A word about Earth Ships
What ... building with tyres and beercans???
Being born of the 'children of the seventies', Earth Ships are a fascinating concept, using many car tyres and aluminium cans to fill walls and create high mass, high volume temperature stabilizers.
Although more advanced technologies are now available to recycle these products, Earth Ships embody a self-sufficiency concept and heat storage technologies that are worth implementing, following or elaborating upon.
What is an Earth Ship?
An Earth Ship is a mostly self-sufficient, bermed, high-thermal mass, passive solar home having no utility hookups. Its electricity and heat for space and hot water almost entirely come from the earth, sun, and sometimes wind.
These homes have thick adobe or stucco covered exterior walls. The walls are generally made of recycled tires rammed full of soil plus aluminum cans, but they can also be made of rammed earth using forms, large bricks, soil filled concrete blocks, etc.
Earthships provide indoor space for growing food usually in planters along the interior side of the south facing glass. Earthships use gray water systems to recycle their water into large planters in the living space (code permitting). Often a catch water system is used rather than a well.
Earthships are as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible so as to assist us in riding the waves of the future. The Earthship home is also less vulnerable to fires and earthquakes than conventional construction. This is the most earth-friendly & self-sufficient building option available with many long-term advantages for the home owner.
The passive solar tire home can cost as much as or more than either a conventional home or a straw bale home, especially if solar hot water and solar electric systems are included. However, it is important to consider the long-term savings in heating and electricity costs as compared to the initial construction cost of the home.
Earth Ship Defined
A earthship house is made up of rammed earth and tires. The tires are stacked (staggered) like bricks. Each tire has earth pounded into them until firmly packed. Once the tires are packed, they are very difficult to move and form quite a dense wall. The walls are load bearing and provide thermal mass which is an important attribute to any energy efficient house. Thermal mass stores heat and releases the heat slowly. This keeps indoor temperature constant while outside temperatures fluctuate. Once the walls are in place, the walls are quite often plastered over and appear very similar to an adobe style house.
Michael Reynolds a Southwestern US architect is credited with building the first earthship. His wife coined the phrase because the house was self-sustaining, requiring no outside source of water nor electricity. The house just kind of sailed around, hence the name earthship. The house was built out of discarded materials such as automobile tires and aluminum cans and finished with natural adobe.
What are the advantages of building an earthship?
Energy Efficiency - Earthships provide a large amount of thermal mass. This helps keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Most homes of this type have been built in the southwestern part of the United States although I did visit a house under construction in Bancroft, Ontario. I don't recall if the owners were going to insulate the outside at all, but it may not be a bad idea for northern climates.
Self-Sustainability - The homes are designed to take advantage of natural resources. The homes are typically built in rectangular form and oriented to take advantage of passive solar radiation. Rainwater is also stored in cisterns and gray water is recycled.
"Buildability" - Earthships can be owner built. There is obviously, quite a bit of labor involved but if time is not a factor, a house of this type could be built with just a couple of workers. Basic carpentry, plumbing and electric skills are required.
Easy Availability - Not only are tires easy to get, some places will pay you to take them away! There are plenty of tires, bottles and aluminum cans around.
What are the disadvantages of building an earthship?
Resellability - With any other alternative house building types, you might have a problem reselling a house that is "different" from the norm. In most cases, the occupants who build alternative homes are usually building them for a lifetime, but if plans change and you need to sell, it may take longer to find a buyer.
Building Permits - As with all alternative building methods, you might run into some problems with local building codes. The walls are the biggest hurdle. The rest of the house is built using conventional building methods, but getting approval for the rammed tires might be a problem.
Financing - Earthships are a very new concept in building design. Fannie Mae, the nations largest supplier of home loans are exploring environmental loans that might include earthships sometime in the future.
Earthships - what are they?
Earthships are cutting edge 'green' buildings, constructed using waste car tyres and other recycled materials. They use the planets natural systems to provide all utilities - using the sun's energy and rain to provide heat, power and water. They are buildings that heat and cool themselves, harvest their own water and use plants to treat their sewage.
Earthships enjoy the weather, regardless of season. If it's raining they catch free water, if it's windy they generate free power and if it's sunny they are capturing free heat and electricity. Apart from using all the resources immediately around them they also employ extensive energy efficiency and water conservation measures, ensuring that the rainwater and renewable energy they harvest goes as far as possible.
Earthships have evolved over the last thirty years from the pioneering work of Michael Reynolds, Earthship Biotecture and the residents of the 3 Earthship communities in Taos, New Mexico.
Jack Ehrhardt: Going Quiet
Renewing the Countryside
This is one of many stories from the Four Corners region that were printed in A New Plateau: Sustaining the Lands and Peoples of Canyon Country, edited by Peter Friederici and Rose Houk.
This book was a project of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University and Renewing the Countryside, with assistance from the Museum of Northern Arizona. A New Plateau can be purchased at the Renewing the Countryside online bookstore or the Northern Arizona University bookstore, or request it at your local bookstore.
Jack Ehrhardt and his contracting company, ACE Builders, built the first "Earthship" in Arizona for a client in Dewey in the early 1990s. An Earthship is a self-sustaining, passive solar home made from used tires packed with dirt, cans, bottles, and other discards. The home was designed by architect Michael Reynolds of Taos, New Mexico, and features solar electric power, rainwater roof collection, and indoor graywater garden planters that filter wastewater while growing food and flowers.
Then Jack built his own Earthship home in the Cerbat Mountains above Kingman. It just made sense - environmental, economic, and common.
Jack Ehrhardt values independence. Earthships offer freedom from utility bills and mortgages, but more than that, they reflect Jack's independent mindset.
"I don't participate in the Euro-American rituals - there is no Santa Claus and the Easter bunny doesn't lay eggs," he says.
"That's part of being able to see clearly. I don't think on cue and that allows me to be pretty free."
Jack is a big man in all dimensions - huge in body and heart, with a big laugh and a readiness to take on big challenges. It's hard not to liken his massive, yet gentle persistence to that of an ox, but his quick wit and intelligence resist such comparisons.
Several years ago Jack drove into the town of Peach Springs, Arizona, for the first time. He found the administration building for the Hualapai Tribe and asked,
"Are you guys interested in energy-efficient, sustainable building?"
They said "yes," and then the council got together and three hours later Jack gave a talk.
"Then they told their natural resources department to find a grant to get one of these built," he explains.
An Environmental Protection Agency "Jobs through Recycling" grant eventually got the project underway.
With the Hualapai, Jack faced the kinds of problems typical of rural areas with high unemployment and scant resources for training programs. Sometimes workers failed to show up, and the project was vandalized more than once.
"It was difficult, but it was good. The experience was all beneficial - school kids came down and worked on it, they did the can walls, the bottle walls, they learned about recycling, they got to do the earth plasters. We literally got the tires from the community. Everyone was gathering tires from ravines and people's yards, wood from dismantled buildings, windows from military reutilization. It was really a good time; it was really a good feeling. It seemed to me to be one of the best times things felt around here."
The 1,200-square-foot Hualapai Earthship now functions as a tribal office space with seven solar-powered workstations. Jack now serves as the tribe's Planning and Economic Development Director, and is working on developing renewable energy projects, such as a wind farm, to generate revenue and create jobs on the reservation. In 1999, Jack pulled together one of the most unusual collaborations in the field of sustainable building. He brought together the rebel architect and counterculture icon Michael Reynolds with the top brass of the Arizona Army National Guard. Colonel Doug Brown was committed to getting a 5,000-square-foot office building constructed using recycled materials - tires in particular - for the Guard's base in Phoenix. It didn't seem to matter that the right people for getting it done were the long-haired Reynolds and Ehrhardt, even after Jack told them about his conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War.
Jack laughs when recounting the story.
"At that point they said 'we have no labor, but we have some money for materials, and a very limited budget. And, by the way, your labor force will be Sheriff Joe Arpaio's drug-infested, dysfunctional prisoners.' I said, 'Oh, bring it on! I'm the man for the job. Give me the most impossible task.'"
Jack rolls his eyes and laughs:
"What a circus. I had to cut the locks off the fuel depot to get fuel for the tractor, and they tried to get me arrested. I said, 'I don't care what you guys do, I'm gonna get this building built!' Fortunately the colonels stood behind me, and through a long, long process we got the building built."
As for the "drug-infested, dysfunctional" labor force, he says,
"Every single prisoner learned things that they never dreamed were possible. Some of them never even worked before, they'd simply been dealing drugs, and they said 'Wow, so you can build things like this and you can use solar energy.' And I take a big fire hose and shoot it across the sky and it makes a prism, and I say, 'Look guys, what you're breathing.' And if you can picture thirty inmates, in Arpaio's uniforms, with their mouths open, going, 'So we're breathing in rainbow energy!' I said, 'Yes, men!'"
Jack's building projects all become educational forums - opportunities to weave community values around sustainability. The Ehrhardt's Earthship home in Kingman has served as the hub of a youth education summer camp focused on teaching kids about renewable energy and conservation. Jack doesn't hesitate to get involved with local issues, such as organizing a successful campaign to prevent the construction of a toxic waste incinerator. He has also served on the local planning and zoning commission.
"If we speak from the heart, so the people sitting at the desks can feel it, then they make the right decisions," he says. "That's what activism is about - making life exciting and participating. Life is so much clearer and vibrant when you do that."
Even as a family man responsible for raising two children, Jack didn't feel the need to compromise his values for the sake of secure employment in conventional construction. But he doesn't consider himself particularly courageous.
"I don't know if it's a life purpose or just going calm and paying attention to something as simple as what the church was saying, and your parents taught you: to do good. And then you become an adult and throw fifty percent of it away and compromise it. I'm doing what I was taught. It's no big deal. It doesn't make sense not to do what we're doing: seeking peace and doing good. I don't know why other humans don't feel it, or why they don't choose to go quiet and contemplate and sense their connection to the natural environment and feel the responsibility. It's fun to give your life choices a priority to where they make a difference toward doing something about the whole family of planet Earth and the whole cosmos that we live in."
And with that philosophy, one man keeps his life, and his Earthships, on course.
Organization: A.C.E. Builders, Inc.