Earthships land in northern NSW

The ‘radically sustainable’ homes designed by American architect Michael Reynolds – Earthships – are made from recycled materials and use passive solar design.

Earthship design includes thermal mass and cross ventilation and can also include greywater reuse for plants, blackwater treatment onsite, renewable energy systems and water capture and storage. Beth from Sanctuary caught up with Duuvy Jester from northern NSW to chat about learning about and building these energy efficient homes.

Beth – I get the impression you have travelled to America to learn more about Earthships – where did you go and who did you learn from? Are these buildings more common over there?

Duuvy – I went to Taos, New Mexico (south west America) to study and build with Michael Reynolds and the Earthship Biotecture crew. I just went there to learn how to build an off-grid house for myself, I didn’t realise that I would leave with a fully comprehensive understanding of collective unity with its social and environmental relevance! When we were there, we were taught the physics, science, philosophy, legislative process, design process, and the physical application of these types of homes, which is really an adaptable concept at its foundation.

Mike did most of the lectures which was totally invaluable. He is an outstanding teacher – very funny, informative and inspiring. We did a complete start to finish build as well as four other retro-fit projects.

The buildings are more common over there because the company has been around for the past 40 years perfecting them out in the desert and beyond. Over the past 20 years or so, they have been branching out and doing international builds.

Beth – Can you tell me a little bit about the collective in northern NSW that is building Earthships?

The collective consists primarily of myself, Ian and Caroline Todd. I come up with design concepts, Ian is the structural expert and Caroline is a permaculture teacher. We all facilitate the build with the help of a very skilled crew of rotating facilitators.

The vision is to empower people with real life skills at the same time as teaching them the theory behind the building technology through lectures and onsite tutoring.

Beth – You mention that you built a hemp roof; can you tell me a little about that?

Duuvy – Hemp is a great material to work with. It is a very good insulator, it is pest resistant, fire resistant and anti bacterial. It is also very simple to use. It’s made up of mainly hemp husks, a lime based binder and a bit of sand and water – that’s it! It also has a very long curing cycle so over time it cures harder than concrete.

Beth – What’s it like building with a group of people? Is there a lot of repetitive work involved that lends itself to a principle of ‘many hands making light work’?

Duuvy – Working with a group of people is very satisfying on many levels. For one, it gets the job done much quicker than it would with a handful of builders and labourers. You get to engage in practices like ‘chain gangs’ and finding new and interesting ways to utilise many workers. It also creates an inspiring environment where people are taken out of their regular lifestyles and put into a temporary community. They live, sleep, eat, work and learn together. This is the setting for a very intimate work space. There has even been onsite romances (two of which that has lasted to this day), new friendships and new partnerships. I wouldn’t go back to regular work site dynamics, even if you paid me!

Image: An Earthship in Bundaberg, Queensland. Photo by Campbell Imray

Take a look at Duuvy’s website and collective Terraeden

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Composting toilets can be installed in boats, motor-homes, regular homes and sheds built on concrete slabs.

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