A Different Type of Passive House

We all have a house that is most likely built in a traditional way, without any passive design techniques or other new techniques that could actually help you on the way.

Lately, we explored a lot Passive Houses from many angles. We’ve looked at their individual principles of construction, why they are good, how can they be more comfortable, how such a house can cut your monthly savings.

However, there is another type of house that I’ve stumbled upon lately, and it’s quite impressive. It is not a passive-design house, however, it employs the techniques in such a house, one way or another.

I’m talking about an Earthship.  A passive solar dwelling composed of natural and recycled materials is known as an Earthship. Earthships are designed and marketed as dwellings which are mostly built to work autonomously and are composed of earth-filled tires with thermal mass construction to naturally manage inside temperature. They usually have their own natural ventilation system as well. Earthships are often off-the-grid residences that rely on public services and fossil fuels as little as possible.

The designs of the earliest Earthships were highly experimental at first, but through practice and evolution, the houses began to appear appealing.

Earthships are designed to take advantage of local resources, particularly solar energy. Windows on sun-facing walls, for example, allow for lighting and warmth, and buildings are frequently horseshoe-shaped to optimize natural light and solar gain during the winter months. During both cold and hot outside conditions, the thick, solid inner walls provide thermal mass, which automatically controls the interior temperature. Tin can walls are internal, non-load-bearing walls composed of a honeycomb of recycled cans bonded together by concrete. Stucco is frequently applied thickly to these walls. For increased energy efficiency, an Earthship’s roof is highly insulated – often with earth or adobe.

Why are they interesting?

  • They employ passive design techniques such as ventilation, thermal mass, shading, house rotation and positioning, solar heating and cooling, etc.
  • They are made from local materials. Usually, the walls are made of tin cans or tires filled with dirt. People are also using a mixture of soil and tree branches or other low-cost alternatives
  • Low cost and ‘hand-made’. Most people either built their house themselves or together with a group of friends. There are companies building them, but there is a hands-on philosophy in the Community
  • A diverse community of people that help each other. They are also neighbors sometimes.
  • Impressive performance. Such dwellings are 100% off-the-grid and self-sustainable. It’s amazing how they also keep a stable temperature inside the house all year round.


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