Building

Australia’s First Earthship

by Danielle Wolff-Chambers and Shelley Clements

Here we are in Queensland, May 2013, half way through an Earthship build. It is the first one to be built in Australia and has been experimental in many ways. We started the build in January with a very diverse group of about 50 people ranging in experience, age and cultural backgrounds. It was run as a workshop so people could attend and participate in the build to empower those who wish to be involved in Earthships to gain the necessary skills and connect with people who have complementary skills, so as to form Earthship building teams and meet skilled allies and new friends.

We experimented with hempcrete — hemp fibers mixed with a lime binder and used as a insulation layer for the roof as well as some reinforced cement footings and extra steel used to strengthen the structure in case of a cyclone. This Earthship build is focused on using a loving intent because to be sustainable, to care about the earth and to care about the people, is to live a lifestyle of loving intent, which is permaculture and therefore is co-creation.

Water

  • The roof has been shaped using concrete to catch rain water with wings to encourage the direction and collection of the water.
  • It flows off the roof, through a storm water drain and into a 22,000 litre water tank. From there it is pumped to its first use – kitchen, drinking and showering water.
  • This ‘gray water’ then passes through a grease trap (a $10 tip bargain!) and into the botanical cell to feed the plants.
  • The water’s third use is to flush the toilet. It is then ‘black water’ which gets appropriate treatment outside the Earthship!

Queensland is a tropical climate having a warm, wet season over summer and a more moderate, drier condition during winter. There is plenty of water falling from the sky during those summer months to be harvested and by adopting this system we are using the water as much as we can to maximise natural resources and minimize waste.

Food Production

The site has been laid out using the permaculture zoning principles. There is a large amount of food being produced, such as the chooks and their eggs, fruit trees, vegetables, medicinal plants and bush foods. The Earthship botanical cell lines the north facing interior wall and enables you to have year round food production in any climate. In this area we are lucky enough to have so much food growing in abundance we can leave it to the birds and the bees to work their magic! The botanical cell will be for a Zone 1 herb garden. This creates instant access to our foods — right in our kitchen!

When the water is washed from our bodies and hands and passed through the garden the plants draw up all the nutrients and information from our skin cells which you are then feeding back into your body. This process is a beautiful natural occurrence and creates perfect harmony and balance in the home.

Site Orientation and Thermal Mass

We have used solar passive design to orientate the Earthship to face north east, to line up to catch the first two hours of light from the winter sun. In summer the sun will be higher in the sky stopping at the green house giving the plants what they need and keeping the heat out of the Earthship. When winter comes around the sun will dive much deeper into the building and the warmth will be held in and slowly released to keep a constant temperature — dramatically reducing, even eliminating, the need for heating and cooling.

The foundation for the 2-domed house is 9 tire courses high, and is made from around 1000 used cars tires rammed full of dirt. This process took us around 7 days with 40 people, plenty of sledge hammers and some great loud music with a timely beat. Collection of the tires came from far and wide with many long car trips to various car yards, tire suppliers and tips. We were denied the old tires on a few occasions with one suggestion that we may only want them to dump them into the ocean! Yeah right!

Ramming these tires with dirt creates an extremely strong structure and impeccable thermal mass. The tires will soon be rendered and will create our interior walls, while the other side has been packed with an earth berm. The berm enables us to use ‘cooling tubes’ to tap into the earth temperature and cool down the house as needed. It has been planted with pumpkins, chokos, gourds and mint for ground cover. The vines create shallow roots to stabilise the soil.

Power

The Earthship is off-grid therefore all of our power comes from the sun, once again, harvesting our natural resources. There is no need to source our energy from the wind as there is so much sun year round here. A fabulous electrician has set up the system so the cables run to all of the outlets in the house making it an easy installation when we find our perfect stand alone solar system.

Sewerage

We are using a conventional flush toilet, flushed with the gray water once the plants have used it. The waste and water flush down into our own onsite sewerage system. It goes into our ‘septic system’ underground which is a deep cell lined with large car tires and gravel and tiny microorganisms which digest and feed off the waste. The water then flows outside through a pipe away from the house to our exterior black water cell which will be planted with citrus trees.

We embarked on our Earthship adventure with open minds and loose plans and have now completed the larger part of the structural components. It grew bigger then we had imagined so there was the need for a 3 month interval. In returning to where we left off we have re grouped and gathered more materials and creative inspiration. We are holding a second workshop and we are inviting 25 new beautiful legends plus 15 returning beautiful legendary Earthshippers to take on the finishing touches.

29 Comments

  1. I have been following the progress of Earthships for the last 10 years. I want to congratulate the Australian Earthship crew who made it become a reality.

    We wrote two articles after the Victorian bush fires and placed our trust in the Universe that the right people would find the information and embrace Michael’s vision.

    I’m guided this is what I need to build for a healing center and building regulations, and all, I’m determined to make it become a reality. Be brave for Oneness.

  2. Harry, I know there is a place in the Cooma area that is partially underground/earth bermed (I saw it listed for sale a year or so ago?) but I didn’t think it was actually an earthship? Is that the one you are talking about or is there another?

    I am fascinated by Earthships and would love to build one someday. I am curious about how council approval was gained for this as that seems to be the main thing limiting them being built, but to be able to refer our local council to another area that has approved an Earthship would certainly be helpful!

  3. earthships, I believe are exactly what we need to live in harmony with our mother earth. I also believe that instead of people having no home, the government should assist in helping, encouraging and allowing the homeless and all of us to build earthships…so much materials available for free, tyres, bottles etc…being thrown away, yet can be used to build earthships..makes so much sense and we have so much land…look at our deserts…give the land back to the people, let us live in harmony with Mother….it’s ridiculous that we are subjected to so much debt in mortgages for houses that are not truly functional. There is no reason why any human should be without a roof over their heads….Governments should be ashamed of themselves they are full of greed and care not for the people they represent…Colin Barnet…you know who you are!

  4. I would love to read more detail about the black water cell planted with citrus. What is the purpose of this? Do the trees bear fruit that is suitable for consumption? Can you point me to further websites or other resources on this feature?

  5. Hi there,

    Great work and really inspirational stuff!
    I am looking to build an Earthship in Tasmania next year and wonder how to go about getting council approval. Is there any information you can give me as to how to go about it? Feeling lost..

    1. I am interested in whether you have gone ahead with building an earthship in Tasmania? I am considering it too.

  6. Yes! I am UBER keen to learn more about council approval in QLD. I noticed you mentioned side stepping council in the video, does this mean you didnt actually get approval and built anyway?
    Can you direct me to a resource?
    THANKS GUYS! Awesome work!!!!

  7. Hi
    Yes, me too, I would love to know more re planning permission in Queensland! Also am very interested in volunteering on a build later this year if anyone knows of one. Those of you who are building – it is inspirational work.

  8. Great to see.Is this in the Agnes Waters / 1770 area?
    Recently joined a discussion at Earth Frequency with Nick & his partner who are building a Cob house in the Otways, a lady from Earthships & another guy from the US. My apologies for my crap retention of peoples names!!
    It was great to hear of the various projects that are happening, as well as to see the many folks interested in alternative building methods. Cheers

  9. Where about in QLD is this earthship? We are planning to build one in the Fraser Coast area, and would love to see a finished product before we break ground?

  10. this is absolutely amazing, great job to the building team. I would love to know more about up coming projects that need volunteers and how we can get involved so i can too learn more about the building of earthships.

  11. I have been very exited ever since i learned about earthship homes,, i am very eager to learn more,,, i seriously would like to involved in some way,,, please add my mail to your file for information if possible,,, great job!

  12. Is this in Agnes Waters. If so can u arrange to view it ?. Am looking to build there, absolutely in awe of this amazing take on building.

  13. Could this help a remote community living in abject poverty near Alice Springs? These senior central Arrernte elders (the Hayes family) live in a desert region with strong cultural ties. They do not receive hand outs from the Government, they are in fact well respected community memebers that stand their ground in protecting and preserving the area, but need help.
    Water in central Australia is prescious and it is subject to depletion due to feral introduced species, like horses, cattle, goats, donkeys and even camels. The water that is being used is from the water table and is at risk of being depleted without long term solutions.
    This place called Irrekerlantye (White Gate) has a lot of media attention and perhaps this could be a solution for the current living standards. Would love to hear any suggestions and course of action to help support the residents of Irrerlantye.
    kindly,
    Penca

  14. Hey guys let me know how the hempcrete performs, I plan to use it in my earthship in Canada. Floor, walls and roof. Any thoughts on this?

  15. I looked at the earthships at Taos New Mexico a few years ago and loved the concept. I am now in a position to consider building one. I would love to arrange to view yours and talk with you. I’m also interested in any future workshops and any information you are willing to share.

  16. It is 2017.
    After watching Parts 1 & 2, I am sure interested in what has become of Shelley Clements’ and Bob Cochran’s ‘first Earthship in Australia’- build.
    Has the “final episode” occurred, and did it get filmed?
    I look forward to your responses.
    Cheers!

  17. Hi just finished watching a documentary about original designer of the earthship houses and was blown away .Why is this not shown more to prove to people that it can be done and you can live off the grid totally especially with rising electricity prices.
    Thanks for opening my eyes to a new way of living
    chris 9/10/2017

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