Written by Nicole Barker, ESLLC 2016-2017
We all want to be sustainable as possible, but living in a dorm really limits our options. We have no control over heating, renewable resource use, or green roofs. However, when we move out we have the option to live in the current most radical sustainable house design- Earthships!
The idea for Earthships began with the architect Michael Reynolds in the 1970s. After he graduated from the University of Cincinnati, he began his work on sustainable architecture. His goals were to use recycled materials where possible, rely on natural energy sources and be off the grid, and make a design that would be easy for anyone without an architecture background to build. The most common Earthship shape is the U-shaped earth-filled tire home.
Earthships are passive solar houses made from natural and upcycled materials. They are designed with thermal mass construction, storing energy absorbed from the sun and releasing it over time, and natural cross ventilation, using the force of wind to pull air through the house, to regulate indoor temperatures. The outer walls are usually made of earth-rammed tires but could also be made out of any dense material such as adobe, concrete, or stone. The inner walls are made out of recycled cans in a honeycomb shape joined together by concrete. The roof is made of vigas- wooden support beams. The entire house is heavily insulated to prevent heat loss, making it super sustainable!
The amount of water used in a house is a big issue. Earthships are designed to collect all the water they need from the local environment. When water is caught on the roof, it is channeled into a cistern that filters out contaminants and bacteria making it potable. Then the water is pushed into a conventional pressure tank to create household water pressure. Unsafe, recycled water called greywater is used to flush toilets. Before the greywater is used again, it is filtered through a small living machine. A living machine is an ecological sewage treatment that mimics the functions of wetlands. Wetland plants, bacteria, algae, plankton, protozoa, and snails are in the system to provide specific cleansing functions. The plants chosen for the living machine can also be eaten making the Earthship provide sustainable food too!
The cost of an Earthship ranges from $50,000-$100,000, way less than a conventional house. Utility bills would also be much lower. There is a plan for an Earthship village to be constructed just east of Colorado Springs within the next several years. There are already villages in New Mexico, Montana, Texas, the Netherlands, Canada, and many more. There is also a cool documentary called Garbage Warriors all about Earthships so check that out!