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Earthship -- Green wash?  RSS feed

 
Len Ovens
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Location: Vancouver Island
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Watched this video about building an earthship. This is a genuine earthship project complete with "Mr Earthship". There are a set of 4 videos in this I watched them sometimes skipping some things... in any case these are the things I noticed right from the start:

   - So many materials shipped in from a distance:
      - Tires
      - logs - precut to size even
      - door frames
      - lots more
  - concrete.... lots and lots of concrete
  - timber almost all the timber is normal "2x*" pre-milled timber
  - plywood
  - roofing
  - most recycled bits seem to be encased in concrete, how is this really different to landfill? The concrete (and rebar) seems to be the strength relied on.
  - so many power tools

The build ecological foot print seems to be about the same as any house. I don't know that it is any cheaper either. True this is a quick build, but still...

I do think that the after build resource use in this home could be less than most standard stick built homes. But I also think a more standard home could be built to use less as well. With less cost and work.

I am wondering how much of the build is needed just to get permits. (how much of the concrete etc. is required for permit?) What would a wofati look like if it had a permit?

Please understand that I am not talking about earthships in general, but this particular build does make me wonder. I know there are some people on the forums making their own Earthship and are trying to use local materials and perhaps less concrete (or none). I have seen this one here that looks like it will not use tires and could be built with no concrete.

Comments?


 
Cj Thouret
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Location: New Jersey (for now!)
hugelkultur wofati woodworking
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Hi Len,

I found and fell in love with the Earthship concept a few years ago.  Ever since, I've been seeking out the sustainable instead of settling for conservation and eventually found my way to permaculture (thankfully!).  One of the things Mike Reynolds emphasizes is to use local materials, so shipping used tires any significant distance is defeating that concept.  Another principal of Earthships is to use "waste" streams, so if you can get them, tire bales (http://tirebalehouse.com/) are probably the best option. The trade-off with every Earthship is oodles of backbreaking hours doing it yourself, roughly $300 / sq ft to get it built for you or something in between.  The build of an Earthship could very easily have roughly the same energy cost as a typically constructed home, however the energy savings over the life of that home should more than make up for it.  Earthships are intended to be passive solar . . .

I'm not sure you can stick-build a new passive home significantly more efficiently than building an Earthship with concrete and power tools.  As I understand it, a passive home needs to have a skin with a minimum R value near 50.  In typical home construction, that equates to building a wall within a wall and LOTS of manufactured insulation with a bunch of other adds. (http://builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/MAZeroEnergy/MAZeroEnergy.htm)  It's still worth it in terms of the total energy consumed over the life of the building, but there are certainly more sustainable options.

The building permit process is an absolute crap shoot in the US.  It depends on your state and / or your municipality and / or which building inspector you get and / or the mood of the file clerk who receives your building plans, etc.  My understanding is that Canada runs a tighter ship in terms of permitting, but I don't have any personal experience.  In the information age, more municipalities are punting on the building codes and referencing the IRC or IBC (International Residential / Building Codes), but not all municipalities actually enforce it.  Some places only require a septic system inspection.  Others may requires separate inspections for footings, underground utilities, foundation, framing, sheathing, windows, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and next year some places will require an envelope performance test (air infiltration measured with a blower door test). 

The standardized bodies of code have provisions for alternate building techniques, but the burden of proof then falls on the folks trying to build the home and their design professionals (if they have them).  You're back to playing the lottery again in terms of how easily your local code official will be convinced that an alternative building technique meets or exceeds the code requirements.  If you get a stubborn official, you might have to do something like appeal to the state or pay for an engineering study.  The codes are slowly starting to incorporate things like straw bale construction, but there is quite literally a cabal surrounding how building techniques and materials become accepted building practices.

The bottom line is you have to plan.  If you want to really work with the land, then your land will influence your home design.  So you have to identify some land, decide what you want and can afford to build, check with the local code official to see if your design will fly and either start from scratch if you get shot down, or pray that you can get your home built before you get a new building inspector.  An important concept to keep in mind is that the greenest building is almost always the one that is already built!

There are some places where a Wofati would be perfectly acceptable.  But you'd probably have to move heaven and earth to build one in New Jersey . . . which is part of the reason why I'm planning on leaving!

Cheers,
CJ
 
Len Ovens
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Cj Thouret wrote:Hi Len,

I found and fell in love with the Earthship concept a few years ago.  Ever since, I've been seeking out the sustainable instead of settling for conservation and eventually found my way to permaculture (thankfully!).  One of the things Mike Reynolds emphasizes is to use local materials, so shipping used tires any significant distance is defeating that concept.  Another principal of Earthships is to use "waste" streams, so if you can get them, tire bales (http://tirebalehouse.com/) are probably the best option. The trade-off with every Earthship is oodles of backbreaking hours doing it yourself, roughly $300 / sq ft to get it built for you or something in between.  The build of an Earthship could very easily have roughly the same energy cost as a typically constructed home, however the energy savings over the life of that home should more than make up for it.  Earthships are intended to be passive solar . . .


While I understand the earthship concept (and even agree with it), I felt that particular build did not show off the potential of the concept. It looked no different than many commercial builds I have seen complete with the wastefulness of said techniques.


I'm not sure you can stick-build a new passive home significantly more efficiently than building an Earthship with concrete and power tools.


Stick built no, straight concrete probably. In my mind, if I use concrete at all, then why bring in the tires? To my mind the idea of using tires is to avoid concrete. Once I have to use _some_, I may as well use lots (well actually not that much more)

And, as it turns out half the building seems to be stick construction anyway. Again, pointing out this particular build, not earthships in general. Also pointing out that this build was supervised by Mike Reynolds and the video was done as a promotion of the technique (if not an advert). This project looks to me like a standard home with a few "features" to appeal to a different clientèle. The same premade building materials are seen much more in evidence than with many of the other earthship builds I have seen.

So yes an earthship can be made much more earth friendly, but the fact that this is made in a promotional way, suggests to me Mike Reynolds and company have given up on some of the original guiding principals.


  As I understand it, a passive home needs to have a skin with a minimum R value near 50.  In typical home construction, that equates to building a wall within a wall and LOTS of manufactured insulation with a bunch of other adds. (http://builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/MAZeroEnergy/MAZeroEnergy.htm)  It's still worth it in terms of the total energy consumed over the life of the building, but there are certainly more sustainable options.


Yes... but in this build, I saw lots of those same manufactured materials... so why earthship?

My point is that earthships are not bad, but that this promotional one seems to be.


The building permit process is an absolute crap shoot in the US.  It depends on your state and / or your municipality and / or which building inspector you get and / or the mood of the file clerk who receives your building plans, etc.  My understanding is that Canada runs a tighter ship in terms of permitting, but I don't have any personal experience.  In the information age, more municipalities are punting on the building codes and referencing the IRC or IBC (International Residential / Building Codes), but not all municipalities actually enforce it.  Some places only require a septic system inspection.  Others may requires separate inspections for footings, underground utilities, foundation, framing, sheathing, windows, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and next year some places will require an envelope performance test (air infiltration measured with a blower door test).


I understand the differences in code and compliance in different places. It would be "OK" (I guess) if the reason things are built in the way they are is because of building code. However, in such a case I would expect to be told in the video.... this is not what we feel is needed however, code requires it in this location. There seems to be no such mention, rather it seems to be expedience driven.

I guess the deal really is that the more a person can do themselves, the better. Having someone build for you will result in compromises, if for no other reason than cost, but also skill sets I would guess.

The world wants you to have a mortgage, pay for utilities (gas/hydro/water/sewage/phone/data/etc.) and pay for everything else as well. Not paying someone to do any of these things is supposed to bring trouble. I guess also (as you say) choosing where you live is important too. A place that is rigid with building codes will likely be rigid about what kind of animals you can raise, what you can plant in your front yard, how you power your house, and any number of other things. Moving to an area where building codes are less restrictive will also allow you to become part of a larger voice to keeping things less rigid in the years to come. It is also less likely to be rigid about other things you wish to do.

Canada building codes are pretty uniform but are topped with local bylaws. For example, the district to the west of Calgary has a minimum house size of 1200 sq ft. Many people have added an enclosed porch to get there on existing buildings... There is a difference between city and rural on farm land. So long as there is a "to-code" house on the property, no permit is needed for other buildings (which are supposed to be build to code anyway, but the interpretation of the code is left to the owner). The key about secondary buildings is the occupation level. High occupation levels also require a permit. I am not sure what that means... that is a bunk house may be allowed or something that is lived in only part of the year. However, the main thing is that so long as there is at least a mobile home on the property, I can at least build anything I want with no inspection or permit or curious person causing trouble. So far as I know the "sanitary pit privy" is still acceptable as a toilet and gray water can be dealt with in a non-septic field manner.

The cost of the BC building code is quite high (over $1000 for the electronic version last I checked) though the local library has one for use inside the library. When I get to house building (or other building) I will probably buy one of them. If I end up doing something that requires a permit, I will be looking to add (as per bc building code, page, paragraph) to just about anything that looks different to what is "normal". As with any place, the issuer of building permits and their engineers can not be expected to know the building code inside out and showing them where in the code you got things from can go a long way towards getting permission to build something out of ordinary without an extra engineers signature.
 
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