Sustainable America Blog

Earthships: Extreme Sustainability

There’s green, and then there’s green… Michael Reynolds dreamed up the idea to build ultra eco-friendly structures he would call Earthships back in the 1970s, and he has since trademarked the name. Reynolds wanted to create homes that were built entirely from recycled materials, able to produce all the energy they needed to operate off the grid, reuse water, grow food, and be affordable. No small feat, but in the last 40 years he has been perfecting his designs and systems.

The core building material of an Earthship is old car tires. That’s right, car tires. The tires are stacked and rammed with earth to form the frame of the building. Rammed earth is an ancient building technique where a damp mixture of earth and a specific blend of sand, gravel, and clay is set into a mold or frame. In an Earthship, old car tires make up the frame instead of wood or brick. Rammed earth structures, many quite ancient, can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Some of the systems built into an Earthship include:

Water: Rainwater is harvested to capture water which is then used for things like bathing, drinking, and washing dishes. The runoff from these activities is recycled to flush the toilet and water plants.

Energy: Energy is generated by wind and solar power and backed up with a battery system for storage.

Sewage: Waste is treated using a grey water system that runs the sewage through a grouping of plants on the exterior of the home. By the time the water has made its way through the botanical treatment it is no longer harmful or toxic.

Comfort: The idea behind an Earthship is “comfort in any climate.” The rammed earth construction keeps the home cool in summer and warm in winter. Homes are built to take advantage of the morning sun and avoid the hot afternoon sun.

Food: Earthships are places where food is grown. The home designs incorporate indoor and outdoor gardens for growing healthy, fresh food right on site.

People who are interested in trying out an Earthship can spend a night or week in one of four models located on a beautiful desert property in Taos, New Mexico. And, no, this is not roughing it. TV, high speed Wi-Fi, modern furnishings, and comfortable linens are all part of the package.

And, if after staying in an Earthship you’re really hooked on the idea, you can take a hands-on building seminar or attend the Earthship Biotecture Academy in Taos where over 200 people have been trained in the art of building Earthships.

Sustainable America has set a goal to reduce oil usage by 50% by 2035 and increase food availability in America by 50% in that same time span. While living in an Earthship is certainly not for everyone, it is an innovative way to address both of these goals. A zero net energy building made from discarded materials that recycles water to produce food: Who can argue with that!

RELATED ARTICLES
Jack Johnson’s Sustainable America
How to Compost in Your Apartment
Quiz: How Much Food Do You Waste?

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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