Earthship: Sustainable Living at Its Best

Earthships, a passive solar approach to architecture is rapidly gaining prominence among those who consider themselves patriots of an earth friendly way of living. The backbone of the structure is old tires, packed with dirt and stacked like a brick wall. This is the thermal mass that maintains a comfortable temperature throughout the year.

Other ecological systems usually found in Earthships are the routing of rain water off the roof into cisterns to provide a source of water where drilling a well may be impossible or too costly to be practical. Photovoltaic panels combined with a wind generator will provide electrical power for the home, and a composting toilet will take care of the waste. With a system to make use of the gray water, indoor gardening can be accomplished without wasting precious clean water.

Most often an Earthship is shaped like a large “U”. Built with the open end of the U facing south to make maximum use of solar energy. Constructed of tires that have been ram filled with earth. Shoveling in the dirt and pounding it in with a sledge hammer, filling it as full as possible. The tires are stacked in a running bond pattern as is done with a brick wall. Earth ships can be built into the side of a hill, or backfilled on the outside to give the look of being built into a hill. The interior walls are finished with adobe, or cement providing a nice surface and leaving the tires hidden within the walls.

Empty aluminum beverage cans are often used to create interior non load baring walls. Stacked on their sides, separated by a layer of cement, when the wall is standing the finished surface is usually stucco. As the interior walls aren’t as much part of the thermal mass, this type of construction will reduce the mass of the walls. Another option is to use cans that have both the top and bottom removed and create a honey-comb affect with your walls.

Mike Reynolds, of Earthship Biotecture, is responsible for this type of architecture with his designing and building these eco-friendly structures since the 1970’s. The main ingredient beyond the obvious dirt, is old tires. With the U.S. having approximately 2 billion on hand, it’s likely a source of free or very low cost tires can be found. The structure to support the roof would be your main material expense.

Roofs can be very heavy as it’s common to use an earth covering and maintain a nice grass cover on your earthship. The process will include two people, one to shovel in the dirt, one scoop at a time. The another person, while standing and straddling the tire, will pound the earth into the tire, working his way around the tire to insure equal distribution as the tire fills. The tires are filled in place as when full they can exceed 300 lbs in weight and be very difficult to move around.

Earthships are currently located in almost every state, and some are even found throughout Europe. With a simple modification to the original plans, using insulation on the outside walls, earthships have been found to be suitable in any climate and have shown to maintain a level of durability that is comparable to more conventional structures. tells of a housing development in Taos New Mexico called Greater World Community where they produce their own power, harvest rain water and treat their own sewage. They also produce their own bio-diesel and produce much of their own food. A fine example of reducing your carbon footprint and conserving the resources of our planet.

More detailed information about the various systems within an Earthship can be found at Wikipedia . Earthships promote a self sustaining lifestyle, able to function very well in isolated areas. Far away from standard utilities, but not lacking any ofl the modern day conveniences we’ve come to expect in this highly technological life we live in the 21 century. Live independently off the grid, have everything you desire and more. What’s more, be kind to the environment while your doing it. The perfect situation.

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