The Future is Self-Sufficient Housing: A Spotlight on Earthships

Sophie Angoh
5 June 2020

Since its designation in 1972, World Environment Day has been celebrated annually by millions across the world. It has become a day most renowned for environmental awareness and collective action toward issues related to climate change, biodiversity and sustainability (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, 2020).

Through its numerous themes, World Environment Day has been able to promote reflection and unveil externalities associated with individual consumption, business models, policies and regulations so that appropriate actions can be taken moving forward.

In honor of this year’s theme “Time for Nature” with an emphasis on essential infrastructure that support life and human development, this blog will showcase the innovative and unconventional housing style called Earthships.


What is an Earthship?

It is often not within our immediate consciousness to think about the footprint of living in a traditional house. But the housing footprint is typically one of the largest portions of your ecological footprint due to the emissions that arise from heating and cooling, electricity usage, water usage and waste disposal (Wilson, 2012).

Earthships were designed and advocated by architect Michael Reynolds to help mitigate our housing footprint and to inspire a more sustainable lifestyle. Earthships are designed in such a way to operate independently and off-grid if one chooses to do so. It is considered a carbon-zero home where contractors scavenge landfills to find suitable building materials such as discarded tires, aluminum cans, class and plastic beverage bottles to build the foundation of the house (Johnson, 2020).

Earthships are defined by six basic design principles:

1. Built with Natural and Repurposed Materials

The foundation and walls of Earthships are built using many different types of natural and reclaimed materials. The most popular has been used tires which are discarded in abundance every year. In South Africa alone, eleven million tires are discarded every year and only 5% is reused, recycled or burnt for energy (Murugan, 2013). The tires and other materials are then plastered with adobe mud to create the interior and exterior walls (Reynolds, 2020).


Click here to watch this Earthship

2. Thermal/Solar Heating and Cooling

Earthships are built to heat and cool themselves without electricity, burning fossil fuels or wood. The solidity of the densely packed tires stores hot or cold temperatures and turns them into thermal mass “bricks” (Reynolds, 2020). In the winter, the large windows allow the walls and floors to trap heat from the sun and to release it in the evening when temperatures drop. In the summer, the building stays cool with the constant temperature of the earth through natural ventilation of buried cooling tubes and operable vent boxes (Reynolds, 2020).

3. Solar and Wind Electricity

Earthships are equipped with solar panels, batteries, charge controller and inverter. The Earthships electrical needs are on average 25% of that of a conventional home due to its efficient lighting, pumps, refrigeration and lack of electric heating and cooling (Reynolds, 2020). Many residents living in an Earthship can meet their needs with one kilowatt or less from solar panels and some also add a small windmill for minimal sunny days (Reynolds, 2020).


Click here to watch this Earthship


4. Water Harvesting

It is estimated that by 2025, with current freshwater consumption rates, two thirds of world’s population may face water shortages (WWF, 2020). It is important that we are mindful about our water usage as 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Earthships ensures that water is being used appropriately without any wastage. It is equipped with appropriate systems to collect rain and snowmelt from the roof, filter and solar heated to be used for bathing, dishes and laundry (Reynolds, 2020).

5. Contained Sewage Treatment

Earthships ensures the circularity of the water by having its own sewage treatment system. Grey water that is generated from daily usage flows toward the plants that treat the water until it is clean enough to be collected again, pumped and stored in a toilet tank for flushing. After it is flushed, the water goes into a conventional septic tank where excess water overflows toward exterior landscaping plants (Reynolds, 2020).

6. Food Production

Earthships have the capabilities for an interior and exterior greenhouse. Many residents have been able to yield herbs, peppers, tomatoes, kale, beets, cucumbers, and more. Due to its recent implementation in the design, Earthship Biotecture has been conducting experiments to see which plants are best suited for an interior grey water system (Reynolds, 2020). 


Click here to watch this Earthship

Sustainable Development Goals

The development of sustainable housings and self-sufficient housings contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which are blueprints to achieving a better and more sustainable future for all.

Earthships contribute to:

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Additional Resources:

For more information on Earthships and on housing plans, please visit 


Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. (2020). About World Environment Day

Johnson, N. (2020). Sustainable Homes: The Earthship

Murugan, S. (2013). Old tyres get a new lease on life

Reynolds, M. (2020). Global Earthship: Taking Advantage of the Existing Natural Phenomena

Wilson, L. (2012). Shrink your housing footprint

WWF. (2020). Water Scarcity