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OffGrid, Technology

My Obsessions: Self Sufficiency

August 2, 2015

My obsessions almost all delve around self sufficiency, whether its cars, housing, agriculture, grey water treatment systems etc.

It started about 12-13 years ago when I first heard about Earthships,  I don’t recall where I first heard about them.   But I’ve loved them since day #1,  Desiree isn’t as keen on living with earth around 3 of 4 walls.   I suspect when the time comes we’ll build a traditional house with all the mechanisms in place that I cherish, such as the grey water system, giant indoor planters, off-grid, and tons of windows.


Earthships were created in the 70’s in New Mexico by Architect Michael Reynolds.    They’ve evolved in the last ten years, early on when I first started researching them much of the designs included circular or horse shoe shaped modules.   That design seems to of disappeared from their website over the couple years, I’m not sure if there were specific reasons for it or not but the modern design has only the exterior rear walls now with earth rammed tires.

Older "U Shaped" Earthship

Older “U Shaped” Earthship

"Modern" Earthship

“Modern” Earthship

An Earthship was designed to face South to maximize natural light and solar gain during the winter months.  The point of an Earthship is to use supplies which are most recycled to keep the costs down, and utilize systems which allow for self sufficient living through water reuse, foot production and energy storage.

images (1)The thick / dense rammed earth tire walls provide thermal mass that naturally regulates the interior temperatures no matter the temperature outside.  The tires are often put together by two individuals, one does the ramming, often with a sledge hammer pounding the earth into the cavern, while the other provides the soil dumping it into the hole with a shovel.   A single rammed tire can weigh up to 300 lbs, and often adobe or concrete is sprayed on to finish the wall.   Internal, non load bearing walls are often made of recycled pop cans combined with concrete, and plastered with adobe.   The techniques used in building an Earthship uses up to 80% less concrete.  The tops of the exterior/interior walls are topped with wooden trusses, and insulated to prevent heat loss.

Grey Water System



This aspect of the Earthship is what drew me to it in the first place, I love how you can reuse all the wasted non toilet water for reuse either in the toilet, or for feeding the planters.    All water use within the house is captured via cisterns attached to eaves on the roof., the cisterns are buried  to be protected from the sun.  The water from the cistern is gravity fed into the WOM(Water Organizing Module).   The water is now safe to use for drinking or use.    This water is stored, and treated for use throughout the house using a WOM  to treat the grey water inside the building, and sewage from the toilets separately.   All interior non toilet water (grey water) is reused for for both interior and exterior botantical cells.  As you can imagine, this uses far less water then a conventional house as nearly all water is used atleast twice before it  feeds the botantical cells.

In doing so we eliminate the need for both public sewage, and spectic systems.   The system can also be setup to flow entirely into a conventional septic field/tank.



Interior Grey Water Botantical Cell

Interior Grey Water Botantical Cell


An Earthship creates an environment which provides not only food, but cleanses the air, and recycles the water via indoor botantical cells.  I’ve even seen indoor ponds with fish, or fruit trees.













I have always wanted to be off the grid, but I feel like we’re close to a breakthrough in solar cells and battery storage.  I’d hate to throw down 20k only to miss out on the latest technology.    Being that we live in British Columbia we generally get very little sun for 4-5 months of the year, so I suspect we would need to supplement with wind turbines.    I think Tesla is close, they’re now selling home batteries with ample storage for a reasonable price.   I suspect within 2-3 years the price of batteries will halve.

The Earthship is built to regulate temperatures on it’s own as noted above, so electricity isn’t needed for heating or cooling which is one of the biggest expenses when it comes to electricity.

Modern Housing

Des isn’t as keen on living with earth around the house, so I think our plan will end up being a modern house with tons of windows, while utilizing cisterns/grey water systems/solar/window power.   The lack of mass around the house will require heating/cooling either via propane or other means, and hooked into the grid as a backup, and for feeding excess back into the system.   Something more like below, either way it’s our goal, and we’re no where near ready, and have years to figure out our plan.


I love cob homes as well, but they’re a lot of work.  Either way, I won’t abandon my dream of living in a self sufficient house, even if it’s 10-20 years down the road.   With weather patterns changing, and droughts becoming a norm, I think it’ll become a lot more popular, and hopefully cheaper in the future.