STYLE

Tiny power bills: Green Earthship homes made with recycled goods, use solar power

08/22/2013 09:00 EDT | Updated 10/22/2013 05:12 EDT
VICTORIA - When Chris Newton and Sandra Burkholder's kids heard they would be living in a house made of garbage they were less than thrilled about the idea.

"Our oldest was just going into Grade 7 when we started building the Earthship and of course when we told her we were going to build a house out of garbage she reacted pretty negatively," said Newton.

"But now seeing the community's reaction they have come around to the idea."

Newton, Burkholder and their three kids live in a handmade Earthship in Darfield, B.C., north of Kamloops.

The family began building the home, which uses both new and recycled materials, in 2009.

Earthships are a type of passive solar house first developed by Michael Reynolds in Taos, N.M.

After a discouraging attempt at working with a green architect to build a sustainable house, Newton and Burkholder — who had been running a log house business — were inspired by "Garbage Warrior," a film that follows Reynolds through the development of the Earthship and establishing the community in New Mexico.

"I did our plans myself based on a number of the books that (Reynolds) had written," said Newton. "When you sit down to build a house that is integrated into the landscape, you suddenly are faced by a host of different challenges such as with the orientation of the house and how many windows it should have.

"It's a different way of looking at things."

The building materials don't consist of standard drywall, nails and wood. Instead, the walls of the house are made of old tires rammed full of dirt, and pop cans and bottles that have been stacked using adobe and mud.

Even though they were able to come up with tires through local scrapyards, Newton said pop cans were more challenging to find.

"It was a struggle because there is a recycling program here and quite frankly we don't drink pop," he said.

"We got most of our cans from volunteers. The amount of volunteer interest and people coming out to help was amazing, but in this specific instance volunteers would show up with pop cans and bottles."

Earthships integrate a variety of systems to heat, cool and provide water for the house that allows it, in many cases, to exist off the grid.

Craig and Connie Cook have been building their Earthship since 2009 as a way to live nearly bill-free in their retirement.

According to Craig Cook, the only expenses the Clear Creek, Ont., couple has are a phone bill and an Internet bill that are each $40.

"With the Earthships they 100 per cent heat and cool themselves in addition to collecting their own drinking water and managing all the waste water," said Craig.

"We don't have a septic system, a furnace or any air-handling units or duct work. We didn't have to drill a well. All of the water comes off of the roof of our house."

The Cooks need only a centimetre of rain a month to have all the drinking water they need for a year. After the water is collected from the roof of their home southwest of Simcoe, it runs through a network of filters.

The Earthship design includes a collection of windows along the front of the house, which allows for massive amounts of natural light and air circulation.

"With the amount of natural light we never turn a light on in the day," said Craig. "You feel wonderful living in here. The natural light makes you feel so good."

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