Feature

Earthships

100% off the grid with a near-zero carbon footprint.

Costing around the same as a conventional home to build, with a near zero carbon footprint, 100% off the grid Earthships are great for the planet and your wallet!

Credit: Dana Mrkich

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Imagine living in a home where you don’t have to pay another utility bill ever again, enjoy a comfortable temperature inside without a heater or air-conditioner, and only need to go as far as your front sunroom to pick up some fresh fish and vegies for dinner.

Costing around the same as a conventional home to build, with a near zero carbon footprint, 100% off the grid Earthships are great for the planet and your wallet!

Visionary architect and creator of Earthships Biotecture, Michael Reynolds aka ‘The Garbage Warrior’ has gained notoriety for his decision to build homes from used tyres, aluminium cans and glass bottles. Yet sitting in the living room of the Phoenix Earthship in Taos, New Mexico this fact is barely noticeable amid the stunning design elements and the sudden awareness that I have huge amounts of oxygen streaming into my lungs.

I am surrounded by lush, tropical plants dripping with all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Birds are chirping in the rooftops, and a fishpond is a few feet away filled with fat tilapia. A state-of-the-art looking chicken coop is nearing completion outside.

“A family of four could live here and have all they need to survive,” says Reynolds who has been developing Earthships Biotecture for 40 years. The rapidly increasing need and demand for housing that makes more sense environmentally and economically means that Earthships are experiencing a surge in attention – in both developed and developing countries - providing solutions where traditional housing has failed.

No, you're not on the set of the next middle-earth adventure, it's Michael Reynolds' Earthship in Taos, New Mexico.

The name Earthship was inspired by the similarity shared with a Sea Ship: they are self-functioning self-contained bodies that have all they need to support and sustain those who reside within it. The name also comes from the houses being constructed in and of the earth.

Chill out in the leafy lounge room.

Earthships are defined by six principles:

1) Food Production:

One of the least known and most rapidly developing, which Reynolds is excited about. “My 8 year old grandson was here the other day. He dropped a pole into the pond, caught a fish within 15 seconds, we cooked it up, gathered some salad stuff from the greenhouse and had a meal. We’re slowly introducing more food production into the homes – bananas, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, greens. You can produce enough food to stay alive in any climate.”

2) Thermal/Solar Heating & Cooling
Reynolds found that when filled with pounded dirt, tyres become powerful and durable insulation. With hundreds of them creating the exterior walls of your home, going down several feet underground, they provide a natural cooling/heating system keeping your home at a lovely temperature year round. Despite the below freezing winters and hot summers in the New Mexico desert, none of these homes have air-conditioning or artificial heating.

3) Powered by Solar and Wind Electricity
You have the option to also be connected to the conventional grid as a back-up.

4) Building with natural and recycled materials: Reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the manufacture of traditional building materials, and turns everyday throwaway items into productive building blocks. Aluminium cans reduce the quantity of concrete needed for interior walls, while glass bottles reduce the amount of glass needed for windows while also creating a vibrantly colourful and striking aesthetic effect. Every aspect of Earthship design is integral to the home’s function.

5) Water Harvesting - Reynolds explains how caught water is used four times. “Rainwater is harvested on the roof and stored in cisterns/tanks. It goes through a pump panel and a pressure panel that pressurises the water and filters it, and makes it good, regular household water clean for drinking, for your kitchen sink, laundry and showers. This water then drains in at either end of the house and goes via another filter to all the indoor planters. It then gathers in a well which is used to flush the toilet. It finally goes outside to a conventional septic tank, and gets turned into a thick liquid which is used to water the outside landscaping plants.”

6) Each Earthship provides its own Contained Sewerage Treatment.
Reynolds has been called everything from a genius to a crazy revolutionary but he says he is simply doing something that makes sense. “It is the most logical, straightforward way of taking care of yourself, which also happens to take care of the planet and other people.” Reynolds’ goal is totally sustainable green housing for every man, woman and child on the planet.

Reynolds is adamant that every human has a right to basic sustenance, and that work should be there to provide any extras we may want in life not something that dictates whether we can eat or not, or have a roof over our heads. “People have a basic right to sustenance – food, water, shelter. It is possible for everyone on this planet to have sustenance. Economy should be separate. What these kinds of houses are doing is taking every aspect of your life and putting it in your own hands.”

Now that's a chicken coop!
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Dana and her husband Christian were based in Taos, New Mexico while Christian undertook a one month internship at the Earthship Greater World Community, gaining hands on experience with all aspects of Earthship construction.

For more information on Earthship Internships, Seminars, Consultancy, Packaged Earthship Kits, Books and DVD’s please go to: www.earthship.com

(c) Dana Mrkich 2015 www.danamrkich.com