ESF Students Build an Earth Ship


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By Sarah Lanfear

Last weekend, along with a group of around 20 other ESF students, I packed up and headed down to Livonia, NY to build an Earthship. Before we left I think few of new what we were getting ourselves into, but building an Earthship sounded really cool, so we got up early, typed the address into the GPS and off we went.

So before I go any further I should probably explain what an Earthship is. Basically it’s a type of natural building made primarily out of recycled materials (usually tires, bottles and cans) and cob. There is a focus on various natural design features including passive solar design and water retention systems. The design was created by Earthship Biotecture in Taos, New Mexico, but has been adapted to climates across the globe. They are super insulated and super sustainable.

The drive down was beautiful, and when we arrived the sun was shining bright. Jamie, the proud builder of the Earthship, was there to greet us, in worn jeans and bare feet with a big smile on his face. He has been building the house over a period of two years with only the occasional help of a few friends, so a big group of willing free labor was welcomed. Once everyone arrived we headed down to work.

When we arrived at the build site the main walls were up, composed of earth rammed tires stacked on one another and strengthened with rebar. The roof was on and there were frames up for the enormous windows which will look out over the beautiful valley which his house is built into and will capture the sun as it moves across the southern sky.

Getting to work our first task was to make cob, which basically consisted of several people stomping together equal parts clay (from the property), sand and straw until they became mixed and quite stiff. Next we applied the cob to the outside of the walls, in between all the tires.  It was hard work and we were all pretty beat up by the end of the day, but it was shockingly fun. Stomping the cob and slapping it onto the house was also a great stress reliever.

After we finished work for the day we all jumped in the pond to wash off and then Jamie treated us a mouthwatering meal of pasta with pesto and fresh tomatoes, bison burgers and veggie burgers. That night we had a big bonfire and camped out in the yard and woke up in the morning to peach pancakes and hot coffee. After a leisurely morning enjoying our breakfast most of the crew headed out while a few people stayed behind to finish up. All of lamented about the fact that we had to leave and cannot wait to go back.

If you are interested in helping out with this or similar projects shoot me an e-mail at