Last night I stayed in an Earthship.
What the heck is an Earthship I hear you ask? Well, let me explain….
Earthships are buildings made out of recycled materials including old car tyres. They provide completely sustainable, off-grid living for those who are brave enough or driven enough to embark on such an adventure.
I met up with Brian and Karen Gubb in Ngaruawahia (New Zealand) to find out what it’s like to live in one of these unique creations and they were happy to share their story with me.
Brian grew up on a farm and always dreamed of owning a block of land. They purchased 18 acres of bushland in 2002 with the intention of one day building a home to enjoy in their retirement. They put a caravan on the block and soon found they were spending all their spare time there. Their five children loved playing on the land.
Brian and Karen quickly realised it was pointless waiting for retirement and decided to start building a new family home on the block.
Limited resources meant they had to find a creative building solution. One day Brian was driving past a farm and spotted a load of old car tyres being used to cover a silage stack. Suddenly he saw the potential. His mind started ticking over and when he googled ‘building with tyres’ he discovered the Earthship movement started by Michael Reynolds:
Michael Reynolds is a world famous architect who has spent the last forty plus years evolving the concept of home as well as the home itself. His vision is for the home to care for the inhabitants and not vice versa. With this logical goal in mind he set out to design and refine the Earthship. After forty years it is now an affordable reality Designed with concepts that any person can adopt, these buildings can provide housing for the people.
It took the Gubbs 5 years to build their Earthship. The method is very labour intensive as it involves ramming earth into tyres, stacking them, filling in the cracks, then covering them with mud to create incredibly strong and sturdy walls. The children all pitched in to help, and Brian invented a special tyre ramming machine to help speed up the process.
There are 2500 tyres in their home, which were sourced for free from local tyre dealers. A mixture of sand, clay and cow manure was used to render the walls, which are a beautiful warm, earthy colour.
Working full time meant Karen and Brian only had weekends and evenings to work on their house, but slowly it began to take shape, and in 2007 they finally moved in.
The front side of the house is a recycled glasshouse that has been spilt in half, and is home to an inside garden that is maintained via a greywater system. The garden provides a great bounty including tomatoes, silverbeet, herbs, grapes and lettuce.
My favourite feature of the house is the glass bricks or ‘jewel bricks’ where coloured glass bottles have been laid into the walls. The bottles were sourced for free from a recycling centre which kept the blue gin bottles especially for Brian. Brian estimates $15,000 worth of gin is represented by the bottles in his home, which he finds amusing as they are tea-totalers.
The house runs on solar power, with a generator as backup. Water comes from an underground spring, and they use sawdust in their composting toilet.
And check out their washing machine, it takes a while, but gets the job done!
There are chickens and roosters running around, and a fire is stoked for hot water. They also have a mulch water heater where 100m of pipe is coiled through 20 cubic metres of mulch – so effective it heats water for 8 months.
Brian says their house will always be a work in progress, but they managed to build it for $28,000. Nearly everything in the house has been recycled. Being mortgage-free was the key driver for Brian, who wanted to build their home as a family hub. They have been able to help their own children save house deposits by offering free lodging at Kandoit (can-do-it, the name for their Earthship) and they often have grandchildren staying.
Brian now helps others by sharing insights from his building experience and has helped on other smaller Earthship builds in Rotorua, Christchurch and nearby in Raglan.