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How to Build an Earthship (With Photos and Insider Tips)

We built our own Earthship from recycled tires. Here's the story of our journey, with photos and tips about things we learned along the way.

What Is an Earthship?

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

There are many reasons to build an Earthship.

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 (if you're building an earthship, I want to meet you!).

Expert Advice From Michael Reynolds

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

Advantages of Earthships

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Disadvantages of Earthships

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 sometime in the future.

Insider Building Tips

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

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

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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

Elaine R Kist on March 01, 2019:

Can you tell me how you finished the flagstone floor? I have heard of boiled linseed oil, but I can't find how to apply it. I'm building an Earthship in Colorado and want to finish my flagstone floor so it has the seal and shine.

Thank you

Angel on June 09, 2015:

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

anonymous on February 15, 2013:

A very good use of resources. Interesting read.

anonymous on November 07, 2011:

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

EffortlessVitality on August 15, 2011:

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 (author) on October 24, 2010:

@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!

anonymous on October 24, 2010:

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

anonymous on October 24, 2010:

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 on October 04, 2010:

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,

anonymous on August 16, 2010:

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.

renee7 on February 21, 2010:

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.

anonymous on August 16, 2009:

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

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on August 10, 2009:

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

JoDeeVale (author) on July 10, 2009:

[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!)

anonymous on July 09, 2009:

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!!!

tdove on June 20, 2009:

Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

greenerme on June 04, 2009:

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