Earthships taking off

Earthship creator Michael Reynolds leads the way in sustainable home design.
Earthship creator Michael Reynolds leads the way in sustainable home design.

Embark on an Earthship journey, not to another planet but towards a green sustainable future. With an outer shell made of stacked car tyres packed with earth, an Earthship is a cutting-edge sustainable green home made from recycled materials that American creator Michael Reynolds says is "a vessel sailing on towards tomorrow." Michael recently toured the North Coast, bringing his radical Earthship designs to the Rainbow Region.

"Earthships are designed to be self-sufficient, passive-solar homes," Michael said. "They are buildings that heat and cool themselves, harvest their own water and use growing plants to treat their sewage."

Designed with solar arrays to harness the power of the sun and using innovative technology to provide electricity to all household appliances, Earthship homes are not designed to go off planet, but they are designed to go off the grid. Michael has pioneered their design and has been building them all over the world, providing solutions to affordable housing in third world countries and in countries like Haiti, which have been devastated by natural disasters.

Michael is an architect who loves to talk garbage and has earned the title of "garbage warrior" because of his passion for using recycled materials in building. He has spent the last 45 years perfecting his Earthship designs after initial experiments with building houses using old beer and soft drink cans filled with earth.

"In the 1970s, before the word recycling was invented, I saw garbage as affordable resources," Michael said. "When I looked at mountains of old car tyres, I saw a reservoir of raw natural materials and started experimenting with ramming dirt into them with a sledge hammer. They are the best building materials for structural walls; they don't rot, termites don't eat them and they are not affected by earthquakes and can withstand the forces of the wind.

"These rammed earth bricks, when used to build the curved walls of an Earthship, provide thermal mass which keeps the indoor temperature constant while outside temperatures fluctuate. It's based on the cave concept, similar to how the adobe buildings in New Mexico are constructed."

With the finished constructions rendered with adobe or cement and with earth ramparts build up around the outside, Earthship homes seem to blend in with the surrounding landscape much more than conventional buildings.

"The tyre wall is entirely backfilled with soil in such a way that there is a waterproof rigid curtain of insulation surrounding the backfill and the house becomes an energy sink and keeps the temperature at the right comfort zones for people," Michael said. "Because Earthships don't need to use fossil fuels to stabilise the temperature in the building and they generate their own electricity, the costs of living are reduced."

With the rising cost of electricity in mind, Michael sees Earthship homes as meeting the needs of today's world, especially where humanitarian and environmental concerns are becoming more important to people.

The Earthship's design uses rainwater, captured from the roof to make it easy for people to grow their own food in their homes and also treat sewage by reusing the water in numerous ways.

Michael's journey toward being able to provide people with affordable, innovative energy-efficient homes has at times seen him come up against bureaucratic restrictions and at one stage in his career, his architectural licence in the US was revoked when the authorities found his innovative designs too challenging for local building compliance regulations. These days, with his licence now reinstated and his innovative designs now being taken up all over the world, he has moved beyond architecture and has created the Earthship Biotechture Academy where the principles of Earthship construction are taught.

"The profession of architecture is not living up to the needs of the times," Michael said. "I invented the profession of biotechture because these days people

need the home they live in to take care of them."

Michael's Earthship designs come in a number of different models, from the cheapest 'Simple Survival' model, to the larger and more expensive 'Global' or 'Custom' models. The costs in building an Earthship home vary, from about $50,000 to several million dollars, depending on how big and lavish they might be.

"The cost of building an Earthship is about the same as building an equivalent quality of home in the world now," Michael said. "The difference is that an Earthship home has no utility bills. Now, though, we are realising the cost of housing is too much for most people and we are trying to take the designs into a new construction realm in the developing world for third world people. We built an orphanage school in Sierra Leone and now, people there are replicating it and are building more. We want to empower people to be able to build with affordable materials and it's so much easier in third world countries like Haiti, where you can build anywhere immediately. In developed countries, you can spend up to two years just getting a permit."

Closer to home, in the Victorian fire-ravaged town of Kinglake, where Black Saturday changed the landscape, an Earthship project is due to start construction, as soon as permission and funding is complete; and in Melbourne, the Ceres community in Brunswick East has a small project where you can experience Earthship construction techniques. Michael has also been promoting the retro-fitting of existing houses to incorporate the six principles of Earthship design.

"Sometimes the greenest thing to do is to 'green up' what you have," Michael said. "We cannot tear down the billions of buildings on this planet; we have to slowly change and evolve the buildings we have to be in line with these principles. No matter how good our Earthships are, we want people to undertake to retro-fit old buildings as well as integrate the six principles in all new building designs. If we address the problems facing the planet now, there won't be panic when the situation worsens."

For more information about Earthships, visit the website

Michael Reynolds

In the 1970s, before the word recycling was invented, I saw garbage as affordable resources.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Fisher who exploited Indonesian fishing crew fined $48,000

An Indonesian fishing crew has been underpaid almost $50,000.

Tuna fishing company fined almost $50,000 for underpaying crew

All the fun of The National

Thursday Night Steer Auctions. On Saturday buyers found out if they paid the right price for their beef.

All the fun of The National.

Grief is the price paid for loved ones lost on roads

Sophie Moeller, Lismore Echo Editor. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star

Grief is the price paid for loved ones lost on roads.

Local Partners

Paul Capsis set to bring the music to Tropical Fruits

THE artist will bring a show called Addicted to the Nightlife to Lismore City Hall as part of this year's festival

November will be a big month for NORPA

ARTS: NORPA has added new shows to the Dreamland season from November 23 to December 10.

Peter Garrett, Dreamland and the 2017 Season Launch, among others

Barry Gibb is coming to Bluesfest 2017

FANS: Barry Gibb talks to a fan next to a cardboard cutout of his young self.

Aged 70, Gibb has re-launched his solo music career with a new album

Declan Kelly and the Rising Sun to shine bright at festival

Declan Kelly & The Rising Sun is one of the headlining acts at this year's festival.

Main stage set to pump with radiant reggae and dub vibes

Paul Capsis set to bring the music to Tropical Fruits

HIT: Paul Capsis accepts his award for Best Performance in an Australian Contemporary Concert at the 6th Annual Helpmann Awards in Sydney, Monday, July, 31, 2006.

With a show called Addicted to the Nightlife

Blake Lively hosts 40th party for Ryan Reynolds

Blake Lively throws husband Ryan Reynold's 40th birthday bash

What's on the big screen this week

Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from the movie Doctor Strange.

MARVEL'S latest superhero Doctor Strange makes his debut.

Trump 'worked like hell' to pick up John Travolta's wife

John Travolta and Kelly Preston

Trump wrote comments in tribute to Travolta's son Jett

RECAP: The Bachelorette S2E11 - top three battle it out

The Bachelorette finalists, from left, Matty Johnson, Lee Elliott and Jake Ellis.

It's Matty, Lee or Jake. Who will Georgia choose?

Jake left broken-hearted by Bachelorette break-up

Jake Ellis is one of the final three bachelors on The Bachelorette.

GEORGIA chooses Lee and Matty J as her final two suitors.

Tough times in CBD: Woolies says goodbye Ipswich

Woolworths in the Ipswich Mall.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times

The last day of trading will be January 1

Look at me! Kath and Kim home up for sale

Kath and Kim from the iconic Aussie TV series.

'Crack open the Baileys and grab a box of BBQ Shapes'

How to fit 100,000 new homes on the Coast

Property, real estate, housing, suburb,  August 2016

Fitting 2m extra people in south-east Qld in 25 years a balance

Hinterland horse stud passed in for $8.25 million

UNREAL: This Maleny estate is incredible.

12-bedroom hinterland horse stud still available

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?

Kiwi siblings snap up Dotcom mansion for $32.5m

The new toy company owners of the Coatesville mansion want replace any controversy with positivity and fun. Photo / Barfoot and Thompson

The trio paid $32.5 million for the property in June