Earthships: Sustainable Off-Grid Living

If someone told you that people live in luxury homes made out of rubbish you may not believe them, but it is true in the case of Earthships.  A style of eco-home that has been gathering quite a lot of media attention lately, an Earthship is a self-sufficient building designed and originally built by environmental architect, or biotect as he calls himself, Michael Reynolds. 

The buildings set sail in the 1970's when Reynolds had the idea of creating a home that would be sustainable by using a mixture of local indigenous materials with recycled waste products that are often scavenged for free.  The buildings would be off the grid and rely on natural energy sources.  He wanted to create a home that was easy to construct, and that the everyday person who had little-to-no construction training would be able to build.  From this, the Earthship was born. 


Earthship walls are very thick because they are made from earthen-packed tires which are excellent at storing heat. They are often collected from waste yards, and it is much better for the environment to use them in a building rather than incinerating them.  The tires are densely packed and weigh roughly 300 pounds each.  Because of this, they are always made on site, and their content being natural sand and soil is also fire proof.  Tires are laid in rows like conventional bricks and a layer of concrete is added that acts both as a binding agent and a structural reinforcement.  

Interior walls are not as thick and are made from tin cans that have are joined together with concrete.  They are light weight and much faster to assemble. Usually these cans are covered in a thick layer of adobe for aesthetic reasons.  

The roof is made of heavily insulated wooden panels. It is important to insulate as much as possible since the house is off the grid and supplies its own heat and cooling. 

Earthships are usually built in a crescent shape to maximize natural light and heat.  It is important to gather as much light as possible as it drastically reduces the power consumption. The buildings are built with the intention of being off the grid and function without the aid of public utilities.  All energy comes from the house including solar panels, wind turbines, and rain water collection that work passively to fuel each ship.  


In most houses, water comes from the city's reservoir or a well.  In an Earthship it comes from harvesting and collecting rain, snow, and condensation.  Slits or channels on the roof move precipitation down into a cistern which cleans and filters the water for human consumption.  This water is used for everything except for toilets.   Toilets are flushed with greywater, or water that has already been used for showering or washing dishes.  Instead of it being wasted, it is cycled back into the toilet.  From the toilet, the water is known as black water and it is sent to a septic tank where it decomposes in the sun, and is later used as fertilizer. 

Earthships have shown us that it is possible to live off the grid and be self-sufficient.  They are now being constructed on six of the seven continents and may vitally contribute to a greener future.  


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About avocado

I am a globe trotting visual artist who is also vegan. I've been living in Bali for the last few years and am currently in back in Canada learning how to stay warm.


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