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Earthship

What is an Earthship?
An Earthship is a home designed by architect Michael Reynolds for "sustainable living". It is designed to positively impact the environment from the building process through occupancy. The idea is that every thing (or most things) that you need for independent sustainable living are created or provided by systems within the Earthship.
     It is built with discarded materials such as tires and metal cans. It is designed to be built "off the grid". "Off the grid" means that the house doesn't need to be hooked up to Utilities. No city water, electricity, gas or sewer are needed. The roof catches water that is then stored in large cisterns, solar cells provide electricity, solar windows catch suns rays to provide passive solar heat and light for growing vegetables. The plumbing system is designed to reuse gray water. Gray water from showers, sinks is filtered through vegetable planters and then reused in toilets. Black water from toilets is directed to a septic system outside then used for growing plants outdoors.

Advantages of Earthships
Earthships have many advantages. As previously mentioned, the Earthship can be built "off the grid" (no municipal electricity, sewer, gas or telephone). This allows the house to be built almost anywhere. Property "off the grid" is usually much cheaper than developed property. Of course you won't have to pay for water, sewer, gas or electric either. You also know that you are helping the environment by reusing old materials, conserving utilities, water, and saving trees.

Disadvantages of the Earthship
The Earthships are not for everyone. To live without utilities (utilities can be used for back-up if available or full time if you are in the grid) means a drastic change in lifestyle. Power, and water use must be conserved. Solar cells really aren't efficient enough to provide enough electricity for all the modern conveniences. You won't be able to run a shop, you probably won't be able to run a dishwasher, and a clothes dryer is not going to be practical.
      The style of the Earthship is futuristic but it is limited by the saying that "form follows function". In order to work correctly, (earthships are fairly technical) the Earthship must be buried in the ground, south facing (for passive solar) and have the same basic floor plan.
One of the Earthship touted selling points is affordable living for everyone. The reality is that Earthships are not cheap. The major disadvantages of earthships is the upfront cost and future resale value. Expect to pay upwards of $110 per square foot for the privilege of living in an Earthship. Many environmental conscious people like to owner build, making the cost per square foot $50-60.
The bearing walls of an Earthship are constructed of old car tires. The tires are filled with earth and compacted with a sledge hammer. Thousands of tires must be filled to created the bearing walls. This prohibits all but the most physically fit owner builder from doing the "tire pounding" which is a major expense of the Earthship. The plans are not cheap. For a 1500 sq. foot plans expect to pay a couple of thousand dollars for the plans alone.
     What about resale value? There is probably not enough evidence to make a sound judgment on resale but the news is probably not good. Most people don't build earthships to make money, it is a lifestyle decision.
Finally, many building inspectors and city officials will look at you skeptically when you bring the Earthship plans to be approved. Even though the Earthship is engineered to be structurally sound, and conform to building codes, convincing the local building officials is your job, and it may not be easy.

Conclusions
Earthships are unique, if you are environmentally conscious, and want to live "off the grid" they are perhaps one of the few real choices. However, drastic changes in lifestyle is required to live in an Earthship. You can rent an Earthship for a week to see if you like the experience. There are several Earthships that can be rented in and around Taos, New Mexico so you can try before you build.

Here are some useful links about Earthships:

www.earthship.org
This site is the Earthship home.

www.sanjuancountry.com/personalpage/ridgway.html
Follow an owner builder on his Earthship journey.

www.3rdmill.org
This site follows the building of an Earthship Bed and Breakfast on Vancouver Island. They also offer affordable plans and consultation.

 

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