Earthship building with Marcus Sisk
If you’re not familiar with the Earthship concept, it’s a pretty arresting idea: Structures built using recycled materials, heating and cooling themselves through solar/thermal dynamics, collecting power from wind and sun, harvesting water from rain and snow, producing food inside and out. Living in an Earthship means living largely without the monthly cost of sustaining a home, living without a day-to-day drain on natural resources.
And beyond being an arresting idea, it’s an arresting reality: Architect Michael Reynolds developed the Earthship design, and at the Earthship Biotecture World Headquarters in Taos, N.M., folks can see a premiere example of functioning, sustainable off-grid living in an Earthship.
That HQ also hosts the Earthship Biotecture Academy, which shares the concepts and teaches the skills that’ll further Earthship building. Local guy Marcus Sisk, an alumnus, is in the middle of building his in Gallatin, and he’s sharing the fruits of his studies at March 2’s Earthship 101 class.
We talked with Marcus about his Earthship introduction and the skills his students will pick up at the class. Take a look at his thoughts, below, and watch a video about the Simple Survival Earthship — the kind Marcus is building — above. Learn more about Marcus and his Earthship at the Biotecture TN website.
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The Skillery: How did you get introduced to Earthship Biotecture?
Marcus Sisk: “I first heard about Earthships from my uncle while visiting him out west. He told me I needed to see the documentary called Garbage Warrior about a guy building homes out of garbage and calling them Earthships. That sounded cool to me and it stuck in the back of my mind, but I never saw the film until years later when a roommate of mine told me he was making a trip to New Mexico for an Earthship seminar.
“At the time I was living in a school bus and building solar panels, trying to save money on rent and bills so I could work less and pursue my own interests more. I watched the documentary, was quite intrigued, and decided to go along to check it out.
“After hearing Mike Reynolds speak on that trip I knew pretty much right away that Earthships were going to be a big part of my future. It was directly aligned with everything I was trying to achieve at the time, and I realized that these were not just garbage houses, these were amazingly well-engineered machines — homes of the future. They seemed to provide solutions to such a broad scope of problems that people and the planet face. I bought all the books and started making plans to intern with the company.”
You’ve spent a significant amount of time living off-grid — what do you find are the most immediate, noticeable lifestyle differences?
“Living off-grid feels completely natural to me. It gives a great sense of comfort to know that your home is designed to take care of you and not cost you money to maintain on a monthly basis. It allows me to spend all my days however I want.
“I imagine my lifestyle once my own Earthship is complete will be kinda like semi-retirement. I plan to work seasonal or odd jobs to earn cash for spending or buying myself new fancy things if I decide I need them, but mostly I will hang around my house indulging in my hobbies and growing food in my greenhouse. No rent, no bills, no mortgage.”
You’re in the middle of your Earthship build — how long have you been working on it? How long will it take in total to complete?
“I began working on my own Earthship in June of 2012. I expect the bulk of the building will be complete by June 2013, though I have plans for lots of ongoing improvements.”
Living in an Earthship, can people actually get it down to zero month-to-month housing costs?
“People in Earthships can literally get down to zero month-to-month housing costs. Most people in Earthships cook with propane, spending about $100 yearly. Earthships also produce food, which is a nice buffer for your grocery costs as well.”
How in-depth into the process of Biotecture/Earthship building should students expect you to get? Will folks leave the class with enough of an understanding to potentially start on their own?
“The class will primarily focus on passive solar design, how it enables the building to heat and cool itself, and how used tires and dirt can be used to achieve this design.
“By the end of the class all students should be experts at building with tires and dirt, the tire building concept can be adapted to make super-efficient greenhouses, foundations, retaining walls, or to begin one’s own home.”