Saturday, July 09, 2016

Revisiting sustainability: Earthship living

Some years ago, I have written about the organisation, Earthship Biotecture here and here. I still maintain my stand that it is a useful model for sustainable living. As their "Earthships" (what they call their sustainable houses) are based mostly in USA, I have my doubts whether their designs are effective here in tropical Singapore. Nevertheless, they can provide a good starting point for further modification if anyone here wants to have their own sustainable house.

Figure from Earthship Biotecture: Exterior of an Earthship. This is 1 of several different designs.
Figure from Earthship Biotecture: Interior of an Earthship showing a "botanical cell" (the plants area) for grey water treatment

In fact, the Earthship was an inspiration for our very own sustainable living lab in SP (Singapore Polytechnic). I was involved in the designs for the rainwater harvesting (RWH) and grey water recycling (GWR) modules. These culminated in a functional prototype set up in SP - mentioned in some of my earlier posts (1, 2).

Essentially, our lab was planned as a fully functional and sustainable living space equivalent to a 4-room flat. Besides showcasing certain environmental technologies, it was to serve as a practical classroom for our students. But due to reasons which I will not disclose here, the project was terminated. Despite our disappointment, it was a good learning experience for all those involved in its planning and design.

For those out there who want to try their hands to build their very own living lab, I suggest starting with the following books from Earthship Biotechture. (They have apparently come up with more books but these were the two that started me on exploring the world of sustainable living.)

Earthship: How to Build Your Own, Vol. 1

Water From The Sky
For a review that I have written on Water from the Sky, check out here. 

Imagine building a house with old tyres, empty glass bottles, soda cans and ramped earth. Fix up the roof with solar panels and a rainwater harvesting design. Clean up your grey water (i.e. water from the sink, shower, laundry) with plants. Not forgetting you can munch into the fruits e.g. bananas borne by the afore mentioned plants. The "clean" grey water can now be sent to flush your toilet. Water for drinking, cooking and bathing are from the rain. Yup, that about describes what an Earthship is about.

Admittedly, sustainable living is more than living in a green house (NOT greenhouse) or even an Earthship. It includes a whole slew of lifestyle choices that can be inconvenient, uncomfortable or costly. You may have to forgo that dazzling 56" LCD TV or that therapeutic soak in a bathtub (sorry, you have to use the shower like everyone else). Recycled cards are not exactly cheap. Heck, it is far simpler to get your water from the utilities company than having to store rainwater and attending to the maintenance of your RWH system. At least, you worry less about mozzies when your water comes piped in.

Nevertheless, a house designed for sustainability is a good first step to green living. And if it is truly well thought out, the issues of inconvenience, discomfort and cost can be mitigated.

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