Shalina Luna and her daughter, Joli Galvan, residents just south of Ignacio, are embarking on a warp-speed project to build the 18-year-old an off-grid, earthen house in four weeks – with film crews in tow.
The family, already living in an off-grid house on the Southern Ute Reservation, will be featured on a national, home-improvement TV network. They can’t name the network because of contract restrictions, Luna said. If the family can successfully complete the build within the short time frame, Galvan, a senior at Ignacio High School, will have her own house made of locally sourced, natural materials and powered by renewable energy.
“We are in complete panic mode right now,” said Luna, a sustainable design consultant at eARThen Designs and Sustainable Solutions. “This is going to be my first build from the ground up.”
There are many types of earthen homes. For example, some are built below ground level with exposed walls that provide light, solar heat, outside views and access. Others are partially covered by earth and use strategically placed skylights or south-facing windows to draw in heat and light. The houses provide consistent internal temperatures, soundproofing and design suited for the Rocky Mountain climate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Luna’s 420-square-foot home is above ground and uses clay, straw-bale insulation and solar panels in its design. The family’s daily life is “crazy,” she said. They’re constantly having to stop and charge up the house if they haven’t had enough sun or haul water if their rainwater collection system hasn’t gathered enough.
“My partner and I were joking about how funny it would be if we had camera crews following us around living off grid,” Luna said.
The next day, Luna saw a TV network advertisement calling for episode idea submissions. A few idea pitches and auditions later, the network decided to feature her family’s home project.
“The storyline is going to be this 18-year-old getting help building her own house from the ground up,” Luna said.
The design of her daughter’s house is based on earthen design from the United Kingdom, where builders use natural materials like cobb.
The two-bedroom house will collect precipitation using a rainwater-collection system and will be powered by solar panels. Bottle walls on sun-facing walls will ensure that light will continually pass into the house. In the winter, a wood-burning stove will provide heat.
“I’ve never built a house before, so I’m probably going to have to get a lot of advice from my mom,” Galvan said.
The materials are locally sourced: The clay comes from Luna’s property, straw bales from Weaselskin Farm in Durango, milled wood from Cascade Timber Salvage in Bayfield and bottles from Nayarit Restaurant in Durango.
“It feels pretty cool. I think this will give me a little more independence,” Galvan said. “I’m excited it’s somewhere I can make my own.”
The only step left for the family is to actually complete the build, with film crews in tow.
“I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to build a house in four weeks, but we’re going to try it,” Luna said.
Luna first explored off-grid living after buying a cabin without electricity or water. Drawing on her experiences working on her childhood home with her family, online classes and an earthen builders conference in Santa Fe, she learned how to outfit the cabin for daily life.
She’s stuck with the lifestyle because of its affordability, lower carbon footprint and minimal environmental impact. Plus, the family enjoys the constant indoor temperature in winter and summer, and the quiet – no electrical hum inside and nearly 2-foot thick walls keep outside sounds out.
“Especially living out here, we want to go out and have fun and adventure,” Luna said. “Not paying to live in a home is probably the best aspect of that.”