How to Build a Completely Off-the-Grid, Self-Sustaining Home

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With the problems resulting from climate change appearing daily in our news, a trend has slowly been emerging to go back to nature and live in a totally self-sustaining home.

These houses are being designed by a company called Earthship based in New Mexico.

The idea behind these homes is that they are “off-the-grid,” meaning that they try to rely as little as possible on public utilities. The man behind Earthship, Michael Reynolds, came up with the idea back in the 1970s.

He had three objectives:

  1. To utilize the sustainable architecture.
  2. To rely on natural energy sources.
  3. The easiness for someone with little construction skills to build.

A self-sustaining home is designed to maximize the light and heat gained during the winter months and as such the walls are thick, which provides thermal mass that regulates the temperature inside the house when it is both hot or cold outside.

The outer walls of the house are made from earth rammed tires because they proved to store and radiate heat, helping with climate adjustment.

1. Water

The Earthship is built to catch and use water in the local environment as opposed to bringing water in through pipes. These sources can be from rain, snow or condensation. The water is filtered to remove any bacteria so that it is suitable for drinking.

The water collected by the above methods can be used for drinking water. The toilet uses a different kind of water known as grey water, which means it’s already been used. Wastewater is sent to a solar septic tank, which means it’s a regular septic tank but it’s heated by the sun.

2. Food

The Earthship comes with a greenhouse that can grow food all year round regardless of the weather. You can also choose to add a fish pond and chicken coop.

3. Power

To power the house, energy is collected from the wind and the sun. The energy that is collected is stored in batteries, which are kept on the roof. The Earthship comes with what is known as a Power Organizing Module (POM), which takes the power from the battery and converts it so you can use it for AC.

The house can also access city grid electricity. These Earthships do not just rely on solar heat to stay warm, tire walls are used to store heat during the day and give off heat in the night.

Worldwide Earthships

Earthships are popping up around the world. They currently can be found in Belgium, the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, Patagonia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. The first district of Earthships is currently being developed in The Netherlands.

Are you still unsure?

Here are five reasons why you should definitely live in an Earthship:



  1. It has a fantastic water recycling system.
  2. Feed for free. Your greenhouse and optional chicken coop can provide all the food you’ll need.
  3. Bill-less living, you don’t need to dread payday as you don’t have any bills or mortgage to pay
  4. Cheap living, the cost of a basic Earthship is $19k
  5. The Earthship makes you think differently about how we live and what we are doing for the environment.

By Holly W.

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8 Comments

  1. Michael Augustine May 12, 2015 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Hempcrete and Straw construction…..Permaculture for food and sustainability…..smith & wesson for protection….what grid?

  2. TJ November 28, 2015 at 8:35 am - Reply

    Think twice, please… as a rural resident, I can tell you for certain that there are a lot of things that got left out:

    * You have to purchase the land. It has to be enough land to sustain you. It has to have its own water supply (and in the Western US, you better have water rights sufficient for your endeavors… just owning the dirt doesn’t give you that right.) That land has to be productive enough to supply your needs: food, water, wood for heating (in most areas), pasture (if you do livestock), etc.

    * You have to pay the annual property taxes on that land. This means you have to find a way to gain at least enough of an income to pay the ongoing property taxes. Fail to do this, and the county will evict you within 18 months of failing to pay up.

    * Most counties have building codes, and a majority of those enforce it strictly. Fail to follow them (and get the right inspections, certificates, and permits), and the county can and will make you tear down your work, leaving you homeless until you re-build it correctly (in their eyes). It can even get worse than that – for example, if you build a pond in the Western US without all of the right county, state, and federal permits? You may well get fined into oblivion or go to jail.

    * You’re going to be at least semi-isolated, so you’d better have a ‘Plan B’ for everything vital. Fail to do that, and you end up dying of something or ending up on public assistance when your main systems fail. For example, if your main heating system fails in January, you’ll either have to go live somewhere else (if you have somewhere else to go) until you fix it, or you die of hypothermia.

    * Be prepared to work hard… very hard. You’re doing all the things that modern technology used to do for you, so get used to the idea of sore muscles and achy backs.

    There’s lots more, but in all honesty, it is doable, so long as you are willing to put in the work, the time, the money, and the skull sweat.

  3. Debbie Lou Harrison May 4, 2016 at 2:43 am - Reply

    I too am concerned about tires being used…how do they break down…how long does it take? I realize they are placed in earth and have see tires last for decades, but should I choose to do this I would want to leave it behind for my children’s children as well.

  4. Elaine Rudnicki May 10, 2016 at 1:32 am - Reply

    I want to build one in France. I have the land. Can anyone hook me up to someone who knows how to build one in my part of the world?

  5. David Gladwell May 26, 2016 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    Wow , that is insane !! your not allowed to collect rain water !! Sorry im in shock … Living in Australia they encourage you to collect the stuff…. Same with solar and wind power to sell back to the power companies. Its called environmental practices… The more we use natural resources , water , solar etc the less green house emissions the big companies produce …. I am sure you guys are well aware of that any way… SO tell me , if you are only happy to…. Who governs this not being allowed to collect rainwater and what are the consequences for doing so…. I think its about time you all bought rain water tanks and said take the entire country to court ….

  6. Kathrina Farrell June 2, 2016 at 5:41 am - Reply

    I’ve dreamed abt having a self-sustaining home for 60 years! Today, this is much easier to do. With geothermal heating & cooling, solar panels, & advanced wind power technology, there is no need for the use of fossil fuels! However, I also want my indoors to be platinum standard “green”. Meaning zero or almost zero VOCs! Tires are pure poison! Not anything I would choose to use!

  7. Laurel Morris June 3, 2016 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    This house is made from old tires filled with dirt. Since tires are made from vulcanized rubber (petroleum and toxic substances are involved) I would be concerned about the effects of the out-gassing from the tires used to build this house. Plus, what happens if there is a fire?

  8. Jim Farley July 18, 2016 at 1:25 am - Reply

    Great idea…if you happen to own a spot of land in the middle of the forest with bunnies and squirrels in your front yard. No bills ? How about taxes ? Have a car ? Medical insurance ? Zoning ? Did you need to put in a road to get to your spot ? and don’t forget beer…

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