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September 13, 2013 at 12:00 am #63447foxyaviParticipant
I watched “Garbage Warriors” a little over a year ago, and realized how smart and innovative Mr. Reynolds was. I would love to learn more about building an earth ship. Has anyone had experience in building one? There is a training seminar I can take but from all that I have read and seen, I believe that it can be done without the workshop. Really, I am just trying to save some pennies. What are your thoughts on earth ships?September 15, 2013 at 12:00 am #67909DustofferParticipant
I became interested when I read the book in 1993. Seven years later I finally built mine. I used my experience to make it safer, stronger and faster. Much of it can be had from the books, which are secretive about soil-cement. You should also read about concrete. I can’t write a whole book worth of instructions here. After you read the three Earthship books, the concrete estimating book, and the solar living sourcebook by realgoods.com, and get the right land, then I can help with specifics. It [b]is[/b] a [b]lot[/b] of work. A step at a time, with extreme vigor and determination, artistry, and eventually you have a place to live that is unlike the usual ugly tract home or wasteful custom frame/log or brick/block home. No electric bills or water bills, gardens of year around food, self heated, and just all around the coolest and most eco of all construction. Freedom and independence at its epitome.September 16, 2013 at 12:00 am #67910
if youre using tires, anchor them to each other with zipscrews, put one everyplace they touch another tire
as for fill, use the same soil mix as used for cob construction and pack it in hard
lay some rebar between each layer and if possible drive some from the top down thru the tires
once youve coated the walls they should be even more durable than concreteSeptember 18, 2013 at 12:00 am #67913caverdudeParticipant
Ok, I have to answer this one.. https://larrydgray.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/earthen-construction/ Is an article I wrote that briefly covers all earthen methods. I discuss my opinions about the Earth Ships which I like, but feel they are best made in a arid desert area at least the way the author of the books makes them. https://larrydgray.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/green/ is a post where I talk about energy efficient passive solar design and such.
A guy from some Biotecture Institute invented what he called an Iron Butterfly for ramming dirt in tires. Imagine a Pipe with a T handle on top and power coming off of that. A single horizontal hydraulic piston on one side at bottom pushing one way and metal ram pushing the opposite way. Or imagine this thing having an I shape with the bottom of it being the ram. I saw pictures of it but can’t find the web site now or the images. If you google or youtube for this all you get is rock band crap.
What climate do you live in where you intend to build this eartship? how many inches of rain per year does it get? how humid is it? What are the outside temperature extremes?September 18, 2013 at 12:00 am #67914caverdudeParticipant
https://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/kirkwood-on-hybrid-earthships-and-building-community I think this is the episode where he talked about the Iron ButterflySeptember 21, 2013 at 12:00 am #67919DustofferParticipant
Locally, there was a “pogo stick” used. Basically a 4″ ball beater run by a 20 hp. compressor. I bought a 22.5 lb (equivalent to a 35lb) Bosch Demolition Hammer with a 5″ square compactor face in addition to the chisel. Initial compaction was best done with me pulling the decomposed granite in hard by hand. I got good inflation this way. Then more dirt and large rubber mallets, then small sledge hammers, then the 8lb. sledge. Then fill several times with the Bosch giving road base type compaction (in fact I used it below the first course for more soil compaction). Every other tire, every other course was soil-cement filled(2K PSI tested) with vertical rebar scraps that overlapped 9″, As each course was packed, 2x10s and ripped plywood screwed to the tires on the outside and expanded metal lathe screwed to the tires thru large washers or plywood scrap pieces, all leveled with a laser level marking the rebar with nail polish and hand leveling from there. Into this was poured soil cement, with aluminum cans after the 3rd course in the voids and half tires formed. They also had rocks and metal scrap put in for non-weakening fill. The top where tires didn’t show was scratched with a notched trowel. The next day the forms were taken off and a new course or continuation of a course started. This allowed weatherproof and stable construction. I have heard of tire walls falling, and seen them way out of line and plumb. I used a 7 1/4 x 11″ w/2 horizontal rebar tied in to bent over vertical pieces with a 2×8 greenplate on top inside or outside flush. I used gradually decreasing tire sizes and went from a 1′ in 16′ radius to 6″ so straight bond beams could be used. I used real concrete at the major beam bearing points and bond beams and top 1″ of dyed concrete floor with 1’x1′ cuts to simulate tile(slip formed). Slip form garden walls with cans and rebar verticals and two horizontals. I used a 2×6 with 2×2 15* ripped key with holes for the rebar, on the long wall section. Catchment came through the top course with plastic small bubble wrap taped around for contraction/expansion, and 4″ ABS drain from galv. gutters with screens to the 425 gallon tank inside on a platform. The roof plywood had several coats of acrylic roofing with screen strips laying in at all joints. The darkest color they had was tan. The catchment system eventually gets ice blocked every winter but the water lasts for the gardens. I use an insulated roof vent rather than less insulated and kind of useless skylights. The main thing about it is that it needs a way to dehumidify with vents or an electric one allowed for with the solar or wind, or combo system. Also, it is a mistake to use anything but modern new windows for the front wall. Any more questions, I visit on occasion.December 11, 2013 at 12:00 am #67988MJParticipant
I would also like to learn more about Earthship builds. I tried to make up something on my own, but I’m in the medical field, I’m not an engineer, or architect.
Is it recommended to buy the blueprints they sell for $5k? Can anyone tell me why the Earthships cost over $200k to build? Also, I want to build it on my own with some help from people I could pay. Is that even possible?
I’ve become suspect of Earthships since I found out they charge so much for their blueprints, the cost to build an Earthship, and the fact they charge people $400 to intern with them (they do provide housing). They also charge $2500 for an “academy” which does not include housing. It appears to be a money driven company.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated. :)
~ Mj ~December 11, 2013 at 12:00 am #67989
lets face it dude, if you cant get rich off it,it aint worth doing
thats the “TRUE” american way
building an earthship is pretty much basic common sense
same as a pyramid
go to your local library, do some research,learn the basics of construction
then design your earthship and have someone that knows constructuion look over your plans
simple as thatDecember 14, 2013 at 12:00 am #67996chowanParticipant
MJ of course its a money driven company like beast said its a very simple concept and technique but they have spent an awfull lot of time
and money both popularising earthships and fighting legal battles to be able to build these things.
plenty of vids around showing you how to pound dirt which is half the battle but besides that these earthships are suppose to be designed
around water and energy conservation with some permaculture landscaping thrown in and no its not that easy to get everything working together correctly
yes you can do it yourself but it will take you a lot of time and many costly mistakes im sure if you need
to be asking im guessing its probably i good idea for you to spend the money or time working with someone thats doing itJanuary 4, 2014 at 12:00 am #68018
Hi everybody, just found the site, my first post here. I have to chime in about Earthships. As a young hippie, I heard of crazy kids building houses in the desert out of garbage, and I had to check it out. In ’95, I arrived in Taos, NM, and shortly went to work building Earthships. I read all the Earthship books the first month I was there. I was a heavy-duty earthship kool-aid drinker! What follows is my experience and my opinion alone. No disrespect is meant to anybody except those who richly deserve it, but I feel that the truth must be spoken, and I wish somebody would have told me this when I went all starry eyed into the world of Earthships:
There are a lot of great ideas behind the Earthship design, like recycling; using easily available materials; transforming garbage into building materials, catching and reusing rainwater as drinking water and greywater; solar heating; earth mass thermal storage; food production; “organic” (curvy) design, and more. Yes, great ideas veritably hang incense-like around Earthships!
The problem is that the Earthship design translates almost none of those ideas successfully through to actual implementation. The responsibility for this lies, of course, with the designer, just as the success or failure of a business is ultimately the responsibility of the “decider” at its head.
It would be very, very easy at this point to bring up a lot of personal faults, shady business dealings, etc, etc, but let’s leave M.R. and S.S.I. out of it to the extent possible, which in my opinion is the best place for them. It’s embarrassing to see the way “Garbage Warriors” treated the subject, but I suppose that’s what hagiographies are for. Bluntly, he’s not a good guy, and it’s not a good company, IMO. But this isn’t personal, so let’s just talk about the design itself, which is what matters to anyone thinking about building their own.
I’ve helped build multiple Earthships, worked on lots more, lived in a few, and visited a bunch. After that experience, I would prefer it if I never saw another one. I wanted so much to love them, but they are just awful, awful things. They simply do not work. The list of fatal flaws, in no particular order:
The angled south glass lets in way too much light in the summer, and you can’t shade it. Some people have retrofitted huge shades for theirs as a very expensive way to make their “eco”-palace actually habitable in the summer without a few kilowatts of A/C. I guess lately SSI is finally building some with vertical south glass, which is an improvement over the unnecessarily expensive and frankly absurd original design, but still are not using overhangs. Oh, and in addition to being expensive and unnecessary and poorly performing, they all leak.
For anyone interested, here is how you do it right: Vertical south glass with an overhang arranged for your latitude such that winter sun is admitted and summer sun is excluded, perhaps in combination with some seasonal vegetation at the bottoms of the windows. That way, in the winter you get sun and in the summer you get none, automatically.
It ain’t rocket surgery, but there are some very smart people who’ve been working very hard over the last thirty or forty years especially on actual science-based high-performance housing, and they’ve worked out some great stuff. The New Mexico Solar Energy Association offers these guidelines, for example. Do yourself a favor and look around before committing to an Earthship. If you are currently actually seriously considering building an Earthship, I guarantee that you can do so much better for so much cheaper that it would blow your mind.
In an old school Earthship, you get massive insolation (sun a-comin’ in) because the solar gain from the huge, angled south glass can’t be regulated, ever. Not surprisingly, the house overheats in the summer. Who could have seen that coming? Then, there’s a garden inside, with lots of dirt and greens and plants. Neato! Oh, wait, I’m living in a greenhouse. Actually, muggy and compost and spider mites are not what I prefer for breakfast, but because of the design, that’s what you get. The sun shines on the garden and you get steamed compost every morning, yummy. The right way is to do what sane people do and keep your home separate from your greenhouse. If you want it attached for extra solar gain, fine, but make sure you can separate your home air space from your greenhouse air space when you want to. Earthships make better cold frames than homes, IMO.
Earthships use an ungodly amount of concrete. They are frosted very thickly with concrete. Those “bottle” walls are actually concrete walls with some bottles in them. This method of construction is expensive and very, very eco-unfriendly. There’s over 5 gallons of gas worth of petroleum in every bag of concrete, so how “eco-friendly” is an Earthship? Not at all, is the answer. Nor is it cheap. At all.
Another embarrassing secret of Earthships is that they’re built using slave labor. Yep. SSI actually asks people to pay money to “intern” for months pounding tires, which is really excruciating, difficult work. Lots of people contribute free labor and subsidize SSI in various ways because Earthships are “cool” but I don’t see anything cool about slave labor. Fact is, you can’t build an Earthship anything like affordably unless you use slaves or free/cheap labor of some sort, and even then the result is grotesquely expensive for what it actually is. Pack the tires yourself? Mwahahahah, good luck, see you in a decade!
There are concerns with tires outgassing toxic stuff, and there’s the huge work input necessary, but the thermal performance of the Earthship, its whole raison d’etre, the earth-mass thing, just does not work for a home, IMO. It does, as I said, make a great cold frame which will never freeze, but here’s the thing: The “body temperature” of the Earth is around 58 degrees F six or ten feet down, pretty much anywhere on earth. As you go deeper, it gets hotter. So the Earthship, being directly coupled to and essentially thermally one with the Earth, will never freeze. What it will do, however, is try to drop to somewhere a bit below 58 degrees, (lower than the ground temp because of thermal losses through the structure) anytime it’s colder than 58 outside and the sun is down. The thermal mass does store some energy from the day, but because it’s coupled to the infinite thermal mass of the earth at 58 F or so, it always bleeds away its heat. Unless (and sometimes despite) you stoke(ing) a fire all night long, they are often chilly beasts in the winter. When you touch a wall, it’s cold like concrete (usually because it is concrete) and does not warm to the touch.
The craftsmanship and details in many earthships are stunningly poor, which might be better or worse if you built it yourself, but the skill level necessary to pull off a decent Earthship is far, far higher than that needed for cob, straw bale, or more traditional framing, because of all the weird angles, materials, etc. Lots (all?) of them leak, for various reasons. They are quite expensive and labor intensive no matter how you do it. The larger fancier ones are really consumptive of materials, especially because of all the odd angles and weird carpentry required.
Next, good luck finding a place that will actually let you construct one outside of Taos County and a few other places around NM. But then, why would you really want to?
In my opinion, there are always many better alternatives to an Earthship.
My favorite design for the Southwest is a radiant-floored monolithic slab (which uses just a fraction of the concrete that goes into an Earthship) plumbed into a solar panel and woodstove backup for heat with recycled/recyclable, super strong, super quick to assemble steel frame, straw bale infill, superinsulated roof, large south facing windows with engineered overhangs, and a Russian mass stove inside the insulative perimeter envelope where thermal mass belongs. I love straw bale, but there are also other things like rastra block and papercrete that are great.
Mainly, IMO, you want massive superinsulation, the more the merrier, on your perimeter, with thermal mass inside that, no matter what climate you are in.
Can’t I find a single good thing to say about Earthships? Sure! I can find two:
The water catchment and grey water systems are great ideas. They can be implemented in any style of building, so they’re not really an earthship-specific feature, but they’re great ideas, and really necessary for off-grid, especially in the desert. Wind and solar are great, as well. :)
@MJ and anyone in a similar situation: Run, don’t walk. You can find anything you need to know for free online if you look around. In my opinion, charging people money to be slaves is just grotesque. Don’t be a part of it, and don’t let your friends be. Why not get together and help each other build a tiny house eco village? That’s what I’m doing…
Earthships are over, in my opinion.
Again, no disrespect intended except to those who have earned it.January 6, 2014 at 12:00 am #68019
nice post, thanxFebruary 8, 2014 at 12:00 am #68071caroline1Participant
apophasis You said it; everything that I was thinking when I watched the video, you have stated, very eloquently. When you look behind the facade there seems to be some kind of ugliness (and I am not talking about the buildings). All that glitters etc…March 23, 2014 at 12:00 am #68134AyreosParticipant
Apophasis, thank you for your detailed comment. I don’t know if you realize it, but a post like yours could change the off-grid plans of many, many people for the better. As such, hopefully you won’t mind a little discussion about the subject.
Visual reference: https://www.taosearthships.com/images/Phoenix%20images/plan.jpg
1) You say earthships overheat in summer. Isn’t there a vent system placed below the cool earth mass behind the earthship to let cool air naturally in and prevent overheating in summer? Excluding summer sun from an eartship would render having an internal garden a losing proposition, would it not?
2) You also say earthships are connected to the ground mass around there, which bleeds out heat. Isn’t one of the main building features of earthships to use insulated wrapping all around the building, with just enough of its own thermal mass to avoid precisely that bleed-out? The in-earth insulated construction is not original to earthships, so it is relatively time-proven, or am i wrong?
3) You advocate the division between food production and living space because of smells and insects. Isn’t the use of compost not supposed to happen in indoor gardens? The black/greywater filtration of eartships is supposed to provide the fertilization needed below ground level. I currently have a small indoors garden and there is no smell whatsoever from the ground itself. I thought it would be common sense to use compost only for external gardens, as a garden internal to eartships is more ackin a large wicking bed. As for insects, i was of the idea that most would leave through ceiling light fixtures automatically (which are connected to the outside), as that is more natural for insect life than what happens in regular homes.
I agree, of course, on the points of excessive labor, excessive cost and others you made.March 23, 2014 at 12:00 am #68135
Thanks! Responses are inline…
“1) You say earthships overheat in summer.”
I lived in Taos for ten years, and spent a lot of time in Earthships. It’s not really debatable that Earthships overheat; ask anybody who has lived in one of the original designs.
“Isn’t there a vent system placed below the cool earth mass behind the earthship to let cool air naturally in and prevent overheating in summer?”
No. Not on the original earthship designs, nor any actual example I’ve seen, although I haven’t seen them all. Of course, you can modify and add anything you want; at some point it’s no longer an “earthship”…
“Excluding summer sun from an eartship would render having an internal garden a losing proposition, would it not?”
Yeah, I guess… My point is that they are bad designs that do not work well as a whole. Obviously, in the summer, you want zero sunlight entering your home, bringing heat. Again, I think that the design strategy of combining greenhouse and living space is a losing proposition to begin with.
“2) You also say earthships are connected to the ground mass around there, which bleeds out heat. Isn’t one of the main building features of earthships to use insulated wrapping all around the building, with just enough of its own thermal mass to avoid precisely that bleed-out? The in-earth insulated construction is not original to earthships, so it is relatively time-proven, or am i wrong?”
I’ve never seen an earthship with an insulated wrap outside the tires, like in your diagram linked above. But then what would be the point of being in the earth? Why not just stack up tires for walls, then wrap them in insulation? In a way, the addition of insulation is a great idea, but only because of the stupidity of the original design.
You seem a little confused about the functions of thermal mass and insulation, or maybe you were just a little imprecise with your writing. In any case, insulation is not a “main feature” nor even a feature, period, of any earthship I’ve seen. If they added some lately, it’s news to me, but then I don’t really keep track of them. And what exactly is that four foot thick insulation layer made of, anyway? Did that design ever get built somewhere? Would take a lot of money, I’d think.
I have no problem with an insulated in-earth design. IMO, it should bear no resemblance to an earthship, should not be made of tires, etc.
“3) You advocate the division between food production and living space because of smells and insects. Isn’t the use of compost not supposed to happen in indoor gardens? The black/greywater filtration of eartships is supposed to provide the fertilization needed below ground level. I currently have a small indoors garden and there is no smell whatsoever from the ground itself. I thought it would be common sense to use compost only for external gardens, as a garden internal to eartships is more ackin a large wicking bed. As for insects, i was of the idea that most would leave through ceiling light fixtures automatically (which are connected to the outside), as that is more natural for insect life than what happens in regular homes.”
Bottom line: the earthship designs are terrible, largely because the designer is incompetent, has no basic technical skills, and is a half-crazed ideologue. Nothing personal against any of the crew, and some of them are great guys, good craftsmen, and of course hard workers… But not rocket scientists. The idea of trusting that crew to set up a black water system that feeds my indoor garden, and then living inside of it frankly terrifies me. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
Earthships are, in my opinion, full of great concepts and ideas that are poorly thought through, poorly executed and do not, at the end of the day, work.
I have no idea what you mean by insects leaving through light fixtures. In any case, my experience of many Earthships included some smells and many, many insects… I will keep my garden outdoors or in a greenhouse, and have potted plants in my home. Y’all suit yourselves!
“I agree, of course, on the points of excessive labor, excessive cost and others you made.”
Yep. In my opinion, both the earthship design and the organization are so flawed that I want nothing to do with them. After seeing a lot of time, energy, and money wasted on these things by really good-hearted but naive people, I thought I should tell a little of the other side. Maybe somebody intelligent could modify an earthship design into something great, but I’d pick a different starting point. If after hearing what I’ve said you want to go forward, cool! Just don’t go in blind, drinking koolaid and believing the hype.
Cheers!March 23, 2014 at 12:00 am #68136
Oh, fail. Sorry, I’ll come back and try to fix that post. Wonder why it did that? I posted from my iPhone, hmm.
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