Earthships

First, I want to say that there is so much information to go through on earthships that you really should check out the website: http://earthship.com/.  I will try to give you a simple explanation, but I’m sure I will leave things out.  Earthships are homes that are entirely self sufficient.  They grow food, run off solar or wind, collect their own water, treat sewage, and heat and cool themselves.  I know I’m making the house seem like it is a living being and it isn’t, but it is kind of like its own little eco system.

Again, this is hugely simplified and I am simply relaying information that I have read.  You build the outer walls out of old tires.  You fill them with dirt and pack them tight, then bury the back of the house underground.  The tires are structural and provide thermal mass.  The sun will warm the thermal mass and then slowly release the heat back into the house overnight to keep the temperature fairly stable.  The front face of the house is a greenhouse.  The windows are angled so the winter sun is let in and the summer sun is minimized.  The plants growing in the greenhouse are treating the grey water the house produces to help them grow.  The water from the shower etc. runs through the planter and comes out cleaner on the other end.  This water is reused to flush the toilet, then goes to a leach field.  A septic system is not needed, although it is sometimes used to keep to code.  The roof is used to collect rainwater to provide all the water needed to supply the house.  Since the water is used and recycled, you need much less water.  The house has a filtration system for the water so that you can get you drinking water this way too.  Any electricity you need is provided by wind or solar.  So that is it in a nutshell.

According to the website, you can build these houses very inexpensively if you do everything yourself.  It seemed to be a little to complicated for us, so we figured we could hire the crew to help us build.  That would increase the cost quite a bit though.  The we thought about just buying construction plans and figuring it out.  However, for the size house we want, the plans were $10,000 or more.  At this point, the purpose of building cheaply so that I can retire VERY young is destroyed.  The systems for the earthship can also be purchased from the crew, but I did not price that.

I am very torn about this particular house.  It would be a fantastic house to live in.  I’m not sure the cost will fit in with our plans, however.  And as I said before, it may be just a little bit too technical for our very limited construction skills.  Still, a very good option.

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There’s definitely a lot of aspects to consider when building an Earthship, cobhouse, balehouse, etc. A lot of things can go wrong if not researched or constructed properly. However, paying a monthly mortgage or rent is just stupid considering everyone needs a place to live. This is how our species survived for thousands of years – building their own homes from the land. It’s still a pretty common practice in other countries. What we think of as “normal” homes lose their value so quickly depending on so many different factors, so why not invest in something that will last, suit your needs, won’t damage the environment, and you don’t have to pay for? The options will a home like this are absolutely endless. It’s a shame that so many people are so afraid to invest in such a smart concept that could really change the way we treat our planet.

I couldn’t agree more. We have almost 4 years research in so far and are still finding more options. We are taking a class in August as well. It’ll be another year or so until we build and we still have a lot to learn. There are endless reasons to do natural building including financial and just the beauty of it. I can’t wait to start. I really hope to be able to inspire others as well. That is so important that others can learn these ways as well. It could really benefit many families.

I’m a journey carpenter and homesteader and I wish you luck with your building plans. We’ve been at this thing since the early 80’s, with a few years hiatus’ for careers etc. We’ve only recently got into the permaculture side of things, and I’ll enjoy and appreciate the wealth of knowledge you are sharing here on this blog, especially on the growing side of things, and your everyday life experience.

In regards to your shelter plans. I see you are aware of of the 5 gallon bucket system of humanuring. A little word on this… since the early 80’s, we have used a large ‘toa throne’ composting toilet, and though it works well I definetely recommend Jenkins’ 5 gallon system as simpler and less expensive. You are on track with this. I did a blog overview of this about this a month ago http://throughtheluminarylens.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/not-forgotten-composting-other-significant-happenings/

Also, as a builder, I’d recommend careful planning of your day lighting and interior lighting strategies…Placement of windows, solar orientation, shading strategies etc. here’s a link a bit about that https://throughtheluminarylens.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/let-there-be-energy-saving-light-illumination-and-solar-101/ Finally, one of my first posts was an overview of our own experience with our ‘cabin”, as it is fondly known as. http://throughtheluminarylens.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/weekly-photo-challenge-home-in-the-country/

I hope you find some of this as food for thought. I truly believe the more you figure out at the planning stage, the happier and less expensive will be your home and shelter, once complete. Of course a home and permaculture is always a work in process… and of a labor of love.

I truly look forward to following and learning from your own endeavors in 2105 and beyond.

Bruce

So all of our plans are sort of up in the air right now, so any advice is greatly appreciated. What we are thinking about right now is to put up a wall tent until the tiny house is built, hopefully enclosed by the time it gets cold out. There will be a primitive composting toilet inside the wall tent with an outhouse that we will use most of the time. I am looking at options similar to the toa throne that we can buy, but don’t know if it is worth it or are we better off perfecting the home made version. I am not yet familiar with the Jenkins, but I will be by the end of the day. The outhouse will be part of a tree bog, if you aren’t familiar with these, basically it is planting nutrient hungry trees around the outhouse to facilitate the breakdown of your deposits. Just keeps you from having to move the outhouse as quick.
As far as the lighting goes, we will be off grid and likely electricity free for a while. Depending on the money situation. Therefore, any light we can take advantage of is a must. We also want as much sunlight as possible for passive solar heating. Maine gets quite cold. We managed to get an excellent lot with a south facing slope, so we should have the perfect set up for passive solar heating in the house and a green house eventually. In addition to the passive solar, there will be a rocket mass heater and the walls of the tiny house will be made of hay bales (excellent r-value). Because these types of houses need to be protected from the rain with roof overhang, I’m not sure what this will do for our angles to let light in. We are still working on that part.
Thank you so much for your input. Much appreciated! And I hope to able to provide some good permaculture info in the future for you. I’m working on a few posts on the subject right now.

Your solar exposure sounds optimum. In regards to roof overhangs, try to make sure the eaves side of the roof is on the south side. There is simple math calculation (available somewhere on line) that will show what is ideal for your latitude, about 49 North isn’t it? This will only work for the south side. East and windows are more difficult to deal with via overhangs because the angle (or altidude) of the sun on those windows (mornings of afternoon) is much lower in the sky. Particularly be careful about the west side windows and late afternoon sun. We had overheating from some west windows which we eventually solved by allowing an alder tree to grow up creating shade. It is deciduous, so the leaves only appear about April. Concerning south and west skylights: they let in lots of sun and heat in summertime, exactly when you don’t want it. In general they are an absolute no-no, except maybe a few in an attached greenhouse or sunspace. A small triple pane north or east skylight could be ok. I love your plan for a masonary stoves, and if we were to do it again we’d definitely include one. In regards to the 5 gallon bucket toilet, I’m quite sure when you read about Jenkins system you’ll see it’s wisdom. Large commercial composting toilets are extremely expensive, an even small ones cost a few thousand dollars – the ones I’ve seen in use don’t perform well at all! Health authorities are quick to approve them however!?? The money you could save on using the 5 gallon hot compost method will save you resources that could then be devoted to either more solar panels or a larger deep cycle battery bank. This would mean your batteries will last way longer before you need to replace them. Enough for now. So glad you are taking your time with a thorough approach for your planning, research & building.

The roof will have the overhangs on the south and north sides. We need the simpler roof with the steep pitch for the snow. It has to be out far enough to keep the rain off of the strawbale house, so hopefully it is not too far to block the winter sun. I don’t think it is. I have an angle calculator somewhere on my computer, I will have to find it pretty soon. For now, I plan on planting corn and beans on the south and west sides of the house to keep it from getting too hot. There will be the trees eventually, but for now, we have to stick with the fast growing corn. Skylights are far beyond our building skills which is almost none, so that won’t be a problem on this project.
Have you seen the rocket mass heaters? I really like these because they use a big hunk of mass in the form of a couch to radiate heat through the house. This is the one thing I am super excited about. They are also more efficient than even the masonry heaters. We should be able to heat the house with smaller branches and things rather than big logs.
I would like to attach a greenhouse, but I’m not yet sure I can do this with the strawbale house. When we get around to building our “real” house, I want a really nice attached greenhouse. This house will also be an earth berm/wofati building, so that is a whole other story for another day.
Is the jenkins 5 gallon system just the do it yourself version in a 5 gallon bucket with sawdust? That is what we are doing some version of, at least for now. I guess we will see how that works.

Yes – that’s the Jenkins system. Here’s a link to The Humanure Hanbook and at Joe Jenkins website & I highly recommend reading it – you can do so for free there… http://humanurehandbook.com/contents.html I’ve seen the rocket masonry heater in an article of a cob house done on the south end of Vancouver Island.. Finnish masonry stoves are similar. Here’s a link to Ann & Gord Baird blog and then try another link to an article in Yes magazine that speaks about their house & planning to build in general. I like building simple gable roofs with a steep pitch like you describe. It’s perfect for a loft or compact upper floor. In our area we call it one and half stories. Good to avoid the sky lights 🙂

Keep me informed with any serious plans of this happening. I am a college student and need to live in the city for networking purposes, although I would be very interested in joining an Earthship community in New England, if there ever will be one.

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