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‘Earthship’ homes off the grid, use few external sources

Earthships are designed to maintain comfortable temperatures in any climate by utilizing the earth’s internal climate control system.WHILE for most people, Boulder is synonymous with green and healthy and sustainable, those are not usually the first things that come to mind when one hears “Colorado Springs.” However, if the folks at Boulder-based Earthship Village Colorado (EVC) have their way, “the Springs” will soon be home to a community of 75 off-the-grid, sustainable, Earthship homes.

For those unaware, EVC’s website defines Earthships as “beautiful, sustainable, earth-friendly, homes built primarily of recycled and indigenous natural materials.

“They are the brain-children of Michael Reynolds, radical architect, sustainability expert, and the acknowledged ‘father’ of the Earthship.”

They are “designed to be autonomous, meaning that they have little or no connection to the grid, using thermal mass, solar panels, rainwater collection, composting and other built-into-the-design-and-construction approaches that minimize the need for external resources.”

According to EVC’’s founder, David Hatch, the company is “committed to the development of an extraordinary new neighborhood, designed to create and sustain the lifestyles of those who wish to live sustainably, self-sufficiently and in harmony with the earth, without giving up their individuality or the comforts and conveniences of a modern American lifestyle.”

Hatch said that he and his partner, Daniel Ziskin, Ph.D., are using the concepts Reynolds has honed over the last 40 years to develop a community of “self-sustaining homes, each of which cares for its inhabitants, rather than vice-versa,” and, perhaps most important, have now migrated that idea “from the purview of the incredibly dedicated — those willing to give up the traditional comforts of home, into the realm of the reasonable —— those who want to live lightly on the earth, but also want wi-fi and perhaps the occasional cappuccino.”

By which they mean that, while the original Earthship dwellers were willing to go without basics, the current iteration of Earthships have all the comforts associated with the American lifestyle in 2014 and beyond.

LOCATED on 400 acres of prairie with views of Pikes Peak, EVC consists of five acre plots, each of which will be self-sufficient. According to Ziskin, that means each individual Earthship will be “capable of producing its own electricity, collecting its own water, disposing of its own waste, and growing its own food,” making EVC a completely independent community just 10 miles from the geographic center of Colorado Springs.

The homes themselves are built from rammed-earth-filled tires, which are easy to obtain from local landfills that are happy to be rid of them because they never biodegrade.

According to Reynolds, current research indicates that after 10,000 miles tires stop off-gassing, and no tire reaches a landfill with fewer than 10,000 miles on it.

However, both he and EVC use vapor barriers in construction, just to be completely sure.

Rammed-earth construction utilizes the warming and cooling properties of the earth’s thermal mass in conjunction with solar power, so there is no connection to the external grid required.

According to EVC’’s website, “the earth is “a thermally stabilizing mass that delivers and regulates its own temperature without wire or pipes, and our sun is a nuclear power plant that also delivers unlimited free energy without physical connections or monthly contracts.””

Ziskin explains:

“”The outer few feet of the earth heats up and cools off in response to surface weather. However, deeper in the earth, about four feet and beyond, the temperature remains relatively constant at around 58 degrees.

“”Earthships are thermal mass homes first, passive solar homes second. As a result, appropriate design results in a home that can use the earth itself to maintain a stable, comfortable temperature all year round.””

According to Reynolds’ website, “”Originally, people made shelter by assembling pieces one at a time. They put the pieces together around themselves rather than upon themselves like clothing and soon they had created shelter around themselves.

““They were inside shelter and thus protected from the elements.

“”Earthships are designed so that each one sails with the forces that exist beyond human control and exploitation. They are simply an intelligent adaptation of . . . [ways to meet people’s basic needs] to the activities already occurring on the planet.””

Hatch elaborates:

“”If people’’s lifestyles can conform more to the patterns of the earth than to arbitrarily created and enforced socioeconomic systems, people can reduce the stress on humans, other animals and the rest of the planet, and still have absolutely everything they require to live.”

“This is, of course, easier said than done. Due to the social constructs of mortgage payments, utility bills and the overall high cost of living, most people have no choice. They have to be at specific locations at predetermined times in order to make the money necessary to make those payments.

“However, Earthships have small or non-existent utility bills and, by allowing their owners to grow food year-round inside, also greatly reduce the amount of money they have to earn to meet their needs”

ACCORDING to the EVC website, Earthship owners obtain all their electricity from the earth, the sun and the wind; collect all their water from the sky and then use it multiple times to conserve as much of it as possible; contain and treat sewage in a way that is not only clean and odorless, but is beautiful and produces food (really, greywater is used to irrigate large indoor planters and greenhouses); and maintains an internal temperature of 68 to 72 degrees all year long, no matter the external temperature or weather conditions.

They explain the six essential systems that allow this to happen as follows:

Building with Natural and Recycled Materials:

Earthships are built primarily from recycled and indigenous materials.

By restricting building materials to those that are naturally occurring in the local area where the home is being built, the need to ship materials is eliminated, further reducing the home’s overall resource usage.

Contained Sewage Treatment:

Earthships use indoor and outdoor treatment cells to save, treat and reuse most household sewage in the form of plant fertilizer.

This results in plenty of (non-odorous) greywater for landscaping, food production and toilet flushing.

The rules regulating the use of greywater have not been codified in El Paso County, Colorado, where EVC is located. EVC is working with the County to develop and pass laws that make sense for everyone.

As of June, 2014, final approval for the use of water collected from one’s roof is still pending, and there is no guarantee that it will be permitted. EVC is lobbying the local government for approval.

Food Production:

Earthships are equipped with their own personal wetlands — planters that hold hundreds of gallons of water drained from sinks and showers and bathtubs. These are a source of irrigation for greenhouses, gardens, bird baths and even fish ponds.

Solar and Wind Electricity:

Earthships produce their own electricity via a prepackaged photovoltaic-wind power system that is integrated into the basic design of all Earthship models.

Energy is stored in batteries for supply to the home’s electrical outlets.

Thermal-Solar Heating and Cooling:

Earthships maintain comfortable temperatures in any climate. Earth is a thermally stabilizing mass that delivers and regulates its own temperature without wire or pipes and our sun is a nuclear power plant that also delivers unlimited free energy without physical connections or monthly contracts.

Water Harvesting:

Earthships catch water from the sky in the form of rain and snow and use each drop collected four times.

Water is heated with energy from the sun, biodiesel or natural gas — depending on the desires of the homeowner.

In this way, Earthships never contribute to the pollution of underground aquifers.

There are multiple designs to choose from, ranging in size from a very small one-bedroom to homes of over 5,000 square feet, each of which can be customized to meet the specific needs of any family.

Homeowners have the option of working with the crew to build their own home from the ground up, assisting occasionally, or approving the plans and then moving in without ever getting their hands dirty.

The project is still in its very early stages, and volunteers may contact EVC’s volunteer coordinator at blythe@earthshipvillagecolorado.com.

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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