MCS Hybrid Homestead

Reposted with permission from the Arizona Environmental Health Bulletin (AEHB). To subscribe, send a request to

In this issue we are pleased to feature an article about Susan MacKay’s residence and greenhouse outside Snowflake. Susan generously wrote about some of her techniques for living safely and productively in the high desert. She also let us take photos. Thank you Susan!

Susan MacKay’s Home and Garden. Susan moved to the Snowflake area a few years ago from Indiana due to her extreme sensitivity to indoor and outdoor air quality. Since then, she and her father have been nothing but industrious in putting together a mini-farm, with indoor and outdoor vegetable gardens, a memorial flower garden for her late mother, and a chicken coop.

Trailer and Sunroom
Trailer and Sunroom

Trailer Sunroom

Susan lives in a complex built around a Latieri porcelain-on-steel trailer. Built over the trailer is a free standing canopy to protect it from rain, sun, and wind. There is a sunroom attached to the canopy along the south side of the trailer. It provides passive solar heating on sunny days during the winter and a protected, semi-indoor space for year ’round enjoyment of the outdoors.

The trailer is used as a sleeping area and safe room while the small building next to it, constructed of stucco on the exterior and sheet aluminum on the interior, serves as a combination kitchen, computer room, laundry, and general storage area. Both the trailer and stucco building are elevated on piers, resting about 4 feet off the ground. This provides improved air circulation for the living area, a north and south patio for summer and winter use, respectively, and isolation from the dirt, mold, insects, and vegetation found at ground level. You can see Sadie, Susan’s older dog, peering curiously at the photographer from the front of the patio.

The entire complex is heated by a remote, electric boiler, located in a nearby utility building, with hot water piped inside through copper pipes and circulated through the trailer and stucco building in a baseboard heating system. This makes the heating system both electromagnetically and chemically safe.

Freezer Room and Greenhouse
Freezer Room and Greenhouse

Greenhouse Interior

This is a solar greenhouse, specifically constructed for Arizona environmental conditions. The south, east, and west walls are double-glazed and the east and south walls are slanted in order to take advantage of maximum solar energy during the winter months, while the north wall and ceiling are heavily insulated to maintain heat in the winter and provide shade and cooling in the summer. The greenhouse has a concrete floor, insulated around the perimeter, which serves as a large mass for thermal storage, buffering both day/night and seasonal swings in temperature.

The interior walls and ceiling are finished in sheet aluminum to make them chemically safe, waterproof, and able to scatter incoming light to the entire room. There are no skylights. This design is able to maintain reasonable growing temperatures throughout the year, with no need for additional heat in the winter or cooling in the summer.

In addition to the “dirt” beds one would expect in a conventional greenhouse (made from 55 gallon drums cut lengthwise and visible on the floor, under the windows), there is an “aquaponics” system for growing plants in gravel beds which are fertilized by the effluent from a 275-gallon fish tank. The aquaponics system (also made from 55 gallon drums cut lengthwise and elevated to allow for drainage of water out of the beds into a sump) allows for the raising of fish and vegetables in a self-maintained, recirculating system in which the water from the fish tank is filtered through the plant beds, feeding the plants and purifying the water for return to the fish tank at the same time.

In the [interior] picture the planting beds for the aquaponics system are visible on the left. This system is just coming into operation and the beds will be planted with assorted cool-weather vegetables shortly since we are now moving towards fall. The plants currently growing in the dirt beds are mostly heat-loving vegetables such as okra, sweet potato, and eggplant, which all did very well in the greenhouse over the hot summer months.

For more information about Susan’s techniques for gardening in the high desert, check out the Landscaping and Gardening section in the Disability and Environmental Health Resource Guide for the Snowflake-Taylor Area

photos: © Kathy Hemenway, Susan MacKay | Please note, only two of the photos were printed in the original newsletter, the featured one at top titled “Susan McKay’s Living Quarters” and “Greenhouse Interior,” both taken by Kathy Hemenway. All others are by Susan MacKay.

This article was originally published on the now defunct website on June 18, 2009 and transferred to the re|shelter website on February 22, 2011 under the original publication date.

posted June 18, 2009

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