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Australia is having an environmental awakening – and Earthship homes are taking off

By Janice Lopez
In an era where sustainable living often conjures images of lavish, architecturally designed homes with hefty price tags, a quiet revolution is underway.
At the heart of this movement are Earthships — affordable, off-grid homes that merge sustainability with financial sensibility.“Earthships are a concept developed by American architect Michael Reynolds in the 1970s,” explains Dr. Martin Freney, founder of Earthship Eco Homes and pioneer of the Earthship movement in Australia.

“They are sustainable, eco-friendly homes built predominantly from natural and recycled materials that are designed to be self-sufficient, generating their own electricity, water, and even food.”

Freney’s own Ironbark Earthship was the first council-approved Earthship in Australia. Situated in the Adelaide Hills, it serves as a testament to the potential of these structures in the Australian context.

“It is probably the ultimate bushfire-resilient design.”

Ironbark Earthship was the first council-approved Earthship in Australia.

Built on 1.5 hectares, the home, a passion project that took Martin about seven years to complete, not only resists the harsh elements but exists in harmony with them.

Comprising natural and upcycled resources, Dr. Freney says it showcases how waste materials can be transformed into a comfortable and contemporary self-sustaining oasis.

“The walls are constructed from old tyres packed with earth, which keeps the house cool in summer and warm in winter without the need for expensive heating and cooling systems,” he says.

“In total there were about 800 tyres used to build the Earthship.”

Inside, recycled bottle bricks make for an aesthetically stunning eco-friendly feature, allowing gorgeous dappled light to filter into the main rooms of the home.

Gorgeous open windows let the light stream though.

“They’re like little double-glazed windows because they’re trapping air inside of them and air is a really good insulator.”

A defining feature of Earthships are indoor gardens that span the front of the home’s entrance corridor.

Taking advantage of their east-west orientation, the sunlit corridor features a wall of glass on the north face of the home that acts like a natural solar heater in winter and cooler in summer.

Water sustainability is achieved through an ingenious system of rainwater collection, usage, and purification, ensuring a closed-loop water system.

“The corridor is basically a greenhouse sunroom with a bathroom at the end of it that links up the whole home,” Dr. Freney says.

“It’s where you can grow food, where you treat grey water or where you can hang out and do yoga.

“It’s so incredible. Every time you take a shower you are growing bananas – or whatever you want to grow. It could be the middle of winter in the Adelaide Hills and I’ve bananas growing out of the grey water coming from the shower.”

Solar panels and rain water tanks allow for self-sufficient water and energy usage.

He says the use of solar panels and earth tubes – buried ventilation ducts – eliminates electricity bills, while rainwater harvesting and on-site sewage treatment reduce water costs.

“When you’ve got a house that’s autonomous and doesn’t need the grid – that is a massive saving.”

In Australia, these homes are gaining popularity not just for their environmental credentials, but for their affordability and practicality.

As an industrial designer by trade, Dr Freney is passionate about making sustainable living accessible to all says.

He says the beauty of Earthships is that they can be built anywhere and don’t necessarily require huge land, making them a viable option for urban off-grid developments.

“In the suburbs – instead of using earth-filled tyres, you might look to other eco materials like straw bales, hempcrete that are a bit more space efficient but still ticking some of the more sustainable boxes,” he says.

“There are also the upfront costs of buying solar panels and batteries and water tanks, but the return on investment is seen in reduced bills and minimal environmental impact.”

Greenery provides natural shade cover from the sun, so reduces the need for cooling.

For homeowners inspired to integrate Earthship principles into their lives, Freney suggests several attainable steps, such as improving home insulation, installing rainwater tanks and starting a vegetable garden or greenhouse that utilises grey water run-off from your laundry.

“I have this theory that what is sustainable in the future is really just what we did in the past. You only look back a hundred years and buildings didn’t need air conditioning.”

As more Australians seek sustainable living options, Dr. Freney says Earthships are poised to become more mainstream.

Moving away from the perception of exclusivity and high costs, these homes demonstrate that going off-grid is not just for the wealthy.

Sleep simply with a recycled bed.

It’s a movement that challenges conventional notions of housing, offering a path that’s not only eco-friendly but also deeply connected to the community and the environment.

 “They are a blueprint for the future — a way to live in harmony with our environment while addressing the pressing issues of climate change.”


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