CHAPTER I: The Myth of “The Most Efficient, Easy to Build Construction Method on the Planet”

Earthships require extraordinary amounts of time, patience, self-education, and physical labor to build. One builder noted that he could tell if people were “real prospects” to build an Earthship by testing them on a build site. He said, “I just let ‘em pound one tire full. It takes 3 wheelbarrows of dirt and a good pounding, and the first time they do one, it can take up to two hours that will rock their entire body. If they are standing at the end of it, they might be a candidate for building their own.” How many would-be builders are really prepared for this? Several of the people we interviewed ended up injured from all that pounding. There is a price for that, too.

While Earthships might be “easy to build”, there is no promise of producing a well-built result. This is an issue inherent in using unskilled labor, no matter what the building project type. People who have never built anything will not know what not to do. This can turn your home into a giant craft project. That might be okay for the hidden stuff, but what if you really care about your home being well-built and beautifully so? Several builders in our research noted that even with years of experience in constructing other types of buildings, the Earthship proved to be a monster project to both manage and learn the techniques for. 

The most concerning part of the “most efficient” issue is that the time needed for building the home is either devoted to, or sacrificed from, daily activities. If you are not independently wealthy and require a source of income, you have to sacrifice your time to build a home (which can be a full-time job in itself); in addition to having a job to make the money to pay for the home you are building. When this happens, the sustainability of the process comes into question.

Sometimes we need help – an expert – to get things built. But it is difficult to find an expert in Earthship building who can provide the help you need and that you can afford. We heard time and again… a lack of professional assistance can totally derail a project for unseasoned builders.

The Abandonment Phenomenon

Nearly a third of the people who contacted us after hearing about this project wanted us to share that they had given up on their Earthship dream, sometimes in mid-build. They felt like they had lost time, money, and even faith from their Earthship experience. Some had been injured. Some ran out of money. Others ran out of patience for trying to train building inspectors in something they barely understood themselves. Others could not figure out the systems, which, as one interviewee commented “required German language knowledge or an engineering degree to make work.” Still others gave up because other teams wanting to build Earthships in their area had failed to obtain permission. The most disheartening part was that the prospective builders who were forced to quit seemed depressed and demoralized by the experience. Once we knew to look for it, this sentiment was quietly echoed in the message boards and forums. Several sources in our research commented that people they knew had spent years pouring every penny and thousands of hours of sweat equity into their Earthship, and when the project was finally complete… they lived in them for a while and then sold their home at a loss just to “get out from under it.”