Earthship Biotecture: The Quintessential Green Building

Many different types of “green” buildings have been developed since the dawn of the environmental movement and it seems new design concepts are springing up every day.  But so far Earthship Biotecture continues to win my personal all-around sustainability award.  Invented by Michael Reynolds and evolved over several decades, the earthship form of building gets high marks in just about every category of green. Building materials are recycled, renewable, local, low-energy-use, and non-toxic.  Building energy is renewable, energy use is extrodinarily efficient, and water-use efficiencies are off the chart.

Earthship biotecture

An earthship in Taos, New Mexico at the Earthship Biotecture company’s visitor center

I consider earthships to be the quintessential green building form.  Beyond “net zero”, they are totally off-grid in every way — power and water systems.  The combination of passive solar and heat-storing massive ground-insulated walls solves the problem of space heating simply and inexpensively.  The rainwater collection and grey-water recycling systems provides abundant water in even dry climates.  Wind and solar electric systems easily power the lights and appliances.  Best of all, the technology and building technique for earthships is simple enough for motivated people to build themselves, inexpensive enough for the developing world, yet they can be elegant enough for the most sophisticated tastes.

From what I know about earthships, the main drawback is that they tend to need large building lots, which makes them well-suited for remote, rural, or suburban areas, but not so well-suited for dense urban areas.  And that means being dependant on cars for transportation.  If I wanted to live in an area where the house lots are large, I would definitely consider building an earthship. But I love the convenient walkable lifestyle of the in-city neighborhood, where a car is rarely needed.  I just can’t see an earthship working on a 35-foot-wide urban lot.   And when it comes down to it, I love my craftsman bungalow and the traditional neighborhood setting and would be sad to leave it!

While an earthship may be in my future someday, it won’t be in the near future.  In the meantime, I will have to settle with doing a sustainability refrofit on a stick-built house on a 35-foot lot.