How to Build an Earthship
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.
There are numerous 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, and I want to meet you.
Photos of Our Earthship's ConstructionClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Building an Earthship
What are the advantages of building an earthship?
- 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.
What are the disadvantages of building an earthship?
- 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 some time in the future.
Insider Tips for Building an Earthship
The best advice I can give, if your are interested in building your own, is:
- Read all of Michael Reynolds' books.
- Tour an Earthship, so you know how if "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.
- 8 - Consider buying a pre-built Earthship.
- Visit Michael Reynolds' website for floor plans, consultation, or discussions.
- Enjoy the process!
- Earthship Karuna in progress -
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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.