The Ultimate Guide to Earthship Homes

Off-Grid Sustainable Living for the Future

Earthship homes are revolutionizing eco-friendly, off-grid living. These self-sufficient residences are built from natural and upcycled materials like used tires and glass bottles. Their solar-powered systems and rainwater harvesting enable mortgage and utility-free living. Read on to learn all about the structure, benefits, and future of Earthship homes.

What Are Earthship Homes?

Earthship homes are completely self-sufficient housing units designed by Earthship Biotecture. Their signature look comes from walls made of stacked used car tires filled with rammed earth. Angled walls face south to maximize solar gain in winter. Rainwater flows from the rooftop into cisterns supplying water needs. Solar panels provide electricity. With these off-grid systems, Earthships sustain occupants independent of public utilities.

The hallmark of Earthship homes is their sustainable systems that provide heating, cooling, water, and electricity without reliance on external utilities. Constructed primarily from recycled and natural materials like used tires and glass bottles, the angled walls and roofs help regulate interior temperatures and channel rainwater into onboard storage tanks. Solar cells and wind turbines generate all the power residents need. Organic indoor gardens provide food production. With these integrated features, Earthships can operate entirely off public utility grids.

earthship in the woods

Six Core Principles of Earthship Design


Earthship design adheres to six key principles as outlined by Earthship Biotecture. These include:

1. Solar and Geothermal Heating and Cooling: Angled walls soak up winter sun and reject summer heat for natural temperature regulation.

2. Solar and Wind Electricity: Onboard renewable energy systems power the homes.

3. Building with Natural and Recycled Materials: Used tires, bottles, cans and earth reduce waste.

4. Contained Sewage Treatment: Systems like composting toilets and greywater reuse treat all waste onsite.

5. Catching and Storing Water: Rainwater catchment provides water independent of municipal supply.

6. Food Production: Indoor and outdoor organic gardening spaces grow produce.

    This holistic design enables Earthship homes to harvest all life’s essentials – shelter, water, power and food – and treat waste onsite in eco-friendly ways. The homes function as standalone ecosystems reducing environmental impact.

    Anatomy of Earthship Homes: Structure, Materials and Energy

    Earthships feature distinct half-moon curved walls made from used tires packed with earth. The angled front faces south while the back is built into an earthen berm. Rainwater catchment barrels feed water supply needs. Indoor planter beds grow food underneath skylights. Abundant solar panels provide electricity. Natural and recycled finishes like glass bottles create artistic walls.

    Used automobile tires filled with rammed earth create durable, well-insulated exterior walls. Solar cells and wind turbines provide renewable off-grid power. Cisterns collect rain from the roof. Greywater irrigation systems recycle wastewater for indoor gardening. Composting toilets eliminate sewage waste naturally. These integrated systems enable Earthships to provide all of life’s necessities sustainably within each structure.

    wilderness earth ship

    Top Benefits of Living in an Earthship

    The integrated systems within Earthships offer significant benefits:

    • Energy Efficiency and Lower Bills: Earthship homes require no heating/cooling and minimal electricity resulting in zero utility bills.

    • Self-Sufficiency: Harvesting rainwater, solar energy, and organic food provides for occupant needs sustainably.

    • Low Environmental Impact: Repurposed materials and renewable resources reduce waste versus conventional buildings.

    • Resiliency: As self-contained units, Earthships provide habitable shelter regardless of public grid availability.

    • Freedom: With basics provided, lifestyles focus on creativity, interests and community engagement versusutility dependence.

    Earthship homes provide an eco-friendly, financially liberating, and empowering way of living off-grid and with purpose.

    How Earthships Homes Are Constructed

    Building Earthships is labor intensive but achievable for motivated owners. Design basics are constructed first including footers, slab foundation stem walls, and framing for the roof to collect rainwater. Next tires or earthbags are stacked and filled to shape exterior and interior walls. Wood or steel interior framing is added along with rough plumbing and electrical. Then roofing, cisterns, and finally details like doors, windows, appliances and finishes complete the build.

    While intensive, building Earthships from local and recycled materials yields affordable construction costs. Workshops offered by Earthship Biotecture and similar organizations teach enthusiasts techniques from site analysis to framing to integrating renewable energy systems. Much of the labor can be managed directly by owner-builders. Completed Earthships offer excellent return on sweat equity invested.

    Real Examples of Earthship Communities

    Hundreds of Earthships have been constructed primarily in the desert Southwest of the United States, but also in Canada, Europe, Africa and beyond. The Greater World Community in Taos, New Mexico contains dozens of Earthship homes. Other notable communities exist in California, Washington, Colorado, and British Columbia. Independent Earthship homes also operate successfully in global locations from Algeria to Scotland.

    Earthship enthusiasts like Loren Impson opted for sustainable off-grid living in an Earthship home built near Yelm, Washington. Catching his own water and harnessing solar power, Impson enjoys a low cost lifestyle focused on artistic pursuits and community building. Brian and Crystal Paley built a family-sized Earthship in Wisconsin to reduce environmental impact while homeschooling their two sons. These and other Earthship dwellers cite self-sufficiency, eco-friendly footprint and tranquility as prime motivations.

    Like any home, Earthships must receive proper permits and pass inspections before inhabitation. However, some building codes don’t account for unconventional designs. For example, standard electrical, plumbing and fire wall requirements may need minor upgrades to satisfy inspectors. Zoning laws sometimes dictate minimum square footage or limit composting toilets and greywater systems. With patient negotiation, most code issues can be resolved to legitimize Earthship homes.

    Obtaining the proper permits and inspections ensures Earthships comply with health and safety regulations. Early design reviews help identify potential code conflicts. For example, simple additions like alternate wiring runs or installing standard water hookups and septic may be required. Earthship advocates work to update building codes to recognize sustainable features. With compromise and adjustments on both sides, codes help enhance rather than prohibit Earthship homes


    Cost Analysis: Affordable Investment

    Earthships cost more to build than standard houses due to intensive labor. However most of the construction materials are free or low cost, keeping investment affordable. Estimates range from about $200-$400 per square foot depending on location and finishes chosen. This compares reasonably to the US average home construction cost around $100 per square foot. Over time, Earthship owners recoup costs through eliminated utility bills and expenses. For many drawn to sustainable living, the peace, freedom and environmental benefits outweigh initial investment.

    Challenges and Considerations

    While Earthships provide sustainable off-grid housing, interested builders should carefully consider the lifestyle. Their unusual design poses permitting hurdles in some municipalities. Heating/cooling relies on solar orientation and insulation versus climate control systems. Water conservation mindfulness is advised between rainfalls. Internet requires satellite or tower relays in remote locations. Home insurance options remain limited. Despite obstacles, the Earthship community continues growing with dedicated enthusiasts sharing hard-earned wisdom.

    The Future of Housing

    As eco-awareness grows, Earthships point toward a more sustainable housing model. They encompass smart design with renewable systems and recycled materials that reduce environmental impact. While not yet mainstream, leading architects predict off-grid homes like Earthships that provide their own heating, cooling, power and water needs will become normalized in coming decades. This model offers solutions for housing crises worldwide through creating affordable, resilient shelters. Earthship homes are pioneering the way toward housing’s sustainable future.


    Earthship homes offer self-contained, low impact dwellings powered by the sun, built from the earth, and fueled by rain. As pioneers in sustainable housing, they provide energy, water and food independence with minimal environmental footprint. For motivated builders seeking freedom from utility dependence and a lighter lifestyle footprint, Earthships provide an attainable model for off-grid living in harmony with nature.


    Your Earthship Questions Answered


    What size land is needed for an Earthship Home?

    At least one acre is recommended for proper solar orientation and space for rainwater catchment and gardens.

    What climates are ideal for Earthship Homes?

    Hot, dry climates allow comfortable temperature regulation via thermal mass and natural ventilation.

    Can Earthships connect to public utilities if needed?

    Yes, most