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To Earthship or not to Earthship

To Earthship or not to Earthship

That is the question it seems. Is it time that Australia, with all its abundance of natural resource and limitless creativity, find a space within its red-soil heart for the Earthship concept to call home? Before we approach this question lets discuss, what is an Earthship?

Phoenix – The Graceland of Earthships. This was built in response to a high end Earthship attempted by a developer who abandoned understanding of Earth phenomena and the project eventually failed. This building is a fine example of what is possible with high budgets and an accumulative 4 billion years of planetary evolution

its not a building, its terrain. we are going to make a nest within the terrain’ Michael Reynolds 

After passionate discussions with countless humans, trees and pademelons about the definition, I came across a forest of varied ideology. Like any forest, it takes every individual entity’s interaction to thrive into a single entirety of healthy biodiversity.

The humans usually come from a place of pre-learned dogma and a series of life experiences full of ‘achievement’ and ‘failure’ which has helped them in landing firm opinions of what works in life and what doesnt. This has helped humanity become extremely efficient in the art of consulting the head before the heart. The heart is the place that links humans to universal phenomena and growth in its entire form (not just a socio-economical form). The head is a place that acknowledges man made phenomena, such as ‘failure’ and ‘achievement’. All ‘failure’ should represent, is a forum for learning. it should be embraced like the first time you slip with a power tool or the last time you assume power in a relationship based on unconditional love. When the heart communicates with the head in shades of love and positive intention, the head becomes a tool for the inquisitive, curious and critical mind which is important for any flavour of evolving precedent. In turn the hand can help bring tangibility to the communicative process between heart and head.

It is symbiotic relationships such as the human heart, head and hand that can help illustrate the core of the Earthship concept. Yes that’s right, Earthships. We were talking about those things wer’ent we?

There are six main living systems that make up the Earthship concept:

  • Building with natural and recycled materials

  • Thermal solar heating and cooling

  • Renewable energy power sources

  • Harvesting and reusing of rainwater for

  • food production and

  • sewerage treatment

It is the integration of all of these systems that physically make up an Earthship. As Mike would say, ‘it’s just like the human body. You have the digestive system, respiratory system, nervous system, all these systems feed off and nurture each other to create one living entity, the human being’. So you are essentially living inside an entity that feeds you, keeps you warm, gives you all the sustenance you need as a homosapien of planet Earth, necessary for your basic survival. And its your interaction with the Earthship that brings it to life.

But before we get into the physical application of these living systems we need to talk a little about unarguable planetary phenomena. Understanding the rhythm of the land you have chosen (or land that has chosen you) will help the home shape itself. It’s important to realise that things like sun path, rain trends, contour of land, site fertility, soil content and access are things you will be encountering on a daily frequency. Encountering this phenomena is the key to really understanding how to approach house design. Look at is the same as you would look at the biology of a tree. The root system stores food gathered by the leaves sun exposure which travels down the trunk and gets fed back for growth at the same time as the bark provides an armour so the inner heartwood can grow strong for extra stability initially set by the root system that also stores food in time of drought as well as aerating the surrounding soil , etc. That is how an evolved being thrives amongst flawless biodiversity.

Encountering passively just as the collective beings of a forest do, sets up the ongoing existence of a thriving ecosystem. Harnessing resources to serve our individual needs come from a place of solitary ego. Its the difference between a house that is based on shelter and protection or a home founded by interaction and community. It’s quite comparable to a love or fear intention. welcoming the four billion years of planetary evolution into the operation, functionality and design of your home could be a setting for further involvement in such evolution.

So what this means is when deciding whether you want to build an Earthship or any other kind of home, make sure that your intention is like the love in the center of collective consciousness and includes your wants but isnt limited to them. If you fall in love with the Earthships of New Mexico but you want to build in Cairns, Australia for example, you are going to want to appropriate the technology and surrender the expectation of it looking and functioning the same as a desert home.

1. Building with natural and recycled materials

The simple decision to build with these materials is quite a powerful one. It is recognising the four billion years of environmental evolution on this planet as well as incorporating byproducts of modern day society so finally they can co-exist for the betterment of our collective growth. To build like this serves as a timeline of where we have come as a collective species and how we can transcend a waste producing society so hopefully one day not only can we clean up our footprint, but we can learn not to leave a permanent one.

Tyres rammed with earth used as foundation, form, thermal storage, pest proofing, among other benefits make it a violently attractive building product. Although in some climates such as tropical, it isnt necessary and could serve as a detriment. Projects such as the Haiti  project and the Jamaica project serve as monument for the adaptation of the Earthship concept.

2.Thermal solar heating and cooling 

This is directly related to the materials you build with. The aim is to keep the house at a consistant temperature all year round, making the need for heating and cooling systems obsolete. The first step in human evolution was discovering fire, the next step is learning not to need it. If you are living in an area where you have an extreme or some kind of variance in temperature, you would focus on materials that store temperature in its mass (ie tyres rammed with dirt). If you live somewhere humid where the temperature is quite consistant but you have issues with dampness and water levels, you would focus more on drainage and ventilation (cans and mortar, cooling tube, drainage, etc).

Site analysis and orientating the house correctly is paramount in the success of this living system and in turn, the rest of them too. Efficient orientation determines the amount of sun power and thermal potential. Thermal mass is possible when particles are compact enough for energy to pass through it and store. Rammed earth and cement are two such materials. Thermal mass acts as a battery for the comfort zone inside your house. Insulation acts as a barrier for energy so it cant pass through. This occurs when there are air pockets in the material that hinder flow.

Straw bale, sawment and hempcrete are excellent insulators, especially hempcrete but we’ll keep that for another time. Insulation when used is relationship to thermal mass, sets foundation for a very consistant living temperature. There are also natural cooling systems which use ventilation and convection to keep a flow of air that cool a space as well as combating mould and stagnant air. We shall also talk about that more in depth next time. 

3. Renewable power sources 

This is traditionally solar and wind power but isnt restricted to those technologies. Again, finding what is appropriate for your situation will require you to listen to the land. if you have a running stream close by you could use hydro-electrics, if you had access to an abundance of waste vegetable oil you could convert it to biodiesel and use that. Whichever technology you decide on, the answer always lays in what you actually need to power. The more appliances you run, the bigger the power system you will need. Appliances that have a heating or cooling element in them usually use a lot of power so staying away from electric cooking equipment, heaters, blow dryers etc. Invest more in things like methane digesters for cooking gas, building your house so it doesnt require added heating and cooling and just dry your hair with a towel! 

4. Harvesting and reusing rainwater 

The beautiful thing about decentralisation is that you are a big part of your own sustenance and nourishment. You know all too well that the water you are drinking has fallen from the sky is free of poisons and negativity picked up through mass infrastructure. The saying ‘you are what you eat’ also applies to drink. In Taos, New Mexico they have seven inches of rainfall annually. Seven inches! They have made women’s heels higher than that. With that in mind, Earthships reuse the water they collect four times which limits the amount of ground water they need to tap into by almost 100%. In Nimbin, New South Wales i have spoken to quite a few people of late who have needed to get their tanks refilled this dry season. The annual rainfall is just under 92 inches. 

The water trail! 

Firstly water is gathered into tanks. From there it is filtered, pumped (or gravity fed) and sent to faucets, showers, washers, etc. Then the waste water from everywhere (except for the toilet and kitchen sink) is known as grey water. This grey water is then filtered through a series of rubber lined cells filled with gravel, sand, soil and plants. The oxygenation of the  plants clean the water as well as gather nutrients from the grey water to assist in… 

5. Food production 

Food harvested from Earthships have been tested against produce from a local organics produce store in Taos, New Mexico and the ES produce came up with a fraction of the contamination that the organic store’s produce had. Another positive about growing produce from your grey water is that the water holds a lot of information about your personal deficiencies which helps the plant understand what healing properties are required for your personal wellbeing. The water runs on a steady decline down the botanical cell. Plants with shorter to longer root systems being planted according to the decline. Once the water has passed all the way to the end of the bed it is now clean enough to pump up for…

6. Contained sewerage treatment 

Flushing the toilet with filtered grey water. So far we have washed, grown food and flushed the toilet with the same water. It seems to me a little strange that we are still flushing our toilets with drinking water while in the belly of a global water crisis. After flushing the toilet, the excrement drops into a septic made of truck tyres stacked on top of each other in a rubber lined cell surrounded by gravel. Through an anaerobic process, the black water leaches out of the spaces between each tyre and rises up the gravel until it reaches a pipe that flows out to a black water botanical cell.

The black water botanical cell works much the same as the grey water botanical cell. The only difference being that you dont really grow edibles because of the high nitrogen content but other plants and small trees are fine. This garden bed can be outdoor in dryer climates. If you live somewhere with high rainfall then it would be best to build a secondary greenhouse to keep the treatment contained.

This is a small peep show into the world of understanding Earthships. This technology can be adapted to almost any building style anywhere around the world. As long as you dont compromise performance, environmental standing and the interaction between you, the house and the natural phenomena of the planet.

 ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’ – Ghandi  

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4 Comments

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