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Systems

If we can change the way we live to fit earth’s patterns, we will reduce the stress levels for earth and ourselves. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t make this easy. People have the cost of living to deal with and the majority of people really have no options. Work requires we dress a certain way, be at a specific place at specific times, all so we can make money needed to pay these bills. Fortunately, many people are able to build their own Earthships while having either a small mortgage or no payment at all. Plus Earthship owners have little to no utility payments and are able to grow food within their dwelling year round, which helps out with the cost of food bills.

Earth’s current state lets us know we need to start taking action for our future. We need to re-evaluate how we retrieve the sources we use for our utilities. The Earthship’s mechanical systems use a direct living approach, meaning the problems are faced head-on.

An Earthship places the availability, location and sources all within our grasp. There are no unknown sources. Water is collected in water catchment. There is no question as to where the electricity comes from or where the waste goes. Earthship systems work with our planet to tackle these problems. This allows us to have a mutually beneficial existence with our planet.

People require several systems in their homes: waste treatment, climate control, hot water and electricity. Earthships take these necessities and create them within the overall design infrastructure. The more we can place our needs and preferences in alignment with the earth’s rhythms, the easier and cheaper it will be to acquire.

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Climate Control

No matter the climate, an Earthship will sustain comfortable temperatures. Our planet has two sources for temperature: the sun and the planet itself. The sun is similar to a nuclear power plant source, while the planet is a thermal stabilizing mass that is able to distribute temperatures.

Each climate around the globe is different. Therefore, designs are customized to work together with the different climate sources.

Surface weather determines the temperature of the first few feet of our planet. It can heat up or cool off as needed. However, once you reach approximately five feet below the surface or more, there is a more regulated temperature. Usually this temperature is around 58 degrees. If you design your dwelling with this in mind, the earth can help regulate or cool off the building.

An Earthship works with both the sun and the earth, allowing the dwelling to sustain comfortable temperatures no matter where the building is located. Earthships use very little, if any, fossil fuels.

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Warmth

When you want to add warmth to your dwelling, an Earthship uses the sun to heat the mass (ie the foundation) and store the warmth. Insulation is used to prevent the heat from escaping. The larger the mass is, the larger the volume of space for storage. When the sun isn’t available, the foundation emits heat into cooler portions of the dwelling.

Coolness

When you want cooler temperatures, the process is to block out the sun and use the earth to cool down the dwelling. This works by the mass of the Earthship connecting with the cool mass of the planet, five feet or more below the surface. The cooler temperatures are absorbed into the mass and trickle into the dwelling. Think of it like hooking up a smaller battery and a larger one, except the planet (big) and the Earthship (small) are the storage batteries.

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Throughout the years, insulation has shown it can help to maintain temperatures, although it neither stores, collects, nor produces temperature. Insulation is used to prevent the heat or cold air from leaking out of or into a space.

A good insulation contains millions of small pockets of air. This causes the temperatures to slow their movement by creating more areas of air space to pass through before reaching an unhindered dense mass.

A dense mass can store and collect temperatures. There are a wide variety of materials these masses can be made out of: cement, stone or even water. Dense simply means the material has very little air space within it. The higher the density the more temperature it will hold. The density is the conduit for temperature.

Electricity

Earthships use photovoltaic solar panels and wind power for the creation of energy, and a system of deep cell batteries for the long term storage. Each source is automated and can include a connection to the grid of power within the house.

Wind Power

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One of the most common methods of sustainable energy is using the energy from moving wind with wind turbines. Windmills have been used for millennia to create mechanical energy. In Earthships, the energy is connected to a generator which yields electricity. The windmill, designed by Michael Reynolds and found in Earthships, uses a vertical axis which spins vertically, similar to the tea cups ride at a theme park, each spinning around on its own. This is the opposite of the more familiar windmill, which rotates horizontally.

A wind turbine using a vertical axis has multiple benefits over a horizontal axis turbine. One of the most beneficial aspects of the vertical axis wind turbine is it does not need to face the wind for it to work successfully. This allows the turbine to work efficiently even when the wind changes directions.The Dynasphere uses two DC generators which provide 7.5 amps of continual dual source energy to the turbine. The turbine design was created for both functionality and aesthetics. Recycled and reclaimed metal and other pieces are used for the artwork design on the turbine blades.

Solar Panels

Photovoltaic panels have been in use for decades, and the efficiency has continually improved. Each Earthship can have as many panels as needed, without compromising the water collection of the home.

Getting Electricity

The energy collected from the sun and wind is stored in batteries. The electricity is drawn from the Earthship batteries using a Power Organizing Module, or POM. Part of the DC electricity is inverted into AC electricity for home usage. POMs are utilized throughout the United States, each requiring specific codes to follow. Due to the mass production of POMs, each unit is made efficiently and economically. With the coding information aspects and components built-in, your electrician won’t need to be involved with any electrical design aspects.

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Organic Food Production

One of the fundamental concepts used by Earthships is to recycle all water from the sinks and showers (“gray water’) and purify it using an indoor planter prior to use as toilet water.

Plants play a vital role in maintenance of an Earthship. To further sustainability and independent living, food producing plants are grown.

Each Earthship owner decides what plants could be grown. Once decided, it is recommended to plant multiple plants, placing them in different conditions. This will help to show where the plant will be most successful. Even plants within the same five foot vicinity can yield different results. It all depends on the amount of sunlight to shade rations, the quality of soil, and other factors.

img-organic-food2A good example of this was observed at the Phoenix Earthship. Two spikes, or dracaena plants, were planted simultaneously. The only difference between the locations was one plant received two and a half hours more sunlight than the other plant. Within two years, one plant has exceeded five feet, while the other plant hasn’t even reached three feet.

For the most part, perennials are unable to work inside an Earthship because they need to die off during winter, and Earthships maintain a constant 70* temperature year-round. However, a few tender perennials, such as the Butterfly Bush, can survive in an Earthship. One of the popular plant options for an Earthship is the banana tree. These trees can handle most lighting conditions, while reaching heights of 12 to 15 feet. Plus fruit can be produced early on.

img-organic-food3For the best results, a neutral or slightly acidic soil is recommended for use in Earthship planters. Most plants, whether food, herbs, or other plants prefer a soil pH level between 7.4 and 6.0. Most nursery and other garden supply stores offer pH testing kits that are cheap and easy to use. You can also get any other supplies needed to improve your plants health.

There is only one situation in which sterilized soil should be used, and that is when you are germinating seeds and have harmful soil born disease and or insects. This can include mildew, cutworms, or various others. Young plants cannot survive these disease or insect infested soil.

Healthy plants need healthy soil. When healthy, a plant will attract fewer insects and are less likely to get a disease. Although most bugs will not kill your plant, insects can weaken your plants. A weakened plant is more likely to get a deadly disease or mold. It is important to remember to not all insects are harmful. There are a large number of insects that help with pest control. Commercial insectaries, garden supply stores, or nurseries can help you order a variety of beneficial insects or mites.

img-organic-food4You can avoid introducing other insects for pest control with a number of methods. This includes: removing infected leaves from both your plants and your home; removing flying insects (vacuuming); or using a water spray.

Fortunately, weeds are typically not an issue with indoor greenhouses. Screen doors prevent the weed seeds from gaining access to the plants and prevent beneficial insects from leaving the greenhouse. The only organic weed removal method is to pull weeds by hand.

Because greenhouses in Earthships usually use gray water, and hence there may be soaps in the water, it is highly recommended that one always use biodegradable products. Any harsher cleaning products, such as bleach, should never be presented to your plants.

As of October 2009 the following plants have been grown in an Earthship:

Fruits and Vegetables: Artichoke, Arugula, Bananas, Black Seeded Simpson, Blood Orange, Broccoli, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Chard, Coconut, Corn, Cucumber, Figs, Frisee lettuce, Grapefruit, Grapes, Green Onions, Kale, Lemon, Lettuce, Lime, Lolla Rossa, Mizuna, Peas, Peppers, Pineapple, Purslane, Royal Oakleaf, Spinach, Squash, Strawberries, Tangerine, Mango, Tomatoes, Watercress (which is grown via the pond), Watermelon, and Zucchini.

Herbs: Basil, Chives, Cilantro/Corriander, Dill, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.

Edible Flowers: French, Fuchia, Geranium, Hibiscus, Honey Suckle, Nasturtium, Passion Flower, Rose, Snapdragon, Sunflower, Viola, and Yucca.

Sewage Treatment

Earthships use both indoor and outdoor botanical treatment cells to use, store and reuse all sewage produced in the dwellings. This helps with food production, as well as the ability to landscape without polluting aquifers. Toilets use treated gray water, which does not have an odor, to flush with.

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Use and ReUse

Water in an Earthship is used 4 times:
First, as fresh water – water used in sinks, showers and baths.
Second, this water, now known as gray water, is cleaned in the interior botanical cells and used for indoor plant and garden watering.
The third use is the water becoming toilet water, after which the water is contained and cleaned again.
Finally, it is used a fourth time with the exterior botanical cells and used for fertilizing outdoor plants and gardens.

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Exterior Botanical Cell

Exterior Botanical cells can be added as needed to the outdoor system. Additional cells can be added to the controlled aspect of landscaping the home. By containing the outdoor system, it is more manageable.

The goal of the exterior botanical cells is to get multiple water uses from the water catchments and to eliminate the need for public sewage systems and septic systems. The sewage treatment system is used by Earthship is set up to flow entirely into either a septic tank or leachfield.

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Water / H20

Why use water that either travels long distances through a pipe from a community water arrangement, or comes from a well which requires large amounts of electricity, shrinks the aquifer supply and lowers the water levels of our planet?

Why have a middle person between our energy needs and the people? Our dwellings can be designed to have water by easily accessible means: rain and snow falling on the roof. The location of Earthship Village Colorado receives approximately 16.5” of water per year. This is twice the amount needed for a family of 4 if all of the water that hits the roof is drained, filtered and collected in cisterns for later use.

Catchwater

Each Earthship roof has a non-permeable surface to catch water and transfers it through a series of filters and into cisterns. Each cistern used is buried to protect it from the sun. The size is chosen based on the local climate of the area the Earthship is built. The water is gravity fed from the cistern into a Water Organizing Module, or WOM. The pump to this device pushes water into a pressure tank to obtain the correct water pressure. Filters are used to clean the water for both cleaning and consumption.

Hot Water

Water can be heated in two ways: by the sun and using natural gas. First the sun warms the water. If the water does not get warm enough, then natural gas will turn on. This type of water heating is known as “Gas on Demand”.

Hot Water Recirculation Panel

Earthships use a hot water recirculation panel. This panel features a water saving design that re-circulates the cold water in the hot water lines back into the cistern, allowing hot water to replace it.
The hot water recirculation system requires the plumbing to be completed during two separate stages: the rough-in and the electrical stage.

Each kit contains a hot water recirulating panel and the number of timer switches required for your dwelling.

The Path of Water

  • The Roof Water Catchment System channels water caught on the roofs through filters made from a silt mixture.
  • Water is gravity fed from the cisterns into the WOM.
  • Water is pushed into a pressure tank to obtain proper household water pressure.
  • A separate drainage system is used for toilets than for other plumbing fixtures.
  • Water is used for bathing or cleaning purposes.
  • Water is drained into interior gray water treatment and containment systems.