Earthships are a new form of sustainable housing for an uncertain future

Photo by Gabe Commissaris

By Gabe Commissaris

The current western housing model that we have used for decades is obsolete. Over the years we have become very dependent on a series of different systems — like gas, water, heat and electricity —  to provide the comfort we demand. No Western household can function without these systems in this day and age and that leaves us in a very vulnerable position. The problem with the current western housing model is that Earth’s population has seen rapid growth over the last few decades and it continues to grow even more. We, especially those of us in the West, utilize large quantities of resources like water and electricity to meet our basic needs of living; with so many people doing this, things become problematic. This current system of housing that we are so dependent on has been causing extreme damage to the environment and overall human health. On top of this, all the basic systems associated with living that we all depend on are owned by major corporate interests whom have made it very expensive to apply these systems to ones household on a regular basis. Finally, these systems are very unreliable. If something goes wrong, entire communities suffer. Just look at what happened to Flint, Michigan with their water situation. We cannot continue to rely on this method of housing.

In order to survive as a species,we need to go beyond the current narrative of modern architectural design. One potential solution is the Earthship housing model. An Earthship is a form of housing that creates a self-sustaining environment for human habitat through its interfacing with natural phenomena.

Earthships are based on a series of principles that are meant to serve the best interests of the people who live in them while simultaneously benefiting the planet. The first is that Earthships are built almost completely out of recycled material. This includes beer cans, bottles, tires and various other materials that are compacted together with dirt, cement and/or adobe brick. If done right, this material can be formed into an adequate housing structure that is even capable of withstanding some of the worst natural disasters. The best part about this is that there is no shortage of the materials needed to build the house and it is putting something that is toxic for the planet to good use.

Another powerful aspect about Earthships is heating and cooling through thermal mass. In our current housing model, when we get too cold, we turn up the heat and if we get too hot, we turn on the air conditioning. Not only is this method ineffective in getting the house to the temperature we want, but it also exhausts much of our energy reserve and releases hazardous by-products. Earthships are designed with a dense mass in order to store temperature within the house for long periods of time. There is no need for outside sources of energy to be brought in to heat or cool the house because it is already maintaining a temperature for you. It could be below freezing outside, but within your Earthship, it would feel like living in Florida.

The other principles include water harvesting, contained sewage treatment, renewable electricity and food production. Imagine being able to live in pretty much any environment within a house that provides all the basic needs associated with living in a house by its own connection to natural phenomenon. Imagine not having to pay any utility bills, being able to grow your own food and being able to get more out of the precious time you have on this world. Imagine living this way and not damaging the planet in the process. That is what an Earthship has to offer.

This model is not perfect. The whole point of the Earthship’s design is evolution. Those who build Earthships are constantly looking for ways to get them to further perfect its ability to interface with natural phenomenon, to reduce harm to the planet and to create the best possible living environment for human habitat. This is definitely something that Lewis & Clark students should care about and invest in because we are the generation that is going to feel the true consequences of our continued reliance on an obsolete system of housing. If we want to create a better future for our kids, then we’re also going to have to be able to evolve. If we are willing to evolve with the Earthship model then we have the ability to accomplish a lot in terms of protecting the planet and creating suitable living conditions for ourselves as a species. Aside from learning about and building our own Earthships, it is also important for us to educate the rest of the world about Earthships and why they are important. It should never be about the “I” but the “We” when it comes to finding creative solutions for issues such as this. This method of housing and thinking is what we need to strive towards if we are to have any hope of averting the crisis that we currently face.

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