An Earthship is not just a method of construction, but a radical approach to how you live in relation to nature, energy, and water. As a construction method, the walls are earth-filled tires set into the ground. As a philosophy, Earthships promote energy-independent, cheap construction for the masses.
The History of Earthships
The concept of the Earthship was the visionary idea of architect Michael Reynolds. In 1969, Reynolds moved to Taos, New Mexico, where he began building homes out of the junk he could find lying around. He continues to live today in an Earthship community he founded in the outskirts of Taos.
Reynolds has since written several books on the subject, educating people on how to build their own Earthship homes. Earthships generate their own electricity, collect their own water, and clean their own waste — what people refer to as living “off the grid” (because they’re disconnected from the public utility companies). The low-skill, low-cost idea of living completely off the grid has attracted thousands of eager homeowners looking to build their own homes.
What Earthships Are
Combining passive solar design with a waste material, Earthships are a unique approach to building environmentally friendly homes. If you’re looking to build your own house, an Earthship is an attractive and energy-efficient option.
In reality, Earthship construction is a simplified form of rammed earth. Instead of building elaborate formwork, discarded tires become the form into which you pack the dirt. These earth-filled tires are strong enough to be the foundation and support the roof.
The Earthship is set into the ground and turned toward the sun. Because the house is buried on three sides, it’s well insulated. The side open to the sun is designed to control the sun to allow it in during the winter, and keep it out in the summer. Using these methods, an Earthship heats and cools itself without consuming any fossil fuels.
The roof of an Earthship is typically a green roof (covered in plants), and is used to collect the rainwater (see Chapter 13). The plants on the roof naturally clean the water, which is used in the home.
Most Earthships incorporate solar panels or wind turbines to generate all the electrical needs for the home, making an Earthship a completely self-contained, sustainable home.
The primary building block of an Earthship is of one of the world’s most abundant and troublesome waste products: used automobile tires. Americans throw away nearly 300 million tires each year — nearly one per person. Ten percent of those tires end up in landfills and can be put to good use. In an Earthship, the tires stack up to create 30-inch-thick walls. Because earth is packed into each tire, the walls are structurally stable and have a very high thermal mass, similar to rammed earth.
The assembly of an Earthship (see figure below) is a random assortment of scrap materials and found objects, most of which are dug out of the local landfill. Instead of a traditional foundation, tires are stacked into an excavated trench. Each tire is packed firmly with dirt. The next layer of tires is staggered, like brick, and filled again. ....read more