Building an Earthship

Updated on January 24, 2017

Your First Question is Probably, "What IS An Earthship and Why Would I Want to Build One?"

According to the Think Green Building Glossary, an Earthship is defined as a building system using tires as permanent forms for rammed earth, passive solar design, rain catchment, and other integrated systems to create low-impact, energy-efficient structures.

In answer to your second question, there are numerous reasons to build an Earthship.

The Reasons for Building an Earthship

  • You care about the planet and want to help recycle tires.
  • You want to control heating and cooling costs.
  • You want to use passive solar gain to heat your home.
  • You are concerned about water shortage, and want to collect rainwater.
  • You want to use natural materials in your home.
  • You want to raise your own food year round, indoors.
  • You are environmentally responsible.
  • You are a totally cool person, and I want to meet you.

Photos of Our Earthship's Construction

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rammed earth tire walls in typical U pattern for Earthships.Setting vigas for roof support.Setting south wall support.Solarium trusses.Solarium trusses.Roof deck.Drying adobe bricks to be used in building fireplaces.Earthship interior rammed earth tire walls before mudding.Exterior front during construction.Exterior west wall during construction.
Rammed earth tire walls in typical U pattern for Earthships.
Rammed earth tire walls in typical U pattern for Earthships.
Setting vigas for roof support.
Setting vigas for roof support.
Setting south wall support.
Setting south wall support.
Solarium trusses.
Solarium trusses.
Solarium trusses.
Solarium trusses.
Roof deck.
Roof deck.
Drying adobe bricks to be used in building fireplaces.
Drying adobe bricks to be used in building fireplaces.
Earthship interior rammed earth tire walls before mudding.
Earthship interior rammed earth tire walls before mudding.
Exterior front during construction.
Exterior front during construction.
Exterior west wall during construction.
Exterior west wall during construction.

If You Want to Build an Earthship, Go to the Experts

That's what we did. We bought Michael Reynold's books, and read them over and over again. Then we started collecting tires... the rest is history.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fagstone samples used in floor.Mud application living room.Mud application in living room: Setting flagstone pictographs into wall.Mud application in bedroom:  Setting flagstone pictographs into wall.Mud application in bedroom.Mud application in living room.Building adobe fireplaces.Building adobe fireplaces.Building adobe fireplaces.Mud application in living room.
Fagstone samples used in floor.
Fagstone samples used in floor.
Mud application living room.
Mud application living room.
Mud application in living room: Setting flagstone pictographs into wall.
Mud application in living room: Setting flagstone pictographs into wall.
Mud application in bedroom:  Setting flagstone pictographs into wall.
Mud application in bedroom: Setting flagstone pictographs into wall.
Mud application in bedroom.
Mud application in bedroom.
Mud application in living room.
Mud application in living room.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Mud application in living room.
Mud application in living room.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Building an Earthship

What are the advantages of building an earthship?

  1. Energy Efficiency - Earthships provide a large amount of thermal mass. This helps keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Most homes of this type have been built in the southwestern part of the United States although I did visit a house under construction in Bancroft, Ontario. I don't recall if the owners were going to insulate the outside at all, but it may not be a bad idea for northern climates.
  2. Self-Sustainability - These homes are designed to take advantage of natural resources. They are typically built in a rectangular form and oriented to take advantage of passive solar radiation. Rainwater is also stored in cisterns and gray water is recycled.
  3. "Buildability" - Earthships can be owner-built. There is obviously quite a bit of labor involved but if time is not a factor, a house of this type could be built with just a couple of workers. Basic carpentry, plumbing, and electric skills are required.
  4. Easy Availability - Not only are tires easy to get, but some places will pay you to take them away! There are plenty of tires, bottles, and aluminum cans around.

What are the disadvantages?

  1. Resellability - You may have a problem reselling a house that is different from the norm. In most cases, the occupants who build alternative homes are usually building them for a lifetime, but if plans change and you need to sell, it may take longer to find a buyer.
  2. Building Permits - As with all alternative building methods, you might run into some problems with local building codes. The walls are the biggest hurdle. The rest of the house is built using conventional methods, but getting approval for the rammed tires might be a problem.
  3. Financing - Earthships are a very new concept in building design. Fannie Mae, the nation's largest supplier of home loans, is exploring environmental loans that might include earthships some time in the future.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Can in-fill south solarium wall.Installing French doors.Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.Mud application to tire walls and can in-fill.Exterior stucco.Exterior stucco.Exterior stucco & rainwater collection.Exterior stucco.Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.
Can in-fill south solarium wall.
Can in-fill south solarium wall.
Installing French doors.
Installing French doors.
Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.
Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.
Mud application to tire walls and can in-fill.
Mud application to tire walls and can in-fill.
Exterior stucco.
Exterior stucco.
Exterior stucco.
Exterior stucco.
Exterior stucco & rainwater collection.
Exterior stucco & rainwater collection.
Exterior stucco.
Exterior stucco.
Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.
Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.
Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.
Mud application to rammed earth tire walls.

Advice

The best advice I can give, if your are interested in building your own, is:

  1. Read all of Michael Reynolds' books.
  2. Tour an Earthship, so you know how if "feels" to be inside of one.
  3. Visit the Earthships in Taos, New Mexico.
  4. Ask a LOT of questions.
  5. Either hire help or get some friends to help you (This is a LOT of work, otherwise!)
  6. Consider renting an Earthship for a week.
  7. 8 - Consider buying a pre-built Earthship.
  8. Visit Michael Reynolds' website for floor plans, consultation, or discussions.
  9. Enjoy the process!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Building adobe fireplaces.Building adobe fireplaces.Building adobe fireplaces.Laying flagstone floor.Laying flagstone floor.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Building adobe fireplaces.
Laying flagstone floor.
Laying flagstone floor.
Laying flagstone floor.
Laying flagstone floor.
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Flagstone floors.Flagstone floors.Finished fireplace.
Flagstone floors.
Flagstone floors.
Flagstone floors.
Flagstone floors.
Finished fireplace.
Finished fireplace.

Questions & Answers

    Please share you comments here. We would love to know what you think of our Earthship.

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      • profile image

        Angel 

        3 years ago

        Hi there fellow Canadians I've just come asocrs your blog and was sooo excited to contact you! My husband and I are considering moving to Peru and would just love to chat with you and see how everything has worked out for you. I couldn't help notice some of the phrasing you used and I must admit, my husband & I are strong believers in the secret and have recently begun implementing it in our lives and we too are using the law of attraction to let the universe make all of the pieces fall into place to make the process nice and smooth. I can't wait to hear from you!Warmest Regards,Corlerz

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        5 years ago

        A very good use of resources. Interesting read.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        I've been getting into the Earthship designs a lot lately, here at Texas Tech University. I would love to get more information and/or work on a building crew! Any information would be greatly appreciated and enjoyed.

        Thank you,

        Elliott Getz

        jmseliot@yahoo.com

      • profile image

        EffortlessVitality 

        7 years ago

        JoDee, I love that you have an EarthShip! They are my favorite building type for a home, and I have been visualizing myself living in one for a few years now. When I stop traveling, I am definitely going to build an EarthShip. I think the list of "disadvantages" says a lot. They're such minuscule considerations compared to the other HUGE issues involved in building a structure. Totally worth it.

        Thank you for sharing your photos with us and high five on building your EarthShip!

      • JoDeeVale profile imageAUTHOR

        JoDeeVale 

        7 years ago

        @anonymous: Carme, Thank you for your comment and question. Roughly, we averaged 4 - 6 tires a day. We have done as many as 9, however, that was not sustainable per person. There are 738 tires in our earthship, so you can do the math to calculate how long it takes if you work at it every day!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        @anonymous: Hi, we are interested in building an earthship, how long it takes to fill one tyre with two persons, approx? With many thanks

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Thank you so much for giving such testimonial of your experience. Very helpful. We would like to build an earthship and will follow your advice. I have read another blog from another people building an earthship and they say that takes 3 to 4 hours to fill ONE tire with dirt!!! is that true? if so, we would not build an earthship for sure. Tahnk you for answering.

      • norma-holt profile image

        norma-holt 

        8 years ago

        Wonderful topic for a lens and great inspiration for others to build to save the earth; *-*Blessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardusr and also on Save Planet Earth,

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        8 years ago

        well, it says to comment if i'm interested. if this is still for sale or if anyone knows another earthship or such in northern az let me know plz. sedona, strawberry, pine, rimrock area preferred but not contingent. xizoho@zoho.com

      • renee7 profile image

        renee7 

        8 years ago

        You have some really good pictures on your site. I have been looking for a pic of the rammed earth tires, and you have several. Thanks for all of the detailed information.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        Great website. We are busy with an earthship project in South Africa. Project Aardskip: http://www.aardskip.com. Any tips and volunteers are welcome

      • Paula Atwell profile image

        Paula Atwell 

        9 years ago from Cleveland, OH

        Wow! Terrific picture diary of your journey. Blessed by an Angel.

      • JoDeeVale profile imageAUTHOR

        JoDeeVale 

        9 years ago

        [in reply to Tipi] Thank you, Susie! I built that little puppy(ies) myself! I had never done it before, either! I was amazed it turned out so well. We no longer live there, but would love to live in one here! (or anywhere there is a Trader Joe's!)

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        I would love to build an earthship! What a fun lens to see. I like the more rustic look and that is one cute fireplace. Very nice!!!

      • profile image

        tdove 

        9 years ago

        Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

      • greenerme profile image

        greenerme 

        9 years ago

        I applaud your efforts! This is very interesting. Welcome to a Million Ways to Go Green!

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