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What is an Earthship Home? Amazing Builds Updated 2020

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Thousands of people, at some point during their hectic lives, will sigh and wish for simpler, less frantic times. When the rat-race gets too much, many of us express a desire to go off-grid, to cut off from modern living, and to be more self-sufficient. Often, this wish is fuelled by our concerns about pollution and climate change. Some people manage to find ways of relieving the stresses of everyday life and to make small changes to lessen their impact on the environment.

Others go further, changing the way they live entirely by constructing dwellings that drastically reduce their impact, not only through the materials used but also in the design and daily function. These remarkable houses are known as ‘Earthship homes’.

Why is it called ‘Earthship’?

Consider a spacecraft transporting a crew across the vastness of space. Or even a ship on the ocean, heading out into open water. Before either vessel leaves, they must ensure that everything the crew might need is present. That vessel must provide for all the basic needs of the crew on the journey.

g2 global earthship
g2 global earthship

They must be prepared for all the basic human requirements:

  • Clean water
  • Food
  • Protection from the elements
  • Waste management (to minimize the risk of infection or contamination)
  • An energy source to ensure that the vessel can function

What are Earthship Homes?

This is where the concept of Earthship homes comes from. Using this analogy of a ship, it applies these aspects to the clever design and architecture of homes, hence Earth-ship. It is a structure that offers solutions to all of these issues listed above, working with the environment to create a unique living space that has minimal impact.

Who is Mike Reynolds?

Any discussion on this subject has to start with the architect Michael E. Reynolds. At the very start of the 1970s, Reynolds advocated the use of recycled materials in the construction industry, and he has pushed this belief ever since. Driven by the fact that affordable housing was limited, and that mountains of trash were being accumulated, he sought a solution to both.

Mike Reynolds Earthship

He is often seen as something of a maverick in the industry, challenging the status quo, and testing the licensing laws to the limit. So much so, in fact, that he lost his architect’s license for seventeen years.

Earthship plans with different materials

He began making homes for clients who were looking for something different, using all kinds of trash as building materials; cans, tires, pop bottles, and so on. He became so knowledgeable on the subject that he wrote and published five books about it.

mike reynolds earthship
mike reynolds earthship

Much of his earlier work was experimental – which he stressed at the time – and several problems arose in some of the houses he built. However, dissatisfied clients sued, driving him to depression and financial difficulty.

Mike Reynolds Lectures 2020

In a dramatic change of fortune, he was soon lauded as something of a ‘green prophet’. He had foreseen the need to change our behavior in terms of our impact on the environment long before most others had even considered it. His ideas became sought after, as more people looked for ways to reduce their negative effects on the planet. He was even invited to give lectures at the American Institute of Architects.

Using his knowledge and experience, he developed new homes using modern innovations to create beautiful, sustainable homes – Earthship homes.

How to build an Earthship home

The essence of an Earthship home is this:

  • Built with natural, recycled or upcycled materials
  • Energy is provided through solar panels and wind turbines
  • They coexist with the natural environment, usually built into the earth or with a soil bank to act as thermal mass
  • They are not usually connected to the mains water supply, harvesting their own and filtering it for various uses, including sewage management
  • Many have their own growing space inside (and often outside) for fruit and vegetables etc.

Although these are the basic requirements, these homes can differ widely in shape and style. Many are built to precise specifications, which obviously adds to the cost. Others are standardized, which keeps the cost down but means that the end result will be much simpler. It all comes down to taste and budget.

earthship community home
earthship community home

When it comes to cost, things can get complicated. There are those who keep things simple and tackle the projects themselves, while others will commission a house to be built. Costs will change depending on size, location, climate, design, and a whole host of factors.

How much does an Earthship home cost?

As a general guide, a figure of $225 per square foot is given for an Earthship home built in Taos, New Mexico. A traditionally-built house anywhere in the US, if considered ‘green’, will cost an average $150 per square foot. But when it comes to resale, the projected figure for your Earthship home is $191, making a considerable loss.

This doesn’t take into account, however, the fact that you might not want to sell. Neither does it factor in the savings you will most definitely make on energy costs.

Pros & Cons of EarthShip home

The good points –

  • Waste material will be reused, reducing building costs. Tires packed with earth often form the main part of the outer structure, making a shell that is extremely strong and which provides insulation.
  • Thermal mass keeps an even temperature all year round, making heating and air conditioning unnecessary.
  • Water is harvested from rain (and snow) and is essentially used four times via a series of filters; for bathing, washing, and laundry, then for flushing toilets.
  • Energy supply is essentially free (some homes create a surplus which can sometimes be sold back to the national supply).

The not-so-good points –

  • If not done well, they can be prone to problems, such as leaks and mold.
  • Planning restrictions can be an issue in some locations.
  • Gathering the required materials from dumps can be problematic.

So, the pros of Earthship homes vastly outweigh the cons. Like any home, they may have their problems. But these can be overcome by sensible planning and design. Earthship homes provide a blueprint for a sustainable future for ‘carbon-zero’ house building that all architects would be wise to follow.

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