I Want an Earthship.

by Esther

In lieu of World Environment Day being on June 5, here’s a short list of some interesting environmentally conscious housing alternatives. Sure, renewable alternatives have some downsides (e.g. having to explain why you live in a shipping container), but after 7 years of this (see below), I’m personally open to some change.

So without further ado, here are some alternatives to typical cookie cutter housing. 100% sustainable. 0% viable (at least for my present financial situation, not that all of these are necessarily more expensive than standard living arrangements).

Underground Architecture

The pictures below might remind you of Hobbit homes from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie. William Lishman built this house underground, partly inspired/aggravated by the difficulty of insulating the home he had, which was located on a hill and constantly barraged by wind.

Interesting features:

  • The rooms are circular because flat ceilings can’t withstand the weight of the ground above. Think about caves – they have curved (not flat) walls
  • Natural light is exclusively from windows in the ceiling.
  • Lishman created a circular refrigerator to pop up from the counter seeing as a square one wouldn’t fit against the walls. This model is more energy efficient than the “door and cupboard” version, because cold air falls back in to the refrigerator compartment, rather than out.



Tires + dirt + cement + garbage (glass bottles and cans mainly) = beautiful, sustainable living.

This is not your typical “drywall and studs” architecture. Earthships are usually off the grid, because they’re well insulated by dirt-filled tires, and furnished with solar panels. Earthships are also built to collect rainwater, which is circulated through a variety of uses (washing, watering plants, flushing toilets). Unfortunately, the process of building one of these is incredibly labour intensive – it’s taken a decade to build some of the world’s largest!

Bottom photo taken from Earthship Kirsten Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/earthshipkirsten/.

Shipping Container Housing

Feeling a little boxed in? Although living in a shipping container may not seem like the most appealing alternative, a plethora of surprisingly versatile and attractive homes have been produced from them. Worth google imaging – there are lot of interesting variations on this basic idea.

These homes are also easy to transport via helicopter, train, transport truck, and cargo ship, making a “portable home” truly possible.


Regardless of what kind of home you live in, the fact is that there are 150,000-300,000 visible homeless and 450,000-900,000 invisible homeless in Canada (2009, reference: http://www.tenants.bc.ca/ckfinder/userfiles/files/Precarious_Housing_In_Canada.pdf). So as we move towards more sustainable housing, let’s also act on the needs of those who have no home at all.

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