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.
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”.
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.