Hacking the Earthship: In Search of an Earth-Shelter that WORKS for EveryBody

This is the first part of the book, which outlines our earthship research. We are giving this away free. The book gets into a lot of the details of HOW to do earthship type buildings, but better. But we want EVERYONE to know WHY!


Please check out our website theministryofarchitecture.com after 9/1/21 for the entire second half of the book, on designing your own home! It'll be free!  


CHAPTER I: The Earthship at the End of its LifeEarthship Life Cycle Cost Assessment

The Earthship at the End of its Life

What happens to an Earthship when it dies? All buildings do eventually. What will be left is a flagstone floor (in most cases), glass panel windows, some concrete filled with cans and bottles, wood framing and beams, cabinetry, plumbing, cisterns, metal flashing and roof, and the earthen tire berm. 

The flagstone will be reusable. It will just need chiseling out. The glass could be reused intact for other projects, or recycled outright if it is broken. The metal flashing of the greenhouse and the metal roof system will most likely be reusable or recyclable. 

Plumbing probably will not be recycled due to health concerns and deterioration of the PVC. The concrete filled with cans and bottles will not likely be good for anything. The bottles and cans will likely break or be too encased in the concrete for salvage or even recycling. The cabinets in all but the most sophisticated Earthship are plywood, so there is no point trying to save them. Those materials – about 10 dump truck loads worth – will most likely be taken to the landfill. Footings and buttresses, if they are present, will add another 5-10 dump truck loads. There is some possibility they can be reused in non-structural landscape walls, though the presence of exposed rebar, which rusts and causes the concrete to spall, will likely render those unusable.

Concrete cisterns will also be discarded - another dump truck load or two for the landfill… as will the raised interior planting beds – another 2-3 loads. If the cisterns are plastic, chances are no-one will want to reuse them because of deterioration, but maybe by the time they are abandoned we will have figured out how to manage recycling them. 

Maybe some of the wood that was covered with metal can be salvaged, though likely not from the greenhouse, as it will likely be rendered unusable due to moisture damage. The vigas, and the roof decking if it is solid wood, should be reusable. 

Tires have a life of 30,000 years, so the berm, while it may deteriorate, will likely be left to degrade and become a mini dumpsite of toxic materials that may threaten the water supply. Or, the tires can be returned to the landfill.
We talk about aspects of the life cycle cost of Earthships throughout this book, breaking down embodied energy and cost, including maintenance. We do not provide an accounting for regional differences, as there are too many to calculate. We use the U.S. dollar and local costs in New Mexico as the basis for our calculations. 

Life cycle cost is a comprehensive assessment, and since that is not our purpose, we did not want to include a whole book about it here. What we did want to do was offer an overview so that our readers could focus on the parts of sustainability and life cycle cost that matter to them. If you do not care about embodied energy, skip those sections. 

What follows was the easiest way we could put the cost of the Earthship into perspective for ourselves. We hope it works for you too!

Comparing the Earthship to a traditionally built home: 

A three bedroom home of the same size as the Global Model Earthship requires approximately 13,000 board feet of lumber for framing. If laid out end to end, this would make a line of wood nearly 2.5 miles long! We would need 14 tons of concrete. Sheathing would add up to somewhere around 6,000 square feet, as would drywall. Roofing material, exterior siding, and insulation would cover an area nearly 10,000 square feet. We would need 15 windows, 12 doors, toilets, kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, cabinets, fireplace(s) or stoves, and garage doors. We would also need food, water, electricity, fuel, and household products. 

The Global Earthship still requires thousands of board feet of lumber and vigas for framing. It needs 9 tons of concrete. The roofing material, exterior stucco, and insulation would still cover an area nearly 7,000 square feet due to extra levels of insulation required at the berm’s cisterns, thermal wrap, and tubes. We would need 40 windows and 9 doors - double that of a normal home - since there are two layers of windows and doors at the greenhouse, plus the same toilets, kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, cabinets, fireplace(s) or stoves, garage doors, etcetera… as a regular house. We would pay a premium charge for the systems and their maintenance and require backup power and backup heat, plus we would need special soils for the greenhouse, soil amendments, and insect control. We would also still need food, water, fuel, and household products.

Does the Earthship model actually end up increasing financial and material requirements? The math suggests that the answer to this is yes.

CHAPTER I: “Just the Facts, Ma’am”

by Pratik Zaveri and Rachel Preston Prinz

One of the most difficult aspects of talking about the Earthships is addressing issues around the data presented as supporting evidence for the idea. The Earthship website and publications are a bit “fuzzy” and we want to clarify what we can so our readers can have solid information when making decisions regarding a potential Earthship home.

We call some of what happens in the Earthship books, website, and philosophy a “One-Way View.” Without realizing it, the literature points to reasons to use the model… that actually point to problems with the model. We have touched on some of these already. Earthship Volume 1 and the Earthship website both talk about indigenous materials being available around the world and then go on to point out that shipping materials great distances uses a lot energy and is therefore not sustainable. This statement, while looking towards an ideal that we all really want to meet, fails to address the economic and energetic inputs required to obtain and transport the materials required to build an Earthship, as we identified in The Myth of “The Most Economical Building Design in the World” section. It forgets that Earthships require triple or quadruple the energetic inputs of a standard building. It only sees what it wants to see – the ideal. This is a perfect example of a “one-way view” and it is based on a concept called “cognitive anchoring”. From Wikipedia: 

“Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the "anchor") when making decisions. During decision-making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. Once an anchor is set, other judgments are made by adjusting away from that anchor, and there is a bias toward interpreting other information around the anchor. For example, the initial price offered for a used car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiations, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable even if they are still higher than what the car is really worth.”
The many issues of not depending on traditional systems that the Earthship literature attempts to address are absolutely valid, as every day we seem to get nearer to an economic and cultural collapse that renders alternates not only ideal but necessary. However, the “better world” the Earthship ideal promises cannot be delivered through ideals and wishful thinking. It has to come from actions… and those actions need to be based on good science and good design.

Underlying Science

Especially in Earthship Volume 1, solid science is used to understand the movement of the sun and other natural processes. Yet, some of the most important details that could help builders to make the design more successful are omitted. For instance, soil is mentioned only briefly, stating the Earthships “must be built on undisturbed earth”, and yet, to build them, we disturb the earth. There is also no mention that thermal performance is degraded when the soil used in the berm is naturally wet, or that the Earthship needs extra design consideration when the inner-earth temperature is lower than that of Taos. This inner-earth temperature issue has led to critical issues in Earthships around the world.
Let’s look at this a little more deeply. 

The Earthship website points out that the Earthship’s technology is based on the sun, the earth, and the efforts of the people themselves. That is sortof true. The passive solar aspects of the design and the photovoltaics use the sun. There is earth in the berm. People build the Earthships. Earthships also use a huge number of solar panels, batteries full of toxic acids, and countless manufactured goods, many of which have extremely high embodied energy equal to and even well beyond that of standard buildings. As well, sophisticated engineering skills are required to design, install, and maintain the Earthship so that the technologies can work. So the ideal is really based on simple natural AND complex manufactured processes. 

Affordability and Do-ability

The ideal is that the Earthship is financially accessible by the common person, but experience does not bear that out, as we have illustrated previously in The Myth of “The Most Economical Building Design in the World” section.

It is stated in the Earthship literature that the Earthships are specifically designed with the intent of being built by unskilled people. While the methods of construction may not necessarily require skill, they most definitely require ability. Pounding tires is not for the faint of heart and building angled walls is really only work for a master carpenter. This is one reason why you may really want to consider using Earthship Biotecture’s teams to build your home if you can afford them - they are second to none in these skills.

Passive Solar and Wind Orientation

The Earthship books stress the importance of orientation towards the sun, but neglect that orientation is only relevant when you live in a place with ample sunshine. Cloudy days, which are not mentioned at all, can render the Earthship just another failed building, as we will see in Chapter 2.

Earthship Volume 1 talks about facing the Earthship north in Taos. How would a north-facing design even work? It would be a snow magnet and would hold ice and snow against the house when it needs to be in the sun to melt! Sure, large north windows are not unusual in Taos… when the artists arrived they wanted that pure north light so they built huge windows facing north… but these were not used in Taos until the late 1800s, because in order to pull off a completely nature-ignorant design, you needed a large wood stove to compensate for the cold north wind. The books do not address this needed heat source. The book goes on to propose a roof garden, in an area with a 140 day growing season, high winds, and tendency for drought. This is not the recipe I would follow for a house in Taos. Evidently, they figured out not to do that as well, because the Taos Earthships face south and there are no rooftop gardens that we know of.

The wind diagrams in the book show wind coming from one direction, and it looks like it is usually assumed as from the south. The problem is… the wind in Taos comes from the North in winter and West in summer. Showing it coming from a direction it rarely does suggests that the ventilation will not work effectively. The research and commentaries from users indicates that this is accurate - many Earthships have ventilation issues, especially those where predominant winds come from less than ideal directions for the design. For the greenhouse’s low awning windows to functionally draw air into the space and up through the skylight there has to be some wind pushing into and away from the building from the right directions to force enough draw.

Materials of Construction

The Earthship website’s Construction Materials page talks about how for the vast majority of human existence, our homes were built of found indigenous materials including stone, earth, sticks, and grasses. That is true. But unlike tires, concrete, aluminum cans, and glass bottles… stone, earth, sticks, and grasses have extremely low embodied energy, as they can be found at just about any good potential building site. To add to that, the embodied energy of concrete, which makes up roughly half of the building materials used by volume in a modern Earthship’s construction, is staggering. (Refer to the Concrete section for more information.) Concrete is not a by-product of our civilization. It is a mined product that rapes the environment and diminishes our ability to breathe.

Indigenous is typically understood to refer to locally-sourced, raw materials, or local peoples. Indigenous is the epitome of simplicity. Tires, concrete, bottles, and cans are not simple, nor are they indigenous to anyone’s site that we know of. Shipping tires, concrete, cans, and bottles from wherever they are to your build site uses energy and removes these materials from the recycling stream. These misconceptions help to illustrate why Earthships are not truly sustainable.

The literature talks about wood being less than ideal as a durable material for building, as it is natural, lightweight, and porous, which will lead it to decompose quickly. The people of Bavaria, who have lived in some of their wooden houses for 400 years, may disagree with that. As would the builders of the Hōryū-ji temple pagoda in Japan, which still stands after the wood was felled in 594AD! That is nearly 1,500 years old! Wood can last a long time when it is felled at the correct time, is the right species for its use, and is well cared for over its life. And not all wood is light and porous. Generally, we use heavy and dense deciduous hardwoods on the exterior of a building and evergreen softwoods for interior framing. Plus, to be fair… Earthships use a boatload of wood. 

The literature goes on to complain that manufactured materials dictate the way buildings are built, and then goes on to suggest that the reverse should be true, implying that housing should dictate the nature of materials. And yet the primary building block of an Earthship is the tire – a highly manufactured material.

Embodied Energy

What the Earthship literature offers as a means of explaining embodied energy is not a complete picture of what embodied energy is. Embodied energy is the amount of energy it takes to take a raw material, get it to a manufacturing site, manufacture the finished product, and then get it to you. Embodied energy can be high – aluminum, a common component of solar panel installations as well as an Earthship’s can walls, contains an enormous amount of embodied energy – it has to be mined, to the tune of 8 tons of ore per 1 ton of usable material; shipped great distances for manufacturing; designed; then takes a great deal of heat to produce a usable product – which also means a great deal of fuel; then it must be shipped to a warehouse, to the supplier, and then to the build site. Whether that aluminum is in a reused can or a brand new window, it still had to have all of those processes applied to it. There IS embodied energy in an Earthship. Just because we are reusing the embodied energy required does not negate its existence. In fact, the reality here is that reusing cans in walls requires more materials to be mined and manufactured because the first-generation cans are being removed from the recycling stream. 

The literature also states that one of the main goals of the Earthship ideal is to use materials that require little or no manufactured energy. And yet, the building blocks of Earthships… the tires, cans, bottles, concrete, wood framing and vigas, roofing, cooling tubes, insulation and thermal wrap, cisterns, interior finishes, glazing for two walls of windows, shades, glass doors, appliances, and the mechanical and plumbing systems… have manufactured or embodied energy… and lots of it.
The literature makes the case that the Earthship is using such simple materials that it makes sense for large-scale production for low-impact living. Except, large scale production of the currently extremely oversized Earthships is not sustainable. Earthships have gigantic footprints, in terms of the amount of land required to build on, as well as square footage, as well as embodied energy. They are also too expensive to be viable for large scale development.

Reliance on “The Machine”

The literature goes on to discuss the ideal of not relying on natural gas, but many Earthships at latitudes above and including Taos have been retrofitted with propane or gas to stay warm enough in winter. 

The importance of not relying on modern food systems is discussed, yet the food growing system as designed most often cannot provide the quantity of food that makes self-reliance possible. What is offered is an extraordinarily expensive system that cannot provide in grocery savings what it adds in cost.


The literature speaks to the common house using “monstrous systems” and states that the modern house cannot function without systems. Reynolds likened the standard home and its large systems to being a patient in ICU being “plugged in” at a hospital: If the lines were cut, then what? 

Yet, nothing is ever mentioned of the standard systems used in an Earthship, which deplete resources, cost a great deal at outset, are prohibitively complex to maintain and repair, and still do not work when something goes wrong. All of this costs money and resources. To compound that, backup heat and power are required in nearly every build because most Earthships do not work as intended. Systems are a reality for the vast majority of owners.


The literature goes on to discuss the Earthship in relation to a car, addressing the very real concern that reliance on cars is part of what is wrong with sustainability in our world. Yet, Earthships are often located out in the distant expanses and do not work as intended, forcing users to depend on a car far more than the average homeowner – to get materials, water, groceries, gas, to get the kids to school - and, because they are “out there” where it is legal to build experiments, oftentimes owners must travel further distances to do these things. My grocery store is 2 miles from my home. I travel four miles total to get down to the store and back. Greater World is 15 or so miles from the grocery store. That is 30 miles total. Even if we both only need a carton of milk, my cost and time investment is dramatically lower. Multiply that mileage times 40 trips to the store a year. Now multiple it by the number of trips into town you must make to get supplies, get water, take the kids back and forth to school… 

Saving the Rainforests and Oxygen

The literature notes that when we cut down the rainforests, we cut off our own oxygen supply. This is such an important issue and that fact cannot be argued. The first book goes on to imply that Earthships are minimizing the impact on deforestation to resolve this issue. However, Earthships use huge amounts of wood, which results in forests being cut down. Is this ideal really being met here?
Earthships also use as much or more concrete as that used in a traditionally constructed home. Concrete uses oxygen to cure over its life and it gets that oxygen from the air we breathe. The manufacture of the Portland cement used in concrete contributes to between 5 and 10% of the world’s greenhouse gases.

So, in principle the Earthships are saving the rainforests, while in practice they are making them work harder. 

Impacts on the Water System

The literature addresses the issues of the global water supply and its impact on the ecosystems that affect fish. This concern is justified, as we continue to poison our oceans with untold numbers of toxins. Yet, the leeching of the tires and the septic systems in an Earthship build has the potential to affect the health of the aquifers from which we all drink. A common admonishment in the professional and academic tire research is that the places we store tires are supposed to be isolated from any contact with the water supply via sealed EPDM pond liners. 

Thermal Comfort

The commonly held belief that Earthships are comfortable is supported by the Earthship literature stating that the temperature ranges from 65-76 degrees with no backup heating or cooling. This is just not accurate, as we have described in the Myth of Thermal Comfort section.

The Thermal Mass section of the Earthship website states that a lightly-built house (presumably one without earth-sheltering) “obviously” takes more energy to heat and cool. Only, that is not accurate. A light house with good insulation and located in the right climate needs less heating and cooling than an Earthship.


Landscaping is critical to great design, for important tasks like turning winds into breezes; turning sunlight into food energy and shade; and for minimizing the reflection of the sun off the ground. Yet, the only hints of how to address landscape that are provided in the literature are effectively “do not puncture the roof”, “slope the berm away from the building”, and “do not plant trees within 20 feet of the tire wall”. But this makes the building more dependent on systems to perform and offers no advice on how to make these ideas work. 

It is suggested that locating the building on a sloping site can keep water from the inside, but there is no guidance on proper site design for this. In fact, the Hut designs create major water ponding issues right at the front door. Positive drainage - the design of a site to shed water away from the building - is a challenging thing to do even for an architect or designer with lots of experience. We have spent days designing a site for positive drainage before. See our Landscape chapter for tips and tricks to resolve these issues.

There is a section about harnessing the power of natural springs, but no mention is made about how springs can become rivers with rainfall, or how water tables rise and fall though the moon’s cycles. These are all manageable with good design. 


The Earthship website talks about the Earthships in regard to Earthquakes. This section specifically addresses horizontal movement, and suggests using “rubbery” and resilient materials for building rather than brittle materials like concrete because they crack.

So, a little Earthquake 101 here: an earthquake’s source, or epicenter, is always located along a geologic fault line. A well-known example is the San Andreas Fault in California. The fault line occurs where two tectonic plates meet. The plates are moving at different rates and different directions, basically grinding against each other along the fault line. But the fault line is not perfectly smooth, so the line ‘holds’ the plates from sliding against each other. When the forces along the fault line become greater than the ability of a part of the fault line to resist them … boom! The energy is released explosively as an earthquake. The energy is released as waves through the earth, very much like a wave in the ocean. When the waves reach the surface of the earth, where your Earthship might be perched much like a ship on the sea, your Earthship (or any structure) is tossed horizontally and vertically. We generally think of buildings as static – they don’t move about. When the earth moves beneath it, a building resists the movement. This is called inertia – put a salt shaker on a napkin and yank the napkin away – the bottom of the shaker is attached to the napkin and has to follow. But the rest of the shaker tries to stay where it was, and the shaker topples. The same thing happens to our buildings.

Earthquake-resistant buildings (anyone that tells you a building is earthquake-proof is uninformed or misleading) are generally both strong and resilient. Strong enough not to shatter under the earthquake forces, and resilient enough to “give” a little without breaking. It is a little counterintuitive, but it is that resiliency that usually helps buildings survive smaller earthquakes with little damage, and in a big earthquake, resiliency allows a building to bend rather than break, to tilt rather than topple, so people inside can get out.

The Earthship’s interior walls and the buttresses for the back tire wall are concrete. So the brittle material argument is moot. As to the insinuation of the “rubbery” quality of the tires… once they are packed with earth, the wall acts more like concrete than rubber. So this is moot too.


The Earthship books cover using wood for framing, but offer no clarification on the size or types of wood to use, or when it should be harvested. 

The website suggests that the aluminum can walls are very strong. However, the strength of the walls is not achieved by the aluminum, but by the cement that holds the cans together. While aluminum itself is strong, in this application, it has a smooth surface. There is no way the bond between cement and metal is stronger than that of, say… porous bricks, to which the cement can bind at the pore level… and hence it is not as easy to build a truly strong wall by this means. Also, the way the walls are built requires you to crush the can a little, decreasing the amount of space that is taken up by the can, and requiring more cement.


The roof design from Earthship Volume 1 is not well designed and uses a huge number of resources. Plus, roof framing should really follow the pitch of the roof for the best structural performance. Gutters should have a minimum slope so they work. 


Earth floors are recommended, but earth floors only work in some climates and they do not always work for passive solar design, which needs to be modified for the installation type and climate. Many Earthships now use flagstone or brick flooring.

Windows and Skylights

Awning windows at the base of the greenhouse against the ground can get buried in snow and cannot provide adequate ventilation unless they are cleared at every snowfall. That is a maintenance nightmare in cold climates, where some of our respondents noted that they had to remove snow as many as three times a day to insure adequate ventilation. There are some design issues with the standard skylight details too. They must be opened and closed by the occupant in order to regulate ventilation and solar heating. If left closed all day they can cause overheating, but if accidentally left open on cold nights they can vent too much heat. Both windows and skylights are also notorious for condensation problems. This often contributes to rot and mold issues.


There is just no way around it: Maintenance-wise, Earthships are on par with any naturally-built building, if not more so. Day-to-day maintenance on an Earthship can easily be double or triple that of a traditionally-built building. Earthship systems also require specialized repairmen that charge a lot for their knowledge and are sometimes difficult to locate.

Pets and Kids

Your pets may not understand that the planters are not their personal litter box or entertainment center. Or that the cistern, if left open to the building, is not their swimming pool or bathtub. Sometimes, kids may be equally susceptible. (I know I would have been.)


In the video From the Ground Up, there is a moment where we see someone using earth to plaster the wall and you can see bugs milling about in the plaster. That does not stop once the plaster dries. In fact, now the bugs have awesome places to build colonies - in the tires. You might as well prepare yourself early… centipedes, jerusalem crickets, moths, spiders, snakes, rats, mice… they will all be your friends in an Earthship. That is totally okay for some people. For others, it is a terrifying nightmare.

Products Offered

The books, especially Earthship Volume 1, are woefully out of date. Some of the products offered, like the Dynasphere wind turbine, are investments in less than ideal technology (see our Wind Power section for an explanation why). There are other places to look for more up-to-date solutions, and the majority of them are free online.

CHAPTER I: The Myth of Performance: Known Issues in Earthships Worldwide

It seems that Earthships have been somewhat stymied in their evolution due to the assertion that because they are “experimental”, they do not need to work. We believe you should have a home that does work. We want you to know that “better” is easily achievable if you approach the design armed with good information. 

We know that there are issues from decades of documentation of problems at builds around the world, as well as from Earthship research. See “Earthship Research Overview in Plain English” in Chapter 2 for more on this.

Here is a summary of what has been documented as having gone wrong with some of the larger and more well-known builds around the world:

EARTHSHIP FIFE in Scotland had moisture issues because of using wet soil when filling the tires, which at the time was thought to improve compaction. This trapped moisture inside the building. Once it evaporated and moved out of the tires, the moisture led to rotting problems with the wood framing in the roof system.

The VALENCIA SPAIN EARTHSHIP is known to suffer from summer overheating. This was resolved by adding external block-out shades over the south-facing windows and utilizing shading over the skylights in summertime. The greywater system was modified - a typical retrofit in many Earthships. Removing the kitchen sink from the greywater system seemed to resolve smell issues. Modern Earthships use a grease trap to attempt to combat this issue, but commentary from people utilizing the new systems suggests that because of the regular and “gross” grease trap cleanouts required, removing the kitchen sink from the system is ideal.

EARTHSHIP ZWOLLE in the Netherlands was built on a concrete slab to accommodate a high water table, yet still had significant water infiltration issues. Another issue with the design was using a north entrance, which contributed to thermal performance issues, as well as unanticipated weather loading and impacts on the structure. The failure of thermal performance has led to the building being closed during winter. Due to high humidity in the Netherlands, moisture became a real issue as did mold. A lack of construction expertise in the build team has also contributed to cracking in the concrete around the tires, contributing to degradation of the building envelope, as well as moisture infiltration and thermal performance issues. There are also issues in the building’s water catchment and filtration system, so these systems have been abandoned.

The STAR COMMUNITY lies at the end of eight miles of rugged unpaved roads nearly an hour from Taos. The community is so remote that many people will not even travel out there, let alone attempt to live that far out. People who have lived there will tell you this neighborhood is only really viable for a specific kind of person with a deeply self-reliant can-do attitude. 

The Earthship built in 2007 in BRIGHTON, ENGLAND is a “cottage” of over 1300 square feet built for half a million dollars. The Brighton Earthship been studied extensively, and various remedies applied for its thermal performance issues, which include regular under-heating for extended periods, as well as periodic overheating. This Earthships’ greenhouse does not extend the full width of the south façade. It appears that a lack of thermal insulation at the floor, which is applied over a chalk soil substrate, is contributing to continued coldness during the winter. Evidently thermal bridging is a substantive issue in this building. Thermal Bridging has been documented as an issue in other Earthships at higher latitudes, including EARTHSHIP GER in Switzerland. A case study performed by EcoOpenHouses.org on the Brighton Earthship notes several improvement suggestions which might be useful for our readers, including using compact fluorescents in lieu of the undersized LEDs; replacement of the wood pellet stove in favor of a multi-fuel type stove to offer more fuel options; replacement of the less-than-ideally functioning wind turbine with additional solar PV panels (at considerable expense); using lime plasters in lieu of cement in the walls; and using adequate insulation. In 2015, Earthship Brighton began an online fundraising campaign to raise $40k Euros for new "improved" systems. Because what they designed didn't work.

One future product that we are compelled to address here is the EARTHSHIP IN THE SKY design for New York City. One of our pre-order readers sent the drawings for this Earthship to us and we promised we would talk about it, if only briefly, here. So here it is. Hoisted on a triumphantly arched concrete wedding cake topper, this fantasy Earthship requires more concrete for its base than many entire buildings. The design loses the berm, which makes it more of a concreteship than an Earthship, it will likely require OSHA compliance in the build which eliminates all those who would want to work on it unless they are certified for high-rise construction, and… it blocks out the light for neighboring buildings. This is illegal in many countries, as older buildings were designed to harness the light and heat of the sun. This Earthship raises itself above its neighbors and steals their sunlight and airspace, while also preventing the truly sustainable response to housing in a city where every square inch has value beyond measure. The sustainable thing to do here would be to house as many people and businesses as possible in the space below just as the neighboring buildings do.

The entry at the new Earthship Visitor’s Center at GREATER WORLD COMMUNITY has its own issues, not the least of which is the incredible number of wooden materials used. The design of the framing structure on this building, as with most Earthships, means thermal bridges that invite cold air into the building. The huge number of pieces of bent wood used presents challenges of building and maintenance for the less-than-expert carpenter. The vestibule wall shades the entrance area from the sun, which is great in summer, but it also allows snow and ice to remain in winter. The benches are not deep enough to sit on for most people. Each piece of glass in this door and sidelight detail is hand-cut and comes with that time, maintenance, and cost. The water-stained wood on the interior of the skylight assemblies suggests there are water intrusion issues in this Earthship as well. The last and most frustrating issue for visitors is that it seems like no-one ever bothered to plan for how the space would be used. The greenhouse is a dead-end when the movie viewing room at the end of that corridor is being used for its intended purpose. More than once, we have had to direct guests to walk back around through the greenhouse, or to gently push them through the dark space while people were using it. This made our guests uncomfortable; several noted they felt as if they were “interrupting someone”. The functional aspect of design… is exactly what we want to help you do better. 

The Earthship that everyone wants to point to, to say "Hey look, these CAN work" is THE PHOENIX. It is gorgeous! It is also for sale, and you can make it yours for $1.5Million, or $277 per square foot. It has some of the most beautifully detailed work ever done on Earthships. This palatial Earthship has 1/3 of its 5,400 SF floor area devoted to food production. An 1,800 SF greenhouse that costs $277 per square foot is an expensive greenhouse, indeed – that adds up to $498,000! We cannot help but ask - will the amount of food it produces ever add up to a half a million dollars’ worth, and thus justify the cost of this feature? Similarly to the awkward room arrangements at the visitor’s center, the Phoenix has one bedroom big enough for a king and a full bed, and then another bedroom with a built-in headboard that results in a closet/office space behind the bed that is so squished and dark that a normal person cannot even use it. There is also limited privacy in the house as nearly every room, including the baths, has an open ceiling. Would someone really pay $1.5Million for a home that does not work for the way people live? Or that isn’t comfortable? And affords no privacy? Or where half of the floor space isn’t usable? We overheard someone say that they “had probably invested around $1.4 million in making the house work.” If the Phoenix cannot achieve a high return on the huge investment that was made in it, what does that mean for yours?