Earthship homes were created in the 1970s by Mike Reynolds, the founder of Earthship Biotecture in Taos, New Mexico. The company designs and markets this quirky housing model, which can be built by anyone-even those who are inexperienced with construction. Recycling what would essentially become trash and other readily available local materials, Earthship homes also feature a variety of technologies that allow residents to live off the grid.
Certainly unique in terms of aesthetic, Earthship homes function on tried-and-true passive solar design techniques. Orientation must take into account climate and terrain, but a typical Earthship is shaped like a horseshoe in plan to allow for a large expanse of south-facing windows to heat the home during the winter, but protect against heat gain in the summer.
The thick exterior walls are comprised of tires filled with earth. Because they are so thick, these walls form a thermal mass and regulate the interior temperature (they are typically covered in plaster on the inside). These tire walls are fire-resistant, exhibit great structural strength and are able to bear large loads; which is appropriate, given that many Earthship homes feature rammed earth construction-the roof is covered by earth or adobe.
Interior walls of Earthships are made from recycled cans infilled with concrete, a method called "tin can walls." They may be plastered over for a more traditional look. Glass bottles may be used instead of aluminum cans to admit natural light.
Earthship homes incorporate natural materials and ventilation, but they also rely on a variety of technologies to reduce their environmental impacts and achieve net zero status. These systems include:
- Rainwater harvesting
- Graywater treatment within a botanical cell
- Solar water heating system
- Composting toilets
- Photovoltaic solar panels
- Wind turbines
If you choose to purchase plans for your Earthship home through Earthship Biotecture, you may choose from a range of sizes from an 800 square foot studio up to a 1,500 square foot three bedroom home. Custom designs are also available. If building your own Earthship isn't an option, you can rent one for a night or two if you visit the southwest United States.