by Danielle Wolff-Chambers and Shelley Clements
Here we are in Queensland, May 2013, half way through an Earthship build. It is the first one to be built in Australia and has been experimental in many ways. We started the build in January with a very diverse group of about 50 people ranging in experience, age and cultural backgrounds. It was run as a workshop so people could attend and participate in the build to empower those who wish to be involved in Earthships to gain the necessary skills and connect with people who have complementary skills, so as to form Earthship building teams and meet skilled allies and new friends.
We experimented with hempcrete — hemp fibers mixed with a lime binder and used as a insulation layer for the roof as well as some reinforced cement footings and extra steel used to strengthen the structure in case of a cyclone. This Earthship build is focused on using a loving intent because to be sustainable, to care about the earth and to care about the people, is to live a lifestyle of loving intent, which is permaculture and therefore is co-creation.
- The roof has been shaped using concrete to catch rain water with wings to encourage the direction and collection of the water.
- It flows off the roof, through a storm water drain and into a 22,000 litre water tank. From there it is pumped to its first use – kitchen, drinking and showering water.
- This ‘gray water’ then passes through a grease trap (a $10 tip bargain!) and into the botanical cell to feed the plants.
- The water’s third use is to flush the toilet. It is then ‘black water’ which gets appropriate treatment outside the Earthship!
Queensland is a tropical climate having a warm, wet season over summer and a more moderate, drier condition during winter. There is plenty of water falling from the sky during those summer months to be harvested and by adopting this system we are using the water as much as we can to maximise natural resources and minimize waste.
The site has been laid out using the permaculture zoning principles. There is a large amount of food being produced, such as the chooks and their eggs, fruit trees, vegetables, medicinal plants and bush foods. The Earthship botanical cell lines the north facing interior wall and enables you to have year round food production in any climate. In this area we are lucky enough to have so much food growing in abundance we can leave it to the birds and the bees to work their magic! The botanical cell will be for a Zone 1 herb garden. This creates instant access to our foods — right in our kitchen!
When the water is washed from our bodies and hands and passed through the garden the plants draw up all the nutrients and information from our skin cells which you are then feeding back into your body. This process is a beautiful natural occurrence and creates perfect harmony and balance in the home.
Site Orientation and Thermal Mass
We have used solar passive design to orientate the Earthship to face north east, to line up to catch the first two hours of light from the winter sun. In summer the sun will be higher in the sky stopping at the green house giving the plants what they need and keeping the heat out of the Earthship. When winter comes around the sun will dive much deeper into the building and the warmth will be held in and slowly released to keep a constant temperature — dramatically reducing, even eliminating, the need for heating and cooling.
The foundation for the 2-domed house is 9 tire courses high, and is made from around 1000 used cars tires rammed full of dirt. This process took us around 7 days with 40 people, plenty of sledge hammers and some great loud music with a timely beat. Collection of the tires came from far and wide with many long car trips to various car yards, tire suppliers and tips. We were denied the old tires on a few occasions with one suggestion that we may only want them to dump them into the ocean! Yeah right!
Ramming these tires with dirt creates an extremely strong structure and impeccable thermal mass. The tires will soon be rendered and will create our interior walls, while the other side has been packed with an earth berm. The berm enables us to use ‘cooling tubes’ to tap into the earth temperature and cool down the house as needed. It has been planted with pumpkins, chokos, gourds and mint for ground cover. The vines create shallow roots to stabilise the soil.
The Earthship is off-grid therefore all of our power comes from the sun, once again, harvesting our natural resources. There is no need to source our energy from the wind as there is so much sun year round here. A fabulous electrician has set up the system so the cables run to all of the outlets in the house making it an easy installation when we find our perfect stand alone solar system.
We are using a conventional flush toilet, flushed with the gray water once the plants have used it. The waste and water flush down into our own onsite sewerage system. It goes into our ‘septic system’ underground which is a deep cell lined with large car tires and gravel and tiny microorganisms which digest and feed off the waste. The water then flows outside through a pipe away from the house to our exterior black water cell which will be planted with citrus trees.
We embarked on our Earthship adventure with open minds and loose plans and have now completed the larger part of the structural components. It grew bigger then we had imagined so there was the need for a 3 month interval. In returning to where we left off we have re grouped and gathered more materials and creative inspiration. We are holding a second workshop and we are inviting 25 new beautiful legends plus 15 returning beautiful legendary Earthshippers to take on the finishing touches.