May 18, 1997 | Associated Press

A brief look at the building, operation and cost of Earthships:

Construction: Used tires are packed with dirt and stacked on steel reinforcing rods to form exteriors. Aluminum cans are tucked between the tires and the entire walls are coated with mixed mud and straw. Interior walls are made of cement and glass bottles.

Water: Water is collected from rainfall on the roof, stored in 3,000-gallon cisterns and passed through filters before coming out to sinks and showers. The water then drains through an interior garden, is pumped back through toilets and then flushes (as sewage) into outdoor gardens that leach out waste.

Electricity: Power is generated by rooftop solar panels and windmills. Electricity is captured in batteries that must have water added to them about once a month. An Earthship office can run six computers, fax machines, copiers and more with solar- and wind-generated power. Homeowners say cloudy days mean less power, and they time their vacuuming accordingly.


Heating and Cooling: Earthships use thermal mass to maintain a constant temperature. In the winter, the tire walls store heat, and the south-facing windows capture solar energy to keep the house warm. A wood stove provides additional heat. In the summer, the high sun angle keeps the rooms in shadow while cool earth walls absorb heat from the rooms. During the night they release heat again. Ventilation tubes running from outside into the floors add to the cooling effect.

Telephones: Urban Earthships can be wired into telephone systems. Remote Earthships use cellular or radio-controlled telephones.

Durability: Earthships have survived forest fires, earthquakes and windstorms. The oldest Earthship, built about 20 years ago, is still in good working order. Operating systems continue to be perfected as alternative energy technology advances.


* A book describing the process: $25.

* A set of architectural drawings: $2,000.

* A small, basic house–the “Nest”–constructed by experienced Earthship builders in two weeks: $35,000.

* Most Earthships: $75 a square foot–or about $130,000 for a moderately sized home–not including the property.

* A 6-foot-by-8-foot systems package including batteries, gauges, pressure tanks and circuit breakers to make an Earthship operate: $15,000.

Contact: Solar Survival Architecture, P.O. Box 1041, Taos, N.M. 87529.