More than four decades ago, a lone architect had what must have seemed at the time like an impossible dream: to build a new type of residence that was in complete harmony with the planet and was self-sufficient. This house would be made with recycled and sustainable materials. It would be based on clean energy and renewable resources to supply its inhabitants with the most basic and essential needs. It would be designed to be affordable and use construction techniques so simple that anyone could build it.
This vision was the beginning of what is now known as Earthship, a remarkable feat of sustainable living. The environmental, economic, and ethical reasons for living in an Earthship, or any self-sufficient home, are plentiful. Whether you're breaking ground on a new home or would like to incorporate these concepts into your current home, read on to learn about the principles of the self-sustaining home.
Four walls and a roof
Despite the fact that the average American family size has dropped from 3.3 people per household in 1960 to 2.54 in 2014, the demand for larger homes continues to grow. Between 1973 and 2013, the median size of new single-family homes increased by 55%, from 1,525 to 2,384 square feet. Traditional building practices have a tremendous impact on the natural environment, and the larger the home, the more resources and energy are required to build and maintain it. Building materials are a source of indoor air pollutants, which can be two to five times higher than outdoor pollution. And of course it costs more money to feed, heat and cool such a large space.
To eliminate the environmental impacts of construction (it takes approximately one acre of forest to build a conventional home), construction materials must be recycled, recovered, locally available, renewable, durable, and most importantly, have a footprint of negative carbon. Earthship's main building materials are scrap car tires, aluminum cans, and glass bottles encased in rammed earth, an ancient method that creates strong, non-combustible walls. This allows the structure to achieve thermal mass, keeping the home efficiently in winter and cool in summer without the need for separate heating and cooling systems.
How to build a self-sufficient home
The idea of recovering materials that would otherwise have languished in a landfill is ingenious, but there are other options available when building a green home. As in prehistoric times, modern cob houses are made of dirt and straw, are inexpensive to build, and are resistant to fire and earthquakes. Another is the hemp house, built with Hempcrete, a mixture of industrial hemp, lime, and water. Green roofs, or green roofs, reduce heat loss and stormwater runoff while cleaning the air. And while this waste house was built with 85% trash, such as DVD cases and toothbrushes, you can also get recycled materials from deconstructed buildings.
Last year, the United States consumed more than four billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, 67% of which was derived from fossil fuels. Moving beyond coal and natural gas to clean, renewable energy sources is increasingly accessible, as technological innovations and falling prices continue to make small-scale, off-grid setups practical. and affordable. ``
Solar power, wind power, or a hybrid of the two are viable options, depending on the site's orientation and location. Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems work most efficiently in the Southwestern states, but people in almost any region can benefit from a solar array, as long as the site receives direct sunlight. Wind maps can also help you predict the average annual wind speed at your geographic location. There are many factors to consider before deciding on a renewable energy system, but once set up, it will reliably supply your home with clean (and free!) Electricity.
Water and waste management
According to the UN World Water Development Report, if global demand for water remains at current levels, we would face a 40% deficit in just 15 years. Even bleaker, water shortages in the United States are forecast for 40 of the 50 states in the next 10 years. Unless there is a radical change in the way we use and treat this precious resource, water scarcity will soon be a fact of life.
Rainwater harvesting offers a standalone solution to regional water scarcity by collecting precipitation, including snow, on a catchment surface, such as a roof. From there, the water is gravity fed into a cistern, then piped to a pumping system (for water pressure) and filtered (for potability). Solar water heaters can be installed to meet most, if not all, of your hot water needs; A natural gas or biodiesel water heater can also be used as a supplement.
Now this is where things really get eco-friendly - after drinking water is used for showering, washing, cleaning, etc., it is collected and recycled three times more. This "gray water" is usually made up of food scraps, soap residue, cleaning products, dirt, grease, and hair. Large particles are filtered out before they go to the greenhouse (more on that later) where it provides irrigation and nutrients to edible plants. Garden soil and plant root systems naturally clean and filter gray water, and once this is accomplished, the water is collected again to supply clear, odorless water to toilets. Finally, the flush water from the toilets, known as “black water”, is contained and treated in a solar septic tank. The black water can be channeled into a drain field or used for outdoor irrigation for inedible plants.
Here is a visual representation of this wonderful setup
The finishing touch to Earthship is the ability to grow your own organic food all year round. Since Earthship is a passive solar design, south-facing windows are necessary to absorb heat from the sun. This glass wall is the perfect place for fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowering plants, with a growing area large enough to feed a small family. The gray water from the home, which is rich in nitrogen and completely safe for food-bearing plants, is automatically pumped into the indoor garden, which means considerably less daily maintenance. When using gray water for irrigation, it is best to clean with products that are natural, biodegradable and non-toxic.