Much gratitude to @eco-alex & @orlev for introducing me to the Earthship design which I have been obsessing over for the last week. The idea of building my own home had been on the radar for the last year with a focus on potentially converting an old farm house here on the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains.
Never one to cling too tightly to an idea I am excited now by the concept of a home which looks after all our needs! Sounds impossible right? Yet that is exactly what this home does.
And most importantly of all, this is the kind of home we can actually afford to build ourselves from the ground up using natural & recycled materials.
"A ship to sail on the seas of tomorrow"
Pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds back in the 1970s.
Reading up on Earthships I found Wiki to be surprisingly good at explaining how they work:
Earthships are predicated upon the idea that there are six human needs which can be addressed through environmentally sustainable building design:
- Energy: Thermal and/or solar heating and cooling, solar and wind electricity
- Garbage Management: Reuse and recycling built into construction and daily living
- Sewage Treatment: Self-contained sewage treatment and water recycling
- Shelter: Building with natural and recycled materials
- Clean Water: Water harvesting and long term storage
- Food: In-home organic food production capability
Displayed here on Reynold's website:
Earthship structures are intended to be "off-the-grid-ready" homes, with minimal reliance on public utilities and fossil fuels. They are constructed to use available natural resources, especially energy from the sun and rain water. They are designed with thermal mass construction and natural cross-ventilation to regulate indoor temperature, and the designs are intentionally uncomplicated and mainly single-story, so that people with little building knowledge can construct them. Wiki
The Wiki page also kindly provides us with this basic plan of a two bedroom Earthship and its insulating tyre walls:
Let's take a closer look at some of these ideas...
Recycling waste into building materials
Tyres are cheap, strong and safe as a building material (once packed with soil) as they are enforced with steel, don't degrade quickly, shift well in earthquakes and are fire resistant. Tyres are always used to create the main supporting wall in Earthships.
It should be noted that tyres are actually less damaging to the environment when they are not exposed to the air, buried under the soil.
Tin cans can also be used to build walls within the Earthship and coloured bottles can be used to let the light through.
Both charming and cost effective!
The orientation of the Earthship is essential to its success during the winter.
According to Wiki the optimal positioning is this:
10–15 degrees east of south to maximize natural light and solar-gain during the winter months.
Please let me know in the comments if you don't agree with this statement! I am keen to understand this as best I can.
How does the heating system work throughout the year?
In the Summer when the sun is high all the vents are opened to create airflow while the ground itself has as a cooling effect. In the Winter when the ground maintains a warmer temperature than the air the vents are shut and the low sun fills the space throughout the day warming the tyre wall which in turn heats the house at night.
Unlike regular homes there is only one wall through which heat can escape and this wall is more a layer of warm air between two sheets of glass, ultimately acting as a big humid insulator.
It is said the system is so effective there is no need even for a fire in the winter.
I will let you know the truth of this statement once I have experienced a cold winter in one!
Intelligent water management
Rainwater & snowmelt is collected off the expansive roof and runs into a cistern.
A pump is used to move the water in the most efficient way possible. If it is not drunk it is used four times, as you can see below.
The interior plants act as a treatment system for the grey water, providing the toilet with clear water which as sewage is treated by the external plants.
I found this image in Earthship Volume 1, Reynolds' first book on the subject, avilable as a PDF here. It seems so logical when I look at it yet so few homes are designed this way.
Growing food inside & out
The double layer of glass permits for an area I would describe as a greenhouse. The plants here are automatically watered when grey water is produced.
I have seen how it is possible to create a tropical environment in here, permitting the growth of fruit not typical to the region.
Or it would seem that some people are dispensing with the inner glass wall and going open-plan, though I suspect this is only possible in warmer climates.
The outside garden is watered automatically & benefits nutritionally from being the sewage treatment centre, completing this delightfully logical cycle for your rainwater.
Using batteries to store energy one is able to light their home at night and use the kind of appliances one would expect to see in any modern house.
People who live in these say they sleep very well. Surrounded by all that earth I am not surprised.
There are so many beautiful designs I have come across over the last few days...
Some more achievable than others!
Okay, these are starting to get a little crazy now.
One thing is for sure, I am in love with the overall concept & basic design!
Thankfully this a growing movement and Earthships can now be found all over the world.
I think you will agree that even in its most basic form it looks more than adequate.
They can be quite stunning in their appearance, like a chalet embedded in the earth, with a greenhouse on the front. Both earthquake proof and largely protected from high winds.
This is a home which really does look after you.
While I remain 100% optimistic about the future of open minded humans who seek self sufficiency in harmony with Mother Earth, I am none too optimistic about the future of modern agriculture. Farmers around the world are going out of business at an alarming rate while the mainstream media minimises what is happening. The corn belt in the US had it's worst season in decades this year and even here in Europe we are losing 1000 farms a day.
Causing this are a combination of factors (economic, political & environmental) all coming to a head at the same time and one important side effect of this will be an extreme increase in the price of food. We have seen this happen before in history and all I am going to tell you is that it would be prudent to start preparing in some way, introducing back-up systems to your food supply, electricity & water because what follows on from this spike in prices is rarely pretty.
The Earthship offers the full package for those looking to get off grid and provide for themselves.
For just $10 you can download the Earthship app which apparently guides you through the construction process using three potential designs.
Or you can pay $3,000 for an intensive hands on course.
Or perhaps you feel capable of figuring everything out yourself based on the free information provided in the Earthship book?
I do not yet know if I will end up living in a community of like minded people or build one around me, but what I do now know is the style in which I intend to build my home.
Excited to get started!
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