Eco houseWhen John and Jane Grimsrud decided to settle in Mérida, they made a commitment to create a true eco-house. They have achieved what many only dream about.

When they began searching for their oasis, they decided on a north-south facing lot to take full advantage of the prevailing sea breezes. They also wanted high land that wouldn’t flood in a heavy rain. The property they ultimately purchased resembled “a garbage dump in the desert,” but they both immediately recognized its hidden potentials. Their ecological home project would use thermo siphon air exchange without fans or motors to heat in winter, cool in summer and maintain humidity at low levels.

They started with a desolate rock-strewn terrain devoid of foliage. Using no chemicals they began by composting everything in sight, including shredded paper, and even sawdust from a local furniture factory, in order to build an all organic top soil. This process took them fifteen years before their jungle garden ultimately became self perpetuating. Almost 20 years later, having started everything from seed, they have a real canopy tropical jungle filled with towering fruit trees that also provide heavenly cooling shade. Their secluded jungle garden provides many of their produce requirements including fruits, spices, herbs, medicinal plants, hot chili peppers and even the palm fronds to keep their Maya palapa roof thatched.

Everything is biodegradable. They are synchronized and coexist with nature, creating a positive impact upon the planet. Amazingly, this has all been achieved using absolutely no chemical insecticides or poisons in all their years here. They co-exist with nature by means of natural insect repellants. Their home stays free of bugs…they just have to live elsewhere.

Tropical birds and butterflies abound freely in their private jungle sanctuary, with wide-open and unrestricted access to the sky. Their screened, spacious covered patios command stunning views of their garden.

This ecological home and jungle garden is in three parts, enclosed behind a tall privacy wall inconspicuously tucked away on a Mérida street. Each separate dwelling is equipped with two bathrooms and its own separate kitchen.

The eight meter deep well provides abundant cool, fresh water to fill the indoor Jacuzzi in summer and water the garden when necessary. They have a solar hot water heater system, which John designed and built from locally obtainable materials, that uses no electricity, gas, pumps, or valves, for the few cool evenings of winter. When John pulls the large ball valve to open the rooftop hot water tank, the water cascades down like Niagara Falls and fills the Jacuzzi in just two minutes. The water is so hot that they have to ease into it; and it comes to them every day free of charge, courtesy of the sun. They clean and re-fill the Jacuzzi with fresh water every day, recycling the old water to their jungle garden each night.

Viewed from the street, their super solar dehydrator, the domed ventilating chimneys and vaulted roof thermal siphons that capitalize on heat differentials have little meaning to those unaware of the functionality of this very private, environmentally friendly home.

There is a spiral staircase which ascends into a seven meter tall domed chimney that beams in reflected sunshine by day. By night, this has 125 watts of illumination that is ingeniously generated by a single 25 watt bulb reflected off four mirrors. This chimney silently extracts heated air using thermal siphon like a hot air balloon rising, and expels it out of vents adjacent to the domed top. The departing hot air sucks in cool fresh air from below making for economical, natural air conditioning. All of this comes from the ceramic tiled room that opens onto the street which is far more than a sitting area or parking place. This is their super solar dehydrator where the sun heats and dries the air. Employing large black doors and a tin roof to soak up the sun’s energy sets up a temperature differential and sends the hot air rushing up through the covered gap which runs the entire length of the building adjacent to a steel girder. The rising dehumidified air that exits, sucks in cool fresh air from the jungle garden and low louvered vents.

In the cooler dry season of the year this same room is used to heat the house. The only difference then is that the windows and doors to this room are opened during the day and the northern exposure garden side is closed. In warm weather they do just the opposite and close out the heated air of this room and open the tree shaded garden side.

Even their little wall mounted coach lights have mirrored reflectors to double their luminescent efficiency.

Their seldom used ceiling fans are all equipped with silicon rectifier controls that optimize their efficiency at all speed settings.

In the canopy jungle garden, pleasant shade abounds from the towering, tropical fruit trees. Everything in the garden was started from seed and only nourished by natural composted soil using no chemicals or insecticides. Shaded by papaya, banana, avocado and zapote trees, the traditional Maya style thatched roof palapa makes a perfect place to relax in a hammock or sit for coffee. Even the roof of the palapa is biodegradable, and they raise their own replacement palm fronds.

Another interesting feature they incorporated into their ecology home is that all of the ceramic floors are inclined all the way out to the end of the patio, where they have scuppers to discharge wash water that naturally goes down hill and ultimately waters the garden.

The natural reflected sunshine is dispersed gently and evenly throughout. If you observe the ceiling you will see one of the several domed and vented chimneys that not only keep the air exchanged without the use of fans, but illuminates with no electricity.

Natural air cools and natural light floods this home, and amazingly, their electric bill is one seventh as much as their friends with a conventional house half the size!

For more details, the complete story with photos and narrated tour are available on line: