Get ready for one of the biggest homesteading breakthroughs of modern time; the Earthship! For the last 40 years, famous architect Michael Reynolds has been perfecting this amazing and sustainable “all in one” home.
What Is An Earthship?
The Earthship is simple, and fast to build, it can cost as little as $7,000, and upon completion continues to run and take care of itself. Every aspect of homesteading is included and thought through in this ingenious design including systems for water, electricity, comfort, food, and sewage. These beautiful homes are eco-friendly, have zero carbon footprints, and are actually made from reused materials that would otherwise end up in the landfills!
Earthships can appear as simple or as intricate as desired. There are already many design layouts to choose from and it’s easy to find these plans along with informational videos on earthship.com. This website is run by the organization heading the Earthship movement, Earthship Biotecture.
There are people all over the US coming up with new ways to acquire financial loans for these buildings and so far there hasn’t been much of a struggle. The Earthship meets the Universal Building Codes for all states. When I build my dream homestead the first element I will implement is definitely going to be my own Earthship.
Birth of the Earthship
The father of the Earthship, Michael Reynolds, has spent the last four decades of his life dedicated to perfecting this domicile. The first two decades were spent just getting the systems to work. These “systems” include heating and cooling, an electrical system based on solar and wind energy, a water harvesting system, contained on-site sewage treatment system, and constant food production. Obviously having taken 20 years, this had been no easy feat. The next challenge that followed, over the next two decades, was making the Earthship an affordable option for everyone.
The goal was to simplify as much as possible so the Earthship was not only a more environmentally friendly choice over the conventional home but also a more economically sound choice over a conventional home. The goal was for every person on the planet to want one. It had to make sense for everyone though.
In order to be a sustainable building, which is truly the reason Michael Reynold’s wanted to create the Earthship, construction materials must be sourced locally. The concept of embodied-energy is used, meaning anything that can be used locally as building material, whether a natural source such as clay or wood or a man-made local source such as glass bottles, is sought out. Generally materials are not imported to the site unless from a local landfill or neighbor.
Get Paid To Build One!
Typically all Earthships’ have a common major building component of used tires which almost always can be found locally at the landfill or recycling centers. It is common for builders to actually get paid to haul the tires away so not only is this a free building material but it can also generate income right from the get go. Other commonly used materials include aluminum cans and glass and plastic bottles. These can be stuffed with dirt, sand, or trash wrappers to create hard “bricks”.
Natural materials used include timber, rocks, clay, soil, straw bales, etc. The Earthship can and is meant to be easily built by hand. The result of of mixing natural materials and saving trash from landfills actually creates beautiful buildings. They are aesthetically pleasing and often times extremely colorful.
Build An Earthship Anywhere
The Earthship is energy efficient. The walls should be made of discarded tires that are then filled with dirt and adobe over and around. This creates thermal mass and insulation that traps in heat or blocks out intense heat. The more tiny air pockets in the walls, the harder it is for temperature to change indoors. Included in every Earthship is at least one greenhouse which creates passive solar heating. Typically the inside of one of these homes is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, whether the outside temperature is freezing or blistering. There is a trick to this. If you want to heat up the house then you allow for the sun to shine in, if you want to cool the house, you need to block out the sun.
One idea, often put into effect, is to grow vining plants up the greenhouse walls, or to block windows with house plants and trees. Then, in the winter, when the vines die back or the plants are harvested passive solar heating can take place. Just the money saved from not having to heat and cool your house alone could pay for the Earthships building costs in no time!
Feed Your Family
A homestead just isn’t a homestead without food growing on-site and the same is true for an Earthship. Growing your own food is essential to true self-sustainability. Self-sustainability is the desired result of building an Earthship for those at Earthship Biotecture. On a typical homestead you are somewhat limited to what can grow based on the climate. The difference with having an Earthship that has a constant temperature of 70 degrees is that you can get away with growing a banana tree practically in your living room. Citrus trees are encouraged by Earthship designers because they often thrive and do best. Mostly, indoor annuals and tropical plants are grown vs. perennials which need a changing season unless especially tender.
Growing food indoors is convenient, saves money, time, energy and purifies the air naturally. The food system is closely tied into the water system. Gray water from the shower or sinks is filtered through the indoor plants and then runs into the toilets to be flushed. The now black water then runs to outdoor, non-edible plants.
Earthships Water System
Not one drop of water is wasted in the Earthships system. Water is first harvested as rainwater on the roof that pours down into water catchment cisterns that vary by size and are buried underground. It then travels down by force of gravity into filters with pumps. The pumps are required by law to reach a certain pressure and the Earthship has been predesigned to meet all building codes. After the water is filtered it runs through the sinks and showers where it then journeys to the indoor plants. A third trip is made from the plants to the toilets which then is filtered again before returning outside to exterior plants. Water is heated with passive solar heating and natural gas kicks on if the water is not getting hot enough. The entire water system is called a Water Organizing Module which is simple and recognizable by typical city plumbers.
Human excrement has been used to fertilize plants since the very beginning of agriculture. In Japan an exaggerated effort is made to convince guests to use their host’s toilets before returning home. Nutrients should be returning to the land, not turned into sludge. Today, chemical fertilizers are replacing what is now modernly referred to as “humanure”. Michael Reynolds knew these facts when he designed his Earthship which is why sewage doesn’t even leave the property. There is no need for pipes connecting you to “the grid”. Of course, it wouldn’t be nearly as sanitary to have feces in your greenhouse which is why it is sent outside where fecal matter breaks down much faster and is kept out of the house. At no point in all of the water cycle, whether we are looking at recycled gray water or black water will an odor be detected. This is key for most people. The humanure concept is a homesteading breakthrough all on its own. Though it is nowhere near truly “new” it is definitely new to our culture. We have strayed far in these modern times and the planet would benefit immensely should we learn to properly manage our body waste.
Another well thought out design for the Earthship is the electrical system. This is a mostly solar powered system with wind power for backup. The electricity is first collected through photovoltaic cells on a solar panel and then stored in golf cart batteries or marine batteries. The Power Organizing Module is the distributor that pulls electricity from the batteries. POM’s have been around long before the Earthship and are mass produced in factories. They turn DC to AC power and can also work “on-grid” or distribute electricity from a gasoline powered generator. Any electrician could service this system and would not need to know a thing about off-grid power. This keeps the system low-cost vs. building a solar energy system and wind powered system piece by piece. Not only does the POM offer a cheaper alternative but it is also more reliable because they have been around and any problems that often come with a new technology have been ironed out.
All of the systems in the Earthship are designed to work together and create a special rhythm, just as the Earth works on a rhythm. The idea Earthship builders have is that the more we mimic nature’s rhythms, the easier and more natural life will be. People who live in Earthships typically can build cheap enough to avoid a mortgage. The ability to grow their own food prevents them from needing to purchase food that has traveled sometimes thousands of miles. The ability to harvest free energy from the sun and wind keeps utility bills far away from their space. Collecting rainwater saves them from water bills.
Those who do not have to work all day to make money for mortgages and bills can begin to live their lives in tune and with the rhythms of nature. Going off-grid has never been easier or cheaper before the Earthship. No longer does homesteading have to mean up at dawn and work until dusk. Earthship dwellers have extra time to do enjoyable activities such as reading and painting. Many do not have car payments because they have no need to drive to town every other day.
The People Behind Earthship
There is one organization leading the homesteading world in the direction of Earthships. This organization, as previously mentioned, is Earthship Biotecture. They are all over the world and in countries on five continents. All information can be found easily on their website www.earthship.com. This is a great place to read testimonials from people currently living in Earthships of their own. There are many helpful links for anyone with any interest at all be it they want to builds themselves, they are looking to hire someone to build for them, or desire the skills to build Earthships for others.
Earthship Biotecture offers internship programs and seminars at all times throughout the year. A major internship program exists in Taos, New Mexico. Videos are accessible online and there is a large array of books, ebooks, and DVDs to choose from. Conferences are hosted regularly throughout out the world and this organization is currently touring through Europe. It is also possible to rent Earthships which would be the best way to find out if one would be right for you and your family as well as to try out different designs before building your own. Recently there has been successes in receiving loans from banks to build these Earthships. The most expensive Earthship built yet was $400,000 and built on a bank loan which was a huge success for the Earthship community.
Why You Should Make / Buy Your Earthship
There is an infinite amount of reasons to take advantage of this amazing breakthrough. The Earthship is eco-friendly. It brings new life to trash that would otherwise be poisoning our planet. It is low impact in all of it’s systems. Heavy machinery does not need to be brought in to construct this building. Waste is managed and not ending up in our precious aquifers. All materials can and should be sourced locally. The Earthship is also friendly on your wallet, if you are creative enough to come up with all recycled materials you can spend next to nothing.
Loans are possible for the Earthship while we live in a world where loans for environmentally friendly anything is scarce. It is impossible not to save thousands of dollars a year on bills. With the Earthship a simpler way of life can be lived. Extracurricular activities can be enjoyed. Life is not a constant grind of work in an office or out on the farm. Anyone can build an Earthship and make it as funky or elegant as desired. Build your Earthship today!