There’s sustainable housing, and then there’s sustainable housing. The Kinney family in Southern Alberta is living the latter, in what can only be described as the MacGyver of net-zero homes.

Last summer more than 30 volunteers from around the world and a hired crew of 13 people from New Mexico helped the Kinneys build what is known as an ‘earthship’. This self-sustaining, eco-friendly home is the brainchild of Earthship Biotecture Founder and Principal Architect, Mike Reynolds. It is an off-grid living structure made primarily out of recycled materials like empty beer cans, old tires and used glass bottles.

“It’s a house that takes care of you and takes care of itself and it takes care of the environment,” said Duncan Kinney, Editor and Production Manager at Green Energy Futures. His retired parents, Glen and Dawn Kinney, bought 75 hectares of prairieland to construct their earthship, which took only five weeks to put together.

This radically green abode has it all covered. Along with a south-facing greenhouse that grows a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, this single-floored earthship contains its own roof catchment to collect rainwater. Filters clean the water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, and even to feed outdoor plants. In total, the water is used four times.

Computers, kitchen appliances, and wall lights are powered by electrical energy that is harvested from the sun and wind via solar panels, and wind power systems.

Heating and cooling the internal living space is regulated by two key concepts: thermal mass and passive solar energy. The entire house is one big sun trap; it has concrete floors and tire walls used to store energy from the sun. Over time, this energy is released into the house, keeping it warm during the winter. In the summer, underground tubes and vent-boxes can be opened to let cool air circulate throughout the house.

But like with any new gadget, there comes a trial and error period.

“There is definitely a learning curve to operating the house,” says Duncan, who was first introduced to the idea of earthships in the book, The Geography of Hope, by Chris Turner. He and his father participated in a build in Wyoming prior to constructing their own in the prairies.

“It takes a bit of time to understand how all the systems work together around you, but in the process you gain a mindfulness of the resources at hand.”

Everyday bad habits like leaving the TV on all night is a definite no-no in an earthship, especially during the winter months when there isn’t as much daylight to go around.
“It’s not the same as living in the city, where there just isn’t that worry about leaving the hose on or the sink running. The consequences kick in right away — like running out of water or power for a night or two.”

While the Kinneys may have built the first known earthship in Alberta, this big idea has travelled far across Canada and the world. From British Columbia to Africa to the Netherlands, the healthy home Mike Reynolds has worked on for over forty years has proven to be a resilient vessel in any country. It is slowly changing the way people see architecture and the positive impacts it can have on the environment.

“Whether you live in an earthship or whether you live in a house that just takes some of the lessons from earthships to heart … there is a lot to learn from the kinds of systems they have in place that can be applied to a variety of houses and building types.”

For more information on Earthship Biotecture, go to: earthship.com

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