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Earthships: Off The Grid Eco-Homes

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If you look at pictures of “Earthships” they may seem to you like houses with a Sci-Fi flare to them. They have an unusual look, but one that enhances their uniqueness. These houses are built in such a way that they are eco-friendly to the highest degree. They are built from recycled materials, and the systems installed in them make them self-sufficient in energy use.

Earthship is a registered trademark by Michael Reynolds—the founder of Earthship Biotecture—a company specialized in designing and building these houses. According to Reynold, these houses have to do three things: to stick to the ideas of sustainable architecture by using material indigenous to the planet, as well as recycled material, to rely on natural energy sources, and finally to be economically feasible for the average person with no specialized construction skills. 

Earthships are designed to work as off-the grid homes, and are therefore autonomous. Windows are placed on sun-facing walls to allow lighting as well as heating. The thick outer walls provide thermal mass which allows it to naturally regulate the interior's temperature during all seasons. These walls are usually built using tires packed with earth, all positioned on top of each other.  Rammed-earth and tires are easily available; hence, this allows anyone to build a structure, and also allows the use of untrained labor.

Scrap tires are readily available around the world; there are an estimated  2 billion tires throughout the United States only. The internal walls are often made of a honeycomb of recycled cans, which are then connected together through the use of concrete; they are used as an alternative to wood and bricks. These walls are then usually thickly plastered with adobe. The roof, as well as the north, east and west facing walls of an Earthship are heavily insulated to prevent heat loss in order to keep the house temperature regulated.

Earthships are fitted with solar panels to harness the energy of the Sun. They are also equipped with water treatment systems to collect rain water, which can be used up to four times; and this makes it a very efficient system. Currently, Earthships are in use all over the United States, Canada, as well as many European and African countries. The Earthship Academy provides books, plans and training sessions encouraging this owner builder approach, and with the added bonus of the use of inexpensive materials. The Earthship idea has inspired people worldwide to build their own passive solar homes.

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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