What Is An Earthship Home & How Can I Build One?
If you are interested in sustainable design and in reducing your reliance on public utilities, you might be interested in building or buying an Earthship.
In fact, we are living in a time when the Earthship has the potential not only to save us money and protect the environment, but to help us survive the devastating effects of climate change.
In this guide, we are going to introduce you to the concept of an Earthship and tell you a bit more about their history.
We will then go over their benefits and what you need to know about building your own Earthship. Let’s dive in.
What is an Earthship?
“Earthship” is a very specific phrase referring to a particular type of construction invented by architect Michael Reynolds.
As explained by Earthship Biotecture, “Earthship is a type of house built with natural and recycled materials with energy conservation in mind. It is designed to produce water, electricity and food for its own use.”
Reynolds first came up with the idea for Earthships in the 1970s. The homes have a recognizable U-shape, and are designed to be as self-sufficient as possible.
That is the reason for the name “Earthship.” If one is taking a journey on a ship, whether in space or over the sea, that ship must be as self-contained as possible, allowing its passengers or crew to survive long durations without stopping at port.
You will not be literally in motion in your Earthship, but the basic idea is the same. You should not need to make many stops at figurative “ports” to see to your needs. The very design of your home will do it for you as you live out your life journey on the Earth.
9 Reasons To Build Your Own Earthship Home
Earthships offer many outstanding benefits. Let’s go over the advantages of this off-the-grid home building style now.
1. Build your own home easily out of recycled materials.
Building an Earthship is really straightforward. The technical knowledge required is minimal, the steps are easy to understand, and you do not require much in the way of specialized tools or equipment.
If you are determined, you may be able to handle the entire process of constructing your own home using Earthship design. Even if you are not up to doing the whole thing yourself, you probably can still take care of at least some of the work, significantly reducing the cost of construction.
Either way, it does not take long to finish building an Earthship. Many people are able to finish their structures inside of just a few months.
As for the materials you need, you will discover that the bulk are simply dirt and old tires. You may even be able to reclaim the tires from a junkyard at no cost.
Note that although tires are the traditional building material, you can go with simple alternatives. Earth bags are a great example.
Combined, these benefits bring sustainable living within reach of a wide range of budgets. You do not need to be wealthy to live in an Earthship.
2. Get off the grid and live under your own power.
For a home to qualify as a functional Earthship, it needs to incorporate sustainable solutions for energy so that it can function off the grid if necessary.
Usually, solar panels or windmills are used to harvest energy. To simplify the energy setup, Earthship Biotecture offers a prefabricated Power Organizing Module (POM). You can use the POM to invert the energy you store so you can power home appliances.
With solar or wind power, you will be saving money on electricity every year. But arguably even more important is reducing your reliance on the grid.
Major power blackouts have become increasingly common due to climate change and the extreme highs and lows and temperatures we are seeing around the world.
A blackout under such circumstances is not just inconvenient. It can be life-threatening.
If you are using wind or solar power, it is possible that your energy system will continue to function even if the grid goes down.
That means that you and your family and pets can stay safe during extreme conditions.
3. Reduce your use of heating and cooling.
Not only can you lean on solar or wind power to heat or cool your home if necessary, but thanks to the construction and design of an Earthship, you may not even need to heat or cool your house.
The reason is a concept called “thermal mass.” Basically, the walls of your Earthship contain a lot of dirt. This has a regulating effect on the interior temperature of your home.
As explained here, “In mixed climates that require heating in winter and cooling in summer, high thermal mass can help to passively heat and cool your home at low cost.”
The site continues, “In winter, thermal mass can absorb heat during the day from direct sunlight. It re-radiates this warmth back into the home throughout the night … In summer, thermal mass can be used to keep the home cool. If the sun is blocked from reaching the mass (for example, with shading), the mass will instead absorb warmth from inside the home. You can then allow cool breezes and convection currents to pass over the thermal mass overnight to draw out the stored energy.”
The orientation of your home as well as the specific features you incorporate will impact the effectiveness of the thermal mass system in maintaining comfortable temperatures.
Also, while an Earthship may have an average temperature of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit inside over the course of a year, there are fluctuations above and below that.
So, will it be perfectly comfortable with zero need to heat or cool 100% of the time? Probably not. But the thermal mass will go a long way toward regulating temperatures passively.
That means you should not need to run heating and cooling as often, or for as long a time during the day. You also may be able to run them at reduced power levels. Your heater and air conditioner should be able to function more efficiently as well, reducing stress on your HVAC system.
As a result, your HVAC appliances should last longer with less need for maintenance.
As with reducing your reliance on the grid, decreasing your need to use electricity to keep your home a livable temperature is a big deal as we confront climate change.
4. Grow your own food and collect your own water.
Another thing you can reduce while living in an Earthship is trips to the grocery store. Earthship Biotecture explains, “Earthship wetlands, the planters that hold hundreds of gallons of water from sinks and the shower are a great place for raising some of the fresh produce you’d like to have in the winter, but find expensive or bland tasting from the supermarket. Grow your own food. Earthships use interior greenhouses for treatment of grey water, as well as to grow food and enhance the natural beauty of the home.”
Additionally, water catchment systems integrated into Earthships allow you to use precipitation for drinking, washing clothes, showering and more.
5. Save toward retirement.
In today’s economy, many people wonder if it will even be possible for them to save enough for retirement. If you are living in an Earthship, think about all the money you will save on electricity, food, and water. It could add up to thousands of dollars a year.
Over the course of decades, savings like that can be life-changing, and might even be able to allow you to retire when you get older.
6. Reduce your carbon footprint.
When you consume less energy through the grid, you decrease your negative impact on the environment.
This is a major benefit of an Earthship because we are living at a time when this is absolutely essential for our survival as a species.
NASA writes, “The effects of human-caused global warming are happening now, are irreversible on the timescale of people alive today, and will worsen in the decades to come.”
The World Health Organization says, “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.” WHO adds, “Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity.”
Living in an Earthship means you will be doing your part to help put the brakes on this crisis.
7. Live more comfortably through climate change.
In 2021, a record temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit struck the Arctic. The message is clear. Due to climate change, there is no place on earth that is guaranteed to be temperate over the years to come. Even locations known for extreme cold are experiencing extreme heat waves.
Anything you can do to prepare yourself to live through these increasingly inhospitable temperature fluctuations is important. With its high thermal mass and passive temperature regulation, an Earthship may be ideal.
8. Herald in a greener future.
In fact, society as a whole is going to be forced to adapt to climate change or perish. So, it could well be that Earthships represent the shape of things to come. By building one of your own, you are leading the way toward a more sustainable way of life.
9. Earthships are beautiful.
Last but not least, Earthships are aesthetically attractive. They feature more curved surfaces than most traditional houses, giving them a more organic look.
Plus, it is easy to customize their shapes and features during construction. So, you can create an Earthship that expresses your personality in a unique way.
How to Build an Earthship
If you want to try building your own Earthship, here are the basic steps involved.
1. Start by preparing the site. Once it is ready for construction, you can mark the perimeter of the structure.
2. Now that you have some guidance in place, you can begin building. Start putting your tires down.
3. Once you have the first layer of tires in place for the walls, pack them with dirt.
4. Put down your next line of tires on top of the previous line of tires to start building the walls upward. You need to stagger them so that each pair of tires below meets directly in the middle of the hole of a tire above. As you do this, make sure that you sandwich something between the layers. Otherwise, when you fill the second layer of tires, the dirt will just go right through the holes.
5. Fill the second layer of tires.
6. Continue building upward, adding more layers of tires and filling them, until you have reached the height you desire for the walls.
7. There are going to be gaps between your tires in the walls. You need to fill these in. You can use more soil for this, or go with other materials or objects if you prefer.
8. Wrap the walls in chicken wire.
9. Now it is time to coat the walls in a material of your choice. You can go with adobe, stucco, etc. Each material has its pros and cons.
10. You can pretty much take whatever approach you want with the roof. There are a wide variety of possibilities worth exploring.
11. Incorporate vents and other features as you go along, and then finish the interior walls. You also can put in flooring.
Of course, this is only the most basic presentation of the steps involved in building an Earthship. The overall process is simple and straightforward, but there are many details you need to account for during construction. So, you will need to obtain an in-depth guide before you proceed.
You also will need to consider regulations for your area before you get started. Make sure that your building will be within code, and that you obtain any necessary permits and approvals.
Build Your Earthship Now
Are you ready to move into an eco house of tomorrow?
With recycled materials, simple building plans, and a few months of hard work, you could build your very own Earthship. There are also plenty of beautiful Earthships for sale.