Category Archives: Tours

Picture galleries of earthships I have toured.

Earthship Island, Day 3

So it looks like what’s going to happen with the blogging is Kat and I are going to alternate days. It’s really the only sensible way we can have enough time to make a post. If we both tried to post on the same day, we would spend all day on it and we do want to have time to work on other things.

That being said, today’s post is going to be Earthship technical.

So we showed you what the front of the tropical Earthship looked like last time, now we’re going to look at it in more detail. This first picture is from the side.

The first thing to note is the planters in this Earthship are outside. They are what you are looking at just beyond the bamboo railing. This also means they are part of the berm.

If we zoom in bit you can see this:

This is the outside end of a vent tube. Air it does provide, but the berm does not cool it like it would if the pipe were metal instead of plastic. Also, I don’t think the depth of the planter is quite enough to cool the pipe enough anyway, but to check that we would need some sort of remote, underground temperature sensor. One must also keep in mind that, in situations like this (i.e. building in a country like Indonesia), we’re pretty much building with whatever is available. There are several things in this place that could make a big improvement if only a different material had been used, but you use what you have.

If we head up onto the roof and look back at the planters, you can see the collection trench for the rain water. They used dead coral for the silt filter. There is a tonne of it lying around on the beaches here.

That trench channels the water along to the shown pipe with the screen over it. As the depth of the water increases in the trench, it will eventually drain through this pipe and into the red cistern.

This is a pretty decent setup, but there is one thing that would make it even better. If they had attached the screen to a sleeve that could easily be removed then (a) it would be easier to fix when it is damaged and (b) in the event of a tsunami you could quickly remove the sleeve and replace it with a cap. This would save your cistern from filling with sea water, which in the aftermath, it would be very desireable to have some fresh water, especially on a small island that has no natural source of water.

Unfortunately, the water channeling on the second Earthship here isn’t setup the same as this one. On Earthship2, it is channeled right into the cap of the cistern, which has been removed and a screen installed over top of it. The problem with this is that they embedded the edge of the screen in mortar, which you would think would make it quite secure, but as we discovered, both screens have suffered damage on Earthship2, one of them almost completely detached. With the screens embedded in mortar, this will not be an easy thing to fix. Had they done it the same way as Earthship1, the fix would have been simple.

On to the solar system.

There are four panels for Earthship1 and the system seems to be working just fine. We have DC based LED lights inside, as well as DC water pumps for the toilet and shower. There is a tiny 500W inverter with a single socket on it that we have been using to charge our phones and tablet. No issues to report there.

Earthship2, however, is currently without power. This is because its batteries are dead. We’re not sure if that is going to get fixed either as none of us are going to shell out the big bucks for new batteries. We contacted Earthship Biotecture, but haven’t received a reply yet.

I bet you’re wondering what that big black strip in the middle of the roof is there for? Well, let me show you a better view.

So the idea here is that this long, black metal duct will heat up in the sun and draw hot air into it. The vent tubes should then provide fresh air that is pulled into the main living area that is cooler. You can see one of the curved roof vents at the far end where the hot air is to be expelled.

The problem is there is nary a whisper of air coming from the vent tubes so inside isn’t really all that cooler than outside, especially at night. Things only really cool down if there is a nice stiff breeze blowing through the screen door.

At the opposite end of Earthship1, you’ll find this big black barrel.

This is supposed to provide solar heated water, but it has some flaws. The first one, is it’s made of plastic, so if the sun is shining on only part of it, the rest of the barrel doesn’t conduct that heat because plastic is an insulator. Secondly, not much of the barrel is actually exposed to the sun, so you’re really only heating a small amount of water at the top.

We noticed this when we took a shower today and we had full sun out. The water was almost down right cold. Again, this is probably one of those situations where they used whatever they had available, not necessarily what was most ideal.

I thought I would give you another look at the planters from above. It doesn’t look like they planted any food vegetation in these, just a bunch of grass and other things that were growing close by. We did find an aloe plant growing on the side of Earthship1 though, which for us Canuks who sun burn easy is a great thing to have.

Moving inside, if you look up at the ceiling you’ll find four of these screen vents to let the hot air out.

I you look above the front door, there are two big screen vents. As you can see, the screen is quite damaged. Replacing it will be quite the challenge as once again, it has been embedded in mortar.

This is our shower. It works quite well, though the water isn’t warm. It is gravity fed from the barrel on the roof. There is a pump that turns on to refill the barrel when it finds the water level has dropped.

This is the splash guard wall for the shower. I think all of us here are pretty unanimous on liking the look of the plastic bottles with the ends that look like stars or snow flakes.

This is our toilet. It too is working quite well. It is filled from a greywater well from under the planters. Everytime you flush, a pump comes on to refill the tank.

Lastly, we have the sink. We can wash our hands here, but you don’t want to drink the water as there isn’t a full filtration system setup in this Earthship. We brought a water filter with us so we can fill it from the tap and get drinking water without having to buy water all the time.

That takes care of most of it. There is some minor damage to the walls and floors, which apparently is due to earthquakes. It has made some of the doors difficult to open as a result as they rub on the floor now.

Earthship1 is in pretty good shape, but E2 isn’t. It doesn’t have the same facilities, the power isn’t working, so the pumps for the plumbing aren’t working either. There is no bed or bed frame and no lights, even if there was power. We are supposed to be working on making a bed frame another furniture for E2 but without power or proper tools, this is proving to be challenging.

I should also mention the humidity factor again, as it destroys a lot of things left lying around, especially anything made with iron based metal. Screens are rusted, tools are rusted, Kat found a can of nails that had all fused completely into one mass. It also doesn’t help that there is probably a lot of salt in the air from the ocean being so close by.

Overall, we’ve settled in and getting by, but Katrina’s living quarters are a little less than desireable and we need to improve on that.

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Day at Dash and Y.P.’s Earthship

It’s been too long since my last post, and it’s not like things haven’t been happening. Just got busy.

Fortunately, for all of you, I was over at another local Earthship yesterday.

A short 20min drive from our trailer is Dash and Y.P.’s Earthship. It is not complete yet, so I volunteered my time yesterday to help out. Actually, that was the second time this summer that I have been over there helping, but I forgot to take any pictures the first time so I didn’t have much to post. I remedied that this time.

This first picture is the back of the Earthship.

Dash is the guy on the tractor. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting his wife Y.P. yet as she is working in the city to support this venture of theirs.

Getting up a little closer and looking over that wall of white Styrofoam insulation you saw above, you get so see the area we were working on.

If all you have ever seen are global model Earthships, this may look a bit odd. This one is built using the simple survival design, which uses domes made of concrete. What you’re seeing in that picture above is the tops of the domes, three of the four in this Earthship.

If we move a bit more towards that far end you see in the picture above, and turn the camera south, you can see the empty gaps between the domes.

Standing on top of the western most dome and looking back you can see the retaining wall that circles the domes. That is what is covered with the Styrofoam insulation. The previous work day I was here, we worked on that concrete bottle retaining wall.

This next picture will give you a good shot of the framing for the greenhouse at the front. Dash used hemlock as his framing material of choice. He said he really like it too, as it made for a really rock solid structure. If you know anything about hemlock, “rock solid” is not just a comment on the framing technique. Hemlock happens to be one of the hardest of the softwoods.

The colouring of the hemlock is due to the stain they used to treat the wood.

I took this picture from above, standing on the western most dome, looking down through the roof framing into the area that will become the greenhouse. That door looking thing is actually just a window. That’s the door frame beside it to the left.

The bottle wall to the right will be finished up to the roof, insulated with more Styrofoam and then covered with the berm.

Next we’re looking down the length of the greenhouse. The greenhouse will eventually have an EPDM liner put in to contain the planters along the windows.

Here is a picture of the front/south face. If you’ve been following me for a while, you might recall we first visited Dash and Y.P. last October.

So, what were we working on yesterday, you may be asking? Remember those big gaps between the domes you saw in the earlier pictures above? We were filling them. Dash worked the tractor and dumped load after load of dirt over the retaining wall and I shoveled it into place, tamping it as we went along. We managed to fill in the first two trenches completely before lunch.

In the afternoon we worked on filling the gap between the two central (and largest) domes. There was a bit of a delay in getting to that stage though, as Dash had to build a dirt ramp up the outside of the wall so he could get the bucket of the tracker over the lip. Once that was completed, we were back to filling in the berm.

When you first begin, the gap is quite narrow and you’re thinking, “okay, this is going well”. Then you realized that the gap just keeps getting wider and wider as it goes up, needing more and more dirt.

We weren’t able to get it finished by the end of the day, unfortunately. This is as far as we got.

I don’t think we would have been able to fill it completely, even if we had kept going as we were running low on dirt by that point. Still, a pretty decent day’s progress for two people. Yeah, it was a full day of physical labour, but I knew that when I volunteered and I’m not afraid to break a sweat. Yes, you can get expensive machines to do the job quicker and faster, but you really need to pick and choose those carefully, or your costs just start running away.

Besides, I’ve worked with the Earthship Biotecture crew and they are no strangers to physical labour.

If you’re wondering what goes on top of the dirt after it is all filled in, there will be 10″ (25cm) of rigid foam insulation, two layers of 6mil vapour barrier, an EPDM liner covering all of that and then a 3″ (7.5cm) concrete slab will be poured over the thing like buttercream frosting on a cake.

There is a good chance that we will be doing more work over at Dash and Y.P.’s before the snow flies. The goal is to try and get it enclosed completely before winter arrives. With a little bit of help, I think that is quite achievable.

Discovery of a New Earthship Neighbour

We’ve been up here in Maynooth for two years now and the number of great people we have come in contact with is amazing. We found it very promising when we first got here that we could tell people we were planning to build an Earthship and we didn’t have to explain too often what that was.

Anyway, after having met so many people and having conversations about Earthships, you end up hearing about others who are living off the grid in alternative housing. Or, in this case, an Earthship itself.

We kept meeting people who told us about this other couple who are in the area building an Earthship, but we hadn’t quite made that connection yet. Fortunately, we managed to garner some vague directions from someone and we went out on a search today.

And we found them, after a lovely drive down a sunny country road.

This is Dash and Y.P.’s place.

dw_earthship01

As you can see from the photo, they are building what is referred to as a simple survival model Earthship. It uses domes instead of the log roof. The front is framed in similar to a global model.

dw_earthship02

We only met Dash today, his partner was in Toronto which is their home base. He told us about what they were doing and how long they had been working at it (several years).

dw_earthship03

Dash said he will be here a little longer and then will shutdown the build site and head back to Toronto for the winter. Construction will continue in the spring.

It was great to see and great to meet other Earthshippers in the area. That’s now four of us who are either planning, or in the process of building, an Earthship that we have met in the area.

Rock on!

A visit to the Graf-Levac Earthship

A lot is going on and I am getting behind in my blogging. This post, though, is Earthship related.

Autumn last year we went to visit the Graf-Levac Earthship build that is going on down in Spencerville, ON. They had just finished all of the tire pounding and had all the forms up for the footings, buttresses and bond beam. Now with spring in full swing (and summer not too far around the corner), they have been working on getting the framing in and the roof on.

They had another open-house for visitors to come and see what is going on and ask questions. I find it is always a good experience to go to these things, if possible, as you get to see how others have customized their own Earthship.

Yes, we even have pictures.

This is a picture of the build site as you see it coming in. They guy in the yellow jacket is Bob Levac, the co-owner of this build along with his wife, Marie Graf.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_005

When we walked in to see how the framing was going, we were greeted with something I have not seen yet in an Earthship: milled timber beams. I took a picture.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_000

Those things are huge. 6’x12′ apparently (15.25×30.5cm). The framing for the posts and beam to hold up the roof beams was super simple too, as you can see in the above picture, as well as the one below.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_001

No second concrete pour, no complicated box frames with large stacks of 2×6 lumber to make posts. Just big posts that go straight down to the footer and fastened in with a U post anchor. It’s a U of metal for the post to sit in and it has length of rebar welded to the bottom to sit in the concrete. Looks like this:

UAnchor

If you have seen the way the crew down in New Mexico does it, this seems way easier. This might have something to do with the fact that Bob has a guy named Dave Craig who is a professional framer doing this work. Dave has also been down to New Mexico and taken the Earthship Academy, so Bob and Marie are in really good hands.

You may be saying to yourself that wood beams that big must have cost a fortune. Well, as it turns out, Bob has a brother-in-law who bought a piece of property that had recently had a fire on it. The property had a large white pine forest and most of the trees had survived with only a few being scorched. However, the fire authorities said that they had to cut down all of those trees as the heat from the fire would have weakened the trees and made them susceptible to a particular bug that invades white pine after it has been exposed to heat from a fire. I don’t know the details, but anyway, Bob paid to have the trees cut down and milled and ended up getting them for a song and dance, relatively speaking.

Not all of us will be so lucky, but that was a huge cost savings for them and it gave them a tonne of lumber.

I took this next picture up top, standing on the berm looking at the top of the west wing wall, though you can’t really tell that from the picture cause I’m a little too close.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_002

Same spot, just looking east across the top of the roof. You can see the size of all of those roof beams.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_003

Here is a picture of Kat, standing on the top of the berm, just behind the cisterns. You can also see the cooling tubes poking out from the berm at the bottom.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_004

Another thing I should mention, though I don’t really have a picture of it (you can see it from a distance in the first picture), is that they have done away with the truss detail that most other standard Earthships use for connecting the roof beams to the framing for the front glass. What Bob and Dave have done is just make the beams a bit longer and then run the framing for the windows directly down from that at the appropriate angle (70 degrees, in case you were wondering). Not only does that make the framing way easier, you save a bunch of cash not needing to get custom made trusses (or the time it would take to make them yourself).

This also means they can create an overhang over the front windows to reduce the summer sun, giving you a better cooling effect. The trusses were used to create a flat surface with a 45 degree angle where they mount the solar panels, but you can still do the same thing by building a little framework off the end of the beams.

Fascinating. This is why we go to these things. To learn what other people are doing and how they are making improvements.

Awesome stuff. We look forward to the next open house Bob and Marie have.