It is hard to picture Ryan Halpin as a clean-shaven corporate executive working 50 hours a week, but that is how he was before he followed his dream of pursing an off-the-grid lifestyle.
Halpin — with his long hair and beard — looks completely at home pounding tires for what he calls his “bachelorship” home near Taos, N.M. He says that planning and building his own off-grid sustainable home for around $6,000 has allowed him to “set himself free.”
“I want to show people that it is possible – on a low budget – to take control of your life,” he says in a YouTube video. “I can be my own boss out here, and I can do it in a way that actually benefits the environment.”
Using tires as the structural basis for an earthship home is an idea Halpin had been considering for many years. It first occurred to him when he was working in his father’s tire shop in Wisconsin. Then he firmed up his plans after attending a seminar taught by noted earthship architect Mike Reynolds.
By June 2016, Halpin had purchased land in the high desert mesa of Taos and was ready to start “pounding tires” for his new home. Last October, he says he was just two weeks away from putting the roof on his earthship when what he calls a “backhoe driver incident” derailed his plans.
Having to replace about 70 tires from the structure and facing a ticking timeclock of approaching winter weather, Halpin had to postpone finishing his home until this spring and summer.
In Magaster’s video, we see Halpin building the tire framework for his home, which features a modest 15-foot-by-13-food living area bordered by a large greenhouse on one end and a berm in the back. He reports that he obtained all of the tires from two local tire shops, the owners of which he says were “happy to let me have them.”
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Halpin filled in and around the tires with a mixture of adobe, sand, straw and water. He explains that each tire is about 90 percent compacted with the adobe mixture and weighs about 300 pounds. He will plaster the exterior of his tire walls.
He discusses his plans to create a 10-inch “cooling tube” to bring in cool air in the summer as well as an operable window to let out heat. “I will let convection and science work as my air conditioning system,” he says.
In the rear of his living space, Halpin will build a loft bed with a closet underneath it. In front will be a small kitchen and dining area. “I will basically be camping with a roof until I upgrade my systems,” he says.
Halpin also plans a 10-foot-by-12-foot aquaponics system where he will utilize grey water to grow his own food. He says his greenhouse will boost both the heating of his living space in the winter and the cooling in the summer.
“The most important system — especially here in the high desert mesa — is the water system,” he stresses. “We get seven inches of precipitation a year here — if we’re lucky … I am designing a system that is high enough to be gravity fed.”
He also is including an outlaw septic system that will overflow outdoors to irrigate a garden of native species and “other plants you wouldn’t expect” in a desert area.
Halpin says it has taken him “baby steps” to get where he is in terms of living off the grid, but he encourages others to follow his example.
“No matter where you are, it is possible to get to this point,” he says, adding that he began his journey to a sustainable lifestyle by making a series of small budget-friendly and earth-friendly changes. For example, he began by reducing his use of plastic, a change that affected his diet and health as well as his wallet.
“Just start locally and work on yourself a little at a time,” he advises. “It will just start snowballing.”
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