Earthship Amazing

Never seen an Earthship? Prepare yourself to be amazed.

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How super cool is this? Photo credit: By Biodiesel33 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)] via Wikimedia Commons

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Nearly 100% self-sufficient, earthship designs include systems for highly efficient management of water, energy, waste and climate control. Not to mention space for growing food and plants. Photo credit: “Earthship Zwolle” by Erik Wannee – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons.

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At Earthship Biotecture just outside of Taos, NM, designers, builders and permaculturists led by the original earthship architect, Michael Reynolds, continue to push the boundaries of sustainable design.

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Yes, this is an earthship too. Photo credit: Earthship_Exterior_emortagages.com

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A three-story earthship that includes a cafe on the first floor.

Michael Reynolds began designing “radically sustainable” homes in a community just outside of Taos in 1971. Since then, his innovative, self-sufficient whimsically designed Earthships have cropped up around the world. Not only does the Earthship model find five ways to re-use captured rainwater, it utilizes both the sun and the earth to help regulate interior temperatures, utilizes discarded items like tires, bottles and cans as building materials, treats sewage and even incorporates growing food and beautiful plants. Ingenious, gorgeous and sustainable. I was completely bowled over and in awe.

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Far from spartan troglodyte dwellings, earthship interiors can be dazzling. Photo credit: “Interior of the Solaria Earthship” by Domenico, Karena – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

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Yes, that is an 8 foot tall stalk of Lacinato kale growing in an earthship. Next to a giant tomato plant which still has loads of fruit. At 7,000 feet. In November.

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Earthship Brighton interior. Photo credit: http://chesterfieldpagans.org/

The face of an Earthship is basically a windowed corridor, much like a greenhouse. (In our hemisphere, this is south-facing.) During the colder months, when the sun is low in the sky, the sunlight enters the windows, heating up the greenhouse. In this space, you can grow all manner of fruits and vegetables using recycled greywater. On the inside of the greenhouse corridor are the living spaces – spacious, stylish and temperate. Many of the interior walls are built using empty cans and bottles. Sometimes these are arranged in a pattern and allowed to show through, creating a whimsical effect. The roof hosts a rainwater catchment system, multiple solar panels and several vents and skylights that help with cooling and lighting. The back wall of the house is constructed of recycled automobile tires filled with rammed earth. On the inside, all of the walls are finished in smooth, inexpensive adobe. On the outside, the back wall of the house is covered in sloped earth, otherwise known as a berm, providing additional thermal mass.

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Greenhouse “corridor”.

Earthship Biotecture Global model showcase house

Earthships routinely use bottles and cans as building materials, turning trash into multi-functional design elements.

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Earthship water usage diagram. Illustration credit: http://4walls4all.wordpress.com/

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Photos illustrate how the earthship roof collects a maximum amount of rainwater which is then stored in an interior cistern.

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The roof also hosts a solar panel array making most earthships energy independent.

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It’s so warm inside an earthship’s greenhouse that tropical plants can grow in Taos in November when the average daily low is 21 F and the high is 51 F.

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The chilly maw of Mammoth Cave, KY.

When we were in Kentucky, we visited Mammoth Caves, one of my very favorite places on our trip. These extraordinary caverns are the largest mapped cave system on the planet with over 400 miles of explored caves. The entrance to the main cavern lies in a gully, surrounded by towering green sentinels of oak, cedar and hickory. As you walk down the steps you feel the chill, as if a giant’s maw had frosty breath. Once inside, the temperature is always just about 55 degrees F. I had no idea, but wherever you go on the planet, just beneath the surface, it’s the same. 55 degrees. All the time.

Using that steady 55 degrees, you can regulate the temperature of various types of structures. Getting hot in the Earthship? Open the vents on the berm side of the house and then the skylight vents. Hot air exits from the ceiling bringing cold, 55 degree air in from the earth. Getting too cold? Close those vents and make sure you’re getting maximum flow from the warmer greenhouse side. Certainly, these are not new concepts and techniques, but Reynolds has spent decades developing the various systems that work within the Earthship design to make it as self-sufficient as possible while at the same time providing modern conveniences and style.

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Sun-earth climate control. Illustration credit: “Convection banner 1” by Amzi Smith – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Can’t wait to build one right? First, visit the Earthship Biotecture website and then check out some of the books:

How to Build a Global Model Earthship Operation I: Tire Work

How to Build a Global Model Earthship Operation II: Concrete Work

Earthship: Evolution Beyond Economics, Vol. 3

And let me know when you are ready to break ground. JC and I will be there in a flash.

Next up… a primer on thermal mass.

About Anastasia King Jaress

Anastasia is a former media producer who hit the road to sustainability in April 2013 with her husband JC and Mattie, the dog. She writes about food, community, sustainability, travel, family and the myriad questions that boggle them.

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3 Responses to Earthship Amazing

  1. matthew swaye July 26, 2014 at 6:46 PM #

    Dear Anastasia,

    My partner and I are going to be in NM shortly to start building on a quarter acre we grabbed for a dollar. It’s going to be a walipini greenhouse of a time to start, and we’re welcoming helping hands.

    We’re building a website now to launch the project properly and would like to feature/link to your amazing earthship page.

    That kale pic is nuts. 🙂

    Eternal Optimism,
    Matthew

    • Anastasia King Jaress July 26, 2014 at 9:06 PM #

      Wow, that’s amazing! Where in NM?

      And yes please, link back to our site.

      One farm in NY we visited was planning on building a walpini. Im not sure where they are at in the process, but if you’re looking to connect with people who’ve actually built one. Id be happy to put you in touch.

      “When one door closes, another opens.” Right?

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