Scott and Nancy's Ecological Home— the Earthship

Way up at the top of Box Canyon overlooking the San Fernando valley is a home built into the side of a mountain called the Earthship.  It is the pride and joy of my friends Dr. Scott Bartchy (who teaches early Christianity at UCLA) and his lovely wife Nancy.  Scott was assigned the task of being one of the critiquers of my little NT Rhetoric book  (his critique will appear on this blog shortly), and since we are also friends of long duration, he invited me to come and see and spend the night at the Earthship.   Since my wife teaches biology and environmental science, and since I have been concerned about ecology since I was young,  of course I was excited to do this.   This post is about what I saw.  The big picture above shows the home which was built nine years.  Scott tells me they were nearly hassled to death by the authorities in the process, and made to install all sorts of things to satisfy the code dragons, things they didn’t even need, like a hot water heater.  Here is a plaque of what was said to Scott by one benighted soul in the process—

Amazing.  Undaunted, and bloodied but unbowed, Scott and Nancy built away.  There house has 18 solar panels on the roof, which supplies all the heating and cooling they could possibly need, not to mention electricity, a good deal of which they send back to the grid (for which they are paid zippo– I guess virtue really is its own reward).   Scott explains to me some of the principles of the building of the house, which among other things includes these conglomerate sort of half concrete half shale blocks built into the dirt of the mountain itself.  Some of it was well over my noggin.  What was also impressive was the natural lighting created by what are called sun tunnels.  These involve little domes on the roof, beneath which are tunnels down into the main part of the upstairs and downstairs which diffuse light and bring in an amazing quantity of it,  ensuring even less need for electrical light. 

The downstairs of the house has a great room which involves living room dining room, music room kitchen, as well as a fine large guest bedroom and large bathroom.  The upstairs has two offices or an office and a study as well as a further bedroom and bath, and of course there are storage rooms, closets etc.   Scott is a fine local jazz pianist with a group and he kindly gave me a CD of his latest recordings with the quartet, recorded live in the great room of the Earthship.  You will see the exterior wall with the block construction below  (and also my friend Scott) and also the long bank of solar panels on the roof.  The house is quite fire retardant as well and interestingly there are various fireplaces in the house on both levels, not that they much need them.  Scott says the temperature in the house varies from 68 up about 20 degrees or so without air conditioning, but it stays pretty constant.   I snapped a shot of the front garden as well, which has some lovely color and flowers. With the solar panels comes a meter which tells you at any given moment how much electricity the sun is generating. Below you will see pictures of the upstairs study of Scott’s and Nancy working away in her upstairs office. Another feature of the house is floor tiles that seem to absorb and radiate heat– warm toes!! You will see both a sun tunnel and a more conventional sunlight at the bottom of the post.  

Undoubtedly you will wonder whether this house cost a fortune to build, and the actual answer is no.  Scott paid for the lot and all the solar equipment simply by buying four lots, selling off the other three which then paid for such expenses.   Not only is the technology good enough to build such a house these days, it is affordable enough as well.  No excuses.    All homes in the future should be built so that we don’t have to pay heat, water, electrical etc. bills, wasting expensive energy.

Kudos to Scott and Nancy for showing us all the way forward.   Jesus would be please.  Waste not, want not, less carbon footprint too.

  • Rick

    Good for them. Thanks for describing it.

    (Although I also wonder how the UCLA/UNC basketball discussion goes between you two).

  • LHA

    It is heartbreaking to see home construction the way it is. Even short of solar electricity there is so much that could be done. Watering a yard and usually even flushing with rain water catchment is absolutely possible here in Alabama but very, very rarely done. Orienting homes with the sun in mind, light colored roofing, many cheap changes that could save massive amounts of energy.

  • Edward Fudge

    Fascinating! I have known and appreciated SB since the 1960s when we both wrote regularly for a journal called MISSION MAGAZINE, although I first had the pleasure of your acquaintance (BW3) earlier this year when I was privileged to take you (and our mutual friend Marlin Finn) to tour the Blue Bell Creamery and the Lanier Theological Library. No surprise that two Renaissance men should turn out to be old friends also!

  • John

    California, like many other states, has a net metering law which requires all utilities to buy back excess generated power from individual businesses and homeowners. Sadly, Califironia’s law exempts one single utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Your friends must have the misfortune of being served by one of the few utilities in the country that refuses to buy back excess energy. Kudos the the Bartchys for leading the way.

  • Wesley Paddock

    The technology was very popular in Western Colorado in the 80s. I knew of a “green” home that used solar heat in the winter and geothermal cooling in the summer. No fans, duct systems or furnaces. The home maintained a temperature of around 70 degrees year around.

  • Leland Vickers

    Delightful. Looks to be a friendly, pleasant home. I have never met SB, but remember purchasing and reading a copy of his dissertation in the early 1980s because it was highly recommended in a small, limited-circulation journal. Edward Fudge will likely remember the name, but I cannot bring it to mind at present; it was not MISSION.

  • Dave

    I wonder how they store the energy, what kind of batteries they use. I like the concept of a more “green” home, but depending on several factors, including the storage method, it may not be as green as we think.

    It would depend on what kind of batteries, what they are made of, how much they cost, how frequently they need to be replaced, and the environmental impact of the manufacturing and disposal of them. Not that it isn’t possible to come out better after figuring in these things.

    It would be very interesting to get details on how they approached these issues (and others) and found solutions to them.

  • ben witherington

    The batteries are green batteries, and they are not costly.


  • Dave

    Unfortunately, the term green by itself doesn’t mean much, although I have no doubt that they are in some sense. It would be interesting to know the specific type of battery and its chemistry.

    One area of low energy housing that I find interesting are the ones built largely into the ground. In Cali there is probably not a cold enough winter to make it a worthwhile expense, but in the mid-west they have been gaining some traction.