Earthships the Low-Budget Way

A few years ago, I came across the concept of a radically sustainable home design known as an Earthship.  These homes really caught my attention, because the designer of this concept, Michael Reynolds, addressed the need for a house that was completely self-sufficient.

In creating the Earthship, he created a home that powers itself, keeps a stable temperature thanks to the sun and solar mass, captures it’s own water, recycles its greywater, and grows food for you.  I have not found a design that handles all of these requirements so gracefully.

In building an Earthship, you use old tires, pounded full of dirt and stacked like bricks to form the back and side walls, which are then covered over with mud and plaster to give a beautiful adobe-style finish.  Those walls are a heatsink, and store heat from the sun that radiates out into the house through the night, keeping the house at a stable temperature day and night, year-round, without requiring a furnace or other heating system.

The water system is a work of art.  It starts by catching water from your roof, directing the water into storage tanks buried in the berm behind your home.  That water goes through a filtration system to ensure clean drinking and wash water, and comes out of your taps and for use in your shower.  Once it is used there, that greywater runs into a series of long planters, and the nutrient-rich water feeds the plants, which help grow food.  The remaining water, cleaned by the natural filtration of the plants, then waits in a tank to be used to flush your toilet, instead of flushing using clean drinking water.  After that, the black water from the toilet then goes into a septic system and a number of outdoor garden cells, where it nourishes non-food bearing plants.

Electrically, the design of an Earthship incorporates renewable, off-grid energy.  Traditionally, you’ll use a solar system to meet your electrical needs, and use a combination of ultra-efficient LED lights and other efficient appliances to lower your power consumption.

Many of the Earthships I’ve seen built over the past couple of decades are beautiful, unique structures, and can be built either by yourself or by having Michael Reynolds and his crew come and build part or all of it for you.

If money isn’t a concern, and you can afford it, it’s definitely easier to have it built for you.  This will bring the cost up into the range of a traditional home.  While this is still preferable to owning a home where you have to pay for water, electricity, and heat, this site knows that it can be done much more affordably.

To be more cost-effective, you can build it yourself.  This can be done by reading the books about Earthships, which I have provided links to below.  The books explain, in extreme detail, how to build the walls, how to set up the electrical and water systems, and every other thing you’d need to know about building your own Earthship.


Doing it yourself, your costs can be significantly lowered.  In fact, I recently came across information about a couple that built their own small Earthship for under $10,000.  I reached out to them to find out how they did it, and find out what their costs were in building their home, to see whether we can find a way to bring the cost even lower.  I’ll be posting an interview with them later this week to show you their incredible build.

An Earthship is not exactly a “cheap” option, but when you take into account that it incorporates your water system, power, heat, and food, it fits well with the Low-Budget Off-Grid ideology.

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