Imagine living in a spaceship without ever leaving the ground. Although some “earthship” structures definitely have an otherworldly vibe to them, there’s nothing extraterrestrial about their design. In fact, the entire point of them is to be as conservative as possible with the resources they take from planet Earth.

An earthship house located in a desert environment.

There are a few trademark characteristics that classify earthship buildings, including their ability to effectively heat and cool themselves without using energy, systems for collecting and recycling rainwater, and their reliance on solar power for the energy they do use. Another commonality among earthships is the use of recycled and natural materials in their construction processes. When combined, these features add up to ultra low-energy, eco-friendly, off-grid living.

An elaborate earths house set in a desert climate.
Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura

All earthships are designed to accommodate adequate light and airflow through their interiors. This is achieved using strategically-placed glass windows, which also create a greenhouse effect that’s perfect for indoor gardening. And since sustainability is such a major goal of the earthship community, it seems like the ability to grow fresh food from greenhouse to table only makes for another welcome element.

Water conservation is also at the forefront of earthship design, beginning with rain and snowmelt collection from the roof. The water here is stored and pumped inside for use in bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens. Greywater also goes through the internal greenhouse to water plants and receive natural filtration. Outside, it’s used to maintain landscaping.

In total, each drop of water collected by an earthship is used four times for maximum resource conservation — not to mention no water bill.

An earthship house located in a desert environment.

Most earthships are also built without any sort of foundation. Instead, their walls are constructed from tires packed with soil and dirt and then covered in an adobe mud. Alternatively, they can be insulated using straw bales. Their interior walls are built using reused aluminum cans, as well as glass and plastic bottles. Earthship showers, fireplaces, and counter supports are also built in this way.

Because the position of each earthship is so important to the amount of interior comfort they can provide, they tend to be most effective in arid, desert environments. Indeed, the largest communities of them are centered in New Mexico and Colorado, but a few others can also be found scattered across the globe.

In addition to offering an off-grid option for remote areas, earthships are also naturally earthquake-resistant due to the flexibility of the rubber within their walls.

There are already a few companies out there that specialize in building earthships, though the initial cost is about the same as that of a traditional construction. In the long run, however, you’ll find that the water and energy fees only run you about a quarter the amount of mainstream designs. Just be sure to check with your local officials before investing in an earthship of your own, as there are some local building ordinances that don’t allow them yet.