An Introduction to Earthships

earthship1.jpgWhen it comes to housing there are many different shades of green in the world.  On one end of the scale are the conventional homes that are built more energy efficient and maybe use a few more earth friendly materials.  At the other end of the scale lies the Earthship.

Earth ships came about in the 1970’s when Mike Reynolds wanted to create a home that would

  • A. Use materials that were readily available and reuse existing materials

  • B. Generate their own utilities off the grid

  • C. Be able to be built by the average person with no specialized skills

The result was a U shaped structure built from old tires rammed with earth.  Scrap tires are available just about everywhere and usually for free. Once put in place a team of two people go to work filling the tires with dirt and using a sledge hammer to compact the dirt into the tires.  Once filled, the tires generally way as much as 300 pounds so filling them in place is essential.  The earth filled tires are very structurally sound and resist fire.

Non-load bearing walls are made using alternating rows of empty cans and cement which are then covered with plaster or adobe. 

Earthships are designed to catch and use water from rain and snow.  The roof channels the water into a cistern where it is then filtered and pressurized to be used throughout the house.  Grey water is run through an organic filtration and processing system and then used to flush the toilets and black water is sent to a solar enhanced septic tank.

Electrical power is provided by Photovoltaic panels and windmills that charge a bank of golf cart batteries.  The DC power is fed to an inverter to run appliances, computers, etc.  This electricity is not used for climate control however.

The thing that fascinates me with the design is the heating and cooling of the Earthship.  During colder times sunlight is let in to heat the structure and the structure itself stores the heat for when the sun goes down.  During warmer months the cool of the earth is used to dissipate heat and the sun is blocked so that the interior is kept comfortable.  Many articles I found say that the cool flows out of the ground into the house, which of course is nonsense.  Cool is the lack of heat; it doesn’t flow anywhere it just give heat a place to go.  But the important thing here is that no electricity is used in heating and cooling the house.

Interested, and want to learn more? Try these links.

Mike Reynolds’ company, Earthship Biotecture sells plans, kits, and video to aide people in building their own Earthship and Earthship Hybrid homes.

This site has a pretty detailed account of building an earthship in Colorado.

Here’s another site that details the construction techniques.

1 Comment

  1. Earthships work great in arid climates but in humidity…seems like mold would be a problem.

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