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Who Created the Earthship Concept?

Earthships are passive solar houses based on a New Mexican architect's design principles to promote sustainability. During the energy crisis that occurred in the 1970s, the idea of developing these environmentally-friendly structures that do not depend on nonrenewable resources is developed. This particular housing option will be further discussed along with the places they can be legally built and the building codes you need to consider.

Who Created the Earthship Concept?

An architect named Michael Reynolds is the creator and founder of the Earthship Biotecture concept which eventually became an eco-construction company recognized globally today.

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Reynolds became concerned about the trash problems and the lack of affordable housing options. He then did experiments using several waste materials.

His designs constantly evolved over the next decades, incorporating passive solar energy, thermal mass, and natural ventilation to counteract the effects of climate change through architecture.

The Earthship Design Further Explained

Reynold's efforts resulted in the project known as the Earthship today. It is an autonomous, self-sufficient structure built with recycled and natural materials while considering energy conservation.

Designed to generate water, food, and electricity on its own, Earthships are based on six design principles, all of them taking advantage of earth's natural existing phenomena, which are the following:

  • Using thermal and solar heating and cooling
  • Building with natural and repurposed materials
  • Water harvesting
  • Solar and wind electricity generation
  • Self-sustained food production
  • Contained sewage treatment

Benefits of Earthship Homes

Living in an Earthship home boasts many benefits. For those who find it interesting, check these benefits out and you might be inspired to get one of your own.

Maintenance of Ideal Temperatures

One of the best things about living in this type of home is the sustenance of ideal, comfortable temperatures all year long. From blisteringly hot climates to freezing temperatures, Earthships can maintain a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

This is made possible by the absorption and storage of solar heat in thermal mass, the basis of Earthship's structure. The thermal mass works by serving as a heat sink, absorbing heat and insulating as needed. Additionally, the greenhouse windows at the structure allow the sun to heat the thermal mass during the day.

Reduction of Waste Materials Through Recycling

Most of the materials needed in constructing Earthships are recycled. The construction begins by using dirt-filled tires. With many tire dumps worldwide, a shortage is unlikely to happen.

The walls above these tires are then built using glass and plastic bottles set inside the concrete. In some developing nations, these materials can be obtained from the street which also helps in cleaning the neighborhood.

Financial Freedom

Since all your basic needs are provided by your home, expect little to no utility bills each month. You could live even without a job. This provides you financial freedom and lets you enjoy life more. If all of us could solely focus on improving our environment than trying to make a living, things might improve for the better.

Affordable Materials

On top of the money you save from the absence of utility bills, the materials required for building Earthships are also affordable. Building a basic Earthship model starts at $20,000 with more advanced models costing around $70,000 or more depending on your preferences. Considering these low costs, almost everyone can afford an Earthship of their own.

Water Conservation

Another amazing thing about its engineering is the water-recycling system. Using a harvesting system, rain can be collected to deliver enough water even during the dryest climates.

This works because the roof funnels rainwater and transfers it to the cistern, which pumps it into the shower and sink. Used water then goes into the greenhouse to water the plants.

Not That Different From Modern Homes

When some people hear the term 'sustainable', they think of something primitive, which is not the case. Even before the discovery of the Earthship design, the majority of housing solutions fit this description as well. Earthships offer all the benefits of modern homes while being sustainable at the same time.

Renewable Energy

By having solar panels lining your wind turbines and roof, you can accumulate electricity the natural way. This ensures that you never run out of power and eliminates the need to buy energy from electric companies.

Free Food Source

With an onsite greenhouse, you get to grow crops throughout the year. Regardless of the climate, you can sustain yourself with the crops that you grow within your home. For a source of meat or eggs, you can also construct a chicken coop or fish pond on your property

Where Can I Build an Earthship Legally?

The ideal place to build an Earthship on is somewhere where you can find water all year round, grow food, and raise livestock. It should also be away from fires caused by droughts but not so far due to the risk of snow loads.

Once you find this ideal location, you also need to ensure that you can take advantage of the sun during the cold months to warm your thermal mass. Somewhere between 40 to 50-degree latitude seems to work best.

When it comes to legality, you can build an Earthship anywhere as long as you follow your local codes, restrictions, and covenants. As long as the structural engineering for your roof system can take the recommended load, you will be safe. Local building departments usually require you to meet requirements like this.

Earthship: Permits, Codes, and Regulations

Before you even start planning your Earthship project, you need to find out what you can and cannot do. Doing this will prevent unwanted issues in the future.

Some commercial and residential building codes are complex in some countries such as the United States and Canada, requiring you to do research first to ensure that your Earthship project will comply with the law.

While you have the option to get a lawyer instead to save you the trouble, you can also do things yourself if you have enough time and patience. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • What type of zoning applies to my land?
  • What specific building restrictions are there for my type of zoning?
  • Is a building permit from my province or local municipality required?
  • How do construction inspections take place?
  • Am I allowed to use car tires for my foundation?
  • Do we need a temporary living space on the construction site?

Septic Tank

Usually, a permit is required to install or modify individual liquid waste systems. You can get a form for this purpose from your local state environment department office.

Zoning Approval

If your pending project is located in an area that requires zoning approval, you must first obtain zoning approval and a signature on the Application for State Building Permit before you can apply for a building permit. To assist you with this, you may contact the Construction Industries Division in your area.

How to Obtain a Building Permit

To get this form, you need to request an application for the State Building Permit Form. After obtaining the form, you shall fill it in with the information listed on it. The qualifying party for the contractor requesting the permit or the homeowner requesting the permit must then sign the application.

Codes and Laws

Building codes are usually developed by well-intentioned people in the construction industry. Their goal is to protect life, limb, property, and the environment.

If you plan to use alternative construction materials or methods, you might be able to use them as long as you can prove that your way is just as good or better than what the code prescribes.

It is good to remember that codes are generally updated every three years. This is why regularly checking them is highly advised, because you never know when they will change.

Moreover, the most recent printing of building codes might not apply to all construction projects, which is why it is essential to inquire about them just to be sure.

Check With Your Local Building Code Department

To learn the current codes being implemented and how they will affect your Earthship project, contacting some departments is needed. These include your local building inspection department, department of permits, and office of planning and zoning.

You can start talking to the local government body that has the most jurisdiction over the property you intend to build on. These officials can provide you the current building codes being implemented in your area.


Contrary to the belief of many, Earthships are not something primitive. These innovations are not that different compared to the modern housing options we have today. This housing option is perfect for those who want more freedom in life and desire to be able to sustain themselves on their own.

You can have Earthships built everywhere, as long as you follow your local codes, restrictions, and covenants. If you are unsure where to start inquiring about building regulations, you won't go wrong in reaching out to the most authoritative local government body near the property you intend to build on.

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