Herald photo by Ian Martens Workers and volunteers help with the construction of an 1,800-square-foot earthship home, designed to be an off-grid, self-sustaining dwelling, earlier this week at a site along the Little Bow River east of Carmangay. An open house is scheduled Sunday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

By Lethbridge Herald on July 23, 2014.

Nick Kuhl
Lethbridge Herald
It’s an 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom home with an unusual floor plan and a sweeping south-facing view toward the Little Bow River out of large glass windows.
Its final cost, estimated at between $350,000 and $400,000, would be comparable to a similar-sized unit in an average Canadian urban community.
But when it’s completed in a few weeks, Glen and Dawn Kinney’s soon-to-be retirement house, located about 70 kilometres from Lethbridge and 30 kilometres east of Carmangay, will basically run itself.
The home, called an earthship for its design, will maintain a consistent temperature of between 19 C and 22 C year-round, with no added heating or cooling, and have a of cost of only about $150 per year for utilities.
The back wall was constructed with more than 800 tires encased in mortar to create thermal mass, while the side walls, with a similar concept, utilized more than 12,000 beer cans.
A team of 30 volunteers, as well as a paid crew of 10 people, have used a number of other natural and recycled materials in the construction, which began on June 30 and will wrap by early August.
The Kinney home is the first Alberta project undertaken by Earthship Biotecture, a New Mexico-based company, founded by Mike Reynolds, that specializes in building these types of residences around the world.
“It’s smart for the economy; it’s smart for the planet,” Reynolds said. “And, of course, it is a way to sustain human life.”
The house, which sits on part of the Kinneys’ 187 acres of land they purchased about five years ago, measures 102.5 feet long and 24.5 feet deep. The one hallway will act as the entry point to all the rooms, as well as a greenhouse with various plants and fruit trees, and an air barrier between the living space and the exterior.
The home’s water will go through a four-stage recycling process: it collects on the roof and drains into a large cistern, and is first filtered for drinking and cooking, before being used for showers. Then that runoff will be used in the greenhouse’s planter cells before being cycled through to flush toilets. Sewage will be collected in a holding septic tank, with the possibility of adding a botanical treatment and drainage field in the future.
Solar thermal panels are installed to heat water and electricity will come from a 3.8-kilowatt battery system, that won’t need to be changed for 15 to 20 years, powered by 12 solar panels.
“You have to replace your chemistry every once in a while — but no electricity hookup, no water hookup, no gas hookup,” said Duncan Kinney, Glen and Dawn’s son, who is helping on the project.
The Kinneys are from Calgary: Glen still works in the oil and gas field, and will commute periodically back and forth upon the home’s finish, while Dawn is retired and will move in full time right away. Duncan, meanwhile, became interested in earthships several years ago, then volunteered on a project in Wyoming with his father three years ago.
“It’s not like a regular job site, where there’s just ‘here’s your plumbers and here’s your electricians,’” he said. “Everyone kind of does a little bit of everything and everyone is working towards the common goal of getting the house finished.”
The volunteers camp on site and learn the process of construction as they go. Calgary’s Scott Davidson, who travels from build to build across North America, is helping out while living out of his RV. He is getting experience so one day he’ll be able to build an earthship of his own.
“It’s game-changer for a lot of people, especially people retiring,” Davidson said.
“If they have the money to afford something like this, once it’s built and paid for, you have a system where it doesn’t cost you anything. There’s no quality of life that is sacrificed to live in this type of structure. The quality of life stays the same, but the cost of living drops drastically.”
The Kinneys are hosting an open house Sunday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Directions to the house are: take Highway 845 north out of Coaldale for about 50 kilometres until the intersection with Highway 522, then turn west for 4.5 kilometres to an entrance with a big Kinney sign. Follow the road down about half a kilometer until the project.