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 ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thoughts on our BCSEA presentation

Chris tells me that when we ran through our presentation the final time before heading into Kamloops last night he felt enormous relief.

He had been working quite steadily on the house plans, not only to get them closer to submission to the building authority, but apparently to get them into a form that would generate discussion at the presentation.

He says it was the closest he felt to being "stressed" since before we started to wind up our business last year!

Regardless, we very much enjoyed sharing our house project. It has been more than a decade since either one of us has presented to a group so we weren't sure exactly how it would go. Fortunately, the people (about 40) who came to hear us talk were all enthusiastic about sustainable building. We didn't get heckled once!

After we ran through our plans, goals and the the progress of our project, we opened the floor for discussion and this ran the gamut:

1) Building code
2) Greywater recovery
3) Septic requirements in the absence of a traditional waste system
4) Heating the floor
5) Tire sizes
6) Thermal mass
7) Worm composting
8) Use of cans and bottles
9) Inclusion of volunteers in the project
10) Books of interest: In Defense of Food
11) Websites of interest: and
13) Resources: Turtle Tank (company)

We'd like to thank everyone who came to hear us speak for their suggestions and experiences. I had a piece of paper next to me and I seemed to be constantly jotting down book titles, websites, names, facts and figures. Our house will be that much better because of the information we received.

Thanks also to Cheryl Kabloona who invited us to speak and who I am sure will become a great resource for us as we continue.

On the drive home to Darfield I tried to convince our friend, Henry, (who came with us as support) that it felt a little strange to be viewed as doing something unusual since I really did think we were pretty normal people. Henry didn't stop laughing until we passed Heffley Creek...

Ahhh. The joys of good friends.


On February 23rd we presented our project to the Kamloops chapter meeting of the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

As part of that presentation we went over our goals in building our earthship.

Sandra has talked about our goals in a previous post but I thought it was worth re-posting them as they have been refined as we prepared for the presentation.

1. Build a sustainable house that will meet our
family’s needs.

Our intention is to build a sustainable house. However, we also recognize that we are a family of five with three children. We do not want to be so rigid in our adherence to sustainable goals that we feel deprived in any way. We do think that on whole we are already a resource-mindful family. We already conserve both water and electricity, we are frugal and we are masters of re-use!

For example, we are not interested in lurking in a dark building in mid-January waiting for the sun to grace our solar panels with its presence for a paltry few hours so that we can continue reading that great book we started 10 days ago! To that end, we are investigating net metering (lots of sunshine in the summer!). There may be other instances where we do not rigidly adhere to absolute sustainability; we intend to keep an open mind about building to suit our needs.

2)2. Build a house that is within anybody’s financial reach.

We believe that housing and construction prices are out of reach and unreasonable. Our intention is to construct this house as economically as possible using sweat equity to demonstrate what is possible in terms of cost. To that end we intend to document our building costs on our blog.

The Potter's in Ontario built their Earthship a decade ago for approximately $50,000.00. We are curious to see what it will cost us today!

3)3. Use recycled and natural materials as much as possible.

One of the things we really like about the Earthship design principles is that waste material (used tires and pop cans) are re-purposed as building materials.


Build the house ourselves with friends and family.

We have operated a log home business for the last ten years so have some experience with conventional construction practices. We are keen to build this house with our own 10 hands and the help of friends of family. We hope to avoid the expense of professionals and contractors where possible. This is an effort on our part to put the ability to construct a house back in the hands of the homeowner.

Include our community.

We want to make our local community aware of alternative construction techniques and more sustainable building practices. It is our hope that alternative building options will eventually be considered conventional.

We are maintaining this blog, have done a presentation in Kamloops for the BCSEA, and plan to participate in the Kamloops Energy Fair in Kamloops on May 23rd. We hope to open the construction process to visitors and volunteers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Floor Insulation ... what's the decision?

Now that I have sorted the toilets out I have gone back to thinking about the pros and cons of laying insulation under the floor of the building.

The Fundamental Conflict

I have been struggling with this issue since starting my house design. In a standard house floor insulation would be a no-brainer. Insulation is placed under the floor to prevent the warmth built up in the interior of the house from being leached away into the somewhat colder surrounding earth during the winter months.

Earthship purists argue that floor insulation cuts your building off from the massive thermal battery also known as the Earth. Consequently, although your bermed building has substantial thermal advantages over a typical stick framed house, it is not taking advantage of the earth's constant temperature and is consequently missing the boat (or ship so to speak).

My Take

To me this insulation issue has two practical realities; physical comfort, and the energy consumption required to maintain the house's environment at a livable level.

Typical house construction achieves physical comfort by using energy (fossil fuel, electric, wood) to maintain the inside of the building at a comfortable temperature. Take away the energy and the building quickly matches the surrounding temperature (frozen in the winter, and really hot in the middle of summer).

Our current house (two 1970's era 10'x30' office trailers placed side by side) adequately demonstrates using lots of energy to maintain a comfortable inside temperature in the winter. The walls and roof are very poorly insulated. Last year when it started warming up in the spring our ceiling developed 'leaks', despite having been re-roofed recently. In spots the roof insulation and vapour barrier is so thin or non-existent that the warm moist air rising through the ceiling condenses and forms ice between the ceiling and the roof. Presumably when the ice gets thick enough the formation of ice drops off because it is now insulating the ceiling! In the spring this ice melts and leaks back into our living space. We heat with electricity and due to our poor insulation we spend a lot to maintain a comfortable temperature in our 600 sqft.

A typical house built today has better insulation but the problem is the same. If the energy is shut off the house rapidly becomes a really well insulated (by current standards) ice box. So, we achieve a comfortable living space at a high energy cost.

The approach taken in earthship design is to passively heat the house with solar power stored in thermal mass. The idea is to achieve a comfortable living space at no or minimal cost. The issue becomes one of defining comfort. By today's standards comfort means a constant inside temperature in the neighborhood of 20 degrees celcius.

I think comfort may need to be redefined when high energy cost heating is limited. The reality is that the inside temperature will fluctuate somewhat (say in a range from 15 degrees celsius to 22 degrees celsius). This implies a willingness to use sweaters as required or supplementing the passive heat actively when the solar gain is not enough due to cloudy periods or cold snaps.

In many parts of the world a home that guaranteed a livable space with minimal energy might be considered a slice of heaven on earth. As little as 60 to 70 years ago many people in North America would have whole heartidly agreed. We have been spoiled by cheap energy to the point that acceptable comfort is quite rigidly defined!

This comfort versus energy usage trade off is highlighted in cold climates by the issue of floor insulation. Without floor insulation the building taps directly into the constant heat sink provided by the Earth, thus making the building easy to heat. In fact, you could probably lock the door on your building for the entire winter without taking any precautions with regard to frozen pipes or frost/water damage. The constant earth temperature and passive solar gain will guarantee that the living space maintains an above freezing temperature. The trade off for this low maintainance living is an inside space with fluctuating temperatures and a cold floor.

What Other Thoughts Exist on this ?

Still not feeling comfortable with this insulation issue, I read fairly extensively over the last couple of weeks to get a better handle on it.

Turns out a bermed earth house builder named Rob Roy has built earth bermed housing both with and without floor insulation and lived in both buildings. His buildings are both close to the Canadian border in New England so the winter temperatures he is dealing with are similar to ours. He documented his experiences in two of his books that I listed in the references. His first building had no floor insulation and his second one did.

His take on insulating a bermed building is very pragmatic and dependent on your climate (he differentiates between the northern and southern states). In a warm southern climate your primary goal is to maintain a cool inside climate during hot weather. Using no insulation under the floor of the building makes sense as the earth's temperature acts as a passive air conditioner.

In northern climates your goal is geared more towards maintaining a warm inside climate during cold weather. Quoting from Earth Sheltered Houses, "Without insulation ... the fabric of the building becomes one and the same with the earth's mass ... In order to control the mass fabric of the home itself, we must place the insulation between the home's mass and the earth." He is re-stating basic thermodynamics and his argument makes a lot of sense.

I suspect the earthship design has been successful without floor insulation because most earthships are being built in New Mexico and are more concerned with summer cooling than winter heating.

My Conclusions

We will provide alternate heating in our home with the two wood stoves shown in our plans. These stoves are more aesthetic for us than practical. We have had wood heat in the past, enjoyed it, and miss it now that we rely on electric baseboard haters. We hope to construct these stoves ourselves as detailed in the Earthship Volumes as opposed to purchasing.

We are also debating putting radiant heat in the floors to provide an active means of heating the thermal mass of our home. We have some concerns about our solar gain in December and January. We live in a fairly narrow river valley and get minimal sunlight due to clouds and fog during these months. We have access to significant quantities of waste wood due to our location so a radiant heat system fueled with wood seems practical to us. The decision to install radiant heat will be governed ultimately by cost.

In a typically Canadian manner I have chosen to straddle the fence on the issue of floor insulation. My intention is to insulate under the footings with 1" of rigid EPS (R5). I also plan to insulate under the floor spaces (again R5). I will NOT insulate under the planters or cistern. I also am thinking of leaving a percentage of the central floor space uninsulated.This practice of leaving some of the floor uninsulated is used sometimes in conjunction with radiant heat floors to guarantee that if the building is left unheated for periods of time over the winter the facilities sensitive to freezing will not be damaged because the building is coupled to the Earth's constant temperature. I think this decision will have minimal impact on my ability to control the temperature of the mass fabric of the home, and keep it hooked up to the Earth's thermal battery.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Plumbing the Earthship - the Toilets

Black water has been a sensitive topic in our household. Of many of the things we have considered doing this is one item we do not want to make a mess with ... at least not until it is ready to be used!

As you may remember black water is all of the waste water generated by your household that is too contaminated to be considered gray water. Here, contamination does not mean loaded with chemicals, but rather has unacceptable levels of pathogens making it unsuitable for drinking water or irrigation (loaded with feces in our case).

Our sources of black water are the two toilets we are planning to install. Some definitions of black water also include laundry and kitchen sink water due to the possibility of cleaning dirty diapers and the suspended solids contained in them respectively. The reality is that the level of pathogens in these gray water sources is minimal compared to toilet water, and proper gray water treatment is all that is required to handle these nutrient-rich gray water sources. See Create an Oasis with Greywater for a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of various gray water sources.

My initial position for our black water was that we would use a typical toilet hooked to a standard septic installation. I was worried about smell, a messy cleaning job, other people's perception of our toilet ... (need I go on).

Sandra surprised me by telling me that she was considering a composting toilet. Not willing to be left off of the green bandwagon (I am the family composter after all ... and the kids know what sheep manure means to me), we started researching this topic. We have now talked to numerous people who use composting toilets and checked them out in action. I have been converted ... we are now planning to install two composting toilets!


Our investigation of manufacturers is limited to date, I have been looking exclusively at the Sun-Mar line of composting toilets. Unless another product catches my attention I plan to use their specifications in my house design. Sun-Mar is a Canadian manufacturer (which means I'm
supporting a local manufacturer ... who ironically is setup in Ontario while I am in BC), that has been around for a while and gets good reviews of their products. Down the road if I find another suitable manufacturer I may switch my alliegances.

Which Model to Choose?

A quick perusal of the Sun-Mar website led me to the CENTREX 3000 AC/DC central flush model or a combination of two of the Excel AC/DC stand alone units.

My initial selection of the CENTREX 3000 AC/DC model was based on a simple constraint, its ability to handle the volume of black water generated by a family of five. The central unit
allows multiple toilet connections and it processes the black water centrally, hopefully making it impossible to overload the system. The drawback is that the central unit needs to be installed below the toilets so that gravity and a little water flushes them. This is a problem in an earthship as I will not have a convenient basement to install this unit in. I believe that I can accomodate this unit in a crawlspace underneath one of the toilets. However, this implies digging and building a crawlspace, adding cost and complexity to the design.

I would prefer to install two seperate stand-alone units to minimize cost and system complexity but these stand alone units do not have the capicity required for five full time users. Two stand
alone units installed together do have the required capicity, but how would I ensure that both stand alone units were being used equally, and one was not being overloaded? I can just see myself policing the kids toilet use ...

Chris: Alright Katie which toilet did you just use? (reaching for my clipboard to add notes on monthly loads)

Katie (unhappily): The one in the utility room ...

Chris: And what did you do?

Katie: Dad!

And the kids are only getting older ...

For now I am planning on installing two stand-alone units. Hopefully, their pattern of use will balance out on its own and I will not have to resort to charting the volumes flushed down each one. I think this is the simple option and will prove to be more cost-effective in the long run.

The Plumbing Required

The unit I have selected has connections for a 2" fan assisted stack vent that is used with AC or DC electricity to vent the unit, and a 4" stack vent that allows the unit to be operated without electricity. Given that I always plan to have electricity (at worst 12 volts supplied by a solar system), do I need to install the 4" stack? Can I just make do with the 2" stack vent? For the time being I am assuming that I must install the unit with the 2" stack and the 4" stack.

The unit also has a 1" drain that is required for overflow control. Sun-Mar claims that this overflow is a precautionary measure in case the system is overloaded on a short term basis (Helen's next birthday party with 9 girls and parents?), and will not be used very often.

The drain needs to go to an existing septic field or approved recycling bed. My initial thoughts are to connect it to the existing septic system we have on site, and possibly provide a septic drain line out to an area that could eventually be used as a recycling bed.

Practical Considerations

The first thing I did was sketch out one of these toilets and discover that it was significantly bigger than a standard flush toilet. This meant laying out the bathroom yet again, and while I was in the middle of
doing that I came up with the bathroom layout of the decade. I had visions of CAD students whispering about the brilliance of this layout during Drafting 101! Unfortunately, Sandra did NOT think my new layout
was brilliant. She did not like it, and dashed my hopes of having my name enshrined right next to Crapper ... thank you Sandra!

It did force us to re-think our bathroom layout and we decided to move the second bathroom closer to the living room and put a shower in it. There were multiple reasons for this decision:
  • the two gray water planters now get their incoming water from adjacant plumbing
    fixtures, eliminating the need to move water between the two planters,
  • the bathroom across the hallway from the main bathroom would have required moving gray water under the adjacent hallway,
  • Sandra and I both like the idea of a bathroom close to our bedroom that does not have kids in it.
I have updated some of the pages on my plans page to reflect these changes.


I am still concerned about composting toilets from an aesthetic perspective.

I read in one of the Earthship books that if you consider your composting toilet to be like an indoor outhouse you will not be disappointed.

This is not exactly a blanket endorsement. I am relying on the improvements that have been made to composting toilets since Mike Reynolds wrote about them, as I have seen them and read about them.

A former signature line from a Simple Living Network Poster

...We are not the Joneses you've been looking for!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Frugal and Cheap: Friends, Acquaintances or Arch Enemies?

When we decided to close our business for a year or more, we committed to living frugally. No "work for pay" income meant we had to be pretty creative...

But, part of the deal in moving into 600 square feet temporarily, was the promise of a new (bigger) house, which on one hand, isn't always compatible with a no "work for pay" lifestyle. On the other hand, it's not too hard to beat 600 square feet...

The year before we stopped working, we had ditched plans for a $300,000 log show home...we just couldn't contemplate working harder to support the mortgage it would require, especially after being mortgage free for some time.

Even though an Earthship lends itself very well to Frugal Folk like us, I discovered I had two issues with it: One, how little could we spend on this project and still have a beautiful home; and two, how were we going to feel about sharing our vision of frugality when we built it?

Well the first one will remain to be seen. The second, well...

Chris and I have always been quite private about specifics of our financial position and even more so about our spending decisions. The thought of ADMITTING that we have embraced frugality is very new; sharing our frugal habits and how those habits would allow us to build an inexpensive home...would people just think we were really CHEAP?

Hmmm. How do I feel about that?....Yup, turns out I do care (a little) what people think of me!

So, are we frugal, or are we cheap? I've probably been thinking about these two concepts for almost two decades, more so now than ever before.

It all started with a night out at Big City Improv in Toronto in the early 90s with Chris, before we were married.

It was a small audience of perhaps 75 and the improv cast was made up of mostly young people...about the same age as we were at the time!

Before starting the first skit one of the performers pointed at Chris and asked him to name somebody he knew who was frugal. Chris mentioned a university classmate who was not a close friend. To everyone's delight, there followed a 15 minute sketch about Chris' classmate's supposed frugal habits: re-using tea bags three times, buying day old bread, going to bars and not ordering a drink but eating the free nuts and get the picture.

It WAS funny. The performers were amazing. But while we were laughing we were both somewhat embarrassed. This classmate had limited funds and was paying his own way through university without student loans. We were both beginning to wonder about the line between frugality as a socially sanctioned practice and frugality that is socially ridiculed...was it simply the difference between true frugality and cheapness?

Were frugality and cheapness interchangeable or were they entirely different?

During the last 18 months I have been chewing over the concept of frugality and cheapness, what they both mean, why society ridicules them and what place each has in my family's life.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines "frugal" as "sparing or economical; thrifty" or "plain, simple, or provided in small quantity with avoidance of excess".

In Your Money or Your Life (more about this book in a later posting) the authors pin down the meaning even more. Frugal, they say, has roots in the latin word, frug (virtue) and frux (fruit or value). They conclude that "frugality is enjoying the virtue of getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have use of." (One of the premises of Your Money or Your Life, is that your physical energy is one of the currencies with which you use to acquire the things in life you need/want/desire.) So, frugality is tied to enjoyment! Wow!

"Cheap" has several meanings and it is one definition in particular that taints the true meaning of frugality. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary says cheap means "low in price, inexpensive." We hear this definition used often. "Milk this week was really cheap." In itself, this definition is o.k. But often Cheap sneaks into our descriptions of people who look for the most inexpensive (cheap) price. Suddenly, Frugal Folk aren't surveyors of the least expensive option, they are "Cheap" people.

And,the social interpretation of a person considered Cheap is not pretty. People who are Cheap are often ridiculed as obnoxious bargain hunters, unpleasant to be around, people who will do without something to save a penny, or gain a financial advantage over somebody. No wonder some Frugal Folk are shy about sharing their frugal habits!

So Cheap in this context is no friend of frugality, I think.

I've always rebelled against Cheap's definition in quantitative terms. I think the word "inexpensive" is perfect to denote a low price and prevents the qualitative definition from sneaking in and attaching itself to Frugal Folks.

Cheap's qualitative definition of "low quality, inferior" is one that should prevail when describing a product or experience. To me if something is "cheap" it is of lower quality. It can be expensive or inexpensive but if it is cheap, it is of poor quality. Then, Cheap is Frugality's acquaintance...they'll run into each other occasionally but don't seek each other out.

But even with my interpretation of Cheap in terms of products and experiences, I cannot deny the existence of Cheap People, people whose actions are of lower quality. For instance, who hasn't gone to dinner in a group and decided to split the bill but someone invariably does not put their portion of the tip into the pot? Or, everyone gives the "cheap" person their portion of the bill and tips, and the "cheap" person adds it all up and realizes everyone overpaid enough that he or she didn't have to pay at all (instead of giving the extra money back or leaving it for the wait staff). Cheap is when frugality becomes an imposition to yourself or others, as was aptly put by a fellow Simple Living Network member (more on SLN in another posting).

Cheap as an imposition upon yourself is when you buy an inferior quality car because it is 30% less costly than one with better gas mileage. It lasts 5 years before it requires costly repairs while the more expensive car would chug along for 15 years and would have paid for itself in lower gas costs in the first few years.

I now look at people differently in terms of frugality and enjoyment of life. When I see people making choices about where they are spending their money--what they choose from menus, when they pack a lunch rather than buying one, if they shop at consignment stores or thrift shops--I see life fulfillment stories behind all of it. One person is saving for a trip to Europe next year, another is saving for a hefty down payment on a house so he starts life on a sound footing. Someone else is paying off their debt and getting off the debt treadmill. Still others want to retire at 40 and spend time with their kids...

So after looking outward I began to examine myself and what my family goals are. Even before we decided to build an Earthship, Chris and I had made some decisions that had their roots in frugality. It also helped that we have a healthy aversion to debt and are not bad savers. Our abiding rule was that if any of our changes caused Deprivation to visit, we would revisit the change.

We discovered that by selling our primary home, and paying off our final, small debts we could live debt free on a small amount of money without paid employment, if it came to that. We watched the market very closely and by December 2007 it became clear that the forest industry in our province was in for a rough time. By spring of 2008 we made the decision to close our business for a year or more and take the time to plan the home we wanted and to spend more meaningful time with our children and each other.

Without doubt it meant we were "frugal" in the best sense of the word. We looked at all our expenses and asked ourselves how many hours of paid employment would we have to work to pay for them. When you look at money and life in this way decisions become very easy.

We didn't need three business lines and two phone lines, and two cell phones. We are now down to two landlines total and one cell phone, stripped of all the fancy stuff.

We looked at our grocery bill and realized that because we were so busy working, we were buying more convenience food (expensive and unhealthy). With more time on our hands, Chris and I cook meals from scratch more and our grocery bills are down by 50 percent, with no sense of deprivation either nutritionally or gastronomically.

We planted a garden last summer with the spare time we finally had and practiced frugality by canning and freezing for use later. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work; I don't know how our grandmothers did it!

We wear things out before replacing them. I'm currently typing this on a 6 year old laptop where the keyboard no longer works. I've plugged in a USB keyboard. I'm determined not to replace this laptop until it breaks completely or I simply can't stand the experience of typing three feet away from the screen. (I'm getting there!)

I am a freecycler, giving and receiving unwanted items to prevent them ending up in landfills. I have given away a queen size mattress, a bread making machine I no longer used, some pet accessories. I've received over the last year, at no charge: a compost tumbler, a manual meat slicer, new hair accessories for the girls, unwanted fabric ends for my sewing and quilting projects. (

The moderator of the Kamloops site has given me the go ahead to promote our earthship goals when I post wanted items. I hope to prove that a home can be at least partially built and beautifully furnished from the unwanted items of a community...

We have always been a TV free household (we don't enjoy television). The savings of no cable or satellite fees over 20 years are tremendous.

In the summer we hang our clothes to dry. We pay less electricity and it's better for the environment.

I bake my own bread and make home-made soup. It's better for us and it costs a lot less (and I really enjoy it, now I am not always pressed for time!)

We eat out on special occasions at great restaurants instead of eating out at burger joints when we are too tired from working to cook. We pack a lunch when we ski the trails (on our family season's pass) at our local ski hill, and take it to the warming hut to eat.

Now that we do not work as much, we have parked one vehicle and are trying to become a one vehicle family. This requires us to puzzle out a trailer that can transport sheep and kayaks! This is still an experiment as there have been a few times this winter that half of us needed to be one place and half at another. But for the infrequent inconvenience we are enjoying the reduced vehicle expenditures, maintenance costs and headaches.

In the last year Chris and I bought two used kayaks and one new one so that our family could get back out on the lakes and camp again (we were just too many for one canoe). It was worth every penny, financed by our frugality over the previous year. We paddled on Mahood Lake, Murtle Lake and Clearwater Lake last summer and plan to go to Rainbow Falls on Azure Lake this summer. (

We drove across Canada last Christmas (hotels, food and gas were a fraction of the cost of flying). The kids held a map of Canada all the way there and got to know their country's geography. We had a vehicle when we arrived so we could travel between Ontario cities to see our relatives. We took the kids to the CN Tower Restaurant for dinner and jumped up and down on the glass floor. Again, all of this made possible by our frugal habits over the previous year. We have wonderful friends and family who housed and fed us and who we hope to have visit us when our Earthship is done so we can return the hospitality!

We have committed to our children's 4-H club and Chris and I not only volunteer but will help the kids build up a little flock of sheep for their projects. We are thinking of financing some layer chickens as a way for the kids to earn more pocket money and learn self-sufficiency.

Where possible, we buy used skiing equipment but when the kids' enjoyment and fitness is increased by having new equipment we never begrudge the money to upgrade.

We did make one change that we are probably going to reverse: we canceled our subscription to our local paper (, feeling we could get our news on our fave radio station: CBC. However, we discovered we were missing the local chatter and occasionally we missed a picture of one of our children in the local news!

We feel we have given up nothing and in return gained the ability to slow down and relax.

It means we spend more time with people. We are more readily able to accept and extend a casual invitation for tea and a visit. We walk through others' gardens and have time to ask about their growing techniques. We listen more attentively now that our minds are not strung out in too many directions. We can offer more of ourselves to people. We are healthier.

It certainly has not been a problem-free process. Letting go of "things" and our attachment to them is sometimes really hard. Even more difficult is shedding society's perception of one's actions. Going against the grain is difficult even for the most independent thinkers. Never has it been more important for us to really NOT care what everyone else thinks and to believe that our closest friends and family think well of us (and only make kind--but clever, of course--jokes behind our backs!!!)

So how does frugality fit into our Earthship plans? Well, by its very nature an earthship uses fewer resources. Solar power means no demand on hydro electric dams or plants. Rainwater collection means less demand on the water table. Passive solar gain and thermal mass means our heating costs will be less, or non-existent. Growing our own food means we can work less at paid employment to meet our nutritional needs. We are committed to sourcing used materials or finding innovative methods of building that uses recycled materials. (Have we become environmentalists, or as people in our valley call them, "tree huggers?" Well, I dislike labels intensely...more on that in another posting, but suffice it to say that wood will figure prominently in our home!)

Our goal is to build frugally and live joyously. To spend as little money as possible and enjoy doing so. To never feel deprived in the process. To have a beautiful home that could never be considered "cheap". Our goal is to prove to ourselves that living differently, spending differently, thinking differently, building differently, can be enormously rewarding.

Please feel free to post comments about your views on frugality!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Earthship Resources

Some of the books I have found useful in this project:

  • Earthship Volumes I, II and III by Michael Reynolds - These are definitely the starting point.
  • Comfort In Any Climate by Michael Reynolds - Good background information but not as ueful as the Earthship Volumes in my opinion.
  • Create an Oasis with Greywater by Art Ludwig - Excellent resource on grey water recovery.
  • Builder's Greywater Guide by Art Ludwig - A supplement to Create an Oasis with Greywater. This book covers permitting of greywater systems.
  • Earth Sheltered Houses by Rob Roy - An excellent reference for earth-sheltered houses, easy to understand and lots of practical building advice.
  • Water Storage by Art Ludwig - Good resource on water storage.
  • The Earth-Sheltered House: An Architect's Sketchbook by Malcom Wells - Considered one of the early pioneers in earth-sheltered housing. I found this book interesting, but not as valuable as Earth Sheltered Houses.
  • Undergrond Houses: How to Build a Low-Cost Home by Rob Roy - An excellent book, but it is all covered and more in Earth Sheltered Houses.
  • Principles of Ecological Design: Integrating Technology, Economics and Ecology by Art Ludwig - An interesting book, but not immediately relevant to building your own home. If you have already commited to building an Earthship you can probably skip this one ...
  • Water From the Sky by Michael Reynolds - I have not read this one yet but just received a comment from a reader about grey water saying that this book goes into detail about the grey water and black water systems of an earthship. I have not been able to find a copy in the library, so I may have to buy this one ...
Web sites ...
  • - Home of earthship Biotecture
  • - Article on the building of an earthship
  • -website of an earthship builder
  • www.bluerockstation - website of an earthship builder
  • - website of an earthship builder. Very good notes on his construction process.

I will add more resources as I see them.

Let me know of anything you think is worth adding to the list!

The Complete (incomplete) Plan set

The rendered perspective at the beginning of this post is an image of the earthship buried in the ground.

You can see berms at the back (north end) of the roof to channel collected water from the roof into the cisterns. The ducting to accomplish this collection is not shown. The two cylinders behind the earthship are the cisterns. (I am so excited!!)

I will be updating the drawings on this page as I continue to update the building plans.

I had hoped to include PDF files of the drawings, but I am having problems uploading PDF's to the server. In the interim I have included the drawings as JPEG's.

The plan set consists of the following six drawings:


Floor Plan - Main

Floor Plan - Foundation


Elevations - East and West

Elevations - North and South

Gray Water

This is the first draft of our earthship's plan set!

This plan set is unfinished but it does give an idea of the direction the plans are heading.

The drawings are incomplete and not entirely consistent.

Over the coming weeks I will be updating these plans as I finalize our plans for submission to our local building authority.


Feb 17, 2009 Modified floorplan and foundation pages with new bathroom layout.

Feb 19, 2009 Continued to update all pages. Still have not done engineering on plans. I think I am going to have to add additional pages for gray water and plumbing.

March 4, 2009 Submitted plan set to the Thompson Nicola Regional District Building Department. I added a page for gray water design, added additional details on the roof page for water collection, and made many changes on the other pages. We were told to expect somewhere around two weeks for review of the plans. This is exciting ...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Getting the word out!

Several weeks ago I started digging for a contact at the Kamloops Energy Fair, being held this year on May 23 at McArthur Island Park.

After only a few calls I connected with Cheryl Kabloona, with the Kamloops Chapter of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. We discussed the possiblity of Chris and me setting up a table at the Fair to share our plans for an Earthship. Because our aim is education only (we do not intend to profit from attending) she raised the possiblility of us paying the non-profit fee for participating.

The contact led to a request by the association for Chris and me to attend its chapter meeting on February 23rd at TRU University to speak about our project.

Because we find the more we talk about our plans, the more we learn, we cleared the evening with the kids' grandparents, and have committed to participating in the meeting.

We will bring along our house plans, in whatever state they happen to be in at the time, as well as any other material or photos to help explain Earthships.

The talk is open to any members of the public and will be quite informal. Here's the info!

BC Sustainable Energy Association, Kamloops chapter meeting
When: Monday February 23 at 7:00 pm
Where: Room TT 219 on the second floor of the Trades and Technology Centre at Thompson Rivers University. Parking at TRU is available at no charge in the evenings.
Title: Earthships for beginners: A DIY sustainable house project

We hope interested people in the Kamloops area will come and ask lots of questions. If anybody has any experience in any area of sustainable housing, please do come; we'd love to meet you!