LETHBRIDGE COUNTY — In the dead of winter, in the middle of the southern Alberta prairies, the Kinneys’ Christmas dinner included juicy tomatoes freshly picked from the family’s new home.

Producing vegetables even when there’s snow on the ground isn’t the only feature that makes the Kinneys’ abode unusual.

Made of 800 recycled tires and 12,000 cans encased in mortar, the long and skinny bungalow is a radically sustainable building that offers all the comforts of a modern home without any electricity or water bills.

The dwelling has running water, flush toilets, a washer and dryer, a television and Internet.

More impressively, the off-grid structure grows its own food, treats and recycles its grey water, generates its own electricity, and regulates its temperature, whether the mercury outside is hovering around -30 C or 35.

Located north of Lethbridge, past rolling prairies in a stunning scenic valley, the couple’s retirement home is Alberta’s first official earthship.

Calgary Canada Earthship

LETHBRIDGE, AB; JULY 17, 2014 — The Kinney family is building what is believed to be AlbertaÕs first earthship on rural land near Lethbridge. More than 800 tires and 12,000 cans are being used to construct the 1,800 square foot three-bedroom off-the-grid home. Once complete, the Kinney earthship will treat and recycle its greywater, generate its own electricity, produce a portion of its own food and regulate its own temperature. Michael Reynolds, an American architect and the ÔfatherÕ of earthships, is helping build the Alberta project and will be speaking to a crowd of 300 in Calgary on Saturday. (Duncan Kinney/Calgary Herald) For City story by Annalise Klingbeil

“When people first hear the word (earthship), they think hippie-dippie tinfoil hat type things,” said co-owner Glen Kinney. “Once you explain it they start to get the idea. It’s sustainable.”

Constructed during the summer of 2014, the home blends into the barren natural environment and faces south for maximum sun exposure to best charge the building’s solar power system.

The front of the structure is covered in large glass windows and a greenhouse runs the length of the front wall, serving as a main hallway and air barrier between the living space and the outdoors.

The greenhouse also produces vegetables year-round, including those tasty tomatoes the Kinney family enjoyed while spending Christmas at their newly built earthship.

Insulation and sunlight mean the home stays warm in the winter, while earth tubes and ceiling vents keep it cool in the summer.

Rainwater is caught by the metal roof and collected, treated, and filtered down into the home where it’s ready to drink.

The earthship reuses all household sewage in indoor and outdoor treatment cells for food production and landscaping, without polluting aquifers, says a website describing typical design features. Toilets flush with non-stinky grey water.

Calgary Canada Earthship

The house produces its own electricity with a photovoltaic/wind power system. The energy is stored in batteries.

Kinney and his wife spent five weeks building the earthship with help from their adult children, volunteers from around the world, and a paid crew of 13 people from Earthship Biotecture last summer.

Michael Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotecture and the inventor of earthships, attended the build. It marked the first time an official Earthship Biotecture-built structure was constructed in Alberta.

“What these buildings exemplify is that it’s entirely possible to have everything you need in luxury — flat screen TV, high-speed Internet, everything — without spending a dime and certainly without hurting the planet,” Reynolds said when he was in Alberta during a July interview with the Herald.

The American architect coined the term earthship more than two decades ago, a name he picked because like a ship, the homes are fully independent vessels.

The alternative housing form has evolved over the years and became better known following a 2007 documentary about Reynolds and his “green disciples” called Garbage Warrior.

From the outside, the Kinney home is reminiscent of a dwelling a hobbit might live in.

But inside, the radical residence looks like something out of the pages of a rustic home decor magazine.

The earthship contains three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a cosy living room.

Building the skinny bungalow cost the same as what a similar-sized structure in Calgary would have cost, according to Kinney.

Calgary Canada Earthship

“It’s a funky off-grid home,” said Kinney’s adult son Duncan, who lives in Edmonton.

“It’s a really great space. It’s fun to visit. It’s refreshing to visit. I’m excited to drive five hours to get to it.”

Kinney was introduced to the alternative housing concept several years ago by his son, who read about earthships in a book by Calgary journalist Chris Turner.

Like many converts, the father-son duo volunteered on other earthship builds and gained first-hand experience before undertaking a project of their own.

The Kinney family got the plans for their earthship from Global Model, but made a few modifications. And while there’s still some furnishing, finishing and tweaks needed, Kinney said he’s already impressed with the 2,000-square-foot finished product.

Calgary Canada Earthship

“We like what we’ve got,” he said. “It works good.”

The family’s unusual green abode has attracted plenty of attention — when the Kinneys hosted an open house in the summer before the earthship was finished, hundreds of people came to marvel at the structure’s systems and ask questions.

Calgary Canada Earthship

“Earthships can inspire a lot of interest and ours certainly fell into that category,” said Duncan, who is looking forward to many more Christmas dinners in his family’s sustainable abode.

“It’s a nice back-pocket fantasy to have: I’ll go and get a spot of land and build an earthship and live off-grid. It scratches a lot of itches for a lot of different people.”

from calgaryherald.com | AKlingbeil@calgaryherald.com | Twitter.com/AnnaliseAK