An Earthship is an autonomous building built to be self-sufficient in heating, power and water and is usually constructed from waste materials like car tyres and beer cans Although originally designed for an undeveloped desert environment, Earthships are now promoted as an ideal option for low-carbon living.
The biggest barrier to building an Earthship in the UK is land. ‘One of the major issues in the UK is that housing is provided by seven house builders who have a stranglehold on land,’ says Hewitt. This means it’s very difficult to get land to build on, particularly for a self-build project like an Earthship.
If you decided to build single story, an Earthship wouldn’t take up more land than a typical bungalow. If you wanted an on-site, self-contained reed bed sewage system then that would take up more space. ‘The price shouldn’t be more than a typical family home though,’ says Hewitt. ‘It might cost a little more if you put in systems like battery packs, things not found in a regular house,’ he adds. ‘You are insulated from fuel price shocks, and failures in the grid. It might sound apocalyptic, but it isn’t. In the UK the energy grid situation is quite fragile.’
For now most Earthships are found in the US Southwest as it has perfect weather for the dwellings’ solar panels. Michael Reynolds has an Earthship community in Taos, a town in New Mexico. There are three other communities spread out across the state. ‘It’s where the photovoltaic [solar power] community got going in the 1970s because of the oil shock,’ says Hewitt.
If you want to visit an Earthship, the Low Carbon Trust (www.lowcarbon.co.uk) has built England’s first in Brighton as a community centre and offers regular tours of the facilities.
This story was published in the February 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine