Simple Survival Concept and Rationale

A few years back we all drove big cars.  Those were the days of the big Lincolns and Chryslers, and Cadillacs.  Even the Chevys and the Fords were big.  They were made with thick metal and they were heavy and big.   When the energy crunches began, and fuel prices started to rise a few brave companies put out compact cars.  They were ridiculed at first.  They were called “toys” and “unsafe”.  The first models of compact cars were loosing issues in terms of profits but they illustrated that you can still get there in a smaller car… and get there a lot cheaper.  The fuel prices never stopped going up.  Sure they would take a dive here and there but the over all graph on fuel prices was up.  So it is now with housing. Housing has been big and inefficient for a long time.  Energy shortages and dwindling natural resources are making us look at smaller, more planet dynamic housing.  The Earthship Simple Survival Concept is our answer to this issue.

 

The Simple Survival Model Earthship evolved from the very basic prototype we constructed in Haiti.  The purpose of the original Haiti build was to reevaluate the concept of necessity.  This was important because the budget for the Haiti prototype was basically non existent.   Haiti is a third world country and the people there have nothing…  and even less after the earthquake.  No matter how well the “developed world” Earthship prototypes worked, they were absolutely out of the ball park of what could be achieved in Haiti.  This caused us to take life itself to the basics and try to apply the globally proven Earthship concepts at a ground zero level.

We succeeded…  and in the end,  we (the entire crew of nine) wanted to have one of these for ourselves.  We wanted this unit not only because it functioned very well;  but because it was very quick and inexpensive to build,  thus leaving the owner with a life  rather than a mortgage bondage for the next thirty years. This inspired the Simple Survival Model Earthship we are presenting here.

We have worked on disaster relief projects all around the world for many years. We have made the observation over the years that the needs of the people after all these disasters are the same.   They need water, sanitation and shelter urgently.
Following was the plea from the Andaman Islands after the tsunami in 2005.

“We are a concerned group of architects and planners from these islands and after a month since the disaster hit our islands its time we did much more than just food and medicine distribution.

The need of the hour, as we see it is three major components, namely 1) shelter, 2) sanitation, 3) clean water.”

We have also observed that these are three of the basic needs of civilization in general.  So… we have been on the right track for decades in the evolution of the Earthship concept, but the methods and approach to providing this in developed countries is far too expensive for providing it in a third world country after a disaster.

Recently we have begun to observe another aspect of this.  That being that the price of shelter, water and sanitation, even in developed countries with no immediate disaster, is far too expensive.  This became apparent after the global economic crisis/disaster of a few years back in 2006/7.    This observation resulted in our realizing that what we are forced to develop for a third world country like Haiti after an earthquake, can help shed light on what is really needed throughout the world in both developed and third world countries alike.  These are the needs of people…  and for the most part,  the majority of the people on the planet have trouble affording and meeting these needs.  This showed us that…

 

“What is right for Haiti is right for the world.”

 

We have come to the conclusion that we (the people of the world) all need… disaster or not…

1) shelter/comfortable living space
2) water
3) sanitation (sewage treatment/containment)
4) energy
5) food
6) garbage recycling concepts

We need to be able to obtain the above in a way that is not subject to thirty year mortgages and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We need to be able to obtain the above in a way that does not cause devastation to the planet  we all live on.

There is an obvious need for a simple survival sustainable living prototype that provides for humans;   is in tune with the planet;   and can be obtained for minimal money and in a short amount of time.  This is the birth of the Simple Survival Model Earthships.
We need a version for the tropics like Haiti, the Andaman Islands etc. and for parts of the world that have all seasons.  These units must take life to the basics and apply the Earthship concepts at a ground zero level.

While we were building in Haiti we started to think about a Simple Survival Model  that could be built anywhere and by everyone for very little money.  This idea we figured could impact housing not just in third world countries but in developed countries as well.  The concept of rethinking “necessity” has caused us to come up with two Simple Survival Models – one for tropical climates and one for climates that have four seasons.  These are designs we are ready to give the world.

In order to take life to the basics we must evaluate our individual needs with respect to…

1) shelter —- how many comfortable rooms do we really need?
2) water  —- how do we minimize our use and thus minimize our cost to obtain it?
3) sanitation —- how do we minimize and simplify sewage treatment processes?
4) energy —- how do we minimize energy needs and thus minimize costs to obtain?
5) food —- how do we produce more in the home and consume less?
6) garbage recycling concepts —- how do we produce less and consume more?

SHELTER
The Simple Survival Model Earthship will provide its inhabitants with comfortable shelter via very basic building techniques simplified from what has been learned on the developed world Earthship models.

Earthquake and storm resistant shelter that cools and/or heats  itself through natural solar/thermal dynamics is needed in third world countries and in the developed world alike.  This can be done very simply or very complicated and expensive.  The first objective is to achieve comfortable shelter that does not require one to sacrifice their life to mortgage companies.  Simplifying human needs can go a long way toward achieving this objective.  We suggest starting with the very minimum in terms of necessary spaces.  Get in these modest spaces instead of paying rent or mortgage payments and then add on as necessary.  Your life is not for sale.  Keep your life simple and you need not sell it.

WATER
The Simple Survival Model Earthship will provide its inhabitants with clean water via very basic water harvesting techniques simplified from what has been learned on the developed world Earthship models.

In Haiti and many other third world countries, the drinking water is purchased  from the government/private enterprise. It comes in very small plastic bags which hold about the quantity of a juice box.  It tastes like plastic.   Showers are almost non existent. Even when there is a shower there are very few places to properly drain the water except for the street.  It is obvious that clean potable water is largely unavailable to the public other than hauling from some contaminated river or stream or well.  Often this is in countries that receive twenty inches or more of rainfall annually in some areas and as much as two hundred and seventy in other areas.  With all that rain it should be easy to capture a sufficient supply of clean water if the right techniques are incorporated.  The same is true for many developed countries with regard to water.   In Taos, New Mexico where we have developed the Earthship concept, we get about seven inches of total precipitation per year.  We have developed a water harvesting system that uses the water four times and makes this pitiful amount of water sustain the Earthship homes we have built there.  We have made this water system provide all the same amenities as a conventional water system.  In Haiti and Sierra Leone, we discovered that using a very well designed bucket shower rather than a pressurized conventional shower further reduces the amount of water needed and the electricity to deliver it thus vastly reducing overall costs of systems while still providing a good shower facility.

SANITATION
The Simple Survival Model Earthship will provide its inhabitants with  contained on site sewage treatment while producing food and flora at the same time via very basic biological techniques simplified from what has been learned on the developed world Earthship models.

There is almost no sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, Sierra Leone and most other third world countries.   Sewage just runs out into the streets which is a major contributor to cholera epidemics among other diseases that are transmitted by poor sanitation.     Sewage treatment is basically either a hole in the ground or a bush or fixture that discharges to the street.  All of these contribute to various epidemics. With as many people as there are displaced by wars, hurricanes, earthquakes etc. and living in tight groups or camps;  there is no way to avoid contact with human waste.  In the Earthship concept buildings we take the sewage (liquid waste) water and run it through our easily built botanical cells and contain and treat all sewage on the site of every building while producing flowers and food at the same time.   We are talking about a decentralized water/sewage treatment system for every building… for every home.  We are not talking about a major conventional centralized water/sewage system.  We are talking about changing the quality of life radically and on a cellular level with minimal expense.  This would obviously minimize many of the health issues in a big way.  Again in Haiti, we discovered that the bucket flush toilet uses less water than the 1.6 gallon flushes and because it requires no pressurized system, it reduces the use of electricity and other mechanical equipment thus resulting in serious reduction in costs of systems in general.

ENERGY
The Simple Survival Model Earthship will provide its inhabitants with a very basic energy system that provides for the very basics of life via techniques simplified greatly from what has been learned on the developed world Earthship models.

There is very limited energy infrastructure (if any at all) in most third world countries.  Electricity is unreliable.  In developed countries energy infrastructure threatens the health of the entire planet (note Japan’s recent nuclear energy fiasco still delivering poison)  and it is also unreliable.  In our efforts to take life itself to the very basics,   we have evaluated what are real power needs and what are luxuries.  This is quite a stretch given what we are used to here in the states and other developed countries.  What this lead to was designing a super simplified system that provides lighting, one grey water pump and the ability to charge a cellular phone and lap top computer.  This is all that is really needed if the building itself is designed to provide in other ways and if human needs are minimized by earth logic versus desire.  The question we have to ask is do we really need more electricity bad enough to sell our lives and global health for it.

FOOD
The Simple Survival Model Earthship will provide its inhabitants with some basic foods that supplement a very simple diet based on what has been learned on the developed world Earthship models.

Food is fast becoming an issue all over the world.  Every home and building can produce food with its waste water.   The quality of commercially produced food is in question as it is produced to make money with little or no concern about the nourishment of people.  The delivery of food is problematic due to increasing awareness of the carbon foot print of shipped foods.  Part of the issue will be to vastly reduce and simplify diet requirements and then move in the direction of providing for this in the “stride” of living in the home.  There is a need to approach this food issue from the stand point of “living simply so that others may simply live”.

GARBAGE
The Simple Survival Model Earthship will  take the use of garbage (by products of modern society) as a building material to new extremes based on what has been learned on developed world Earthship models.

The streets in Pot au Prince, Haiti and the cities in most third world countries as well as many cities in developed countries are all  littered with plastic bottles, aluminum cans, styrofoam, cardboard  and tires.  This is everywhere you look.   In fact, garbage is a major issue for all civilization on this planet at this time.  With just a simple bit of logic, garbage can be looked at as a natural resource for building materials.  The Simple Survival Unit is built from 60% recycled materials.  This invalidates the whole concept of what we call “garbage”.  We are creating a natural garbage clean up while providing free building materials at the same time.   The question here is… can we let these available free materials become design determinants as opposed to our frivolous styles and preconceived ideas of aesthetics?

Overall, simple survival can be provided by a simple building that addresses all of the above issues.  We have spent four decades developing a building that addressed these issues as they related to the needs and desires of conventional civilization.  We found it was possible to address these issues without fossil fuels and planet damage and finally to do this at the same price as conventional housing.  But therein lies a mistake.  Conventional housing costs too much for people to have it and still have a life.  Our recent work in Haiti and Sierra Leone took it to a new level.  We saw that if we work on the requirements and definitions of conventional housing itself and rethink “necessity” to the point where we are as light as a feather on the wind,   we can have a life…   because…  the wind is free.

THE LOGIC

What makes housing so inaccessible?  It is a variety of things that Earthship Biotecture is trying to address.  One major issue in the USA is codes and regulations.  Another is infrastructure and the idea that we need it.  And the biggest thing is the concept of necessity.  If you start addressing all of these from a logical standpoint they become less over bearing and actually start to seem like only minor inconveniences.  With that in mind we have set out to design the All-season Simple Survival Model Earthship, a model that engages all of these issues.

Codes and regulations are part of a system that was initially put in place for public safety but has grown so big and controlling that it is a detriment to itself.  It is a lot like legislation, when is enough, enough.  How long can we keep adding restrictions and regulations before nothing is possible.  As we are right now,  the idea of sustainable, autonomous evolution of the current concept of housing is not within the scope of current regulations.  Meaning that if it is not your typical frame house, your in for quite a run with the building department.  And even if you do get it through you will have added quite a bit to the cost of your home.  Evolution is the only way we are going to survive on this planet because we cannot continue to build houses that consume so much of the worlds natural resources.

With that in mind, Earthship Biotecture has been mapping out pockets of freedom on our website.  www.earthship.com.   These pockets of freedom are places that you can build within the USA that require very little or no permitting so there is opportunity for new concepts.  It is a lot like when we build in a third world country…  pretty much free to do what you want. These pockets of freedom are usually on the outskirts of towns where there is no available infrastructure, which is fine if you want to build a building that provides for you instead of you providing for the building.  These are usually very beautiful places to build as well and the land is typically very cheap which fits into the concept of the Simple Survival thinking.  We basically want it to be easy for people to get into a simple survival unit and not be subject to rent increases, utility bills or other aspects of our financial world that can (and have) if unchecked leave someone homeless.

The next thing that makes housing so expensive and out of the reach for a lot of people is infrastructure.  It is still common thought that water lines to the house, electrical lines to the house and a complicated, expensive sewage system is required just to even think about starting the building process.  Well…  Earthships are the opposite of that.  The building is designed to encounter the world around it in order to provide for all of the inhabitants biological needs naturally without the web of pipes and wires that keep a typical home going.  This idea of natural encounter has made it possible for us to produce a Simple Survival Model that is easy for people to get into.

They collect and process there own water from the rain.  The original Earthships were evolved in Taos New Mexico where rainfall is scarce and at times infrequent so inherent in their design is a well thought out and tested water catchment system.  In order to get the most of the water caught and used,  the building is designed to recycle water several times and not let any go to waste.  With years of refinement,  the water catch setup is able to provide water to the homeowner year round. The water recycling processes produce food and oxygen as a byproduct.  That is the type of harmony the Earthship concept is based on.   Electricity and sewage are the same as well.  These are well thought out and evolved systems that use the environment around them to produce what is needed.  With the home now providing everything for the owner,  the tables are turned on the concept of housing.  Instead of us having to take care of a home,  we now have the home taking care of us.  And this is, most definitely, what housing should be about.

Defining necessity is a big part of the Simple Survival concept.  The thought process we took here was… what is really needed?   What is the minimum the home needs to provide for its owner?   The less that is needed the cheaper it gets.  And the cheaper it gets the easier it is for people to afford this type of home.  This, of course, requires the owner to do some serious soul searching to determine what he/she really needs and what he/she can do without.

So in order to make it more affordable, we started with the concept of electricity.  We have been using solar power in the Earthship for nearly forty years and it seems like there are always people who want more power.  But the more you require, the more expensive the system gets.  Most systems designed to meet the average american household needs cost more than the whole Simple Survival Earthship itself.  We decided to redefine what the need is.  Do we need to have a entire kitchen full of rarely used appliances?  Do we need to use outdated technologies such as the incandescent bulb?   Do we really need that huge television if our primary focus is to get into our own home?  The answer is an obvious no.  We resolved that the basic needs are lighting and the ability to charge a phone and laptop and a small pump for sewage recycling.  So we developed a super cheap solar power system that anybody can build and is easy to install within this structure.   Of course, this system doesn’t even come close to meeting current codes and regulations.

Once the concept was there,  applying it to the aspects of the architecture of the building and the functional design led to a whole array of ideas that could be used to put this type of housing into the hands of the people.  By dialing back the amenities to basic needs we have been able to put this home within the reach of the average person… not just the average developed world, middle class person, but the average global person.   And with housing within the reach of all people we are looking at the potential for a completely different world… Sustainable Autonomy For Everyone… SAFE.

We applied the concept of “simplification based on necessity” to everything involved with this building and we got it to the point in Haiti and another project in Sierra Leone where the only specialized materials (including the mechanical stuff) left to bring  were carried in our luggage.  That is not a lot of materials to get a building up and functioning.  These materials that we brought provided for a flush toilet,  a shower,  sewage recycling and electricity.  This methodology impacted every part of the architecture.  All the details were refined to the point that the average person could easily adopt and use.  The material cost was also greatly reduced while still providing a home that is functional beyond simply shelter.

OFF THE STREETS

While in Haiti building this tropical model we started thinking about having this type of shelter available in the USA.  But there were several logistical problems like freezing that would make it unsuitable where there are four seasons.  So we set out to come up with a design that works in areas where there are serious seasonal temperature changes.  By doing this the hope is to get people off the streets and into housing quickly and affordably.  The idea is the same as the Haiti model but the design criteria are a bit different and a little more challenging for cold winters as well as hot summers.   But the end result is a home that can be built cheaply and quickly and provide heat and cooling for its inhabitants without requiring the input of fossil fuels.

The application for this building is wide ranged.   It can built in many areas regardless of whether or not utilities are present.  So in the USA these buildings would be cheaper than a trailer home.  Unlike the trailer, the Simple Survival Earthship is earthquake and hurricane resistant. So this is a more stable life for people and more secure because they have their own utilities.  Given the recent catastrophes that have happened in certain parts of the USA and the lack of suitable construction techniques necessary to rebuild these areas;   an alternative seems like a necessity at this point.  By developing a way someone can get out of a rent (or homeless) situation and into a sustainable, autonomous home,  we can empower people to take care of themselves.  Using this concept to empower people to deal with life themselves would cause self provided relief to emerge in devastated areas.  There are several applications as stated but this is for everybody who wants it… Sustainable Autonomy For Everyone…SAFE.

Currently,  half the land in this country is vacant and, for the most part, this is because of the expense required to get utilities out there.  So there is no shortage of property for people to live on,  just shortage of thought on how it could be possible.  The combined logic of the Simple Survival Earthship components make an obvious choice for a less stressful existence.  Less stressful on people and the planet.  Why do people live in crowded cities? …  Because they need jobs to make money for rent, food, transportation  and utility bills.  Eventually all of this stuff drives our existence into places we don’t really want it to go.  This type of building by its very nature takes away the need to go through all of that trouble just to have a place to stay with heat, cooling, water, electricity and food to eat.  This is the concept of Simple Survival.   Without those concerns, there are a lot of options open to people as to where they can build and what they can do afterwards. Creating a home that encounters nature to provide what we need to live is the threshold to freedom.

The  basic module can be duplicated next to the original then connected to create a larger home.  This can be done over and over again.  This always leaves the possibility of expansion when life’s situations change.  So you build one of these basic, inexpensive modules and simply get off the streets.  This gets you out of a rent paying or even homeless situation.  Then you can, at your leisure,  expand the home if you want or just enjoy it the way it is.   But whatever you do,  you now have a home that takes care of you and requires no outside source of power or heat or sewage disposal and plants are growing to provide you with some food.  So the burden on your existence is certainly lightened and stress is reduced.  Then you decide where to go from there… if anywhere.  You may find that simple survival is all you need.

The Simple Survival Earthship has no kitchen.   Our thinking here is severe.  We just want to get people shelter, water, sanitation and off the streets… thus the title Simple Survival.  From this position of assured survival,  a kitchen can be added.  However, our first thought is to get a solar oven which can be placed in the greenhouse.  Cook on sunny days and graze in the greenhouse on cloudy days.  A kitchen takes more power and water and refrigeration and cooking.  These are some of the most significant expenses in a home.  Are they needed for immediate simple survival?  Our answer was… No!   Certainly another room can be added or part of a room can evolve in to a kitchen situation after you are safe and off the streets.  Assessing your cooking and eating situation is a personal thing which can happen after you are safe, comfortable and off the streets.  Our thinking here is that the overall expense impact of the entire conventional kitchen concept adds so much to the project that it is worth eliminating from the initial “getting off the streets” effort.

Many “well to do” people never use their kitchens.  Food is available in so many different ways that we decided to make the kitchen situation a personal add on after “getting off the streets”.   Some people will go on and add a simple kitchen, one piece at a time.  Some will eat raw foods and never add a kitchen.  Some will gain strength from
the safe security of the “phase one” experience that they will make a dream kitchen
added on to the basic survival phase.  Solar refrigerators, night mass coolers, ice chests are just some of the options already available for refrigeration.  Solar ovens, microwaves, and eating primarily raw foods are options for cooking.  The eating situation itself is something that can and should be re-thought.  It was our choice to not let this complicate the immediate issue of getting off the streets.  With this in mind we are ready to look at the basic choices in floor plans of this Simple Survival concept.

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