The Energy Efficient Homes of Michael Reynolds

Mike Reynolds uses both natural materials and recycled litter - plus imaginative design - to build energy-efficient homes on the mesas of New Mexico.

| January/February 1983

Regular readers of this magazine will likely remember Michael Reynolds. He's the innovative architect in Taos, New Mexico who's devoted to constructing houses from natural (and not-so-natural) materials.

Mike, you see, is partial to earth, sun, wind, and junk (like old tires and tin cans). He also appreciates the beauty of vigas (sturdy beams made from thick tree trunks). The architect believes that with the right "formula," such diverse and readily available materials can be combined to form energy-efficient homes that won't lay waste to either the resources and beauty of the earth or the utility budgets of their owners!

For the past ten years Mike has followed his theories, and built solar houses on commission and speculation. But most of the one-family dwellings have been large, custom-built homes in the $50,000 to $100,000 price range, and thus not within the financial reach of a lot of folks including many members of his own crew. With this in mind, he decided to work out a design that would better fit the needs of "Everyman." And one way to approach that goal, Reynolds concluded, would be to design fuel-efficient, inexpensive, multiple-unit rental buildings.

Initial Designs

Mike's first design for this purpose — which he called Phase I — is a passive solar, earth sheltered house that features (along with the tire and can walls he favors) an integral greenhouse on the south side. It also contains a communal living area, kitchen, and bathroom, plus three tire-encircled bedrooms — each with its own sleeping loft — and a can-walled dome. Furthermore, the greenhouse is lined with planting beds in which the tenants can grow their own vegetables and flowers, and makes use of a wall of water tanks for thermal mass. The innovative dwelling is finished with a curving tin roof. All in all, the 2,500-square-foot Phase I (which now provides low-cost rental space for a few of the workers and houses the company's office) cost around $50,000 to build.

The second rental project — Phase II — was also designed as a multi-unit building, but it incorporates a more extensive passive solar system than did the first. The greenhouse is larger — it actually encloses the living room, kitchen, and bath — so the entire southern wall is effectively a collector, allowing the warmth to flow through and heat the floors and the walls of the structure.

Just off the greenhouse area (and dug into the earth) are three double-walled domes that serve as separate bedrooms, each containing about 200 square feet of floor space. And most of Phase II's entire 1,000-square-foot structure is at least partially buried for natural insulation (the dome bedrooms remain at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit year round, without any backup source of heating or cooling).

Marta Vargas
8/26/2011 6:35:05 PM

Would like to get in touch with Mike Reynolds regarding the possibility of my daughter doing an internship/apprenticeship with him. She is very interested in the environment but we are unable to afford a college education and would certainly enjoy having the privilege of learning first hand from the best. Thanks for any information provided. Marta

Maria Guillen
1/23/2011 10:11:46 AM

I watched a biography about Michael Reynolds on TV, and it made me smile. I have always seen things in much the same way, and to see it all come to life truly touched me. I know sometimes its difficult to see beauty when the going gets touch, and takes an awakening to create such touching visions and make them come to life. Thank you for your heartfelt contributions and appreciating Mother Earth and giving back to humanity against all odds. Sincerely, Maria

Susie Sears
10/1/2009 3:37:21 AM

Would like to get blue print for home that would work best in Mo. from Mike Reynolds Thank you.

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