August 8, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Life in an earthship

(continued from previous page)

One secret of an earthship is that in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky, light comes in at a steep angle, meaning the interior isn't flooded with direct light. In the winter, the effect is the opposite: the sun is at a low angle, meaning the interior does get flooded with light all day, while the greenhouse, the floor, the adobe and the hillside construction store heat.

That's why, in hotter climates, rooms would ideally be located deeper within the structure so the sunlight tends to only hit the front end, while in colder climates, you would want shallower rooms, so that more of the rooms would fill with light.

It might be odd to think that a house built in a location that gets only 8 to 10 inches of rain a year could have a full kitchen, flushable toilets and a washing machine.

But the earthships employ a smart water-use system.

The water is collected when it rains and stored in a cistern to be used and reused throughout the house. Water is first used for tasks like washing dishes or clothes, then it's circulated through the house for the greenhouse system, and then for toilet flushing.

A combination of solar power, wind power, DC wiring and high-efficiency DC lighting allows for full electricity in a house with no connection to the grid.

Sciarrillo also explained that if the wiring system is done properly, there should be enough power left over to run AC appliances like TVs and stereos.

To be sure, building an earthship isn't cheap. Sciarrillo said that construction costs average about $175 a square foot, compared with about $125 per square foot for a conventional house. Further, the power generation system runs about $20,000.

But he also said that when you factor in all the recycled and natural materials used in construction--dirt and tires for the load-bearing walls, and glass and plastic bottles, which let light in through non-load-bearing walls--the costs may come closer to those of conventional buildings.

Plus, over time, the savings from being off the grid adds up, though Sciarrillo said it could be 15 to 20 years before they zero-out the costs of the power generation system.

It's also true that building an earthship is a laborious process. For example, each of the many, many tires used in the walls has to have dirt pounded into it manually. The result is a 350-pound brick, but making that takes time.

Of course, you probably can't plop down an earthship in the middle of a city, Sciarrillo said, as building departments may be wary of granting permits for a housing system they're unfamiliar with, and that may go against almost every building concept they know.

But if you want to build somewhere a little more remote, and have the time and energy to spell out the systems to those granting the permits, it could be an ideal solution.

And given that this is a way to have a house that doesn't rely on fossil fuels, is fully sustainable and can be comfortable in any climate, I'm won over. I'm ready to start building.

Previous page
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
hill, material, temperature, house

5 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Expansion on a centuries old tradition
There is an age old tradition of self sufficiency in this sometimes harsh climate of temperature extremes from scorching heat during the day and hard freezes at night. The pueblos have used similar designs to regulate temperature for thousands of years, check out Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon as an example of this. Modern pueblos are also built in a stepped style to achieve that triangular side profile to gather more heat in winter, look at Taos pueblo or Acoma built like a Masada like fortress against sieges

The Spanish style adobe houses achieve the same effect with 18 inch thick earth brick walls, they heat up very slowly throughout the day and release the heat all night with the large mass. Many today still do not have air conditioning, although they do have a bit of a ceiling height problem. I guess people were shorter 300 years ago ;)

The ranch houses out on the plains of NM from the mid to lat 1800's when settlers started coming in from back east used a different approach. They all have large elms and other deciduous trees on the south and evergreens elsewhere, in the winter more sun from the south and evergreens to block heat loss from wind and in the summer lots of shade.

I think earth ships are the next step in this centuries old tradition of self sufficiency here in the south west. I especially like the indoor greenhouses and water reuse. You should also look at rammed earth construction, sorta a poor-mans way of doing traditional adobe.

Only problem with these style houses and newer adobes, very few straight walls, so good luck finding a bookshelf, desk or bed frame that fits right :)
Posted by lynxss (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sensible housing
This sort of thing does make a lot of sense. It also calls for the inhabitants to be involved with things they were not brought up doing. Some yutz from LA or NYC is not going to understand why she should do things /this/ way, instead of the way she did them back in the big city, so the wife of the household is going to sabatoge it, and demand "modern" plumbing, etc.

Trying to tell her what she is getting into is not likely to work, either. It'll just bounce off or she will figure to do things her way anyhow.

BTW, don't ever use grey water for house plants. About a week later, the stuff in the water will start stinking and it takes a lot of washing and airing out to gett the stink out of the curtains, etc. Whew, does it stink.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Actually, Earthships are very versatile. Walls can be built with a curve that follows the lines of the tired structure, OR they can be built with straight walls and right angle corners- its all in the tire placement- if you want rounded rooms you will stack your tires in a horseshoe design- if straight walls with corners are desired your stacked tires will be stacked in a square design, its all in Michael Reynolds book. Earthships are the future, and the only limit is your own imagination!
Posted by ashleyoung (1 comment )
Link Flag
$250,000 for a house made of old rubber
It's a joke check the website....
Posted by SiXiam (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not a Joke
The earthship is not a joke. Actor Dennis Weaver lived in a
gorgeous one that was faetured in many interior design magazines.
I would gladly pat that much for that house. It was spectacular.
Posted by elisa Urmston (2 comments )
Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.