Building your own “earthship” house is a fantastic option for those who want to live completely off the grid and in harmony with the natural environment. As our modern world pushes nonrenewable resources to the brink of exhaustion, an increasing number of homeowners are considering making a change in their way of life.
However, with great change comes great responsibility. Building an earthship necessitates extensive hands-on experience as well as a great deal of sacrifice.
The ability to live a fully sustainable life in an earthship has the potential to change your – and our – world, if you are willing to accept the challenge.
- What is an Earthship?
- How do Earthships work?
- How do I create my own Earthship?
- Is an Earthship right for you?
What is an Earthship?
The name may sound more like a concept from a science fiction novel than anything else. The reality, on the other hand, is much more down to earth.
Essentially, a “earthship” is a type of house design. It makes an attempt to meet human needs as effectively as possible while using as few resources as possible. It also makes an effort to reduce our environmental impact.
The concept is based on the idea of complete and total long-term sustainability. It makes an attempt to bring together every environmentally friendly option under one roof.
A Sustainable Home that Meets our Needs
Earthships are designed to meet our basic needs as homeowners while also being as environmentally friendly as possible. As you can imagine, this isn’t a simple undertaking. It is possible to categorize these requirements into six categories:
- Energy (electricity and thermal)
Non-sewage waste is managed by recycling and reusing as much as possible, and this includes food waste as part of the overall strategy.
Unsanitary waste is treated in self-contained units with recycled water in order to ensure public health and safety.
A maximum amount of natural and recycled materials were used in the construction of the building as possible.
- Clean water
Water for drinking and bathing is harvested and stored for a long period of time.
Organic growing methods are used to produce all of the food on-site.
An all-natural design
In Taos, New Mexico, in the 1980s, Michael Reynolds developed an innovative earthship concept that became widely adopted. The hot weather in the southwestern United States had a significant impact on the original design. In almost every part of the structure, he took the sun and its effects into consideration.
The earthship differs from many other off-grid homes in that it places a strong emphasis on climate control. Earthships can reduce their energy consumption by utilizing insulation, air flow, and the warmth provided by the sun. The fundamental premise of this sustainable housing plan is that natural methods of meeting human needs should be utilized.
How do Earthships work?
A standard earthship is made up of many different types of technology and design that are intertwined together. This is done in order to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
Harnessing the Power of the Sun
Passive Solar Design
The effect of the sun is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of the design. Summertime sun can warm a home, but it can also make it too hot, and wintertime energy conservation is necessary to keep a home warm and comfortable.
The direction in which the earthship faces is extremely important because it determines how much of the sun’s energy it can harvest and how much of it it must avoid.
The term “passive solar design” refers to a method of dealing with seasonal differences. Winter solar energy harvesting, storage, and distribution is accomplished through the use of floor, window, and wall coverings, among other surfaces. While doing exactly the opposite in the summer, it avoids heat sources whenever it can during the daytime.
The sun’s warmth is not only for warming the home. It also provides electrical energy using solar panels. As these homes strive to be as off-the-grid as possible, this makes solar energy essential to achieving energy sustainability.
Producing their Own Energy
Earthships make use of sustainable and renewable energy sources to the greatest extent possible. Depending on your location, this could be in the form of solar, wind, hydro, or any other suitable source of energy that you can harvest to meet your entire household’s energy requirements.
The location of these homes has a significant impact on their ability to generate their own energy, as a homeowner must consider the surrounding environment. If the earthship is located near a fast-flowing river, it will require more hydroelectric power generators than if it is located in a dry desert.
In many cases, a combination of more than one energy source can more effectively meet the needs of a home’s energy consumption.
Easy and Affordable Construction
Earthships are constructed from reclaimed or recycled materials, which are frequently provided for free or at a significantly lower cost than traditional building materials. They typically build the walls of these homes out of recycled materials such as old tires, cans, glass bottles, and any other materials that can be repurposed.
Additionally, local materials, such as rocks found on the property, are utilized by the builders in order to reduce their overall carbon footprint.
The general design is also simpler to construct, making it more accessible to future homeowners with limited construction experience. The earthship is typically constructed in the shape of a horseshoe, which does not necessitate a high level of technical expertise to construct.
Producing their Own Food
Due to the fact that food is a basic necessity for any family, it is a crucial component of the earthship plan. Homeowners should strive to produce as much of their own food as possible in order to be completely self-sufficient.
This is frequently a challenge because it is extremely difficult to produce all of the food required by a family on a single piece of land.
Organic gardening and permaculture methods are being used to produce food without the use of artificial pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, as opposed to conventional methods. Animals are often included in the system as well, in order to increase the efficiency of the system and reduce the amount of organic waste produced.
How do I create my own Earthship?
The following steps must be completed before you can launch your own earthship. If you’re ready to make the leap from conventional living to complete sustainability, there are a few things you must complete first.
Consult the Experts
With their status as the original inventors, Michael Reynolds and his team are unquestionably the most knowledgeable people when it comes to building earthships. In order to construct your own earthship, you can hire him and other experienced contractors to do so for you.
This may be a more expensive option than designing and building the structure yourself; however, it may be a better option for those who do not have the time, resources, or capability to build an earthship on their own terms.
In the event that you prefer to do it yourself and believe that you may require some assistance learning the fundamentals, there are earthship building courses available from a few industry experts, including Michael Reynolds himself. Learning from the best is a great way to ensure that you do things correctly the first time around.
Choose the Right Location
Due to the importance of natural temperature control in an earthship, selecting the proper location, position, and surrounding environment is critical to your success in building an earthship. For example, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, your structure will need to be oriented so that it can receive sunlight in the winter to keep warm.
The fact that the earthship was designed specifically for Taos, New Mexico’s dry, arid, and high-altitude environment should also be taken into consideration by prospective homeowners. People who live in other climates, such as the cold mountains of Canada or the humid jungles of South America, may need to make significant modifications to the design. Despite this, people all over the world have successfully adapted to the earthship in a variety of ways.
Building your Earthship
Finding all of the materials required for the construction of an earthship is one of the most difficult aspects of the project. Many of these materials are difficult to obtain and transport as a single homeowner, despite the fact that they are generally free pieces of junk to begin with.
To support the main structure and the walls of an average earthship design, more than 800 dirt-filled tires are required, according to one estimate.
Glass bottles are another material that can be used in earthship walls because they allow light to enter rooms that do not have windows or a large amount of glass. These cement and glass walls are also excellent insulators, and if they are filled with a dark liquid during the day, they can store heat from the sun and release it during the evening.
Other common materials include:
- Bags of dirt
- Reclaimed timber
- Natural materials with high thermal mass properties
The shape of the walls of an earthship is almost always that of a horseshoe. Using this design eliminates the need to create clean corners with round tires and increases the amount of heat that is allowed in while still allowing for the greatest amount of insulation to be achieved.
After that, the walls of these structures are typically built up with a substantial amount of sand on the outside, which increases the insulation effect. Plants, such as grasses, are frequently planted on top of these surrounding piles of soil to help keep them in place and prevent erosion from occurring.
Producing your Own Food
When it comes to food production for an earthship, the primary goal is to be able to produce enough food to completely satisfy the nutritional requirements of your family.
The size of your land and the environment in which you live will ultimately determine whether or not you can realistically achieve this lofty goal. Creative problem-solving and thorough research are required to get the most out of the space you have at your disposal.
A glass atrium-like structure will be required on the house’s sunniest side to maximize solar gain. Here, you can grow food indoors while also heating your home, much like you would in a traditional greenhouse setting.
The more exposure to sunlight you have, the better. When used in hot, dry conditions, these indoor garden systems can perform a number of additional functions, such as treating grey water naturally or providing a source of humidity and climate control.
When it comes to food production outside the earthship’s walls, permaculture and organic methods of small-scale farming are the preferred methods of choice. As a result of this method of farming, you will be able to produce a diverse range of foods for many months of the year, decreasing your reliance on commercially produced foods.
This food should be produced with zero to minimal waste, with crops being nourished by the very waste that the house generates, and it should be locally sourced.
In general, the most successful small-scale food production methods are as follows:
- Organic farming
- Microgreen farming
Earthships are designed to collect and store as much rainwater as possible, as this is a critical function of living “off-grid.” This type of structure frequently incorporates clever designs such as catchment funnels on the roof, which ensure that they don’t miss anything important.
In some cases, they also collect water from snow and condensation, which contributes to the total amount of water harvested by the system.
Large water tanks are frequently installed beneath homes in order to store the water that has been harvested. The water is brought to the surface by a pump system on the inside.
It is possible to recycle the water after it has been used, which can be used for flushing toilets or watering plants. It is critical that you do not waste any of the water you have harvested because it is a valuable resource for your earthship.
Treating your Waste
While it may not be the most glamorous of endeavors, waste treatment is unquestionably one of the most critical. The earthship’s approach to waste treatment is completely unconventional, but it is both practical and long-term in nature.
Many people begin to question their decision to build an earthship at this point; however, it is important to remember that for the majority of human history, we did not have access to sewage treatment facilities and were forced to safely handle sewage ourselves. Septic tank systems are commonly used in earthships to handle all of the sewage and wastewater generated on-site, eliminating the need to haul it away.
You can recycle as much of the water as possible after it has been treated in the system after treatment. One common method of accomplishing this is through the use of a wastewater wetland.
Wetlands act as the earth’s kidneys, naturally filtering out contaminants from water as it passes through them. People can take advantage of this quality of wetlands to effectively treat blackwater waste in a natural way by constructing a man-made wetland in a suitable location.
Even if earthships are environmentally friendly, it would be unrealistic to expect any modern home to be able to function properly without access to a reliable source of electricity. Earthships typically use solar panels to meet their energy requirements, as well as wind power from windmills in areas where it is permitted to do so.
If the location you have chosen happens to have a reasonably large river or stream running through it, you might want to think about generating electricity with hydroelectric generators as a secondary option.
The ability to operate completely off-grid has been achieved by some earthships. Others are still connected to it and receive monetary compensation for producing enough excess electricity to feed back into the system.
It is impossible to ignore the advantages of producing their own energy while still having the stability of the grid in case they require it, despite the fact that a large part of the ethos that earthship creators espouse is to be completely “off-grid.”
Is an Earthship right for you?
It is not necessary to live far away from civilization in order to reap the benefits of sustainable living, as is widely believed by the general public. Earthships, when constructed properly, allow people to tailor their homes to their family’s needs and the environment in which they live, regardless of where they live.
If you are unable to commit to the more difficult realities of living in an earthship, such as treating your own waste or producing all of your own food, you can always supplement with modern conveniences to make your life more comfortable.
There is no reason why you should not shop at your local market or use the electricity grid when necessary. At the end of the day, the fundamental premise of the earthship remains the same: minimizing our impact on the environment.