Earthship, Anyone ever hear of them?

So my friend found this site: and wants to build one in 10 years or so. It is intended to be a self sustaining home off the grid.

I was just wondering with the amount of people on the Dope, has anyone ever encountered one or looked into them? Just wanted to see what people here think about the concept.

A key concept of the design is the tyre wall, filled with rammed earth. You get an inexpensive/free building material that nobody is going to steal, so you can build in a leisurely fashion, using your own labour.

“Earthship” is a particular design, trademarked by Michael Reynolds. The early designs were for a dry, warm climate (SW USA), and according to the Wikipedia article there have been heating problems in different climates.

One thing I noticed was that, IMO, the house shown in the Earthship Biodesign intro page was butt-ugly, and that the pictures of Earthships on the Wiki article were all unfinished. Also, I’d find something other than “Earthship” to call my project, post-haste.

There are a number of them around here near Taos. I think that in order to live in one, you have to be the kind of person who really likes to think about his living space a lot as it never really “fades into the background” like a normal house does.

For the right kind of person, it seems like a good fit, though.

Earthships are an awesome idea, if you live in a warm, dry climate, as mentioned above. Other designs, such as passive solar using straw bale or insulated concrete forms are more suitable for colder, wetter climates. Googling those terms will give you a ton of info.

They do work in the cooler, wetter climate of Ontario, but the design had to be modified. The basic principle, that of insulating mass away from the exterior so that it can store heat, and keeping it at room temperature, is still extremely relevant.

I even bought the books. Hubster vetoed any kind of living space made with the tires, but we have a large hunk o’ land that needs to be FENCED. I’ve found places near us that would let us have all the used tired we want, for free. One guy said he had in excess of 20,000–I could have as many as I wanted!

My next step was to thoroughly research the Codes, Covenants & Restrictions (CCR) that came with the property. I read it over enough times to make my eyeballs bleed, and I learned a lot of things (we can’t raise hogs on the land!) but there was NOTHING about tire walls for boundary fences.

THEN I went to the County, to see what THEY had to say. No problem with the County, but I might possibly have difficulty with the Feds. Tires are hazardous waste.

So, I talked to the Fed guy, who is only there for a few days per week. Nice fella, who even copied pages of the Federal laws for me. Anyway, the Federal government will apparently let you do whatever you want with tires in 100-tire increments. If you have OVER 100 tires on your land, you MIGHT need special handling permits from the Federal government. Those are loose tires: once you’ve built with them, you’ve converted them into real property. The Fed guy also said that I need to be alert to standing water INSIDE any “loose” tires since that can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Now I need to find a way to get a trench 30 inches deep dug around the perimeter of the property. I don’t want to construct the boundary wall on the ground, I want it properly footed so it won’t heave up because of frost.

A couple friends of mine built an earthship in SW Colorado. They started it in the '90s. It’s not quite finished. They’re divorced now. It’s a very special place and I admire them greatly for building it, but damn it’s a lot of hard work. The earthship isn’t the sole reason for the divorce but it took it’s toll over the years and now it’s a bone of contention since both put so much blood sweat and tears into it.

I’ve been in theirs and in a couple near Taos. Done wellthey’re like organic hand-shaped custom fantasy homes.

An earthship doesn’t go up fast like a stick-built house unless you have an army. My friends had to find places to live over the years until it was habitable. Money spent on rent is money not spent on the earthship. While free recycled materials are part of the building, stuff still needs to be bought and for instance a jackhammer needs to be rented to chip away that snout of granite that’s in the way of finishing the living room wall. It’s like traditional house building in that way. Stuff just comes up and you need to write another check and deal with it.

They had a one room cabin on the property but that worked for only so long since over time they had kids. Both had to work pretty much full time and come home and pound dirt into tires, endlessly. And raise kids. Some people can handle a life like that better than others.

So there’s that :).

Earth ships are just one variation of eco-friendly, off-the-grid housing but people can and have built many more types. Your friend may be interested in the Mother Earth News archives that go back to the early 1970’s. It isn’t quite a hippie magazine like the name suggests or at least not in the usual sense. They regularly cover people that have really built houses like this and give practical advise along with disadvantages to them.

Thanks for the info guys. Some good reading.

Oh, Mother Earth News was VERY MUCH the hippie magazine, in its early days! I love to pull out old issues and browse them and smile.

I think it was in the Nineties when the magazine morphed into the slick yuppie-wannabe-hobby-farmer seen today. Many people have decried the selling out. There’s still a lot of fantastic information, though.

A magazine that is more in line with what MEN USED to be is Backwoods Home Magazine. You have to be tolerant of the bold libertarian flavor that pervades the agenda.

I still subscribe to both MEN and BHM.

Adocumentaryon the subject.

…and another. Appropriately it opens with pounding dirt into tires.

Hi guys I’m the guy that wants to build a house out of tires! Thank you for all of the response and advice, anything helps. lol at the biodome. It is a plan me and my brother came up with just a bit ago and are pretty determined to do it. Basically we want to buy a large piece of land somewhere, get about 10 good people together and build 2 of them, and eventually possibly 3. As far as my family goes, we already have a solid 4 people to help build. Both of us are putting every penny we have away, though my brother makes alot more money then I do. Our goal is to almost completely independently fiance it, two earthships that can accommodate 5 people, plus the land, would prolly be around 900k. Shouldn’t be terribly hard if 10 people are going in on it. I do realize it is hard to find good people to do stuff like this with, but I have faith and I am determined. I am completely fed up with our social and economic system and want to live completely off the grid. This will realistically take a lifetime to complete, which is fine with me, my children will live a free life. The grid is a nipple we all suck on, and we don’t have to suck on it anymore.

To MonoDextrose:

I cannot emphasize enough to GET YOUR PERMITS. Make sure everything you do is aboveboard and legal. The county where we live is small, population-wise, and everything has a rural feel to it. Yet the permit department knows ALL about Earthships, haybale construction, and other non-traditional homes. Just take everything one step at a time, and do it all legally and with a permit.

You might say, “Oh, my property is so out-of-the-way, nobody will ever know.” Don’t count on it. There are people who work for the assessor’s office who spend their working days driving all over, LOOKING for exactly that: out of the way places that nobody seems to know about.

When it comes to acquiring tires, contact all tire dealers and service stations around you. The places nearest the freeway will usually have the most. You should NOT be charged a dime for them.

The daughter and son-in-law of my dads girlfriend built one. They had to build a fire daily in the interior fireplace for heat. I don’t know how elaborate it got as I only saw pictures. While they were able to build the basic structure, it was never ‘finished’ on the inside. They were there for a number of years, but I think they basically ran out of money and could not pay the mortgage they had for the land. The bank foreclosed and the family is now living with their 80-year-old mother.

As an aside, the whole family strikes me as flaky. They have disavowed microwave ovens and are supporters of Dr Mercola, purple plates, and anti-EMF necklaces.

This. I know people who have built them, and, yes, got permits. In Ontario, at least, the walls are treated as a foundation wall, and the roof is conventional construction. They have been permitted here, so the building officials know what to look for.

The design is sensitive to window sizing and placement, insulation, ventilation, and room sizing, so be sure you get designers who knows what they’re doing.