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Possible to build an earth ship on this land/in this climate/budget for an earthship  RSS feed

 
Isaac Smeele
Posts: 37
Location: British Columbia, Canada
books forest garden wofati
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Hi, my wife and I are from north-central British Columbia (zone 4b)
We are trying to determine the best spot to build on our land (there is 126 acres).
There is a large river and a small creek on the property so i think building near one of those might be a good idea for irrigation of permaculture.
I'm hoping to get some advice on where we should build an earthship on our land and how much of a budget it would entail for our cold Canadian climate.
Winters can get down to -50°C
Any help is greatly appreciated, thank you.



 
Mike Feddersen
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Congratulations, I think if you use various search terms here at permies and on google you will get tons of great information. Terms like earthship, cob, ceb ( compressed earth brick ), etc. A person asked a related question regarding green house design for Bulgaria, latitude 43. http://www.permies.com/t/49471/wofati-earth-berm/Walipini-Roof-Angle
There are some links there that may interest you.
.
On site location I have heard you should aim for a southern or eastern exposure, so you can maximize the Sun's heat gain during winter. You may want to consider a site near utilities, running extra pipe or electric could prove costly. Maybe you will be offgrid.

I wish I was on my laptop, I had found the YouTube link to that green house permies was touting about earthship design. They show everything, the picking up of free tires around town, the heavy labor involved in filling the tires with gravel, bolting the corners, etc. Very labor intensive.
I like cob construction, it too is labor intensive but most of your costs are in time, materials being found on site.
I have heard that home builder's should consider what materials are locally sourced, you being in Canada, I imagine trees are abundant.
I am going to post this than go find a link I have of a great house design you may like, it encompasses a southern exposure, thich thermal walls and a timber roof with a living roof, great thermal properties. https://youtu.be/GbM2In5Hfx4 the design I love is at about 4:03, add a couple rocket mass heaters.
 
Isaac Smeele
Posts: 37
Location: British Columbia, Canada
books forest garden wofati
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Hey, thanks for the reply!

Cobs seem super awesome but I don't think they would work very well in this climate sadly its just too cold to be sustainable from what I have read.

It seems like earthships would work but I have trouble finding information on how to actually build one in this climate. I have definitely seen pictures and they do incorporate wood into the designs and wood heating which will make things cheaper and easier for sure.

I just wish I could find more detailed info on their construction and costs.
 
Rob Lougas
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Hi Isaac,
No doubt you can build an earthship in your climate. Making use of timbers on the property will definitely decrease the costs involved. Also a used portable sawmill could be a big money saver as well. I guess it all depends on how much work you are willing to do yourself. If you have the trees and a sawmill you could completely cut out the cost of lumber. Other than fuel for the mill I suppose. In the cold climate your in I would make use of the thermal wrap method, a high r value insulation (like 45+ I think MR books might even suggest as high as 60) in your roof and a well placed rocket mass heater you should be just fine. Windows and insulation is where you will want to spend your money. I have heard of people venting the warm air in their greenhouses through a series of pipes under the floor to aid in heating efficiency (in floor heating but with warm greenhouse air instead of a liquid) and I am sure with a little research it could be incorporated into an earthship build. No point in venting it outside if you have a fire going and are a little to warm in the winter, might as well put it into the floor for added comfort in the evening. Another consideration would be to buy a large air compressor (like the big tow behind ones you can rent), with one of these you could use a pneumatic tamper to pack your tires instead of sledge hammers. This could be a huge time and energy saver. Youtube filling tires with a pneumatic tamper, I've seen at least one video of guys doing this and it seems to speed up the process significantly. Also when the time comes to insulate that compressor could come in handy once again. With use of it you could apply your own spray foam insulation. You can buy the stuff for discounted prices when you buy bulk and not to mention you wouldn't have to pay labour for someone else to do it or their material mark up. And it could be handy again if you were to do shotcrete pargeing on your interior walls. I've seen simple set ups made for cheap, do a google of diy shotcrete. This is all if your going to do the work. If your wallet is thick enough just call up MR and he will show up with a crew and set you up with a gobal model.
As for location of the house that's up to you and your wife to watch the land and see where the most suitable site would be. Are there any places that flood in the spring? Spots that get shady with the low winter sun? Look up some historical data about that big river. When was the last time it had a big flood? If it happened 100 years ago it will happen again someday. Lots of things to consider. Are you planning on making your own power? If not how far from utilitys are you it can often cost an arm and a leg to have hydro poles or underground wiring installed. Another thing to consider is how easy is it to get materials to your build site? A concrete truck or lumber delivery might not make it down that muddy trail you know what I mean?
Anywho there's some things to consider while you do your planning. Best of luck and keep us posted on your build!!!
 
Isaac Smeele
Posts: 37
Location: British Columbia, Canada
books forest garden wofati
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Rob Lougas wrote:Hi Isaac,
No doubt you can build an earthship in your climate. Making use of timbers on the property will definitely decrease the costs involved. Also a used portable sawmill could be a big money saver as well. I guess it all depends on how much work you are willing to do yourself. If you have the trees and a sawmill you could completely cut out the cost of lumber. Other than fuel for the mill I suppose. In the cold climate your in I would make use of the thermal wrap method, a high r value insulation (like 45+ I think MR books might even suggest as high as 60) in your roof and a well placed rocket mass heater you should be just fine. Windows and insulation is where you will want to spend your money. I have heard of people venting the warm air in their greenhouses through a series of pipes under the floor to aid in heating efficiency (in floor heating but with warm greenhouse air instead of a liquid) and I am sure with a little research it could be incorporated into an earthship build. No point in venting it outside if you have a fire going and are a little to warm in the winter, might as well put it into the floor for added comfort in the evening. Another consideration would be to buy a large air compressor (like the big tow behind ones you can rent), with one of these you could use a pneumatic tamper to pack your tires instead of sledge hammers. This could be a huge time and energy saver. Youtube filling tires with a pneumatic tamper, I've seen at least one video of guys doing this and it seems to speed up the process significantly. Also when the time comes to insulate that compressor could come in handy once again. With use of it you could apply your own spray foam insulation. You can buy the stuff for discounted prices when you buy bulk and not to mention you wouldn't have to pay labour for someone else to do it or their material mark up. And it could be handy again if you were to do shotcrete pargeing on your interior walls. I've seen simple set ups made for cheap, do a google of diy shotcrete. This is all if your going to do the work. If your wallet is thick enough just call up MR and he will show up with a crew and set you up with a gobal model.
As for location of the house that's up to you and your wife to watch the land and see where the most suitable site would be. Are there any places that flood in the spring? Spots that get shady with the low winter sun? Look up some historical data about that big river. When was the last time it had a big flood? If it happened 100 years ago it will happen again someday. Lots of things to consider. Are you planning on making your own power? If not how far from utilitys are you it can often cost an arm and a leg to have hydro poles or underground wiring installed. Another thing to consider is how easy is it to get materials to your build site? A concrete truck or lumber delivery might not make it down that muddy trail you know what I mean?
Anywho there's some things to consider while you do your planning. Best of luck and keep us posted on your build!!!


Hi Rob,
Thanks for your reply! I have been looking around at protable sawmills and unfortunatley havent seen any used ones in my area. I started looking at different models and found this really cool one that uses your existing chainsaw as a blade and a normal ladder as the track:



At just $1000.00 CAD it seems a lot more affordable than the other mills I've seen plus I need a chainsaw to fall the trees anyway.

As for thermal wrap I am going to do more research I am getting MR's books tp read through.

The rocket stoves look so cool and cost effective, do you know of any design plans for one that is made to cook on?

The air compressor sounds useful but I am willing to do that stuff by hand so I don't think it's a necessary cost.

I would love to get MR to come build it but at the same time I'd like the satisfaction of knowing I did it myself and the money I save can be put into materials and plants etc.

As for planning I am not currently on the land so it's hard to do much. I think the risk of the big river flooding is pretty high so I am leaning towards building near the creek once I can be there to survey it more.



 
Rob Lougas
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Hey,
Yes, chainsaw mills work great. I have done some research on the chainsaw mills, and they are great and super portable and not to mention rather inexpensive. However, they do take a fair bit longer to process lumber. And you lose close to 3/8 of an inch of material every cut. So every 4th cut you have lost at least and inch of that log. That could be an extra board. The way I see it is if I can save 40 000 bucks on lumber by buying a sawmill, I might as well make it easy on myself and not cheap out on the mill. Honestly spending 5000 on a used bandsaw still equates to 35000 in savings instead of 39000. But without the headache of having to sharpen your chainsaw after every two or three boards you cut or losing a board every 4 cuts. Just my opinion on the matter. Its worth it to spend a little more.
I'm not sure if any of MR books talk about the thermal wrap. But the info is there to be found if you dig around the internet enough lol. I think I learned about it from a video of an ES seminar that MR did sometime back. Maybe you could find it on youtube if my memory serves me it was something like "Earthship seminar 2009".
I am curious how big you are planning on building. I have been working on a small (180sqft) earthship for the last couple of years (see the thread "small earthship"). Its taken a long time but have been doing it pretty much by myself when I have the weather and a little spare time. None the less, it was dug by hand and tires were pounded with sledge hammers. We used about 100 tires in that build, and that was enough pounding to make me reconsider using tires for my foundation. I think if you have a crew of 10 guys sledge hammers are a definite plausible method of packing tires. On your own or with a small number of people it might be a real time and energy saver to mechanize packing. Again just my opinion but I am a young guy in pretty decent shape if I do say so myself and pounding those 100 tires certainly did a number on my back.
As for rocket stove cookstoves, I've definitely seen a few viable options floating around out there. Spend some time on good ol' youtube and you will find lots of ideas.

This is a video of a pneumatic tamper packing tires. This is how I am going to do it when I finally get the land and start the build. 100 tires was enough for me!



And heres a link to that es seminar. Lots of good info here. This is just the first of two videos.



I'm not sure what you plan is as of yet for the build but another suggestion I could give is to start small. When we buy our land and decide on a location for the house we plan on building a small 600sqft portion of the house first. That way we have a place that can easily be build in the first summer and keep us warm and dry through out the winter. Later this portion will be added onto and eventually become two bedrooms. I think it should make the build a little easier. Im thinking that way it doesn't seem so overwhelming when we are only 1/4 of the way done the foundation of an 1800sqft house and the winter is vast approaching. Also we are planning to build mortgage free, so the amount of materials we have to buy or find at the same time, goes down. You know what I mean? Like we buy 6 windows instead of 15 and pick up the rest later so we will have a place to live and sleep out of the elements sooner. And by doing this building small and adding on method, it give valuable experience in building this style of house. You may find something here or there that you could do differently or quicker or better on the rest of the house. Or in the very least the rest of the house build might just go faster because you have already done it once!

Anywho hope some of this helps or at least gives you some things to ponder.
Cheers,
-Rob
 
Sean Banks
Posts: 153
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there is a design for a earthship hut....its much smaller and round. It doesn't have a greenhouse but it does collect rainwater and its earth sheltered. Cost is around $2500 USD to build so very cheap. You might want to try that first before doing a whole one plus you will gain some experience on how to build them. Only downside is that they don't stay as warm as an earthship with a greenhouse. Still the lowest the temp will go inside the hut is that of the earth around 55 degrees or so.
 
scott thompson
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harbour freight sells portable mills for 2k that will cut a log 18"D and  believe comes with 16ft of track.

Im thinking about buying one. it would pay for itself




 
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