope some day you realize that this is where you should put your energy. Bailing out is selfish and increasingly damaging. Chas44: right on.

  9. That’s so cool. A question: Did they have to buy the acres of land to build that house on it?

    Just wondering.

  10. Living off the grid is perfectly acceptable. The problem arises when you try to have the best of both worlds, say by living in the wild while driving to the grocery store.

  11. As a Realtor I found this post very intriguing.
    I would love to be able to build my own home.
    But, alas, I was built for comfort…not labor!
    I got a callous once on my hand and was laid up for nearly a week!
    If it requires anything more than a hammer, it’s beyond my scope of capabilities!

  12. Isn’t the Internet part of “The Grid?” If given the time, tools and basic resources, most of us could (maybe) build a house, collect water and food, dispose of our waste, and even generate electricity etc. But I’m pretty sure I couldn’t build a global telecommunications system.

    Which leads me to wonder how they create and maintain their (very nicely done) Web page.

    Sustainable living is totally cool, and (obviously) doing more with less is great. But the civilization and systems necessary to produce, maintain and improve computers and all the fun, connected stuff that goes with/on/around them… well… as of today, that uses a lot of plastic and cesium and stuff.

    And the people who build the computers (and who write the software, operate the infrastructure, etc.) need to live someplace, too. Usually cities, since they are (all things considered) much more efficient when you get to populations in the millions and tens of millions. If you took the pop of NYC and tried to put them into the kind of housing and lifestyle shown here, it would use far more resources than the iron and concrete jungles of the Big Apple.

    I’m with Silkox. Let’s make urban living cleaner, more social, fresher, greener. The “bush dream” would ruin the planet if everybody moved out to the country and tried to live off the land.

  13. Glass bottles. Hmmm.

    CRTs are glass bottles. They would make excellent large bricks to build houses out of. Just lay up alternating rows of inward and outward facing CRTs. They would interleave very well. Put mortar between the faces, and space the tubes apart so that the necks are slightly inset from the faces of the next row.

    You’d have to visit the CRT dismantling facility to get enough tubes to pull it off, but it would be a really cool house.

    Plus the tubes are vacuum chambers, so your house would be very well insulated.

  14. A second vote here for the documentary Garbage Warrior – I found it pretty interesting. I don’t see myself living in an earthship anytime soon but the comments about it being selfish are ridiculous.

  15. silky, it isn’t about “the bush dream”(cringe), it is about sustainability. earthships are 100% sustainable and completely off the grid. you grow your own food, create your own heat and cooling, collect your own water, utilize a grey water/black water system that recycles your wastes, and makes your own electricity via the sun and wind, with the excess stored in Li batteries. as far as internet connectivity is concerned, u would need to use wifi, which is only a BFD depending on where u live. they can be built in cities( good luck with code enforcement and permitting!), communities, or out in the boonies. they are self contained on less than an acre! i don’t understand how in one breath you can say they are “…wonderful…and …a great solution to some of the challenges of ecobuilding” and then in the next say they’re …”selfish and increasingly damaging. ” WTF?

  16. Neat. I was just thinking the other day about how hard it would be to build a house out of milk crates and bags of gravel. Or maybe bags of concrete. And probably some re-bar.

    And, of course, where the hell I’d build the thing.

    I like the bottles-in-adobe idea, but rather than just to decorate buttresses, I’d try to use it more for a way to pass light through a wall, a la glass-block.

    And smileys to shawnbruce for using “adobe” and “abode” in one paragraph.

  17. That fireplace is awesome! Who wouldn’t want to cuddle next to cthulhu on a chilly winter evening?

  18. Thanks for the link; I love finding new resources for learning about self-sustaining lifestyles.

  19. Yes, I agree with folks that say we need cleaner cities, but also, you must realize that not everyone wants to live in a city and that is not possible either. It takes a bit of both to make the world go ’round!

    We all need a bit of the products and services of the cities, and the cities require the products of the country. The great thing is that we can each help the other become less dependent on non-renewable energies and infrastructures through collaboration, which is what community and sustainability is all about.

    We did buy that property, 20 acres, and it was not exactly wilderness, but part of a land development in West Texas. As we saw it, we could help maintain and protect the wilderness that was there by building a homestead that could integrate with the land rather than destroy it.

    Fortunately, we don’t have building codes, but adobe will fit most codes in the US, so don’t feel like it is “that alternative” of a building style. After all, it is the oldest form of building around.

    By the way, yes, Terlingua is definitely getting a bit busy these days, but our little corner of Mexico actually puts us closer to amenities than we were in Terlingua! Imagine that, getting clean, wide open spaces and your modern conveniences all in one. That is our newest dream and our current development.

    Please feel free to give us your feedback through the site and hopefully, we will be posting more information about our latest house within the next few months.

  20. velacreations, very cool! the pics on the link were really spiffo and im really looking forward to seeing the new place as it progresses. what sort of electrical system are you using? wind/solar? any kind of air circ./recirc. system for cooling/heating?

  21. My cousin is an MIT grad who started a haptic technology company, sold it for a pile of cash, and moved back to the foothills of Appalachia where he bought a farm. For the last 5 years, he’s been building a house almost exclusively with lumber cut from trees on his farm. (He had long had the idea, but was spurred to action after an ice storm destroyed a bunch of trees.) His house is pretty much off the grid, relying on solar, geothermal, and, hopefully, methane culled from the manure of the herd of cattle he’s raising more or less organically. He has a blog, which has become a favorite of the architects in my home of Covington, KY.

    It’s not necessarily sustainable, but made with 100% awesome.

  22. Over the years I have read about several self-sustaining houses. They all seem to be built by engineers. One such house was a concrete house one foot thick built in the desert. The night’s cold air would cool the concrete. In the morning the cool air finally radiates into the house. The sun warms the concrete. In the evening the warm air finally radiates into the house. It uses very little electricity or gas.

    Lately there is one that has electric solar panels. That charges batteries. The extra goes into a device that turns water into hydrogen. The hydrogen is stored in LP tanks outside to be used as needed. Not only do they not use outside electricity, they sell their extra to the power company.

    Stuff like this costs more, but when you figure it would mean your house uses little or no outside electricity or gas, it would pay for itself in the long run. I am guessing if developers would produce houses that can sustain themselves, people would buy them. Figure what your average monthly gas and electric bill is. That would be how much more you could afford to pay on your mortgage.

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