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Living Green In Earthships

In these tough economic times, would you believe there are people in America living comfortably with a zero utility bill?

As CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano reports, they live in earthships - beautiful homes made out of recycled tires and bottles built completely off the grid.

The futuristic looking structures dotting the Taos, New Mexico desert are actually eco-friendly houses, built almost entirely from garbage.

They're called "earthships" and are the creation of Michael Reynolds.

"They are much more than houses," he says. "They provide shelter, heating, cooling water and sewage."

Straight from architecture school, Reynolds walked away from what he calls wasteful building. He started making bricks using tossed out beer cans and built a beer can home in 1971.

He's worked continuously to perfect the building concept that's developed into a community of 60 homes and growing. All are fully sustainable -- no power, water or sewage lines.

Reynolds' latest earthship is designed to sustain a family of four.

The house makes its own food-- fruits, vegetables, a pond of fish, the yard would have chickens. Several layers keeps the interior a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit and for water? A system captures water and reuses it for everything from showering to landscaping.

The internal walls are made of tires filled with dirt, which is key for heating and cooling.

"It's massive," says Reynolds. "Mass is known in physics to hold temperature."

The freezer and refrigerator are powered by the sun.

Reynolds says the utility bill for the 6,000 square foot, four-bedroom home complete with high-speed Internet would be $100 per year.

Michael Balasone left his standard home almost a year ago to live in a two-story earthship. What does his utility bill look like?

"So far, really none," he says. "We have a propane tank and it was mostly full when we got here and we don't expect to fill it for another two years."

Earthships aren't only found in New Mexico. As word has spread, people have had them built in every state in the U.S. and they are being developed around the world.

From Japan to Bolivia, India and Spain, Reynolds and his team travel the globe teaching about the simple concept and helping others build a self-sustaining shelter for themselves.

Reynolds realizes there are skeptics.

"Every kind of person is wondering right now, 'Am I going to be able to flush my toilet? Am I going to have power and I going to be able to keep my kids warm?' I think it's their birthright," he says. "I think that this is the direction that they can get it, a pretty low-tech way of getting it."

According to Reynolds, building an earthship costs as much as building an average home of the same size -- but without the utility bills.