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1. Do you capture rainwater or use solar power? If so, have you ever run out of water/power?

2. Do you ever get bug infestations in your greenroom or have more problems with mice/burrowing animals/other critters wanting to move in?

3. Since you presumably have more glass (with plants on the inside), do you get a lot of birds that fly into the glass?

4. How constant does your temperature stay? I believe they are designed to be 73 year round. How big are the fluctuations from 73, barely noticeable or uncomfortable?

5. Why did you build the earthshp yourself? What about contractors?

 

Some Common Earthship Questions:

1. Do you capture rainwater or use solar power? If so, have you ever run out of water/power?

Capture of rain/snow and solar/wind electric are significant points. I have run several experiments within my limited budget, and I use 12v or 5v computer fans for air handlers. I can run the fans off of a pair of 15w solar panels in the summer but they do not produce enough in the winter to run, for instance, the toilet vent fan 24 hours a day. I did irrigate the entire vineyard one year with the two 15w panels, a car battery, and two 12v bilge pumps. I intend to supplement with a 600w wind generator as the wind is often strong here on days when the cloud cover makes solar less efficient. Either serious panels or wind will require a bank of storage batteries and inverter. This comes back to the compromise you are willing to make in return for convenience. Turn key systems are available and great but are also expensive. I should have invested while I was working in the "real world" and money was easy, however the technology is significantly better now than it was then. Prices are not a lot better here, but are in Australia and Germany and China.
The house was designed to capture 100% of snow and rain that falls on it; the added greenhouses need gutters that I have not yet installed, but I donít have storage capacity yet either. I have a pair of poly tanks but really should have built an under-grade concrete cistern in the first phase. I thought Iíd be able to go back and excavate, even indoors, but I canít. I do intend to build a basement with cistern, composter, and root/grain storage under the addition we are planning.
On running out: Yes, back ups are critical, but this can take many forms and is not unique to the earthship. While living in the farmhouse I lost the well pump twice. The first time I had water delivered from town and stored in the big house cistern, but that service is no longer available. The second time we scrambled to get the pump fixed. Both events were fortunately in warm months. When I rebuilt the well house I put a hatch in the roof so I can pull the pump easily in the future. Remember that water must be treated if you canít presume freedom from any number of chemical and biological things in your water (our forefathers drank from the creeks but those were different people in a different environment) and this is true of both wells and collected rain. Your municipality does this for you now, at great cost.

2. Do you ever get bug infestations in your greenhouse or have more problems with mice/burrowing animals/other critters wanting to move in?

Infestations: We do get daddy longlegs, but not more than we did in the farm house. Mice are a problem in the country in the spring and fall no matter what — no difference there, but they come in around doors and other openings. I bring in flowering catnip branches in the fall and they help keep insects down (or Iím projecting and there were none anyway). Aphids can be a problem on over-wintered plants but less so than in the farm house, where I had to import lady beetles, so we had "bugs" in the house anyway.
Our house is concrete, not loosely fitted tires, so burrowing is not an option for local fauna. The Manfred House outside Luverne, MN has a fieldstone wall in an earth sheltered bathroom, and they tell stories of snakes making unwarrented appearances on rare occasions. Saint Patrick stoped here on his way to Ireland though, and got rid of the poisonous snakes.

3. Since you presumably have more glass (with plants on the inside), do you get a lot of birds that fly into the glass?

Birds are less of a problem here than even the farm house, but we have a grape arbor over the face of the house and that probably is a deterrent to zooming by. Well, they are a problem when the grapes get ripe, but not a window problem. We also have several lazy cats and usually at least one is sleeping in a window. That is probably an effective deterrent too.

4. How constant does your temperature stay? I believe they are designed to be 73°f year round. How big are the fluctuations from 73°f, barely noticeable or uncomfortable?

Temperature control:
Everything is a trade off. For any home to be 74°f someone, somewhere has to do something. In a typical tract home you walk over and change the thermostat setting (then write out the check), but this is only the trigger for an effect that is the result of a cascade of other people's labor and expertise. The list of people who bring you the heating or cooling vary depending on the technology your particular system uses. Oil comes from the ground and is refined and shipped by truck, gas comes from the ground and is shipped in pipes or bottles. Electricity is shipped by wire, but is generated elsewhere, usually by burning coal, which itself must me mined and shipped by train. Lots of people do lots of stuff to earn you the convenience of turning that thermostat (and we haven't mentioned the people who made the thermostat and all of the parts let alone the furnace, or those that gathered the raw materials for all the components.)
We chose to burn our home grown wood, but others will make choices suited to their own situation.
So, the point of this is that convenience is a trade off. What are you willing to do in return for what you don't have to do? Will you cut wood in order to avoid working offsite to pay for propane, or vice versa? Most people in our culture never really ask that question, the answer seems obvious: "Whatever it takes to get rich." Most fail at that, but many have a really good time trying. If you are reading this then you have already begun to ask that question and you have found the norm, the urban apartment or the suburban stick house to be somewhat lacking. Me too. I don't heat to 74°f and find that in the winter, wearing a sweatshirt and socks around the house, that 66°f is really OK. 74°f is an option, just one we have decided isn't usually worth the cost to us, like living in the farmhouse is an option, just an exorbitantly expensive one, one that requires at least one full-time outside job (near impossible to find here these days). The real question is what are you willing to do? Build in Albuquerque and you need not worry about heat much, build the same earthship in Rapid City and you will have to make some decision on how to heat it in the winter. Remember, though, everything you do gives off some heat, lighting, computers, cooking, even breathing.
What an earthship does in its simplest iteration is just protect you from the smaller vagaries of weather by utilizing very thick walls that store some heat energy. Our shell, the year before I moved in, never got below 27°f despite the outside temperature getting down to -23°f. This was without any heat or even people or animals in it. The walls are 8" or 12" thick concrete block, filled with concrete; the windows were in place, but no shutters were installed yet, and the back of the building was open, no thermal umbrella. (A Thermal Umbrella is the area of soil that backs up the the earth shelterd side(s) of the house and is protected from water and insulated from the weather. This protection and insulation brings the 25' depth temperature value up to the house level and also acts like a heat bank storing and reraiating exces heat from appliances, etc.)
We utilize a Thermal Umbrella here. The soil temperature about 25 feet down usually matches the area's annual average. "Heat pumps" take advantage of this fact by tapping into ground water 10' to 60' deep in the earth. A fully earth sheltered structure 25 feet down should, then, stay about whatever the average is in that location, all else being equal, but we don't want to live 25' underground.

5. Why did you build the earthshp yourself? What about contractors?

I am a staunch advocate of designing and building yourself. I realize that this is not practical for many people, but hear me out. Everything is a tradeoff, and in planning your earthship you have to make many important (and very permanent) decisions. These critical decisions can be made dangerously casually when sitting at someone elseís drafting table and making dozens of decisions in an hour long "interview."
If you actually build your self you are always thinking and weighing options. Even decisions you have made before are available for rethinking until the concrete has actually been poured.
An earthship is a home intended to have a much, much longer lifesan than a frame house. We have a farm house on out place that is over 110 years old and that is a phenomenal life span for a frame built house, but, as of this writing, no one is living in it because it is so impractical to heat and cool. Conversly, the earthship we've built should last until the next glacier. It was literally built to last several hundred years in this harsh climate.
All that said, there are many great professional contractors out there. Communication is critical, and patience is truly a virtue in handing over such a personal project. Talk to other people who have used that contractor.


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