Craig and Connie Cook to sailed into early retirement aboard an Earthship. “We would still be working,” Craig said. “We left at 55 because we have no bills.” A lack of utility bills for their home, coupled with a lack of ongoing maintenance costs, allowed the Cooks to build a home for $70,000, and minimize monthly expenditures in the process.
Earthships are constructed with recycled materials and have the capacity to collect, store and recycle their own water, heat themselves, generate their own power, produce food, and handle their own waste. “And make people happy,” Connie smiles.
Recycled tires pounded full of earth are construction blocks that are finished with a plaster, under a beam-supported roof. The windows are perpendicularly aligned to the winter solstice with windows angled at 60 degrees to provide maximum sunlight potential during the fewest hours of daylight in their Canadian location. Heating is achieved via solar absorption into and gradual release from interior thermal mass.
Temperature consistency is enhanced through insulation, including berming at the structure’s sides and rear. Convection-based air circulation is channeled through a centralized vertical cooling chimney, also adding a measure of temperature control.
The Cooks’ roughly one kilowatt per day electricity requirement is generated through a 7.5-kilowatt solar panel system, powering a high-efficiency fridge and freezer, or for operating their flat-screen TV and computer.
Meals are prepared on a combination wood-propane stove and oven, and while they prefer a clothesline, a propane dryer stands by if required.
Rainwater is captured from the roof, up to a year’s supply stored in a subterranean cistern and filtered for drinking and household use. Grey water recycled through an in-house planter, along with the use of a composting toilet, limits the couple’s total daily household usage to six gallons, a fraction of the Ontario average.
He and Connie began laying out their Earthship in 2009, working sporadically, initially on alternate weekends. Craig jokes their 2,800-square-foot home is worth $1 million — $70,000 in materials and $930,000 in he and Connie’s hands-on labor.
Ken Stock and partner Paula Martin have accepted physical and inspirational support from the Cooks to start on their own Earthship journey. Courage to “be different, be themselves” led Stock and Martin away from the security of traditional careers to what Stock describes as a “peasant farmer” lifestyle on a 13-acre property. “We raise food and crops for ourselves and sell the excess,” explained Stock, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth.
“I thought he was crazy,” admitted Martin, ultimately embracing their own 2,000-square-foot Earthship following a site visit to the Cooks’ unique living space. “The longer we thought about it, the more sense it made.”
Without the Cooks’ presence as mentors, guides, a font of information “and encouragement,” they would not have seriously considered it, credits Stock. The fiscal advantages of the Cooks’ Earthship are easily quantifiable, but its esthetic contributions to physical and mental quality of life should not be underestimated.
Stepping inside an architecturally appealing structure brings a sense of open, naturally lit airiness, enhanced by clear-coated tongue-and-groove pine trim. Connie’s green thumb and its environmental fertility are underlined by a diverse range of flora, including bananas ripening in the planter.
Bottle-highlighted bathroom and bedroom walls and Spanish-inspired southwestern design elements, including bathroom fixtures and faux adobe, pay homage to the New Mexico origins of Earthships, while colored, contoured concrete flooring is both attractive and functional thermal mass.
American architect Michael Reynolds pioneered the Earthship for the deserts of New Mexico. And what he originally designed for that climate isn’t the same as what an Earthship needs in Ontario. Latitude is the most obvious divide between the two locations, an equation including both colder temperatures and less hours of winter sunlight.
In response, the Cooks added thermal mass to their Earthship’s interior for additional thermal mass, striving to retain this advantage through upgraded insulation. Because of three-sided berming and the requirement for windows in the front, the effort is concentrated in the second-floor attic. It’s not more solar capacity overall, Craig explains, “it’s just more in one place.”
Their approach translates into a one-degree temperature swing in October between evening and mornings — 21 C in the day, 20 C first thing in the morning — and in the winter, a two-degree swing. “We’re striving for a consistent temperature, and we’re getting really close to it,” says Craig.
Their Earthship features a small wood stove, traditionally lit by choice on Dec. 25 and a couple of other occasions annually. “It’s Christmas,” Craig explained. “We light it because we want to.”
The third major modification is increased ventilation responding to increased humidity or moisture in the air, compared to New Mexico’s arid climes. “You need to keep the air moving,” says Craig, whose design incorporates additional windows with the capacity to open and close.
You can watch a short video about the Cook’s Earthship at www.youtube.com
You can read the original article at www.thespec.com