Although, to most, it’s not exactly clear what has been taking shape on this Sixth Street construction site, there is no doubt that is has garnered a lot of interest over the summer. For those curious enough to ask, even the name may have left them scratching their heads. Yet “earthships” have been around for over 40 years and can be found in countries around the world.
First introduced in the 70’s, they are buildings based on the passive/ sustainable design principles established by Michael Reynolds, a New Mexico based architect and founder of Earthship Biotecture. Often referred to as “radically sustainable”, earthships are off-the-grid with thermal solar heating and cooling, solar and sometimes wind generated electricity, water harvesting, contained sewage treatment, and even on-site food production.
That an earthship is debuting here is due to the efforts of local resident Matt Code. The concept first captured his interest over 20 years ago as a university student. The appeal of living in a home passively in harmony with the environment grew along with his passion for sustainable communities and eco-adventures which he parlayed into successful local enterprises as co-founder of Free Spirit Gardens and Free Spirit Tours.
Crozier & Associates completed structural and mechanical designs for Matt’s 3,730 sq. ft. earthship home earlier this year and this past September our Project Engineer Jesse Matchett toured Town and Crozier staff through the unique work-in-progress with our client.
Typically an Earthship design incorporates about 45% reused materials including dirt-packed tires which serve as building blocks for load-bearing walls. Plastic, glass bottles, cans and stone are often honey-combed into the design of interior concrete dividing walls, with natural plaster and reclaimed wood used as finishes. From there – anything is possible from hobbit-style huts to no-holds barred mansions.
The north wall of Collingwood’s earthship is embedded into the earth to protect against northwinds, using thermal mass to both heat and cool the house. An expanse of glass on the south wall will harvest radiant heat from the sun and abundant rays will nuture indoor garden beds along its length.
Although the design will be connected to the Town’s potable water, rainwater will be collected from the roof and deposited in a series of cisterns to be used as grey water for lavatories and irrigation for the beds, providing ideal conditions for year-round produce and greenery to flourish. Even today’s plugged-in lifestyle can thrive in this earthship home with additional roof-top solar panels which can power up even the most digitally demanding household.
With construction costs similar to traditional home builds and off-the-grid savings providing immediate and long-term returns on investment, it’s not surprising that these enviro-friendly homes are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. There are estimated to be at least 50 earthships in Canada, mostly in British Columbia and Southern Ontario but they have also, more recently, dug in to successfully face Old Man Winter in the open prairies.
Collingwood is next in line with Matt Code expecting to take up permanent residence in his earthship home by 2016 and finally realize a long-held dream.
For more on the Collingwood Earthship project:
Recent Enterprise Bulletin Article
Earthship Biotecture Website: http://earthship.com/