Tag Archives: earthship

Back to the Drawing Board

I have a peculiar attraction to the endless possibilities of a blank piece of graph paper and a freshly sharpened pencil.

Once I enter the Flow of translating an imagined living-space into a floor plan drawing, I will go hours without thoughts of food or drink, acknowledgments of sound or voice with little regard for my body’s need of liquid disposal and sleep. I end up farther downstream that I would have liked and I find myself struggling upstream return to my intended destination. I am still thankful for this experience, because without it I would have gone nowhere or rather got nothing done.

I’m about to go there, again.  But first, I must unload from my mind the happenings of the last few weeks.

We are going back to the drawing board. At first this may sound like a set back. However, it is for good reasons and I couldn’t be more pleased.  Let me tell you why.

In the beginning of February, we met with a few engineering specialists at Taitum Engineering in Ithaca. Every person we met was super enthusiastic about being involved with an Earthship project. We were greeted by Javier Rosa, the gentleman we spoke to on the phone to set up the meeting. As we chatted about our ideas and shared our drawings, several others stopped by after they heard the Earthship people were there. We met Dom (HVAC), Lou (HVAC-passive house), and Gordon (Solar) with a promise to sit down with Fred (Plumbing) at a later point. Taitum Engineering | Technology as if the Earth Mattered

We talked about what we need for our building permit, since that was our reason for contacting them.  The Codes officer of Danby township determined that he would require stamped (by an architect or engineer) plans for the Earthship, primarily because of our use of alternative materials.  This was contrary to what we read in their building permit policy that stated a home under 1,500 square foot did not require the plans be stamped by an engineer. We struggled to stay under this limit to offset the cost of the site prep stage since we must also put out money for a new driveway, a well, septic and electric hookup. However, that is no longer an option.

We were informed that the bedroom sizes on our official floor plan from Earthship Biotecture out of Taos, NM would not met NYS codes (must be a minimum of 144 square foot). Several other changes were mentioned to adapt it to the wet, cold climate of the Finger Lakes. Since Taitem needs to change the drawings that Earthship Biotecture created (and it is against EB’s policy to give us the CAD file for the drawing), we must have the whole thing redrawn. This nullifies the drawing we paid ($1,500) for through Earthship Biotecture. Expensive lesson learned. Moving on.

Shortly after that meeting, we also learned that our tax return would yield less than 1/4 our expected refund.

That led us to a crossroads. We soon realized we could go back to the drawing board at this point, if we wanted to, and that is exactly what we did.

Before contacting EB, we briefly batted around the idea of starting with a tiny house to live in whilst we built the Earthship.  We were told we could only do that if the two structures were connected to maintain a single dwelling, not being allowed to have more than one living structure per land parcel.  We didn’t think connecting them would be possible, so we opted for a barn structure for temporary housing until we could build the Earthship.  However, we need to be allowed to occupy that space for longer than the 6-week codes limit on temporary housing since renting is out of the question due to lack of affordable housing.  None of the rentals I’ve seen so far will allow pets anyway, so it is mute point to continue searching.

Now we are back to the tiny home concept with the addition of an Earthship that wraps around it in the back and extends the length of the home to the East.

The E.S. Euphoria has become a tiny house earthship hybrid.

This approach will work much better for several reasons:

It allows us time to sell our current home in Barbours. We can live in our 1978 Fleetwood Southwind motor home until the tiny home is built.

We can move to Ithaca before the Earthship is built – we can find employment, meet more Ithacan and spread the word about what we are doing around the community.

We can get settled into a new area at a much more tolerable pace so that we may enjoy and share this process with our families, friends, fellows and community. 

We can establish a work history to better qualify for a construction loan when it comes time to build the earthship addition and refinance our balloon loan with the land’s seller.  

All that being said, I am back at it with pencil and paper as well as dabbling in Google’s 3D-modeling software SketchUp.

I’m having a blast and can’t wait to share it with all of you!


A thousand paper cuts | Permits

What a day! I got so much done on moving forward with the build.  Super productive!

I managed to make contact with the town, county and state government all in one day.

I got the septic permit from Tompkins County.  I got an engineer from the NY Department of Transportation to visit our address and review the location of our driveway. I got a large portion of the building permit paperwork submitted (there’s a lot) and started a dialogue with the town of Danby codes official.

Also, I got the revised final floor plan from Earthship Biotecture.


Shout out to those of you collecting recyclables, thank you again! Please let me know if you need me to come by to pick them up.  You’re the best!

New York landowners!

We had our land closing this morning in Ithaca, NY!

We now own 10 acres of wooded land on West Danby Road in Newfield, New York.


It’s a very angular plot bordered on the east by railroad tracks.

We will be hearing the train pass by a couple times a week.  We heard it for the first time in September when we camped at Robert Treman State Park, about 3 miles away from our land.

Hearing it makes me feel young again.  I used to hear the train pass by and blow it’s whistle when I lived in town (from the age of 8 through 16).  I spent many summer days walking along train tracks.  That was the route my friends and I took to get to the creek.

I’m excited to experience those sounds from our new land!  Soon.  It will happen.

Stay tuned for more updates as we start clearing and laying out the building lot.

Cardboard boxes | Box Forts?

Who doesn’t like building a cardboard box fort?! Any respectable fort builder knows that boxes are coveted fort-building materials. Earthships puts them to good use in a less creative, but purposeful way.

In an Earthship, cardboard boxes are used for sealing the gaps along the bottom of tires before being pounded full of dirt. As the tires in the wall are staggered, gaps form below. If the tires are not sealed with cardboard, the dirt will fall out of the bottom gap as the tire is pounded. cardboard-boxes-gold-coast

An average sized moving box will provide two (2) tires worth of packing. Therefore, we will need about 600 or more boxes worth of cardboard!

On this year’s Boxing Day, please consider breaking down and saving boxes to donate to our Earthship. 

Used Bottles & Jars | Bottle Bricks

The second most crucial wall building material is concrete.  What makes the concrete walls of the Earthship unique is the addition of recycled glass and plastic bottles in the form of bottle bricks.

Bottle bricks create a network of spaces to create a lighter, more durable wall that also lends itself to artistic expression and ambient natural lighting.

How are bottle bricks made?

Glass bottle bricks are made mostly with, you guessed it, beer bottles or other beverage bottles. The best bottles are straight-sided at least 4 inches from the bottom. Jars, wine and liquor bottles fitting this description also work well and add more design options.  The bottles are cut 4 inches from the bottom. The bottom part is washed and let dry to be used for bricks and the top part is recycled.

After the bottoms dry, two (2) of the bottoms are placed cut-side together and duct taped around the seam where they meet.  This is a completed bottle brick!

Plastic bottles are a little bit easier, only one bottle is cut and placed over another intact bottle and then taped. The bottoms of these bottles are often more interesting shaped and lend themselves well to making flower patterns (as seen in the featured photo above).

Here’s a short video about how the bottles are cut and put together Cutting a bottle brick.

Here is a longer in-depth instructional video Bottle Wall Building.

Used Tires | Rammed-Earth Blocks

Used tires are the most crucial component of Earthship construction.

Tires are pounded full of dirt to create rammed-earth blocks. Building the massive retaining wall of tires is the first phase of 300px-earthship_plan_with_vertically_glazed_southern_wall-svgconstruction. Work on the tire wall starts after the ground is leveled and the layout has been marked out with string lines as described in this video Tire layout.

The tire layout is shown here in this floor plan.

The tires must be gathered from various sources and stored onsite before the build starts. Automotive shops often will have large quantities of used tires that they haven’t taken to the dump. Since they have to pay loads of money to have them disposed of, automotive shops will often just give them to you (if they are really grateful for the cost savings, they might even deliver them).

How many tires are needed?

Hundreds to thousands. The exact number depends on the outside dimensions of the Earthship. Larger spaces require more tires. Smaller spaces use less.

Here’s how I estimated the number of tires we will need for our 1400 sq. ft. home:

Our home footprint will be 20 ft deep x 70 ft long. The total length of the tire wall includes two (2) tapered ends, two (2) side walls and the back wall. (I estimated the tapered ends to be 10′ each). That’s 20′ for the ends, 40′ for the side walls and 70′ for the back or 150′ total.  150′ x 12″= 1,80o ft.  Divide that by the standard 15″ tire diameter to get 120 tires per layer (also called a course). There are 10 courses total.

That is 1,200 tires for a 1,400 sq ft home. 

Which tires are best?

First, we need to discuss some tire numbers. Reading tire sizes

The tire’s sidewall will be printed with a size in this format:

               P215/65R15 95H

The numbers we are most interested in are shown in RED

The first number is the tire width (millimeters) from tire from sidewall to sidewall. 

The second number is the wheel diameter (inches) from tread to tread across the center of the circle.  

A tire wall starts with larger tires at the bottom and ends with smaller ones on top.

The tires also need to be completely intact or else they will burst when pounded.

We need sizes:  205/15    215/15    225/ 15   235/15    235/16


What is an Earthship anyway?

Earthship is the term for a unique type of eco-friendly and sustainably home that interfaces with natural phenomenon to care for its inhabitants.  Earthships provide these six basic survival needs and they do it all without a single utility connection:

Shelter / Comfort – thermal mass and passive solar heating

Water – roof water catchment system

Food – indoor planters filter gray water (for reuse in toilets)

Energy – solar panels and wind turbines for power generation

Recycling – reuse materials available in modern society (tires, bottles, cans, cardboard)

Sanitation – onsite waste treatment via septic system with optional outdoor planter