Imagine living in a house that produces its own energy, generates its own water supply, grows and sustains its own food supply, and continuously maintains interior climate conditions at proper and desirable temperatures. Such a house might seem like some kind of science fiction dwelling place of the future, but it might surprise you to know that this type of sustainable living system actually exists right now, and is probably a lot more accessible and less expensive than you might think.
“Earthships” are a lot different from the types of homes that most Americans live in today. Rather than rely on public utilities and centralized grids for obtaining human necessities like water and electricity, earthships are designed to produce these and other vital resources independently, on site. By incorporating the various elements of a completely functional and self-sustaining living environment into a single, uniform structure, earthships truly are the self-sustaining wave of the future.
A pioneer of the earthship concept, Taos, New Mexico-based Earthship Biotecture has been teaching the world for years about self-sustaining living systems which begin, of course, at home. A house that naturally collects rainwater and utilizes it for drinking, washing, and irrigating, will fare much better during the coming crisis than a house connected to the municipal water system, which can fail in an instant.
“Humans need comfortable temperatures, light, electricity, hot water, food, sewage treatment, etc. These necessities are all available within the framework of a certain ‘rhythm’ in the Earthship,” says the Earthship website.
“The more we are able to align our priorities and needs with the prevailing rhythms of the planet, the easier and less expensive (both in terms of economics and ecology) they will be to obtain. If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterns of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet.”
How earthships work
So how exactly does the earthship system work to align human living with the “prevailing rhythms of the planet?” Structurally, earthships are built entirely out of natural and recycled building materials that are easily obtained and relatively inexpensive. The outer walls, for instance, are typically composed of old tires filled with natural earth, a composition that creates a natural thermal mass capable of keeping an earthship cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Building upon this concept, the inner walls of an earthship are built using dirt, sand, chopped straw, and other natural materials that are formed into a natural, earthen plaster material that is structurally sound and thermally strong. The entire structure is also built into the side of a hill, berm, or bank, with the back nestled inside the earth facing north, and the glass-covered front facing south towards the sun.
It is this glass-covered front that collects natural solar energy and radiates it throughout the earthship structure in a passive solar system, which maintains a year round temperature suitable for living and growing food. The side walls can also be composed partially of glass bottles and other translucent materials, as can the roof of the structure, for improving indoor lighting conditions. A combination of windmills and photovoltaic solar cells are also used to generate electricity for powering modern appliances and light fixtures.
Earthships also come equipped with gutters and other water-collection features that channel rain and snowmelt through filters and into underground collection cisterns. These cisterns are designed to utilize water four different times, beginning with the bathing, washing, and consumption cycle. After clean water is used for these functions, it is filtered and reused for watering indoor plants that produce both food and clean air. After being used for indoor plants, this water is then used to flush toilets, where it proceeds through a final filter that dispenses it for final use on outdoor plants and crops.
This four-stage watering cycle not only conserves water, but also provides ample amounts of it for growing food both inside and outside the earthship structure. Because the passive solar system maintains warm temperature year round inside earthships, a variety of food plants and trees can be grown indoors, while other crops, depending on the unique climate in which a particular earthship is located, can be grown outdoors.
According to Earthship Biotecture, earthships can be built anywhere in the world, and far exceed LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) architecture and other “green” building standards commonly used in the design of modern building structures.
To learn more about earthships, and to see what they look like, be sure to visit: http://earthship.com/
Also, be sure to check out the Earthship Biotecture Academy, a comprehensive training program that involves 62 hours of classroom study, and two months of in-depth, hands-on field work building and learning about earthship structures: http://earthship.com/school
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