Earthships: The Power of Unconventional Ideas

| 11/2/2009 3:30:22 PM

Tags: earthships, Mike Reynolds, green homes,

Arizona Earthship HomeIn his book, A Coming of Wizards, Michael Reynolds said four mystical beings, whom he called “wizards,” appeared to him in psychedelic visions and gave him ideas that have guided his work. He wrote that the wizards taught him to “de-normalize” his thinking and tap into his own, personal “energy band.”

The source of his vision was unconventional. The results of his mystical inspiration, however, have been practical successes in the real world.

Mike is the inventor of the Earthship, a home design that uses recycled materials and nature’s own solar machinery to create snug, self-sufficient houses. When I met him in 1982, he’d already been building Earthships for the better part of a decade. They were scattered across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

They weren’t like any other houses in the world. Mike had spontaneously — maybe instinctively — set out to solve several different puzzles at the same time. He wanted his houses to be energy independent, comfortable and beautiful, and he wanted to reutilize waste materials in their construction.

Mike Reynolds half-buried his houses in south-facing hillsides and created their south walls entirely from high-quality insulated glass so they would capture the heating energy of the sun. He built durable, moisture-proof roofs, buried them in insulating soil, and planted native plants on them so the roof could grow its own summer shade, which naturally thinned and let the sun warm the roof in winter. He invented a unique ventilation system that pulled cool air from outside and pushed overheated air out through skylights during warm weather.

The Earthships needed to store solar energy to use overnight and during cold, dark weather. Mike designed massive, 4-foot-thick interior walls and positioned them in the sunlight streaming in from the south-facing windows. He constructed thick floors of concrete and adobe that soaked up sunshine all day and then radiated warmth at night.

john williams
2/20/2012 12:38:43 AM

First time to comment and get involved in this blog… I’ve been Mother Earth News reader sense the 70’s and In 1979 on I have designed and built several Earth Sheltered Homes. (rebuilding web site now due to web host dropping all) But check it out if you like as it is being built. I’m also into Off The Grid Earth Sheltered Housing and ECO-PODS and alternates Thinking Outside The Box. I’m presently building several types of these units on a lot behind my present home. Earth Sheltered Container with Solar Passive and other off grid accessories like Solar Cooking, Parabolic Mirror from 10’ and a 6’ satellite dish, and implementation of many other things. Much going on that I should be sharing with all who are interested. I have always used Solar Passive and mass in my Earth Sheltered Homes… 2’ of earth over top and southern exposure and back in 1979-80 installed fire places with plenum circulation and/or heat stoves for homes… NOT NEEDED… and owners couldn’t use due to no need and overheating home. The homes have not used heat or cooling sense built in 79 and 80… houses paid from themselves via savings.

john williams
2/20/2012 12:37:47 AM

I live in Winston-Salem, NC and doing off grid ECO-PODS on back lot from Earth Sheltered Container, and Oldcastle 8' ID storm culverts and and implementing many OFF GRID devices but mostly the Solar Passive Designs. being rebuilt but you can check it out if you like.

neil pylant
2/19/2012 12:57:42 AM

Susan, please email me at and I will share my information with you. My wife and I welcome visitors. ........Neil

susan mcclelland
2/18/2012 6:53:42 PM

Neil: I am from the mountains of NC and now live in east TN. We are planning an off the grid cabin. I would love to see an Earthship up close and ask you questions. Do you allow individuals to come see your house? If so, when and where are you located exactly? Would love to know also how an Earthship stands up to more moisture than they experience in the desert. Do you know of any workshops around that teach Earthship (or other types of) building techniques? Where did you learn? Thanks for any info you can give........Susan

flatbottom frank
2/17/2012 10:49:48 PM

Jan, there is a large variety of earthship designs including duplex, they will soon be building one in dont find them in cities much because of the strict codes. I interned on a recent earthship build in wyoming, its 1600sqf of living space. Also they are totally off grid, with zero emissions.

jan steinman
2/17/2012 6:12:58 PM

No slight intended to Reynolds, whom I greatly admire, but one problem with Earthships is that they are basically single-family homes. In the movie "Garbage Warrior," you can see them scattered across the landscape like sand tossed on a mirror -- and each with 1.8 cars in the driveway. To minimize our impact on the greater environment, to maximize farmland, and to minimize auto travel, dwellings need to be clustered. I'd love to see Reynolds incorporate some of Alexander's low-numbered patterns into his developments, instead of breaking up tracts into one-acre squares and plopping a house -- Earthship, or whatever -- in the middle of each plot. It would be great to see the Earthship concept be used in a multi-family dwelling.

neil pylant
2/17/2012 6:02:27 PM

We are currently about 70% done with building our earthship in the mountains of NC. We are finishing out the inside now. It is awesome! Warm in winter and cool in the summer. We combined the best of Michael's early design and his new vertical glass design and it has worked out well. We are very pleased and hope to be living in it by this time next year. Just today we had 20 high school students visit for a tour with their teacher. I highly recommend earthships.

elise cooper
2/17/2012 5:47:52 PM

My sister works for Mike and lives in an earthship. I helped build the first part of their house. There are tons of pictures and lots of info at

11/12/2009 6:08:56 PM

I'm happy to see people are interested! Most of your questions can be answered at

the herbangardener
11/12/2009 4:33:13 PM

What a neat-looking house! This reminds me of the fascinating Khalili earth-bag houses ( Does anyone know how much these earthships cost to build?? ~The Herbangardener~ Kitchen/Garden/Sanctuary - Urban Homesteading to Nourish Body + Spirit

uncle red
11/10/2009 2:04:04 PM

There's an EarthShip being built just south of Tampa, Florida by Eco-Tech Construction. Put earthshipflorida into a search engine to see how these homes can be appropriate for any climate.

barbara gillihan
11/9/2009 3:01:26 PM

I believe I also saw one of his earthships up in Crestone Colorado, when visiting an Ashram several years ago. The concept is wonderful and I would like to see more pictures of the inside of one of his buildings, especially with the bottles! Hope there is a longer article coming in a Mother Earth News issue soon. Keep up the good work. Couldn't make it without you!!!

jessica jorgensen
11/9/2009 1:39:11 PM

I live in New Mexico and have seen the Earth Ships from the road in Taos when I have been up there. They do not look bad they are quite intresting to see. I at this point am trying to find information on how to bulid on myself, that is what we want to bulid when my husband retires. I like the idea they are self sustaining and pretty much off the grid.

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