What Is An Eco
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What Is An Eco

Jun 20, 2023

Imagine a dwelling carved from nature's bounty and the ingenuity of upcycling. Picture a home that's self-sufficient, harnessing the raw power of nature to stay off the grid. Envision gardens that feed you and systems that purify your water, completing nature's cycle. And what if all this required no expert hand to build but just dedication and resourcefulness? It may sound like a dream, but it's a vision grounded in possibility thanks to Earthship Biotecture founder and architect Michael Reynolds.

In the heart of the 1970's energy crisis, Reynolds envisioned not just a home but a "living vessel" that could nurture both its inhabitants and the earth. To him, the path forward involved creating shelters that seamlessly integrated water, electricity, waste treatment, food provision, and the upcycling of discarded materials. He once quipped, "If we want trees and we don't want cans, and we have billions of cans, why don't we try building out of cans and not trees, save the trees, solve the can problem?" (per Taos News). This philosophy is embedded in every Earthship home.

Does this vision strike a chord with you? Are you eco-conscious with a penchant for DIY adventures? Do you value off-grid living, minimalism, and resilience? Or perhaps you're seeking a niche community of individuals who share similar earth-friendly values? If so, an Earthship home may be right for you. Discover if this is the case and more about these unique dwellings below, including some of the negative aspects to consider.

The allure of Earthships lies in its promise of a self-sufficient lifestyle packed with unexpected benefits. One of its standout features is energy efficiency. These structures can harness solar and wind energy, generating all the electricity residents require. Living in an Earthship empowers you to capture, purify, and recycle your water multiple times, courtesy of its ingenious design. Given UNICEF's warning that by 2025 half the global population could face water scarcity, the Earthship's water solutions are more relevant than ever.

Moreover, Earthships naturally regulate their internal temperatures thanks to geothermal principles, eliminating the need for external heating or cooling systems. On top of that, you can look forward to homegrown nutrition. With integrated gardens and greenhouses, you can cultivate up to 50% of your food yourself, ensuring freshness and reducing dependency on external sources. Not to mention waste management, as the in-built septic system treats sewage and helps nourish the surrounding landscape.

While Earthships offer a unique blend of sustainability and self-sufficiency, they aren't without challenges. The upfront costs can be steep, and navigating local building codes to secure necessary permits might be cumbersome. You also typically can't get a traditional mortgage on these homes, and resale can be tough. Living in an Earthship demands a shift from conventional housing, bringing a learning curve and maintenance concerns. Other challenges include gathering enough rainwater for everyday use and the potential for mold growth in the walls, which are common concerns.

Living in an Earthship is where design meets functionality. It follows the construction rule of using reclaimed and organic materials like glass bottles, tires, and other items (though it also uses concrete). Earthships also maintain ideal temperatures through design where three of the four walls, made of tires filled with soil, act as thermal masses, retaining and releasing heat as needed. Combined with strategic positioning that lets sunlight reach designated plants, the integration of cooling tubes, windows, and skylights ensures a consistently comfortable indoor temperature. Regarding autonomous power, framed solar panels offer up to 30 years of clean electricity. They transfer power from natural sources like the sun or wind to a module that charges batteries. This module manages energy distribution for household use, extending battery lifespan.

Earthships cycle water from washing to gardening. Rainwater is captured, filtered through gravel and salt, stored in cisterns, and then pumped into a pressure tank for household use. Grey water, sourced from household activities, is filtered and introduced into an indoor botanical cell where plants aid further purification. Post-filtration, the water is used for toilets. Once flushed, it becomes black water, which is processed in a septic tank and used for outdoor plant irrigation. Earthships also foster year-round plant growth. They provide essential elements — sunlight, carbon dioxide, oxygen, water, and nutrients — that facilitate a thriving indoor garden that's nourished by grey water.

The journey to constructing an Earthship is quite unique. One option, which is certainly the 'easiest,' is employing experts. Seasoned professional crews, well-versed in Earthship construction, can craft your dream sustainable dwelling. Typically, a build takes about six weeks, but the timeline can vary based on the complexity and size of the project. When it comes to expenses, the spectrum is broad. Your investment could range from a modest, compact shelter to an expansive, multi-roomed haven with all the sustainable luxuries. However, a good rule to remember is that the overall cost is often comparable to building a traditional home, ensuring you get value and sustainability for your expenditure.

However, if a thirst for challenge fuels you and you desire an unparalleled experience, consider the DIY route. Basically, the walls of these structures are made out of tires that are covered and filled with pounded dirt. Other materials, like bottles and reclaimed planks of wood, are also utilized. Part of the difficulty of building your dwelling may simply be gathering enough materials, which could take months or even years. Also know that at least half of the structure is made out of concrete, which isn't environmentally friendly. Undoubtedly, building an Earthship yourself will require lots of energy and patience, but it will also add up to lots of savings. Further, this is an excellent opportunity to make a home that is not only a part of the earth but a part of you as well.

Selecting the right spot for an Earthship hinges on the local climate, required permits, and legal considerations. Before searching for the perfect plot, ensure Earthship constructions are permitted in your desired location because building permits in the U.S. are few for Earthship developments. Thanks to Michael Reynolds' pioneering vision, New Mexico is the birthplace and mecca of these dwellings, and the state's climate complements the Earthship design. Arizona, sharing climatic similarities with New Mexico, is another viable option. Additionally, while it might come as a surprise given its strict building regulations, Florida's willingness to open up to innovative concepts has paved the way for Earthships. However, securing permits in this state might require additional effort and persistence.

You could also try to look at building in countries outside of the U.S., as these dwellings exist in Canada, France, Germany, and Mexico. Earthship Biotecture also has its own "Global Model," built to perform in various climate conditions due to its main feature of a double greenhouse, which has two layers of glass. While making an Earthship is feasible in multiple locations, like any construction project, you'll face challenges navigating local laws and codes. But, if you can remain headstrong with creativity and innovation, you could overcome these challenges.

Reflecting upon the Earthship odyssey, one can't help but marvel at its innovative blend of sustainability, self-sufficiency, and ecological reverence. But as with any dream, the path to its realization is paved with costs and considerations. Financially speaking, while the initial outlay might seem daunting, think of the long-term savings: reduced utility bills (approximately $2,000 less per year), minimal water costs, and a decreased reliance on external food sources. It's not just about tangible savings but also the intangible benefits, from the unmatched peace of a home harmonized with nature to the empowerment of leading a life less bound to the conventional grid. For the eco-conscious soul yearning for a meaningful connection to the earth, the rewards of an Earthship lifestyle might just be priceless.

However, the journey isn't without its hurdles. From navigating permits to adapting to a unique lifestyle, the Earthship road demands resilience and adaptability. If you're worried about the costs or aren't completely sold on the housing model, this dwelling may not be a good choice. Those who aren't willing to move will need to check if building codes for these structures are available in their area — if they're not, this may not be an option. Before you begin building an Earthship home, it's paramount to consider if you'll be able to live in the space for years on end. If not, this dwelling probably isn't the right choice for you.