Earth Ship: The Beginning

Earth shipThis is an earth ship.  It is a self-sufficient home made out of recycled tires.  One side of the house is up against a hill to keep the house cool, and the other side is sloped like a greenhouse to keep the house warm.  In this way the temperature is controlled with minimal electricity.

You can’t purchase a pre-made earth ship; if you want it, you have to make it yourself.  Architectural plans are available for free online download, and there are forums galore (including this one) on how to maximize your design.  In fact, there’s a widespread community of earth-ship builders that collaborate through the internet and in real life.  Before they started any concrete plans, my parents spent years visiting other earth ships.  Most owners were more than happy to show them around and discuss the construction process, what went wrong, what they would have changed, etc.  If you research earth ships online, you’ll also find some listed as vacation rentals (particularly around Taos, NM).

Artistic Earth Ships in Taos, NM (photo borrowed from the ownerbuildernetwork.com)
Artistic Earth Ships in Taos, NM (photo borrowed from the ownerbuildernetwork.com)

My parents spent years in the planning phase.  The hardest part for them was finding the perfect location, because of county/municipal building restrictions.  They also had to jump through a lot of political hoops once the project was up and running, even though they had done their homework ahead of time.

My parents were as involved as possible in the construction and design (my dad’s an engineer), but they did hire help for certain jobs such as pouring concrete, plumbing, and building cabinets.  I wasn’t present for much of the actual construction, but during the first year of building my mom sent emails detailing their process.  I saved each of those emails and referenced them to create a photo book as a gift to them for Christmas.

page 1

They bought six acres on the plains east of Colorado Springs, near the Schriever Air Force Base.  On Thanksgiving 2010 we drove out there to “break ground” and drink a toast to the beginning of the project.  The real work didn’t start until the ground thawed out the following spring.

page 3

“Tire bales are delivered: two trucks a day for four days.  One tire bale weighs about a ton.  Each bale contains between 100 – 150 tires bound together with strong galvanized wires, and measure 5′ x 5′ each.  We saved about 18,000 tires from going to the landfill.”

page 4“The night after we got the back wall up, wild animals rushed to make their homes in the crevices.  The spaces between the bales will be stuffed with rock before shotcreting.  Shotcrete is a liquid concrete that gets blown all over the interior of the wall.”

page 5

“We spent all three days digging the trench for the French drain, which had to gradually go deeper in order to direct water away from the home.  9 AM – 5 PM days, digging, digging, digging… even with heavy duty gloves we got blisters and our feet and knees are so sore!  My advice to anyone who is thinking about doing their own French drain: Don’t.  Hire this part out.  It’s too much work.”

page 7

“Stephanie’s main job is to use the compacter to stomp down every 6 inches of dirt that Jim throws on the back of the house, to berm it up.  It’s a long and tedious process.”

“500 feet of steel pipes go into the ground deep below to bring us water.  Incredible!”


   page 9

“We sketch out the plans for the plumber.  Upper left: the master bathroom, which will be at the front windows, and features a round copper Japanese soaker tub.”

Go to part 2 ->

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