What Is an Earthship and How It Can Help Save the Planet

Imagine living in a home that is completely self-sufficient, eco-friendly, and comfortable. A home that grows its own food, collects its own water, and generates its own power. A home that is not only functional and practical, but also beautiful and unique. A home that is in harmony with nature, and reduces your environmental impact and improves your quality of life.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, it’s not. It’s an earthship.

An earthship home is a type of sustainable housing that is designed to be off the grid and in harmony with nature. It is built with natural and recycled materials, and uses renewable energy sources, rainwater harvesting, and contained sewage treatment. It also provides a healthy and comfortable environment, and grows its own food and compost.

In this article, we will explain what an earthship is, how it works, and how it can make your life better. We will also discuss the benefits and challenges of living in an earthship home, and how to find or build your own.

An image of an earthship with the titles What Are Off Grid Earthships.

Table of Contents

What Is an Earthship?

Image of earthship global

The concept of the earthship was first described by Michael Reynolds in 1971. He was an architect and a visionary, who wanted to create a new way of living that was independent, creative, and fulfilling. The concept came from wanting to create a home that was not dependent on the conventional systems of society, such as electricity, water, and sewage.

Michael Reynolds Pioneer of The Earthship

He wanted to create a home that was not harmful to the environment, but rather beneficial and regenerative. A home that was not boring and bland, but rather artistic and expressive.

To achieve this dream, he started to experiment with different materials and designs, and came up with the idea of using earth-packed tires, glass bottles, aluminum cans, and adobe to build the walls, floors, and roofs of the home. It was Reynolds that first came up with the idea of using passive solar design, water harvesting, and food production to create a healthy and comfortable environment. In addition, he also came up with the idea of using a U-shaped layout, which maximized the solar exposure and the living space.

Earthship concept drawing

Reynolds called his creation an earthship, because he saw it as a vessel that floated on the sea of life, rising and falling with the waves. He saw it as a home that was self-reliant, sustainable, and comfortable. A home that was not only a shelter, but also a machine, a garden, and a work of art.

His first earthship was designed in 1988, and since then, he has built hundreds of earthship homes around the world, in different climates and cultures. He’s also taught thousands of people how to build their own earthships, through workshops, books, and videos. The Earthship Biotecture Academy was founded in New Mexico, where he trains students in the principles and techniques of earthship construction and design. 

He has also faced many challenges and obstacles, such as legal, technical, and cultural barriers, that have tried to stop or limit his vision. Also, facing many critics and skeptics, who have questioned or dismissed his ideas. He’s faced several failures and mistakes along the way that have taught him valuable lessons and improvements.

But never giving up on his dream, he continues to spread his message and mission of earthships, to anyone who is willing to listen and learn. You can learn more about attending the Earthship Biotecture Academy.

How Does an Earthship Work?

An earthship works by addressing six basic needs: 

  1. Heating and cooling
  2. Solar and wind electricity
  3. Contained sewage treatment
  4. Building with natural and recycled materials
  5. Water harvesting
  6. Food production

By addressing these six needs, an earthship creates a self-sufficient, eco-friendly, and comfortable off-grid home that works with nature, not against it.

1. Thermal/Solar Heating and Cooling

Earthships use passive solar design to capture and store the heat from the sun, and use thermal mass to regulate the indoor temperature. An earthship home also uses natural ventilation, shading, and insulation to keep the home cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Earthship Thermal Heating and Cooling

The glass wall that faces the sun acts as a greenhouse, trapping the heat and creating a warm and humid environment. The plants in the greenhouse also help to purify the air and provide oxygen. The heat from the greenhouse is then transferred to the rest of the house through vents and fans, or stored in the walls and floors for later use.

The walls and floors of the earthship are made of earth-packed tires, which are filled with dirt and stacked like bricks. The tires act as thermal mass, absorbing and releasing heat slowly and evenly. The tires are also covered with adobe or plaster, which adds insulation and aesthetic value.

Earthship roof with grass and vegitation

The roof of the earthship may be covered with soil and plants, which provide insulation and cooling. The plants also help to filter the rainwater and prevent erosion. The roof also has skylights and vents, which allow natural light and air to enter the house. The vents can be opened or closed to control the airflow and temperature.

2. Solar and Wind Electricity

An earthship takes full advantage of renewable energy by using solar panels and/or wind turbines to generate electricity, which is stored in batteries and distributed through a power organizing module. Earthship homes also often use energy-efficient appliances and LED lights to reduce the electricity consumption and demand. 

Earthship Solar and Wind Electricity

The solar panels are usually mounted on the roof or the side of the house, where they can receive the most sunlight. The solar panels convert the solar energy into direct current (DC) electricity, which is then sent to the batteries for storage. The batteries are usually located in a separate room or a closet, where they are protected from the weather and temperature fluctuations. For a complete detailed look of how an off grid solar system functions, how all the components work together and the best places to buy a complete solar kit check out our article Harnessing The Sun and the Best Off Grid Solar Systems.   

The wind turbines are usually installed on a pole or a tower, where they can catch the most wind. The wind turbines convert the wind energy into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is then sent to the power organizing module for conversion and distribution. The power organizing module is a device that regulates the voltage and frequency of the electricity, and switches between the solar, wind, and grid sources, depending on the availability and demand. Some MPPT charge controllers like our MidNite Classic 150 can be used with Solar, Wind and Hydro. 

Earthship Home with Solar

The power organizing module also has outlets and switches, where the appliances and lights can be plugged in and controlled. The appliances and lights are usually low-voltage and energy-efficient, such as refrigerators, washing machines, computers, and LED bulbs. The appliances and lights can also be turned off or unplugged when not in use, to save energy and prevent power surges. We’ve recently written about portable solar generators powerful enough to run an entire off grid home for days while still remaining portable to take them anywhere. 

3. Contained Sewage Treatment

Like our off grid home, earthships use a blackwater system to compost the human and animal waste, and use it to fertilize the plants in the garden. Earthships also use a greywater system to recycle the water from the sinks and showers, and use it to irrigate the plants in the greenhouse.

Earthship Contained Sewage Treatment

The blackwater system consists of a toilet, a septic tank, and a leach field. The toilet is usually a low-flush or a composting toilet like a Separett toilet, which uses little or no water to flush the waste. The waste is then sent to the septic tank (or storage container), where it is decomposed by bacteria and turned into compost. The compost is then pumped to the leach field, where it is distributed to the plants in the garden. The plants in the garden help to filter and absorb the nutrients and water from the compost, and provide food and beauty for the residents.

The greywater system consists of a sink, a shower, a planter, and a sump. The sink and the shower are usually connected to a drain, which leads to a planter. The planter is a container that is filled with gravel, soil, and plants, such as bananas, papayas, or tomatoes. The plants in the planter help to filter and clean the water from the sink and shower, and provide food and humidity for the greenhouse. The water from the planter is then collected in a sump, where it is pumped to the greenhouse for irrigation. The water in the greenhouse is used to water the plants and animals, such as herbs, flowers, fish, and chickens, that can be harvested and consumed by the residents.

4. Building with Natural and Recycled Materials

Earthships use natural and recycled materials, such as earth-packed tires, glass bottles, aluminum cans, and adobe, to build the walls, floors, and roofs of the home. An earthship home also uses local and organic materials, such as wood, stone, and clay, to decorate and furnish both the interior and exterior.