Construction of an Earthship house is low tech and has been kept within most people’s skill level.
By Linn Smith
May 22 ,2015—“An understanding of mechanical systems for most humans is limited to what is within reach of their fingertips. It is understood that when you flip on a switch, a light comes on, when you turn on the faucet, water comes out, when you pull the handle, the toilet flushes. Little thought is given to where the electricity comes from or what kind of nuclear waste was produced to generate it. How many of us even know where the power plant is that supplies our power? Few people ever wonder which water table is depleted to bring them water and what chemicals have been added to it. Where does the sewage go? And which rivers and lakes are polluted?” from the Earthship Biotecture brochure.
Michael Reynolds, Architect and Founder
For most of man’s existence on our planet, housing was built from material of the surrounding habitat, such as earth, rocks, and logs. The Earthship uses–yes,earth, plus they recycle our unwanted products–tires, plastic bottles, ect. An earthship is a type of solar house that is made from natural resouces and recycled materials. The recycled tires are filled with dirt to form earth blocks. Designed and marketed by Earthship Biotecture in Taos, New Mexico, they are a registered trademark of Michael Reynolds, architect and founder. When Mr. Reynolds graduated from college, he was unhappy with conventional architecture, and visualized buildings which were eco-friendly. He looked at the Embodied Energy of a structure.
The Planet Earth Weekly article entitled “Zero Net Energy and Rehabilitation of Exiting buildings” addressed Embodied Energy, “It is estimated that traditional buildings, commercial and residentual, consume up to 40% of the energy used in the U.S. for heating and approximately 70% are dependent on fossil fuels. To build an eco-friendly structure, Embodied Energy must be considered–which is the sum of all the energy required to produce the building–extraction of all materials, manufacturing, transportation, installation and the energy used to destroy and dispose of materials when the building is no longer in use. We must look at the entire environmental impact of construction. This is what Mr. Reynolds saw when he visualized the Earthship house.
Earthships: Building in Harmony with our Environment
Mr Reynolds has been constructing buildings that are in harmony with their environment and promote sustainability through salvaging what would end up in our landfills. He discovered he could create buildings, that passed the building code using recycled materials, finding that many trash items can be durable when filled with—-yes,dirt–similar to adobe, the Spanish word for mud brick! The documentary “Garbage Warrior,” found on YouTube, describes his 30 some years of work, building houses that are made from recyclables. These houses are not connected to any outside sources and have gardens for growing food. A truly sustainable house/village is independent of the countries economy. These houses are not subject to changing prices in utilities, food, ect. The necessities are provided for, although most don’t grow all of their own food, much of it can be grown on the premises.
Earthship Biotecture offers blueprints for many different models of houses, including one called the Simple Survival Model. It’s an all season home that provides a person with little income the opportunity to get in a house as inexpensively as possible, with opportunities to build on the structure as income allows. This model starts at $2,000 for the blueprints and is catered toward the self-builder, although it can be built by Earthship Biotecture starting at around $50,000–building yourself would cost about half of this. This model contains everything, performs as well as any other model, but everthing is reduced in size. Also, anything can be customized.
The Earthship Houses include: A structure built from recycled materials, a sustainable heating, cooling and electrical system, a water harvest system, on site sewage treatment system and on-site food production. Water is caught and channeled into cisterns, then through filter panels which feed a DC pump by their gravity. It is then pushed into a pressure tank where it can be used as household water. The solar and wind electricity is stored in batteries and supplied to the houses electrical outlets, which is wired to code as if it’s connected to the grid—but, it’s not! Each house has a contained sewage treatment system which is cleaned and used in landscaping and gardening. Food production is provided through wetland planters. The planters can hold hundreds of gallons of water from sinks and showers.
Construction of an Earthship house is low tech and has been kept within most people’s skill level. Educational workshops are continuously offered in Taos, New Mexico to promote learning. An Earthship Biotecture Academy offers extensive training in design, construction and philosophy of the buildings. They are led by the originator, Michael Reynolds, and his staff of builders, electricians, plumbers, gardening specialists and educators.The tuition is several thousand dollars for the Academy, but when finished you will be a certified Earthship builder, eligible to hold workshops for others in your community. Many communities have Earthship workshops led by Earthship Acadamy students and graduates, which allow interested people to educate themselves by practicing construction. Reynolds states, “If the materials for easily obtainable housing are to be truly accessible to the common person they must be easy to learn how to assemble. The nature of the materials for building an Earthship must allow for assembling skills to be learned and mastered in a matter of hours–not years. These skills must be basic enough that no specific talent is not require to learn them.”
Helping People Help Themselves through Sustainable Housing
If governments all over the world subsidized these methods of living, people taking care of themselves in zero carbon habitats, instead of subsidized housing and welfare, then we would be giving the gift of life to many–teach a man/woman to fish and they will eat for a lifetime! When people depend on the government for food, we have poor nutrition. People have forgotten how to take care of themselves and to survive without a grocery store, public utilities, ect. How many people can’t pay their mortgages? What if you lose your job? How many people are homeless today? What if there were no grocery stores? I have often asked children this question in my educational curriculum. Most people depend on their government’s economy for existence!
We, as current occupants, are responsible for our planet. “If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterens of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet.” Earthship Biotecture
You don’t need the latest, up to datest–visit your local Habitat for Humanity Restore, look for places being torn down or your local used tire shop for building supplies–think reuse!