Exploring Off-Grid Earthship Homes – Ultimate Efficiency?

sponsored by privacy.com renewable energy and evs are just a few pieces of a puzzle for achieving net zero living but what if we could combine eco-friendly building materials energy efficiency and sustainability like a passive house being heated and cooled by the ground without relying on the electrical grid it's time to get on board an earthship it's a house not an actual ship what are they where can they be built and are they even worth it i'm matt farrell welcome to undecided [Music] there's a lot of focus on getting solar panels for your home or buying an ev to go net zero and save money in the long run but that's only one piece of a much larger puzzle finding ways to reduce our energy use and live more sustainably is just as important like building a net zero or passive home or using smart technologies to optimize how and when things inside your home actually use energy i've done several videos on various aspects of these concepts already but just like the passivhaus standard there's another building technique that doesn't get as much attention now while i don't personally see myself building or living in an earthship which sounds like something that should be traveling the galaxy i find myself endlessly fascinated by the approach and how some of these principles can apply back to more traditional mainstream approaches now in the construction sector sustainable buildings like past homes and green buildings are getting traction and are important solution for a low-carbon future combined with renewables evs and battery storage now these homes naturally reduce carbon emissions from heating and cooling which is a very good thing especially when you consider that heating and cooling accounts for 51 of the total energy used in the u.s even though green buildings and passive house designs have a positive impact for the most part they still rely on the electrical grid and public utilities which depending on where you live isn't as reliable as it should be but what about an approach that could pull together energy efficiency upcycled materials and even food production and cooling from the earth itself combined with off-grid living and potentially do it for less money than something like a passivhaus enter earthships now built with eco-home building materials earthships offer comfortable energy efficient and cozy living spaces without relying on public utilities i've been drawn to solar power and battery storage in my grid tied system to try to reduce my depends on the grid but not to cut it out altogether now this on the other hand takes this thing to a whole nother level it all started in the 1970s in new mexico with the architect michael reynolds he proposed the inclusion of bioecological features like beer cans old tires and bottles into his designs which was very curious at the time and even today airships can be boiled down to six basic design principles the first is building with natural and repurposed materials some of these materials are available in abundance worldwide in the us for example about 290 million tires were scrapped in 2003 that's just one year now most of that is chopped up and burned recycled into other products or burned in landfills but there are millions of tires stockpiled every single year so you can get some of them for very cheap or sometimes for free and when they're used in earthship construction old tires are used as bricks they're filled with earth that's pounded to create very strong exterior walls and load-bearing interior walls they have a much higher thermal mass than traditional construction a study by the colorado school of mines showed an r-value of 40 for a tire bale wall that's three times as much insulation as a standard four inch stud wall other materials such as cans and bottles are optional but they can be used as a main material to construct interior walls which are then plastered the second principle is thermal solar heating and cooling earth ships naturally heat and cool themselves so they don't require electric heat fossil fuels or wood but that depends on where you live which i'll get to in a little bit the tires which i already mentioned are known as bricks which weigh 300 pounds packed with soil that incredible thermal mass isn't just a good insulator but it can store heat or cold the basic idea behind heating and cooling an earth ship is to surround each living space with those thermal mass bricks on the east north and west sides on the southern facing side you line that wall with windows the sun shines through the glass warming the mass of the floors and walls when the sun goes down and the air temperature drops below the temperature of the walls heat flows from the walls and the floor into the living space it's the same passive solar principle that's used in passive home design now for cooling there are cooling tubes fed through the thermal mass surrounding the building as warmer air is pulled into the building through those tubes the heat is wicked away providing cooled air to the inside of the building the third design principle is solar and wind energy earthships produce their own renewable energy through solar panels and wind turbines and this part i'm sure you're very familiar with but they're able to provide power to appliances from solar and wind generation combined with charge controllers inverters and batteries to store the excess energy for a consistent power 24 hours a day but as you already know solar panel and wind generation systems like this can be expensive so to make it more affordable with a smaller energy generator build out you typically pair this with super energy efficient appliances like pumps lighting and refrigerators together with natural cooling and heating to reduce the power demand earthships only require about 25 of the electricity consumed by a traditional home the fourth design principle is water harvesting and this is one i'm actually interested in for myself to further improve sustainability earth ships collect and store rainwater and snowmelt and cisterns to supply all their demand there's a great youtube channel handyman who lives in arizona and has done this exact thing a few weeks of rain during the rainy season in arizona and he's got water for the rest of the year water from the cistern has to be pumped through a filtering system to treat the water but you can also use a solar water heater for hot water and use a pressure tank to regulate the water pressure the fifth design principle is contained sewage treatment and who doesn't like talking about sewage trust me this is not gonna be gross it's all about reusing water to not let anything go to waste and no i'm not talking about having to take a bath in toilet water but the water that's left over after washing the dishes doing the laundry or taking a bath this type of water is known as gray water it's basically used water that doesn't have any fecal contamination in it you can use gray water to feed interior botanical cells where plants naturally treat the water until it's clean enough to be pumped and used for toilet flushing when you're talking about 40 of typical water use in a house getting flushed on the toilet this can be a significant savings in water usage grey water reuse is standard practice aboard the space station for water that gets flushed down the toilet and earthship it flows into a standard septic tank and leech field but you can also add a line out that overflows into an exterior rubber-lined botanical cell taking advantage of the uh rich nutrients shall we say that are contained in the isolated cell for exterior decoration plants which leads me to the last design principle food production one of the more recent experiments by michael reynolds company earthship biotecture is the use of interior gray water botanical cells for food production and taking all that waste water to grow things inside the building in taos new mexico the airship visitor center features things like herbs peppers tomatoes kale beets and cucumbers again this is all tapping back into that same concept of reusing and maximizing efficiency of every single system in the home there are several pros that make the earthship concept attractive they're highly efficient buildings and don't rely on the power grid water is collected filtered stored and reused many times and for several different kinds of uses in addition the earthships are made of natural recycled materials that require no hvac systems sort of and provide organic food that's healthy for people but is all this sunshine and rainbows let's start with the great question that usually comes up around earth ships and one i've hinted at a couple of times can they be built anywhere well cooler and more humid environments like the american northeast and canada can make it extremely challenging in general an earthship operates best in temperate or hot environments with regular rainfall over 50 inches per year and a humidity less than 60 percent orientation is also vital which might make certain locations impossible a rule of thumb is to face windows to the southwest if you need more heat and southeast if more cooling is needed and water tanks should be placed on the northwest if you build an earth ship in a cold climate to prevent them from freezing and in the northeast in a hot climate to prevent overheating earthships in a very cold climate have divergent opinions although reynolds has modified some of his earship plans to make them better suited for the cold his buildings don't have heat pumps to extract heat from the ground in canada for example the ground temperature is below 7 degrees in the winter so keeping the inside warm gets a lot harder again it's not impossible but takes modifications to keep it warm there are few earth ships i found in the new england area that had to integrate some form of traditional heating system for certain times of the year another problem of the earthship self-sustainability is that homeowners can't grow all the essential food they want because some food is impossible to grow inside the earth ship even more important some residents might not have the necessary farming experience i know i don't and regarding water collection it's hard to have enough rain water volume in some arid climates i mentioned that youtuber from arizona well he's able to do with a fairly sizable rainwater harvesting system but that may not be the case everywhere earthships also accumulate water in the wall surfaces which might lead to the formation of molds and algae and the tires used in the walls can break down and expel gases into an enclosed space which could be harmful to the inhabitants and then there's the costs but there are a lot of factors that affect how much it will cost to build but before i get into those costs let's take a quick moment to talk about a great way to keep your personal costs and spending in line all while protecting yourself with 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privacy.com matt farrell to sign up for a free account and as a special bonus for all of you you'll get five dollars to spend on your first purchase for a limited time only that's five dollars with no strings attached go to privacy.com matt farrell and sign up now thanks to privacy.com and to all of you for your support now back to the cost of building an earthship house while a conventional house costs about 100 to 150 per square foot on average not including the cost of the land earth ships cost between 150 and 225 dollars per square foot which is considerably more expensive but their cost is not that different from passive homes which ranges from 166 dollars to 231 dollars per square foot which i covered in my passive house video the price of labor is usually one of the highest expenses when building an airship since it requires more unique building methods now if you're gonna do the labor yourself it's obviously gonna cost a lot less per square foot but imagine placing all of those tires compacting them with dirt to make all those walls placing one tire takes about 45 minutes to one hour and you need to do hundreds of these doing this yourself is definitely an option just not for the masses also due to their unusual design an architect or engineer with experience and knowledge to carry this out is usually required and can be expensive there can also be issues with modern building codes and permits that can come up excavation degrade and level the site and provide a solid foundation also brings up considerable costs not to mention all the soil that's needed for the walls but there are plenty of examples of earth ships out in the world in taos where earthships are born there's a 600 plus acre earthship community which has space for 130 homes far from taos we have the brighton earth ship in the uk it was built in 2007 by airship biotecture and the low carbon trust and it serves as a community center for stanmar organics in alberta canada the 1800 square foot kenny earthship was built with more than 12 000 cans and 800 tires mike reynolds carried out this project for a whole summer he brought a dozen workers and 30 volunteers from new mexico to help complete it kenny earship produces all of its own electricity grows much of the family's food and recycles all grey water and there are more earth ships in other parts of the world like scotland nicaragua south africa and more i hope it didn't sound like i was kind of bagging on the concept of earth ships when i was going over the cons but there are significant challenges to where you might want to build one with other building techniques that can provide as energy efficient to home at the same cost with less restrictions it kind of relegates earth ships to a more highly motivated more niche option and despite all of that earth ships are a fascinating concept that has aspects that could be applied elsewhere things that not only benefit the environment but also give you more independence and potentially save money over time with much lower energy requirements it's another piece of that much larger puzzle but what do you think do you have any interest in something like an earth ship what elements do you think that make the most sense for a wider adoption jump in the comments and let me know if you like this video be sure to check out one of the ones i've linked to right here be sure to subscribe and hit that notification bell if you think i've earned it and as always thanks to all of my patrons and a big welcome to new supporter plus members sahir zari and michael pauley and new producer noah my patrons get early ad-free versions of the videos there's a private discord group and higher level patrons can join in on monthly zoom calls check out the link in the description for more details but even if you aren't a patron you're still doing something awesome just by watching and commenting thanks so much i'll see in the next one

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