Have you ever heard of an Earthship? Though the name might conjure the image of some sleek, metallic, space fighter, it’s actually a novel idea for a natural, sustainable dwelling. An Earthship is a residential building made from recycled materials that often utilizes an unconventional shape or layout to take advantage of natural solar heating. Called ‘passive solar heating’, this method involves designing a home so that as much energy as possible can be absorbed through its walls for use either as heat or light. In practice, this often gives Earthships a ‘U’ or horseshoe-shaped layout as the buildings themselves are in effect acting as the architectural equivalent of a heat exchanger.
Living Off the Grid
As the goal of an Earthship-styled home is to live off of the electrical distribution grid while consuming as few newly manufactured goods as possible, mechanical applications and appliances in such a home are usually driven by a combination of gravity and water that has been directly heated by the sun. In this way the heating systems in an Earthship are similar, in an abstract sense, to the manner in which commercial power plants combine concentrated solar energy with Stirling engines.
Earthships, however, have a distinctly used and earthy look, as they are built directly into naturally occurring slopes and are made from materials such as tires that have been packed with dirt. Architecturally speaking, this makes them quite different from homes that are built with the use of new, energy-efficient materials.
Earthships are also noted for their attempts at water as well as energy independence. Generally, such a home will attain its water supply through rainwater that has run through a filter and, often, been heated by mirrors that concentrate the sun’s light. Early Earthships often lacked amenities such as indoor toilets, however newer models have endeavored to install waste disposal systems that make use of composting tanks and, in some cases, direct water that has been contaminated with waste out to leach pools. Such water disposal methods are not accepted under the plumbing codes of many municipalities, though.
Using an Earthship Layout to Save Money on Heating and Lighting
Though Earthships, largely due to their aesthetics, may never come close to being built in the same numbers as conventional houses, some of their basic principles can be used by homeowners to save money. The horseshoe shape of such a home, even when built with new materials, can save on energy costs because it presents the maximum amount of surface area to the sun.
Combined with large windows, this means that a larger area is being both heated and illuminated by the sun than with a conventional square-shaped home. Building a home into a natural slope, as is often seen in building styles indigenous to equatorial or arctic climes, can also save energy in either extremely cold or warm regions.