Build Your Own Earthship: the Ultimate Sustainable Home!
Earthships are growing in popularity around the world and are said to be the ultimate in sustainability – but be warned, they don’t often look like your idea of a typical home!
Chances are, if you asked 10 friends to describe an Earthship, they couldn’t – because the concept is currently little publicised in the UK.
But the Earthship movement is growing around the world, particularly in the United States and in Third World countries.
Truly Sustainable living
So what exactly is an Earthship? Designs can vary massively depending on location but the term Earthship refers to a home built from readily available recycled materials and incorporating alternative energy systems and water catchment.
The most popular material for the external structure in most areas is worn-out vehicle tyres. These are filled with earth, making a virtually indestructible type of “brick”.
Earthship in Olst, The Netherlands
Aluminium drink cans or discarded glass bottles are often used for non-load bearing internal room dividers but often these are covered with a type of “plaster” made from dirt, pebbles and sand on the site.
Earthships make so much sense – and although construction costs are currently similar to a traditional building, there are huge savings to be made over an Earthship’s lifetime in terms of free energy, water and heating.
Earthships also save the energy used in producing new building materials and the construction miles involved in transport of materials.
The first Earthships in the UK were built in Fife in Scotland and in Brighton but neither are homes. The Fife building is a visitor centre and demonstration unit for sustainable methods.
The Brighton Earthship is a Low Carbon Trust project and tours are available on a regular basis. If you are interested in building your own Earthship, the trust also offers courses in self-building an Earthship.
If you want to create a truly sustainable building, then an Earthship home could be for you. It is now possible to buy architectural drawings for homes ranging from one to three bedrooms and there is a wealth of information online, including e-books, that can address any problems you might come up against.
The world’s first known Earthship was build around 40 years ago. Since then, it has undergone many refinements and ecologists describe it as the cutting edge of sustainable building.
One of the most appealing things about an Earthship is that it doesn’t depend on mains water supply and ideally, it should produce all – or most of – its own power for lighting, heating and running appliances.
Since different regions of the world have different weather and water considerations, obviously one size doesn’t fit all so Earthships are designed taking their location into account.
Often, they will be fitted with solar panels and a wind power system to provide electricity and some have multiple energy supplies.
Although water shortages tend to be an inconvenience rather than a life threatening issue in the UK, experts say that the whole planet needs to start thinking about the amount of water it wastes and the environmental consequences of piping water across huge distances.
So it obviously makes sense for us all to not only think about our water use but take steps to harvest our own water whenever possible – and then make sure it is used to its full potential.
In most homes, water is piped in from the local water authority and used only once before being thrown out, whereas Earthships are designed to catch their own water from rain and snow and use it multiple times before it goes back into the earth.
Grow Your Own Too!
Most Earthship designs include indoor growing areas so you can also save on processed and pre-packed foods – thereby saving more money and limiting the use of processing and packing materials. Several years ago, the original creator of Earthships felt that they had reached the perfect model – but then came the financial crisis which has hit the UK and the United States as well as many other countries.
He then decided it was no longer enough to offer an Earthship construction that would cost the same as a traditional home. With most people hit by the credit crunch, it needed to cost less. At the same time, research had shown that people living in Earthships could find themselves feeling isolated from “traditional” communities around them.
The plan for the future is now to look at addressing both the cost and the social issues by building a number of Earthships on a shared piece of land. This would hopefully allow owners to share some of the costs, such as installation of alternative energy and water purification.
It would also build a neighbourhood, so instead of feeling like “outcasts” from traditional society, like minded people could socialise and share their eco-experiences and tips.
The Earthship Brighton public tour approaching to the earthship.
General Information about Earthships
What is an Earthship?
An Earthship is a type of passive solar house that is made of both natural and upcycled materials such as earth-packed tires, designed to operate autonomously and is known for being environmentally friendly.
Q: What is the downside of Earthships? A: The downsides of Earthships can include high initial building costs, the need for specific climates to be most effective, potential for regulatory hurdles due to non-traditional building techniques, and the need for ongoing maintenance of natural systems.
Q: How much does it cost to build an Earthship in the UK? A: The cost to build an Earthship in the UK can vary widely depending on the size, design complexity, and materials used but can range from £70,000 to several hundred thousand pounds.
Q: Can you build Earthship UK? A: Yes, Earthships can be built in the UK, and there are examples and communities around the country. However, they must comply with building regulations, and planning permission is required.
Q: Are Earthships affordable? A: Earthships can be more affordable in the long term due to their energy efficiency and low utility costs. The upfront cost may be higher than traditional homes due to specialized materials and labor, but they can save money over time.
Q: Are Earthships the future? A: Earthships represent a sustainable and eco-friendly approach to living that could be part of the future, particularly for those looking to reduce their environmental impact and live off-grid.
Q: Where are Earthships most common? A: Earthships are most common in the United States, especially in the state of New Mexico where the concept originated, but they are found worldwide, from Australia to Europe, in regions where sustainable living is pursued.
Q: Are Earthships viable? A: Earthships are viable as sustainable housing solutions for those who seek to minimize their ecological footprint and are prepared for the lifestyle adjustments required for living in such homes.
Q: Why build an Earthship? A: People build Earthships to reduce their environmental impact, to achieve self-sufficiency in terms of utilities and food, and to create a sustainable, cost-effective living space.
Q: Why are Earthships sustainable? A: Earthships are sustainable because they are designed to utilize natural resources such as solar energy and rainwater, incorporate recycled materials in construction, and often include greenhouses for food production, reducing the inhabitants’ reliance on external resources.
Earthship Construction and Design
Q: Can you build Earthship UK? A: Yes, it is possible to build an Earthship in the UK, but it requires obtaining the proper planning permissions, and the design must comply with UK building regulations.
Q: What is the construction method of the Earthship? A: The construction method of an Earthship involves using natural and recycled materials, such as earth-rammed tires, cans, and bottles. It incorporates thermal mass construction for temperature stabilization and often includes renewable energy sources.
Q: What materials are needed for an Earthship? A: Materials needed for an Earthship typically include discarded tires, aluminum cans, glass bottles, local earth, cement, and reclaimed wood, among others.
Q: Who is the famous builder of the Earthship? A: The famous builder of the Earthship is Michael Reynolds, an architect who pioneered the Earthship movement in the 1970s in Taos, New Mexico.
Q: What is the main building material of Earthships? A: The main building material of Earthships is usually old automobile tires filled with compacted earth, which are used to create the walls and foundation.
Q: What are the six principles of Earthships? A: The six principles of Earthships include:
- Thermal/solar heating and cooling
- Solar and wind electricity
- Contained sewage treatment
- Built with natural and recycled materials
- Water harvesting
- Food production
Q: Is it hard to build an Earthship? A: Building an Earthship can be labor-intensive and requires specific knowledge of its design principles, but it is not necessarily harder than building a conventional home. It may be a challenge to source the necessary materials and adhere to local building codes.
Q: How long does it take to build an Earthship home? A: The time it takes to build an Earthship home can vary greatly depending on the scale of the project, availability of materials, and labor. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Q: What is the difference between an earthbag and an Earthship? A: An earthbag is a building technique using bags filled with earth to construct walls, whereas an Earthship is a fully integrated sustainable home that uses earth-rammed tires and other recycled materials and includes systems for energy, sewage, and food production. Earthbag is a building material, while an Earthship is a holistic building concept.
Cost and Affordability of Earthships
Typical costs associated with building and owning an Earthship
Q: What are the typical costs of building an Earthship in the UK, and how do they compare to traditional houses and eco-houses in terms of upfront and long-term expenses?
A: Building an Earthship in the UK can vary in cost, typically ranging from £70,000 to several hundred thousand pounds, depending on its size and complexity, as well as local labor and material costs. Compared to traditional houses, Earthships usually have a higher upfront cost due to their specialized sustainable materials and labor. However, they are designed to be highly sustainable with minimal running costs, offering potential long-term affordability through significant savings on utilities like electricity, water, and reduced heating and cooling expenses.
When compared to traditional eco-houses, Earthships provide a different value proposition. While eco-houses focus on energy efficiency and sustainable materials, Earthships aim for near-complete autonomy from public utilities and a minimal carbon footprint. This can justify their higher initial investment. Their long-term affordability stems from features like solar power, rainwater harvesting, and on-site sewage treatment, leading to reduced living costs over time.
However, the market for Earthships is relatively niche, affecting their resale value and market demand, which can be less predictable than conventional eco-houses. Therefore, potential builders and buyers should consider these aspects when evaluating the overall affordability and investment value of an Earthship in the UK.
Sustainability and Living Experience