Could You Live in an Earthship?

Exporting Our Waste: Who Will Take It?
July 4, 2018

Fifteen minutes outside of Taos, N.M., sits the global headquarters for one of the world’s most extraordinary construction firms.

Earthship Global is the brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds. In the 1970s, Reynolds wanted to create a home that would do three things:

  1. Utilize sustainable architecture, as well as locally indigenous and recycled materials
  2. Operate off the grid using natural energy sources
  3. Be affordable and easily constructible by the average person.

Reynolds’ design method is known as “biotecture” – architecture that greatly reduces the use of energy and natural resources. The following video clip outlines his philosophy:

Welcome to Earthships

Reynolds’ Earthships are ultra-sustainable houses built from recycled tires, aluminum cans and bottles, all of which are packed with soil, then plastered over with natural mud. No brick and mortar. No wooden wall studs. Just dirt and trash.

In fact, a single one of these homes recycles as many as 5,000 tires.

Earthships are banked into the earth, with a southern exposure for maximum sunlight. Which makes them extremely energy efficient. The earthen properties, with their thick and dense inner walls, keep the homes cool in summer and warm in winter. An Earthship is typically horseshoe-shaped to maximize natural light and solar gain during winter months.

All of the rooms are situated along a corridor with a huge bank of windows, eliminating the need for electrical lighting as long as the sun is shining. The homes also rely on solar panels or small wind turbines for renewable energy.

But that’s not all…

Precious Water

The roof of an Earthship catches water from rain and snow melt. The water is channeled through a silt-catching device and into a cistern. The cisterns are positioned so they feed into a WOM (water organization module). This device filters out bacteria and contaminants, and makes the water suitable for drinking and bathing.

Water that has been used at least once and is unsuitable for drinking (called “greywater”) is reclaimed and used for a multitude of purposes. To make it reusable, the greywater is channeled through a grease and particle filter — a “botanical cell” imbedded with plants.

Some of the water is taken up through the plants and transpired to humidify the air. The rest is directed through a peat-moss filter and collected in a reservoir or well. From there, the reclaimed water is used to flush conventional toilets and to irrigate gardens.

Ramming the Tires

The earth-rammed tires for each Earthship are usually assembled by teams of two people working together as part of a larger construction crew. Here’s how they do it:

  1. One member of team shovels dirt from the building site, placing it into the tire a scoop at a time.
  2. The second team member stands on the tire and uses a sledge hammer to pack the dirt in.
  3. The second person moves in a circle around the tire. This keeps the dirt evenly distributed and prevents the tire from warping.

Each earth-rammed tire weighs as much as 300 pounds, making it very difficult to relocate (which is why they’re constructed on site). The tires are used to make walls, foundations and footings. They have exceptional load-bearing capacity and are also fire resistant.

To see the complete Earthship building method, click here.

Earthships have been constructed in every state of the U.S., as well as numerous European countries, Africa, Central and South America. In 2012, Europe’s first Earthship district, comprised of 23 homes, was constructed in the Netherlands.

Several Earthship schools have also been built in various places across the globe.

Earthship Academy

There’s even an Earthship Biotecture Academy, which offers extensive training in Earthship design principles, construction methods and philosophy. The classes are taught by Reynolds and a staff of Earthship builders, electricians, plumbers and plant specialists.

The academy is accredited through Western Colorado University. To date, 1,400 students have graduated from this program. In addition, a Youth Academy is available for students between 18 and 21 who are seeking an intense three-week training session on Earthship techniques.

Take a Test Drive

If you’re not quite ready to construct your own Earthship, you can always rent one. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to “test drive” an Earthship for a night or two in Taos:

 


Sources:

Earthship Global

Environment and Ecology

Laurel’s Compass

Arch 20

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