My earthship

Yesterday I watched Garbage Warrior, a documentary about Michael Reynolds and his Earthships.

(Earthships are passive solar homes, often made of recycled materials and employing “renewable energy and integrated water systems [to] make the Earthship an off-grid home with little to no utility bills.”)

Though you do see Earthships in the film, the story is mostly about Reynolds’ battle with the state of New Mexico to pass “housing test zone” legislation that would allow for experimental building projects that don’t fall within current building and subdivision codes. In the midst of a grinding legislative battle, the Earthship team travels to the tsunami-devastated Andaman islands and then to New Orleans to build rainwater-catching garbage houses. You can watch the whole film on YouTube.

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In response, I added a garden room to the south side of my dream house design. The idea of an indoor garden is a little confusing – What about bugs? Where does the water go? Would the garden get too hot in the window? Should there be a door between the garden and the house? – but there would be some very cool things about being able to grow food so close to the kitchen. Also, my grandfather says the front door should be on the east side of the house, where it’s more shaded, and adding a solarium across the south side was a way to do that.

Although my dream house is rectangular and not domed, I am pretty excited about the possibilities of superadobe and hyperadobe. Both apparently perform very well in earthquakes, which is a plus in this area.

3 thoughts on “My earthship

  1. Wow, nice choice of materials — for the desert, that looks so perfect. I’d not heard of superadobe or hyperadobe, but the concept seems really sound — the bags add structural reinforcement so easily, the skin effect taking most of the structure. Just have to join the layers soundly and you’re in good shape.

    I might still prefer straw bale, since the insulation combined with thermal mass is better when you want the inside temperature notably different from the outside temperature, especially when you have sustained temperature gradients — like the desert summers, and the mountain winters. When you have an environment that both goes above the comfort zone during the day and below at night, purely thermal mass makes more sense to me.

    Can always combine the two, too — a south or north face of one material, and the rest of the house another.

    Roofs are the only hard part.

    1. Hi Aria!
      I definitely do not have much experience to go on when thinking about insulation vs. thermal mass. People say you want thermal mass if you have big temperature swings, which we definitely have. In the winter, for example, it can be tee shirt weather in the day and freeze at night. But, windchill aside, it’s generally a pretty ideal temp. either during the day (in the winter) or at night (in the summer) — so it’s not like it would swing past comfortable in both directions in the same season, if that makes sense.

      I get the sense that you can have too much thermal mass and not enough insulation, so I was imagining using volcanic rock or rice hull bags as infill (with structural concrete pillars) for the outside walls and using the floor and inside walls for thermal mass.

      Did you grow up in a strawbale house?

      I don’t see a lot of people other than the earthshippers talking about zero-thermal-input houses, but it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard in a climate like ours.

      R

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