Build Your Own Earthship: the Ultimate Sustainable Home!

Build Your Own Earthship: the Ultimate Sustainable Home!

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

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.

UK Earthships

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.

Self Sufficient

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.

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:

  1. Thermal/solar heating and cooling
  2. Solar and wind electricity
  3. Contained sewage treatment
  4. Built with natural and recycled materials
  5. Water harvesting
  6. 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

Q: What are the sustainability features of Earthships, and how do they contribute to the vision of future housing? A: Earthships incorporate solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and use of recycled materials like earth-rammed tires and glass bottles, reducing ecological footprint and promoting self-sufficiency. They represent a future housing model focused on environmental harmony, reducing reliance on external resources, and minimizing waste.

Q: How practical and livable are Earthships for everyday life, and what are their ecological benefits? A: Earthships offer practicality in energy efficiency and resource utilization, presenting a sustainable living option. They are designed for off-grid living, with systems for power, water, and waste. Ecologically, they benefit by reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact, though they require adapting to a more self-sustained lifestyle.

Q: In what environments do Earthships perform best, and what are the key factors for their viability? A: Earthships perform best in areas with ample sunlight for solar energy harvesting. Viability factors include climate suitability, material availability, and local regulations. Adapting to local conditions is essential for energy and temperature efficiency.

Q: What challenges and drawbacks may one face when living in an Earthship, including underground aspects and sensory experiences? A: Challenges include the maintenance of natural systems and lifestyle adaptations compared to conventional housing. Drawbacks might involve humidity control, especially in underground sections, and potential unusual smells from natural sewage treatments.

Q: How do Earthships ensure safety and resilience, particularly regarding natural disasters and fire? A: Earthships are designed for resilience using earth-rammed tires and natural materials, offering robustness against natural disasters. Fire resistance varies based on materials, but their design generally provides some fire protection. Compliance with local safety and building codes is vital for ensuring overall safety and resilience.


  1. Suzy May 19, 2015 at 12:00 am

    I live in Bournemouth, which is a very conservative place, how easy does it tend to be to get planing permission for earthships? I need to stay close by for work, also, the cost seems to vary, what would a typical 2 bedroom cost to build? Thanks, Suzy

  2. SustainableBuild May 22, 2015 at 12:00 am

    @Suzy. Planning departments/committees are surprisingly receptive to sustainable projects and will discuss with you the best way to get your project approved. There will undoubtedly be lots of conditions as to the appearance etc. Why not talk to your local planning officer, they’ll be very helpful.

  3. kyky July 7, 2015 at 12:00 am

    Pleaaaase send me details i must be involved in learning all therw is to know about earthships and want to build!!

  4. Jacob April 10, 2016 at 12:00 am

    I’ve only seen videos of these being built in dry climates where they build directly onto the dry ground. What changes need to be made for damper climates such as our own. Is there a need for conventional foundations and or waterproof membranes? Is there a problem with packing tyres full of damper earth? Can Earthships be built into the Earth as they are sometimes in drier climates or should the remain entirely above ground

  5. denise May 25, 2016 at 12:00 am

    My daughter has recently moved in to a small holding in County Durham. She has found a heap of at least 70 tyres. She is reluctant to take them to the tip. Are there any earthship projects in the north east that could use them? thanks.

  6. SustainableBuild May 27, 2016 at 12:00 am
    denise – Your Question:
    My daughter has recently moved in to a small holding in County Durham. She has found a heap of at least 70 tyres. She is reluctant to take them to the tip. Are there any earthship projects in the north east that could use them? thanks.

    Our Response:

    Hopefully someone will be able to help you. If you contact your local council, they’ll be able to offer advice on how to dispose of them in the most environmentally friendly way.

  7. Ollie July 17, 2016 at 12:00 am

    How is it for planning permission in the UK? Could it be got round by opening livestock?

  8. Goatdeath September 2, 2016 at 12:00 am

    Hoping to one day buy a plot of land and do something like this. I saw another idea of using large long bags for filling with earth as opposed to tyres. Looked good.

  9. Andrew November 22, 2016 at 12:00 am

    I’m trying to launch a self build project of 12 Earthships in South Wales. It’s mainly aimed at homeless or in difficulty families. It’ll not be a community building but 12 separate dwellings. I have Shelter on board, have a few housing associations I’m talking to about giving up land, just need an experienced architect. Any ideas? Thanks

  10. Jojo January 3, 2017 at 12:00 am

    what are the chances of local planners allowing to build an earth shop extension to an old building (former school now a community centre) we want to do more eco friendly projects and have an ambition project that we’re planning on to start our our growing/gardening centre on a piece of land near our facility that’s currently waste land! The real question is! Can we build a tyre for wall as a structure and would the exterior wall need to be back filled? What type of external cladding could be used? It’s probably not your usual request for information but aft r watching the grand designs south of France project. I think it’s highly possible to create a building/extension that we need with recyclable materials for commercial use! You thoughts and guidance would be very much appricated. Joanna

  11. Chris January 28, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Any one had any luck getting planning on the global earthship or any earthship in the U.K. To live in I know of one in Scotland and one in Brighton but know ones living them

  12. zebedy February 10, 2017 at 12:00 am

    @andrew looking for an architecht theres a girl in the pembrokeshire area allison fletcher i think its under fletchers architecual design id advise you conteact here she is experienced in both earth ship and conservation wgich most of south wales is.

  13. Shack April 11, 2017 at 12:00 am

    I really want to do one of these to but have no idea where to start and no money so just dreaming at the moment. perhaps if i start saving now I’ll be ready to go in 30 years time :-/

  14. Riti May 8, 2017 at 12:00 am

    I am interested in sustainable design for rear/kitchen extension and a sound insolated garden house. Where can I get advice and design (architects).

  15. rb46uk June 14, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Last time I looked at this, (couple years ago) it was illegal in UK to bury used tyres in the ground. (A badly written law designed to stop used tyres going into landfill). Is this still a problem in the UK or has the law been tweaked to allow for sustainable bulids from reuseable materials?

  16. JolieBouy July 10, 2017 at 12:00 am


  17. Ryan August 13, 2017 at 12:00 am

    How is the project going Andrew? :) I would love to help

  18. Lilly February 27, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Would love to build an earth ship but I don’t even know where to start. I have no land and am disabled so only hubby could help is it just a pipe dream or is it possible

  19. Trev March 30, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Hi Everyone, has anyone in the UK been able to build a earthship in the UK? i would love to build one to live in if possible, but still cannot get a clear answer if you are allowed?

  20. Char April 3, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I would love to build one in the UK as well. I’m not sure you have to have the tyres buried, but I may be wrong…

  21. Howie April 22, 2020 at 12:00 am

    How easy is it to get consent to build in France? I’m falling in love with this idea and remember seeing one for the first time on grand designs. It was in France if I remember rightly. Surely it cant be to hard as the rural properties already have septic tanks. And and earthship can help prevent sewage leaching into the land and water course.

  22. Mrs Bean April 28, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I am trying to find like minded enthusiasts who would be interested in getting and earthship UK group together, to pool knowledge and research. We are currently in Suffolk.

  23. Natalie April 28, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Is there any way we can be put in touch with other families who are interested in a sustainable living community project? I am interested not only in the earth-ship dwelling concept, but also in a property that can produce sufficient food and energy to be self sustaining, environmentally friendly and to leave something worth while for future generations – with the advent of Covid 19, my dream home and lifestyle now seems the only sensible option going forward.

  24. Saciko May 23, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I’d like to be in touch with others who want to build Earthship community. We have been dreaming about it for years and are now ready to act

  25. Murali May 27, 2020 at 12:00 am

    One day I would want to build one such earthship in india and encourage sustainable development with vast members of society

  26. Susan June 18, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Would love to build one in uk but not very clear about building regulations. If someone is doing the project then really love to hear their experiences.

  27. MikeSynonymous June 29, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I really want to build an Earthship house but am not sure about planning permission, and feel that it probably won’t be necessary if it is half underground and not above two metres. Is this correct, or would I have to apply for planning permission first?

  28. Zandy July 12, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I would love to find people whom would like to work together on the idea of an Earthship community here in U.K. I’m a young 60 and fell I. Love with the idea in New Mexico. I have some finance but would need to collaborate with like minded folk. How do we contact one another on this site?

  29. Ross July 17, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Like many others comments on this page we would love to find some land and build a earthship. We would be really keen on talking to other people about this (details on how to build… regulations etc) and options for building in a community settin with people with the same dream and care of the planet. We are in Cornwall but would be willing to find anywhere in the country…. where we could afford ….. to build one. I’m wondering what outlets are there to talk to others about this?

  30. Joan July 25, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I would love to attend a workshop or something on how to built Earthships

  31. Shaun July 28, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I am very interested in the earthships home building concept.. If anyone is building one with decent know etc I would love to help toward the building and gain valuable knowledge for my help and manpower. I am also interested in finding a community to communicate with and get together. I would also be very interested in joining an earthships community to live of the grid.

  32. Ross July 28, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I think looking from this we have established there are people interested in talking about it more. How best to do this and share ideas is the next step. Ideas please.

  33. Guga September 5, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Hey, I would like where and when do you will have courses available? Many thanks

  34. Claudia Augusta Do C September 5, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I am interested in your courses. When and where can we get information about it?

  35. Mehini October 20, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I’ve been following Earthships for 20 yrs and gave a very small helping hand to the Brighton project when on a learning weekend. I’ve since done a training at Brighton but years ago. I’m on a quest to build one in uk , would love to join up with others . I’m going to look into Micheal Reynolds Earthship Academy for 2021 as my knowledge is rusty and would like more of the practical experience of building and the creative design skills ??????

  36. Fog November 24, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Hi I’m interested in building my own earthship. Can you address me in any courses when can I learn how to do it. Thank you a lot

  37. Nick December 21, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Hi all we are interested in building an earthship in central Bedfordshire, we have the opportunity to buy a 6 acre piece of South facing land that is on a hillside so should be perfect. We could possibly share the site with another couple/family and build together as a way of keeping some of the cost down, is there a forum where people can discuss their builds and problems and successes?

  38. HeidiCrumpton January 19, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Hi Nick Please contact me on FB, also in Bedfordshire, Even if I dont chip in with land would love to help build. After years of watching building off grid, grand designs ect I would love to build the dream, even if not mine

  39. Paula February 6, 2021 at 12:00 am

    My partner and I live in Glasgow currently. We are keen to learn more about whether it is possible to build and live in an earthship in a Scottish climate! Anyone else in Scotland or a similar climate thinking about it…?

  40. Daisy May March 3, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Plenty of questions here, no answers though.

  41. ryan March 3, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Hi everyone interested in building a an earth ship in the U.K. I’m from london but have lived in vegas for a few years now as a circus acrobat. I am planning to go to new mexico this year and join a workshop on how to build earth ships. With the plan of building one at some point in the future back home or in italy. I am not sure when this might be but if anyone would like to ad my in instagram or facebook. ryanknightmitchell. Hopefully to to connect share ideas and make some plans to make this happen.

  42. Basha March 8, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Hi all, I live in the south of UK but willing to travel further or even abroad to help build an earthship and get hands-on experience so I can once build my own. Looking forward to hearing from you’s. Basha x

  43. Carrot May 10, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Hi all, My partner & I are looking into how feasible it is to build an Earthship as the centre of a smallholding/yoga retreat/holiday lets in the UK. If anyone has any tips on how to find appropriate land (either England or Wales) please let me know! We have spent over a year trawling estate agents websites and are becoming increasingly frustrated. Should we buy land and hope to get planning, buy a derelict building with land or buy land with planning permission and hope it can be changed for our purpose?

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