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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
This site is the Earthship home.
Follow an owner builder on his Earthship journey.
This site follows the building of an Earthship Bed
and Breakfast on Vancouver Island. They also offer
affordable plans and consultation.