An Earthship is landing in Myakka City, Fla. It is slated for completion in January.
An Earthship is a structure made almost entirely from recycled scrap and is virtually self-sufficient. The exterior walls, at their core, are tightly stacked, dirt-packed used tires. Recycled aluminum cans and bottles fill the interior walls, and rebar makes up the roof. The building also has systems to processes waste, generate electricity and utilizes only filtered rainwater.
Self-proclaimed biotech Michael Reynolds started designing Earthships nearly 40 years ago in Taos, N.M. The idea was to build a structure in harmony with the environment.
The one nearing completion in Myakka City, just south of Tampa, is Florida’s first.
The project’s business development coordinator, Rudy Arnauts, said Earthship got it’s name “because just like on a ship, whether it’s a boat or a spaceship, you have to pack everything you need to live in the vessel. You have to have water. You have to have fuel. You have to have food. It’s got to be able to process the waste it generates and everything else. All of that must be self-contained in the system.”
Bryan Roberts, the general contractor for the Earthship, said these quaint abodes may be the future of structure building.
“[Earthships] serve as a model of the way we should be designing structures and neighborhoods to use resources as effectively as possible,” Roberts said.
Production of an Earthship
Florida’s strict building codes delayed the process, which started in July 2009.
“It took a year to get a permit to build [an Earthship] in Florida. Florida building codes are one of the strictest in the nation,” Roberts said.
The strict codes are a result of hurricane risks. Roberts hopes this initial Earthship will help ease the path for others to follow suite in Florida.
Danny Riches, the project manager, said the cost of the 3,800 square foot Earthship is an estimated $300,000. Whether the cost of living – paying next to nothing for energy costs – will pay for the home outright over time is still undetermined. However, some say Earthships, being the future of home-building, and their preservation of resources, will generate greater values in resale.
John Kegr, one of New Mexico’s leading real estate brokers for Earthships, said Earthships cost around $100 annually for outside utilities – generally for propane, used for cooking and heating water.
Earthships use propane for cooking instead of electricity because it would require them to substantially up their electric storage and generation capacity, Kegr said. Therefore, “it’s generally easier to use propane.”
He said it would take many years for Earthships’ minimal energy usage to pay for the home but believes they will continue to preserve their value.
“I think you will continue seeing [Earthships] evolve,” Kegr said.
Cookie and Ken Hodges have lived in an Earthship in Colorado for over 18 years.
“Earthships are extremely comfortable living,” Cookie Hodges said.
They wanted to live in an Earthship because of the minuscule carbon footprint it has on the environment.
They said it takes between four to five years until their 500-gallon propane tank runs out because they only use it for cooking. They use an electric heater at night sometimes when it gets too cold. But Cookie Hodges said they don’t use it often because the Earthship maintains a comfortable temperature.
“It’s pretty amazing at night how our walls radiate the heat from the sun,” she said. “The greatest thing about Earthships isn’t just the way it keeps things warm, it’s the way it keeps things cool is what I like the most.”
Keith Lindauer, an Earthship contractor in Rico, Colo., moved into his Earthship in 1994.
“It’s the same price per square foot as any similar quality home,” he said.
As far as maintenance goes, Lindauer doesn’t mind the extra cost of upkeep.
“There’s a little bit more [maintenance for an Earthship] than a conventional house,” he said. “Occasionally I have to clean my filters. I keep an eye on my batteries.”
Lindauer is even more confident in the efficiency of the newer Earthships.
“I don’t know if you can make an Earthship any more efficient than the new Earthships are,” he said. “They are unbelievable. Mine is a dinosaur, but it’s still the best operating home in my hometown. They’ve got the sewage systems down. They’ve got the water systems down.”
To Lindauer, an Earthship is more than a house, it’s a living organism.
“An Earthship will take care of you … to call it a house is almost an insult.”
Lindauer doesn’t find the building code restraints ethical.
“It makes no sense for [Earthships] not to be built,” he said. “It’s crazy – the engineering that goes into them.”
The purpose of Florida’s first Earthship is different from most.
Arnauts said he is striving to make Earthship Florida into a reality TV show, featuring its innovations in harvesting renewable resources and its practices in organic farming and permaculture.
He said he welcomes ideas from anyone who has them and encourages contact through Facebook at thecampustv.
“It’s the way of the future, man,” Arnauts said.
For more information about Earthships visit earthshipfloridaproject.com and earthship.com.