Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The First Drawing of Our Earthship!

Over the last couple of weeks Sandra and I have been visualizing what our house will look like.

This is our initial floorplan.

The building would be slightly more than 2000 square feet.

I have drawn up numerous plans for our log house business, but an earthship definitely does not follow the norms. Consideration has to be given to the earthship systems (food production, solar gain and site layout, water management, materials), that are only touched on superficially in the usual design process.

I find myself full of questions that do not have the typical answers. I have not yet thought through the layout and integration of the systems that make up an earthship.

Water, Food, Waste Management and Gray Water
  • How many planters does a family of five need to recycle its gray water?
  • How effective is a composting toilet (what does it need)?
  • How much food do we want to produce in the building?
  • How do we lay out the pipes for graywater?

Solar Gain

  • How much sun can we expect in the winter? We live in a narrow valley that gets lots of cloud cover in the winter.
  • What will my backup heating system be?
  • Should we insulate the floor? There seems to be quite a debate over this issue in earthship design.

Anyway, the plans are started. I will start to tighten up the design and answer these questions (and more) over the next couple of months.

I am off to re-read Earthship Volumes I-III. I am also going to go and hang out at the post office and wait for my other two books ('Comfort In Any Climate' and 'Packaged Plan Option Book').

Any comments are welcome!


Peter N London UK said...

An earthship. Is this a move to a greener/eco friendly lifestyle or just dabbling in something that interets you? Is the mill closed for good or will the cutting of logs resume?

It is an interesting project you've embarked on; however, it should not be confused with a greener approach to life.

Did you consider more eco friendly house/contruction material options? If so, what were they? Why did you select the earthship option over other possible approaches?

Joseph Beckenbach said...

Re: insulating the floor. Not sure what you mean by "insulating the floor". If you're going to have any portion of the foundation and flooring act as thermal mass, you'll need to insulate under the footings and slab.

The alternatives would be to insulate below the floor, to use the insulation *as* the floor, or to try heating all the soil around you to room temperature. This last is Sisyphean, of course. And I don't know how many insulating materials can stand foot traffic and furniture loads. (Insulating light-weight concretes?)

Details of below-footing and below-slab insulation can be found on pages 29 and 30 of James Kachadorian's "The Passive Solar House" (ISBN 0-930031-97-0). I've already told your wife about this book on one of the Simple Living Network's discussion fora. Kachadorian concocted the Solar Slab concept, and used it as the basis for his long-running Vermont home-kit business, Green Mountain Homes.

-- Joseph

Pete said...


I'm certainly not an expert, but based on a book about solar design I've been reading lately ("The Solar House" by Dan Chiras) I think you might have problems with sunlight reflecting off your tv, when the sun is low in winter months. That is, until the plants in your planter grow big enough.

I did find a really useful website by the way by some earthship builders. Hopefully it will help a bit.

But I don't think I have any promising leads for you regarding those main questions you posted. Not right now anyway...



Pete said...

Sorry, I posted before re-reading your original post.

I DO have some of the answers that you're looking for, sort of.

So... solar radiation. You can get data from RETScreen, free renewable energy software. Data from Kamloops airport, in kWh/m2/day measured in a horizontal plane (so with windows tilted to 90 degrees or winter sun-angle will change the solar gain and give you more energy in winter):
These figures are daily average figures for each month. January at the top, December at the bottom. You can get this for free by downloading the RETScreen program. It's just less than 40MB.
You might be able to get more specific data for your area from the Canadian meteorological office, whoever that is (sorry - I'm a new immigrant!).

In terms of back up heating source - I've been working in renewable energy for a few years now, and thinking about this with respect to Earthships / ecohouses for a while. Feel free to get in touch to further discuss (best email is peter_j_robinson[at]yahoo[dot]com)
I was thinking for water heating for showers kithcen sink etc, having a dual coil hot water cylinder, that through one coil is fed by a solar water heater and the other coil a wood pellet boiler - provided you can source bags of wood pellets in your area. Some wood pellet boilers can also burn logs, and if you can source one this would probably be preferable so you have the choice of effectively free (but more labour intensive) heat.
In terms of backup space heating, this is where it gets a bit trickier. You could fix up the boiler to provide some of this with a radiator system (you might only need a very small one given it's an earthshp), but that might be a pain to install. It might be easier to install say a log stove - but that takes away the possibility of automation. Say you go on holiday in the middle of winter and there isn't much solar gain - where will heat come from? The pellet boiler (or a pellet stove) could handle that as they can be automatic and thermostatically controlled.
There's also the issue of these wood pellet devices having electric auto-ignition - so if there's say a power cut you might not be able to light them. A log stove on the other hand would be a very reliable source of backup heat.
Anyway - sorry that's a bit messy, but some stuff to think about there, and to be discussed.
In Dan Chiras's book he also discusses all sorts of backup heating options. Like masonry log stoves that store lots of heat, and have inbuilt ovens and stuff, but I haven't read that chapter properly yet.