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Earthships: 100% Sustainable, Inexpensive Off-Grid Homes Made From Recycled Materials (Video)

Residences and other types of buildings directly impact the environment as a result of the construction process, the design features and the types of materials used. In the past, traditional homes have negatively impacted the environment while continuing to contribute to greenhouse gas through energy usage and heating and cooling. As a result, sustainable building is becoming more popular around the world as future homeowners seek to reduce their carbon footprint.

Earthship homes are 100-percent sustainable homes that are inexpensive to construct and incredible to live in. They boast numerous amenities not found in other sustainable building styles. Earthships started taking shape during the 1970s when Michael Reynolds was seeking a home that used indigenous materials, relied on natural energy and would be feasible for the average person to construct. His vision become a u-shaped home that kicked off the Earthship movement.

Most buildings are horseshoe-shaped to maximize the amount of natural light and solar gains during the colder months. Windows in the home face the sun to admit light and heat. The walls are thick and dense due to the tires used to provide thermal mass that regulates the interior temperature naturally. The tire-based walls are strengthened with concrete inside of the tires and half concrete blocks.

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(image: Mark Stephenson/Flickr CC)

Earth-rammed tires are assembled by teams of two with one member shoveling dirt into the tire and the other using a sledgehammer to pack the dirt in. These tires can weigh up to 300 pounds so they are commonly made at the construction location. Since the tire is packed with soil, it will not burn when exposed to fire.

The top of the tire walls contain concrete bond beams that are constructed from recycled cans and bonded by concrete. These are connected to the tire walls using concrete anchors. Non-bearing walls are constructed from a honeycombed shape of recycled cans known as tin can walls that are also joined by concrete. The roof is made from trusses that rest on tin can walls placed on the beams. The roof and all other walls, except the windows facing south, are heavily insulated to maintain the internal temperature.

Benefits of Earthships


Earthship near Taos, New Mexico (image: Lisa Haneberg/Flickr CC)

One of the greatest draws of an Earthship home is its ability to sustain comfortable temperatures. From freezing cold temperatures to blistering climates, Earthships hover around 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. This is due to the solar heat stored in thermal mass (tires filled with dirt), which is the basis of the Earthship structure. The thermal mass operates as a heat sink, absorbing heat when the interior cools and insulating when the interior needs warmth. 

Amenities and Energy

When most people hear the word sustainable, they think primitive housing that is removed from 21st-century comforts. Until the Earthship home model, the majority of sustainable solutions have fit this description. 

Most of the materials used to construct an Earthship are recycled. The walls above the tires are constructed with plastic and glass bottles set inside of concrete. In developing nations, these bottles can be gathered from the street to help clean up the neighborhood and build a house.

With solar panels lining the roof and wind turbines in the backyard, the Earthship home allows you to collect electricity the natural way, from the sun and the wind. This will ensure that you are never short of power and eliminates the cost of buying energy from the utility company.

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(image: Andrew Stenning/Flickr CC)

With one or two onsite greenhouses that can grow crops throughout the year, regardless of the climate, you can feed yourself with plants that grow inside your home. For a regular source of eggs, construct a chicken coop on your property.

In addition to the money saved on monthly utility bills, Earthships are significantly cheaper than traditional homes. If you have the capability to build the house yourself, the most basic Earthship models start at around $20,000 with more glamorous models running $70,000 or more depending on your decorative preferences. With these low costs, Earthships fit almost every budget.

Using printed plans with no previous knowledge, you can construct a three-story Earthship in as little as three months. There is no need to hire professional assistance or purchase expensive tools. Simply following the printed plans with basic tools and you can have a sustainable home in as little as a quarter of a year.

The water recycling system is another incredible feat of engineering. Even the most arid climates can deliver enough water for daily use using a rain-harvesting system. The roof funnels rain water to the cistern, which pumps it into the sink and shower. The greywater is then pumped into the greenhouse to water the plants, which clean the water and pump it back into the bathroom for toilet use. After this water is flushed, it is now considered black water and pumped into the garden to provide nutrients to the non-edible landscape.

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Inside Earthship: Garden and graywater purifier (image: Terry Weaver/Flickr CC)

Watch a video about Earthships:

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