Earthships are the brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds. He has been developing the concept of these self-sustaining buildings since the 1970s. Since the turn of the century they have been built in nearly every continent in the world. They are particularly attractive in the current economic climate due to their potential independence from power grids. This means that one can be free from utilities bills. Another advantage of Earthships is that they are carbon neutral as they are made from locally sourced and recycled materials as well as generating their own heat and water.
The construction and design of Earthships follow certain guidelines to make them functional and sustainable. Michael Reynolds established the design principles of Earthships, which are followed in their construction. Earthships have six design principles that go into their design and structure. These are:
- Thermal and solar heating/cooling.
- Solar and wind electricity.
- Contained sewage treatment.
- Natural and recycled materials used to build.
- Water harvesting from rainwater, condensation and snow.
- Food production through greenhouses and vegetable gardens.
In simpler terms these break down to a number of ecologically sound ideas.
The generation of electricity is mostly photovoltaic. Solar panels gather solar radiation which is converted into electricity and supplied to the sockets of the building. Earthships must be south facing in order to optimise this. Electricity can be additionally supplied from wind turbines. Excess electricity is stored in deep cycle batteries within the building. One of the main advantages of Earthships is their harbouring of natural resources to keep sustained and this includes their electricity. Earthship owners can choose to live off the power grid or keep a grid inter-tie. The latter is potentially advantageous to owners of Earthships if they generate an excess of electricity as they can sell it to electricity companies. In Britain one can do this through the Feed in Tariff scheme.
Water is collected from the local atmosphere surrounding the Earthship. The use of water is particularly inventive in these buildings. As the water is collected it is filtered and contained in a water tank which additionally purifies it. After this process the water funnels into a tank that allows it to function as it would in a regular building with a normal water pressure. Water used in sinks and showers is then reused in toilets to maximise it efficiency. This “grey water” does not have an aroma and is fine for flushing toilets. This water is fed into a septic tank, which is solar heated, with a line out to a typical leach field.
Thermal mass is an essentially design principle of these buildings. The north facing wall is literally grounded into the surrounding landscape which keeps the building’s temperature protected from outside elements. The use of earth packed tyres in the construction of walls lends itself to thermal mass as it helps retain the inner temperature of the building. Tyres can be obtained quite cheaply and help to keep down the amount collecting in landfill sites all over the world. In some cases they can be free or you can even be paid to take them away. Thermal mass allows the building to absorb outside warmth when the weather is hot and expel heat in the opposite circumstance. It helps keep the internal temperature pleasant for the inhabitants. For additional heating wood burning fires are installed in the majority of Earthships as they provide heat sustainably.
The aesthetic design of these buildings is easy to mould to your own personal tastes. Existing Earthships range from the futuristic to the classic. Soda cans and glass bottles incorporated into walls make intriguing and beautiful rooms.
In this picture on the right glass bottles have been wound into a circle around the window allowing in light in a extremely interesting and visually pleasing manner. If you would like to try out an Earthship without the full commitment you can rent them for month long stays in several parts of the world. A couple of Earthships are even being used as bed and breakfasts so you can relax even further during your stay in one. Alternatively you can apply for an internship with the Earthships company learning the principles and putting them into practice. If you would like to discover more about these wonderful buildings please browse the links below.
Author Corinne Kemp
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