Earthships are the invention of US architect Mike Reynolds.
He defines six main Earthship principles:
1) building with natural and recyclable materials,
2) using passive solar and thermal systems for heating and cooling the home,
3) energy self sufficiency
4) water self sufficiency
5) sewage treatment self sufficiency, and
6) integrated food production systems (that use the treated effluent from the home).
Other principles include using construction methods that are easily learned and put into practice by amateur builders (e.g. tyre “pounding”).
These principles have the following goals:
1) minimise environmental impacts throughout the whole lifecycle of the home: construction, occupancy and demolition (although hopefully demolition is hundreds of years away!)
2) become self sufficient in energy, water and to some extent, food.
3) drive sustainable behaviour change – Earthship occupants become more aware of their energy use, water use and general consumption, for example, being more careful about what sort of personal hygiene products they pour down their drains.
4) empower people to “be the change they want to see in the world”.
5) enable people to reduce the financial burden of relentless energy and water utility bills.
The ultimate goal is to provide housing that enables the occupants to realise a positive change in their life. Mike says:
“This concept of living, (independent voyage vs. dependent trap), could change the nature of the human mind itself. It could provide a basis and a direction for conscious evolution on Earth”
In other words, what might we and our society look like if our housing provided energy and water, essentially for free, so that we didn’t need to rape and pillage the planet in a frantic effort to pay the electricity and water bills? Surely we’d have more time to care for ourselves, for others, and for our planet.
The findings of my PhD study found that being self sufficient is the most important factor when it comes to reducing your environmental impact. I think it is also the most important factor in terms of minimising your financial liabilities – hip pocket impact. For the foreseeable future energy and water prices will be going up up up, whereas solar panels, batteries, and rain water tanks are likely to get cheaper as technology improves and demand increases. I also found that people who live in Earthships find them very comfortable, despite being off-grid. They love their Earthships! Through monitoring the thermal performance (indoor air temperature and humidity) of various Earthships in the USA and Australia I have concluded that Earthships are suitable for most climates in Australia (tropical climates require a different Earthship design) requiring little to no energy for heating and cooling. No air-con needed!
Having lived in my own almost-earthship since 2003, a strawbale home that is self sufficient in electricity and water (although still grid connected) and which requires very little fuel for heating/cooling, I know what a relief it is to not have enormous electricity and water bills and to know that the environmental impact of my family’s home is much less than it otherwise would be. Since completing Earthship Ironbank in 2016 hundreds of people have visited for tours and many have stayed for a night or two. Judging by the comments in the guest book, this Earthship has been universally enjoyed for its beauty, comfort and tranquility: just another small piece of evidence that Earthships are a good idea.