Cool Spaces: Earthships & Gypsy Wagons

Categories: Building Methods

Marcus Sisk's Biotecture of Tennessee Earthship home under construction in Gallatin, TN. Structure is constructed from recycled tires, bottles and cans. (Bob Gathany/

Creating or finding a shelter to call "home" has been a necessity for humans since the beginning of time. Protecting ourselves from the elements,  dangerous animals and enemies has always been a top priority for personal survival.

Marcus Sisk of Gallatin, Tenn., became interested in the techniques of building an Earthship because an Earthship is about as close to creating "free" shelter as one can get.

With exterior walls built primarily of used steel-belted tires filled with rammed earth and topped with glass bottles,  interior walls built with stacked aluminum cans and plastic bottles, an Earthship is economical, environmentally friendly, sustainable and energy-efficient. This kind of shelter is also resistant to calamities such as earthquakes, fires or tornadoes.

The thermal mass of such a structure is designed to maintain a comfortable temperature.  By building into a slight hillside and inserting tubes that extend from outside to inside with filters and operable doors on each end, outside air is cooled by passing through the earth.

"Sustainable" building means that the shelter must make use of locally available materials that already exist, materials that require no further manufacturing energy to be put into use. Used tires are plentiful, glass bottles and aluminum cans are easily obtainable. The clay soil of the South makes a very good slurry for rammed earth and horse manure adds strength to the mixture as well.

The techniques of incorporating these unusual materials into a "home" can be learned on-line with the Earthship App or in person, as Marcus did, by attending Earthship Academy- a four week adventure in Taos, New Mexico. Sessions are split between "classroom lectures" and "hands-on"building training experience. Attendees  receive  the skills and knowledge necessary to put such materials and techniques into practice.

The Earthship Marcus building in Gallatin is built into a slight hillside with the front South-facing wall of glass providing the natural energy to support the interior green house designed to house a recirculating hydroponics watering system. This will satisfy his nutritional needs-growing his own food.

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