Earthship Homes Made of Recycled Materials

For decades, Earthships have been proving the power of recycling.
24 February, 2017
The Earthship movement builds off-the-grid homes from aluminium cans and other recycled materials – and some are works of art.
Back in the 1970s, architect Michael Reynolds started building one house, his own, in Taos, a desert city in the American Southwest known for its artistic and eclectic community.

Long before climate priorities made recycling a global priority, Reynolds was collecting empty aluminium beer and soda cans to build his "Earthship" movement – and homes that use solar panels, wind power and gray water systems.
Image: Alchetron
Decades later, Earthships are found all over the world. Reynolds, who moved beyond construction to offer workshops and conferences, will be speaking this year in Europe and Brazil.

Ten years ago, he was the subject of the award-winning "Garbage Warrior" documentary, an exploration into both his sustainable life philosophy and a look at how to build the walls of your house from aluminium cans.
There are Earthships in more than 20 countries, including England and Guatemala, and the community in Taos supports 70 residences and allows overnight visitors in community rentals.

If you'd expect these homes to look like a pile of castoff junk that immediately sets off alarm bells about community code violations, you're in for a surprise. Some of them are works of art, and while they may not be conventional in the gated suburban community sense, they are as architecturally attractive as they are functional.
Most of the homes are built by the owners themselves, and they reflect a personal style and the pride of accomplishment. Even so, Earthships offers designs and system blueprints to help them along. The outfit even offers an academy for enthusiasts who want to learn techniques for building the ship.

If you'd rather just buy one as opposed to building from scratch, Earthships are available for sale. The Euro Earthship is a good example. This three-bedroom, two-bath house runs 204 square meters on a 6,070 square meter piece of Taos. It's so efficient that Earthship guarantees the total utility bills for an entire year will not exceed USD$100.
The house features an entryway through the greenhouse where plants filter gray water for home use. Solar panels sit atop the greenhouse, which is the highest point of the house and roof, and therefore exhausts hot air from the peak. The exterior walls are made of tires filled with rammed earth; the stacked aluminium-can walls separate the adjacent interior rooms.

Food production is integrated into the Earthship designs, so a living room is open to the greenhouse and functions as one great room. If the desert evening gets chilly, there's a cold weather drape to draw tight. The greenhouse serves as a hub for the home, connecting kitchen and living areas with the bedrooms.
Image: Earthship
Most of the Earthships are low-profile, single-story buildings, often built into a hillside to reap the geothermal benefits of the "earth" in Earthships. The other sides of the home are glass, with plenty of light and plants. The Euro model features tubes that run through a berm beneath the foundation, which allows for a cooling circulation to pass through.

Earthships were born in the desert, but they're adapted to any environment using the right biotecture techniques and materials. Reynolds provides architectural plans that will meet most building codes no matter where you are – there's a new house in Seattle, for example – and homes don't even have to be new. There are earth-friendly plans for retrofitting an existing house by incorporating Earthship principles, while "recycling" the house you already live in too.