Jack Ehrhardt: Earthship building, an Ecocentric Method of Construction - BUILDING STANDARDS January-February 2000) A sustainable society is defined as one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations. Just as building codes are written to preserve the health and safety of the public, sustainable building is emerging as a responsible way for humanity to preserve the health and safety of the planet. (PDF File 1.16 Mb) Also found at: http://www.dcat.net/resources/buildingstandards_earthships.pdf and http://www.cyberbites.com/dcat/Codes/bsm.html
CERBAT EDUCATING ABOUT NATIONAL MONUMENTS AND PARKS AT RISK “You can’t protect something you don’t understand,” the nature-loving youngster, Robbie Bond, to the Huffington Post in a recent article: 9-Year-Old Launches Nonprofit To Fight Trump’s Monument Reviews. There are 27 monuments across the country targeted by a pair of executive orders signed by Trump in April.
Jack Ehrhardt: Going Quiet Kingman, Arizona By Charlie Laurel
This is one of many stories from the Four Corners region that were printed in A New Plateau: Sustaining the Lands and Peoples of Canyon Country, edited by Peter Friederici and Rose Houk. This book was a project of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University and Renewing the Countryside, with assistance from the Museum of Northern Arizona. A New Plateau can be purchased at the Renewing the Countryside online bookstore or the Northern Arizona University bookstore, or request it at your local bookstore. Jack Ehrhardt and his contracting company, ACE Builders, built the first "Earthship" in Arizona for a client in Dewey in the early 1990s. An Earthship is a self-sustaining, passive solar home made from used tires packed with dirt, cans, bottles, and other discards. The home was designed by architect Michael Reynolds of Taos, New Mexico, and features solar electric power, rainwater roof collection, and indoor graywater garden planters that filter wastewater while growing food and flowers. Then Jack built his own Earthship home in the Cerbat Mountains above Kingman. It just made sense - environmental, economic, and common. Jack Ehrhardt values independence. Earthships offer freedom from utility bills and mortgages, but more than that, they reflect Jack's independent mindset. "I don't participate in the Euro-American rituals - there is no Santa Claus and the Easter bunny doesn't lay eggs," he says. "That's part of being able to see clearly. I don't think on cue and that allows me to be pretty free." Jack is a big man in all dimensions - huge in body and heart, with a big laugh and a readiness to take on big challenges. It's hard not to liken his massive, yet gentle persistence to that of an ox, but his quick wit and intelligence resist such comparisons. Several years ago Jack drove into the town of Peach Springs, Arizona, for the first time. He found the administration building for the Hualapai Tribe and asked, "Are you guys interested in energy-efficient, sustainable building?" They said "yes," and then the council got together and three hours later Jack gave a talk. "Then they told their natural resources department to find a grant to get one of these built," he explains. An Environmental Protection Agency "Jobs through Recycling" grant eventually got the project underway. With the Hualapai, Jack faced the kinds of problems typical of rural areas with high unemployment and scant resources for training programs. Sometimes workers failed to show up, and the project was vandalized more than once. "It was difficult, but it was good. The experience was all beneficial - school kids came down and worked on it, they did the can walls, the bottle walls, they learned about recycling, they got to do the earth plasters. We literally got the tires from the community. Everyone was gathering tires from ravines and people's yards, wood from dismantled buildings, windows from military reutilization. It was really a good time; it was really a good feeling. It seemed to me to be one of the best times things felt around here." The 1,200-square-foot Hualapai Earthship now functions as a tribal office space with seven solar-powered workstations. Jack now serves as the tribe's Planning and Economic Development Director, and is working on developing renewable energy projects, such as a wind farm, to generate revenue and create jobs on the reservation. In 1999, Jack pulled together one of the most unusual collaborations in the field of sustainable building. He brought together the rebel architect and counterculture icon Michael Reynolds with the top brass of the Arizona Army National Guard. Colonel Doug Brown was committed to getting a 5,000-square-foot office building constructed using recycled materials - tires in particular - for the Guard's base in Phoenix. It didn't seem to matter that the right people for getting it done were the long-haired Reynolds and Ehrhardt, even after Jack told them about his conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. Jack laughs when recounting the story. "At that point they said 'we have no labor, but we have some money for materials, and a very limited budget. And, by the way, your labor force will be Sheriff Joe Arpaio's drug-infested, dysfunctional prisoners.' I said, 'Oh, bring it on! I'm the man for the job. Give me the most impossible task.'" Jack rolls his eyes and laughs: "What a circus. I had to cut the locks off the fuel depot to get fuel for the tractor, and they tried to get me arrested. I said, 'I don't care what you guys do, I'm gonna get this building built!' Fortunately the colonels stood behind me, and through a long, long process we got the building built." As for the "drug-infested, dysfunctional" labor force, he says, "Every single prisoner learned things that they never dreamed were possible. Some of them never even worked before, they'd simply been dealing drugs, and they said 'Wow, so you can build things like this and you can use solar energy.' And I take a big fire hose and shoot it across the sky and it makes a prism, and I say, 'Look guys, what you're breathing.' And if you can picture thirty inmates, in Arpaio's uniforms, with their mouths open, going, 'So we're breathing in rainbow energy!' I said, 'Yes, men!'" Jack's building projects all become educational forums - opportunities to weave community values around sustainability. The Ehrhardt's Earthship home in Kingman has served as the hub of a youth education summer camp focused on teaching kids about renewable energy and conservation. Jack doesn't hesitate to get involved with local issues, such as organizing a successful campaign to prevent the construction of a toxic waste incinerator. He has also served on the local planning and zoning commission. "If we speak from the heart, so the people sitting at the desks can feel it, then they make the right decisions," he says. "That's what activism is about - making life exciting and participating. Life is so much clearer and vibrant when you do that." Even as a family man responsible for raising two children, Jack didn't feel the need to compromise his values for the sake of secure employment in conventional construction. But he doesn't consider himself particularly courageous. "I don't know if it's a life purpose or just going calm and paying attention to something as simple as what the church was saying, and your parents taught you: to do good. And then you become an adult and throw fifty percent of it away and compromise it. I'm doing what I was taught. It's no big deal. It doesn't make sense not to do what we're doing: seeking peace and doing good. I don't know why other humans don't feel it, or why they don't choose to go quiet and contemplate and sense their connection to the natural environment and feel the responsibility. It's fun to give your life choices a priority to where they make a difference toward doing something about the whole family of planet Earth and the whole cosmos that we live in." And with that philosophy, one man keeps his life, and his Earthships, on course.
December 11, 2001 - 10:05 Earthship Building: An Ecocentric Method of Construction
by Jack Ehrhardt, co-founder of CERBAT, the Center for Environmentally Responsible Building AlTernatives
The World Watch Institute estimates that if the rest of the world used natural resources at the rate we do in America, it would take two additional Earths to meet the global demand. Overall, the 1.1 billion wealthiest people in the world consume 64 percent of the resources, while the 1.1 billion poorest consume only two percent. With the Earth's population having doubled since 1950, it would seem that the real shortage of affordable housing has just begun. Sustainable building using earthen and recycled materials and implementing principals of energy efficiency to take advantage of free, clean, renewable energy will help to solve many of these problems.
The European-American wood-framed building system, the way we have built our homes for centuries, is being challenged by more ecocentric methods of construction. We have to face the fact that a leading cause of global deforestation is the demand for the wood products used to construct wood-framed houses, apartments and small commercial buildings. We can't put a "tree-hugger" in every forest in the world to save the old growth, but we can change the way we think. The Cartesian mechanistic paradigm we have lived by for the past 2,000 years assumes that the world is a human-centered machine. We now know that this is simply not the case.
It is certainly not just Sierra Club members who are building sustainable homes using strawbale, adobe or the earthship design. A broad cross-section of people enjoy the feeling of contributing to natural resource conservation through energy efficiency. As physics teacher and author of The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra, describes it:
"What this implies is that the connection between an ecological perception of the world and corresponding behavior is not a logical but a psychological connection. If we have deep ecological awareness or experience, of being part of the web of life, then we will [as opposed to should] be inclined to care for all living nature."
Operating from this premise, designers and builders of sustainable homes work intuitively to interface natural environmental services with building design. A modern home needs an interior temperature-control system, a system providing clean water for consumption and common use, and systems to manage both human waste and socio-economic behavior waste (garbage) all of which have recyclable elements, if imaginatively conceived and intelligently executed.
Perhaps no other building designer has more radically interfaced all of these living systems than Michael Reynolds of Solar Survival Architecture. He started designing homes based on sustainable principles in Taos, New Mexico, more than 25 years ago. Now over 1,000 homes around the world incorporate his "living" building systems. These homes, called earthships, have built-in systems that take into account every human impact and need, hence why they are called "ships." They are designed to make a family feel as independent and free as if they were on a long voyage, only in this case the ship is their home, their voyage is on Earth and their goal is to live equably with their environment.
My wife Sharon and I have lived in our 2,000 square foot (185.8 m2) earthship for five years. It could be described as typical or generic but, like each, has a certain uniqueness to it. Many people have seen or heard of Dennis Weaver's earthship video on public television. Ours is of the same design and by the same architect.
The building is oriented such that its long front faces south. This is part of the heating system design, which uses solar gains penetration coming through the windows to "charge" the home in order to heat it in the winter. For those of us in the business, the two special days when the earth is balanced along its axis are the times we know which way the solar gain is moving in our homes. Right now, in mid-October, the solar gain is 10F (6C), warming the house for winter's coming cold nights. By the winter solstice, the gain will penetrate 20F (11C). The system works so well without any backup heat that even if it gets down to 16F (9C) outside at night, when we get up in the morning it's 62F (34C) inside and quickly warms up with additional solar penetration.
An element "married" (as Reynolds would say) to this system makes use of thermal mass. Earthships, whether built on flat ground, dug down into the ground a couple of feet or built into a south-facing hillside, have earth burial on three sides (some people, like me, cheat a little and put some windows and a door on the east side, but doing so reduces energy efficiency). The burial provides thromb walls that store the solar energy released at night. We have frequently commented to one another after coming home on a cold, windy night that it feels like a heater has been on.
The load-bearing walls that the burial is put against are constructed of engineered rubber-encased adobe building block (used car and truck tires). Tires are used for the following reasons: They have an estimated half-life of 30,000 years. They are free (except in north New Mexico, where so many earthships are being built that they have to be trucked in from elsewhere). Once they have been filled with on-site dirt and compacted to 90 pounds, tires make the most earth-friendly and strongest walls I have worked with or studied. They are earth-friendly because, being flexible, they do well in earthquakes and strong because they are 21/2 feet (762 mm) thick and possess such longevity.
They are exhausted and do not outgas. Studies based on leach-aid monitoring of old dumpsites have not shown traces of tire material. You may not have noticed, but you can smell tires when you walk by new ones in a store, but not when you go past a parking lot full of cars mounted with used ones. However, they do outgas when piled in sunlight, which is another reason to build with them and cover them up. This solves the problem of how to recycle waste tires in an environmentally sound way that surpasses any life-embodied energy analysis evaluation for a solid waste product problem that I've seen.
Tire walls covered with natural adobe or stucco are fire- and termite-proof. They have gone through fires, hurricanes and earthquakes and have remained standing.
Earth may be an excellent conductor (I guess that's why it is called "ground"), but as a thermal mass wall it also works great. When the first row of tires are laid directly on existing compacted ground and then filled with dirt and compacted, they form a spread footing. Subsequent courses are staggered, as in a block wall. The resulting thermal mass provides excellent cooling in the summer and warming in the winter. In addition, openable skylights at the rear of the home draft warm air out in the summer and the earth's thermal mass 72F (40C) temperature transfers up the tire thromb wall the super-insulation of the burial.
We are living in harmony with the natural elements of the environment by having our windows on the south side so that solar gain does not come in during the summer, when we are tipped forward on the Earth's axis. We have succeeded in not needing a forced-air conditioning unit, the most costly and energy consumptive appliance attached to a home, and can use a solar or wind electrical system to power our home independently. One of the primary reasons that the solar energy market has not taken off like it should is that it is not always economical to attach solar electric energy systems to conventional, energy inefficient buildings. They work best when integrated into a complete system of energy efficiency that uses all the free natural resource energy available.
Our earthship's 650 watt power system cost $4,500 and has never gone out. As Sharon is typing this article on the computer for me (I'm still a pen and paper person), a clothes iron, sewing machine, DC refrigerator/freezer and outdoor fountain are all going at once. We always have plenty of the power that a normal home consumes because the design implements maximum energy efficiency in all respects. More importantly, if the energy-efficient designs of sustainable building were universally adopted, families would be able to maintain their homes without the need for dangerous nuclear power or polluting coal- or oil-fired power plants in this country. People choose to contribute to a clean environment for future generations when they build homes that use clean, renewable energy sources. Ninety-nine percent of earthships use wind and/or solar energy, and it is more satisfying than you can imagine to be a part of this healthy interaction.
Another design element of earthships that promotes independence and responsibility involves the cycle of water use. Their roofs are designed to harvest rain water and divert it to cisterns for storage. Premade tanks can be used, but cisterns are frequently built into the sides of earthships, using the tire walls to form water storage tanks. It is amazing how often people say something like, "it doesn't rain enough to store water." This is an example of the mechanistic paradigm. The director of a city planning and zoning department made a comment to that effect to me once when I was on the town planning and zoning commission. "That is why you harvest it," I responded, "so you can save it for times of drought."
Water from the cisterns is brought into the home, filtered through a multi micron system and used regularly, thereby reducing the huge developmental infrastructure requirements of water supply and the nonpoint pollution problems clean water is facing these days. We then recycle the gray water from our showers and sinks to irrigate produce gardens along the front of the house. Rather than being wasted, this water is reclaimed to these self-contained and sealed indoor planters. The organic vegetables and flowers are efficiently top watered, and the remainder flows through a gravel bottom to the deep roots of our fig and banana trees. Our "kitchen sink" irrigation system which has a sediment containment box to catch uncaptured food particles grows red peppers, broccoli and flowers, and is designed to absorb the appropriate amount of gray water. The size of the planters was calculated by the amount of the gray water use developed and the plants' projected absorption rate. The same with the water from the bath we grow lush vegetable plants that increase our self-sufficiency while contributing to the reduction of mass agricultural production, which requires that pesticides and fertilizers be put into the earth. This is just a small contribution toward the greater good.
Our toilets also use gray water. In the design of a water conservation system, this water is actually used for the third time by the toilet. Michael Reynolds' "black water" system is especially efficient because a huge volume of gray water has already been reclaimed and used, thus dramatically reducing the amount of black water (human waste) to be treated. If you can't get yourself to use a modern compost toilet system, then his above-ground sealed system works the best. Designed as part of the earthship, the waste system does not need expensive community sewer plants or ground-contaminating septic systems. Just as in gray water sealed systems, the black water goes to a particle-sealed containment tank and then flows to second and third containment beds designed to keep the liquid from going into the ground. High moisture absorbing plants are grown in the second and third containers of the system to draw out the liquids. Again, the size of the system is based on projected volume use. As almost everyone knows, water is a precious part of our environment and vital to all living things. Conservation measures keep our water safe to use and allow us to be in close contact with its life-giving processes.
The earthship and similar designs can use many other recycled materials, limited only by the imagination. The end product is something that personifies a paradigm shift to a whole systems approach to human-built sustainability. A sustainable society is defined as one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations. Just as building codes are written to preserve the health and safety of the public, sustainable building is emerging as a responsible way for humanity to preserve the health and safety of the planet.
Jack In A Nutshell✍︎
Jack Ehrhardt is the co-founder of CERBAT, the Center for Environmentally Responsible Building AlTernatives. The center, which also serves as an environmental education youth camp, is based in Kingman, Arizona, as isEhrhardt's general contracting business.
Ehrhardt has been involved in the building industry for 25 years. He has been a licensed general building contractor for 15 years, and has been building sustainable structures for the past five years. He has served locally on the Planning and Zoning Commission, on the Board of Adjustment, and as chairman of the Building Board of Appeals. He is currently contracting the construction of a 5,000 square foot (464.5 m2) straw bale house. He is also acting as a consultant to the Arizona Army National Guard on a 6,000 square foot (557.4 m2) earthship project in Phoenix.