The Low Carbon Network (LCN), a UK-based non-profit organisation, is at the head of this new initiative. Along with Sustainable Communities Initiatives (SCI) in Scotland, LCN tout these buildings, or Earthships, as autonomous, fully sustainable units.

The buildings are powered by renewable energies, such as wind, water and the sun, with the power stored in batteries and supplied to internal electrical outlets. Their water supply comes from rainwater, which is treated, and the buildings also contain their own sewage in planter beds.

Earthships are under construction as flagship demonstrations in England and Scotland, with the emphasis on encouraging individuals to build their own homes using this technology.

Michael Reynolds, of Solar Survival Architecture in New Mexico, first developed this Earthship technology. Reynolds pioneered the use of tyres in lieu of conventional building supplies for their heat retention and durability properties.

Three hundred pounds of soil are pounded into each tyre and coated with plaster in order to form the building blocks of these structures. According to Reynolds: “In the winter, the earth-filled tyres store heat and in the summer, they absorb heat and release it at night.”

There is a budding international community of Earthship homeowners – who have shared both the pros and cons of living inside these bio-buildings.

One of the pros of Earthship building is the relative ease with which materials can be accessed. LCN says the UK generates 40 million used tyres per year, most of which are dumped in local sites (see related story).

However, there are also some problems. As with any wind or solar-powered entity, energy fluctuations often correspond with weather conditions. Natural energy is not always a reliable source of power, so some Earthships still require a backup power generator to use during inclement weather.

High-powered electrical devices, such as computers, can require large and expensive solar power generators. Telephone connections also have to be provided by an outside utility source, which could be difficult in remote areas.

High levels of mould in the winter is another reported problem, due to humidity from the sewage treatment planters, which cannot be aerated in the cold months.

A few Earthship residents also complain of the “tyre smell” from the walls, but this is less common.

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