What Are Earthships Made Of?

6 min read

If you thought that earthships were meant for developing countries, think again. In a time when the world is migrating towards finding more eco-friendly and sustainable solutions, earthships have become more popular across the globe.

What makes these houses interesting is the fact that they are built from recycled materials. More on that later, but first we must first understand why earthships were designed:

 

Why earthships?

As already stated, the world is moving towards adapting to more environmentally-friendly solutions not only in the building and construction but across industries. From cars to sources of energy, everyone is playing their part to ensure that earth is redeemed from years of pollution that has led us to the current state which is global warming.

Earthships are efficient towards this course because it aims at reducing waste material from the environment.

When it comes to design, earthships are known to be one of the most incredible architectural works. Unlike the normal concrete building, these eco-friendly houses provide more allowance for creativity to take its course. The builder has more freedom when it comes to how they want the house to appear and be decorated.

Because earthships are built from recycled materials, it is way cheaper to construct than having to buy massive construction equipment. Note that, the most common materials used for building earthships are used tires, cans, and bottles. These are readily available for free and are also lethal to the environment.

However, by using them to construct houses, they are put into good use, taking advantage of their non-biodegradable nature.

If you think that an earthship is weak because it is built out of tires and bottles then you will have to think again. As weak as they may seem, earthships are strong enough to stop a bullet without any problem. This shows you that these buildings can withstand a lot of pressure and experts say that they are also earthquake resistant.

 

Common earthship materials

Some of the common materials that are used to build earthships include:

  • Tires
  • Bottles/cans
  • Viga for roofing
  • Soil/sand
  • Wire mesh

 

1. Tires

We all know what tires are and how resistant they are to physical damage. They are capable of withstanding a lot of heat and pressure and this is what makes them ideal for building houses. Nevertheless, tires are good heat conductors, a very important feature especially if you are to build your entire home out of them.

Earthships build-out of tire walls are known to have a cool temperature no matter how hot the weather is. That is because the heat-conducting nature of these tires allows them to easily conduct heat from warm areas like outside, to the cooler part which is the ground.

That way, the interior of your house will always be cool and once the temperature inside seems to shoot, you can count on the tires to take care of the issue.

There is a procedure for using tires when building a house and that includes filling them up tightly with soil and staking them. That way, the wall system can produce high thermal mass without harming the environment. Used tires are readily available and they end up in junkyards and oceans when they can be put to good use.

 

2. Bottles/cans

For a very long time architects have been experimenting with bottles and it has proven to be a success. We all know that the production of plastic bottles in the world is extremely high and that explains the endless heaps seen in junkyards.

You will hardly miss a bottle if you go through the trash from various houses unless they have an internal recycling plan.

In more developed countries, there are advanced bottles and cans recycling systems while third world countries may have to deal with this trash. In Nigeria, earthships built from bottles are very common and that is after it was discovered that the country was suffering heavy pollution from the waste.

Before, earthships were considered to be housing for the poor in Nigeria, but that is no longer the case since even the rich are building earthships in a move to rescue the planet.

To build using bottles, they are first filled with the soil making them stronger and well insulated. That way, there is less transfer of heat from outside. Walls built using this technique are also durable and can sustain high physical pressure not forgetting to be bulletproof.

There is a region in Nigeria where bottle earthships are common because of the high insecurity and regular gun fires leading to stray bullets flying all over.

 

3. Viga for roofing

Such a unique building deserves a unique roofing system and many people prefer using viga roofing with their earthships. Not only does it give the house an appealing finishing but the flat roofing system comes with its benefits.

First of all, it is good to know that viga acts as some sort of conductor that transfers conditions that are outside the house to inside. It is, therefore, safe to say that viga strikes the balance between the interior and exterior of your house.

When using viga for roofing, you must follow the best practices considering that the viga is made from wood and is prone to rot. Smart people usually protect the parts of viga that are outside the house to avoid making replacements soon.

The viga roofing system is not new and exists in many prehistoric communities in Africa and the world. Though many people never understood the logic behind the design, it became clear that viga roofing is essential for creating.

 

4. Soil and sand

These are not new to us and are even used in building modern constructions. When building earthships, soil and sand are used to fill up any space, from tires to bottles and even the spaces in between the renewable walls.

One important benefit of soil is that it is a good insulator and filling up the empty air spaces, it prevents extreme weather conditions from being transferred inside the house.

Soil also plays an important role in holding the wall together because a wall built out of bottles cannot hold itself in position without some soil. To make it more efficient, some people opt to use wet clay soil while others mix sand and cement for the job.

According to experts, one needs to be keen about the type of soil that they want to use for building earthships.

That is because some soils are good for the job while others may see you plastering the walls now and then. It is also important to consider the type of climate where you are building your structure. An area that experiences lots of rain for example will work best if you mix sand and cement for a more permanent and rain-resistant plastering.

 

5. Wire mesh

The work of a wire mesh in building an earth ship is to hold everything together. This usually comes in handy if you prefer having extra support for your structure. Note that some walls built out of recycled material may not stack properly if you only use soil.

Usually, the wire mesh is placed in between the wall material and the final exterior plaster.

That way, you will be minimizing cracks in case there is a movement of the walls as a result of shaking or earthquake. It is good to know that a wire mesh may not be necessary entirely but that depends on where you are creating your structure.

 

The environmental impacts of earthships

One important benefit of adapting to building houses using recycled material is that it reduces pollution. Today, the world’s atmosphere is filled with green gasses which are emitted by biodegradable materials that are not properly disposed of. In the oceans alone, tons of bottles, tires, and plastic are endangering aquatic lives.

By considering earthships, the dumping of waste materials in junkyards and our waters has reduced significantly. That is all thanks to the organizations and people who have specialized in building these structures.

In most parts of the developing countries, the issue of homelessness has been tackled through earthships. That is mainly because they are cheap enough for anybody to afford.

The main idea behind earthships according to the inventor, Michael Reynolds in the 1970s was to have a house structure that is not only environmentally friendly but also provides basic human amenities. That is why these houses are installed with solar systems or wind turbines to act as the energy source.

Other than providing shelter for people especially in developing countries, it has been proven that the idea behind earthships can also be implemented in other sectors. Since the structure is equally strong and durable, it can be used in building commercial structures like restaurants.

However, this should be done by a professional to avoid any form of accident.

Note that an earthship that is not built properly is a hazard waiting to happen. The material used is heavy and should be stacked properly to prevent it from collapsing during a tremor or earthquake.

Victoria Miller

I'm the founder of NTT. I live in Miami, Florida, and enjoy learning everything there is to know about tiny spaces.