Off the grid

The first time I heard about “earth ships” was while watching an episode of Grand Designs where a couple built an alternative style house in Brittany France. Whilst passive solar house design, water catchment and recycling, and thermal mass walls were not new ideas to me, this particular construction method using car tyres rammed with earth and aluminium cans and bottles was something I hadn’t seen before.

Not long after that I was searching the web and inadvertently came across the DVD Garbage Warrior. It sounded interesting so I ordered it for the library collection. I was enthralled by this documentary. It is about architect Michael Reynolds and the story of his quest to build fully sustainable dwellings. He has been doing this since the 1970’s. The rammed earth tyre thermal walls, and aluminium can and plastic and glass bottle walls are his ideas.

I can’t believe I’d never heard about Michael Reynolds and his Earth ships. I have been interested in sustainable housing construction and development since the late 1970’s. One of my final year projects for Industrial Design was about “energy’’. I investigated the history and evolution of energy supplies to industry and society. Back then it was forecast that our oil reserves would run out in 2010!!. I soon realised the saving potential of passive solar house construction.

Garbage Warriors traces the story of Michael Reynolds and his work in New Mexico. He experiments with his ideas and invites others to join him there. He soon builds a crew and a community. This community is totally off the grid. The houses are fully sustainable providing the residents with power, heating, water, and food.

One crew member and resident, Phil, says when referring to his young daughter who has grown up in their house there:

“She doesn’t know the difference between this house and a normal house like I grew up in. It’s just part of her, that the house takes care of her and supplies power and heats itself and has plants that provide food and the water comes from the roof. She knows all that and she thinks that’s the way it is and that’s the way everyone needs to think.”

After many years of this development Michael Reynolds was stopped by local authorities and lost his architectural licence. He laments:

 “I had lost the freedom to fail.”

 And this is his point. Phil explains further:

 “You’ve got to be able to make mistakes otherwise you never evolve housing type…Everyone’s so stressed about getting sued that they can’t make a single mistake so there is no evolution in design.” Michael goes on to say, “New Mexico is the state where [we] tested the atomic bomb. They designated several thousand acres of land to be just absolutely destroyed with something they just didn’t even know if it would keep on exploding or not. They took extreme risks in the interests of national security. So what I’m saying is, can’t we make a few hundred acres test sites with no holds barred to test methods of living for the future? It’s a test site. They allow it for bombs. They test automobiles. They test airplanes. They should allow it for housing.”

The buildings in this documentary are interesting and inspiring. The work these people take on is amazing. If you are at all interested in sustainable living, self-sufficiency, saving the world, or even self-preservation, you must watch this documentary. You will come to admire the determination and tenacity of Michael Reynolds – Garbage Warrior.

“Hubba hubba hubba.”

Be sure to watch the Special Features to see their biodiesel production and Denis Weaver’s earthship.

Here are some more links: Earthships 101 Part 1 and Earthships 101 Part 2.

2 thoughts on “Off the grid

  1. Pingback: Twitted by wawoodworth

  2. Another story idea: Insulated Rammed Earth

    While it does not necessarily use recycled materials, SIREWALLS have thermal mass beyond any other approach to building, are excellent passive solar collectors, have numerous other health and environmental benefits, with exceptional beauty.

    Let us know if you would like additional information for an upcoming post.

    Thank you,


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