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An Earthship in Manhattan?

3/10/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: earthship, New Mexico, New York, off grid living, solar power, solar panels, wind turbines, upcycling, wind power, green house

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailWhen we think of earthships, most of think of rural New Mexico, where Michael Reynolds’ flagship earthship community is based. If Ken Ruck has his way, an earthship could soon land on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Let’s hope he does have his way—as this is one cool project.

Ruck proposes to build “the first completely self sufficient home that creates its own power, treats its water, and is a completely passive solar home.” Designed by Reynolds, the proposed home would be built from natural and recycled materials, heat and cool itself with passive solar design, solar panels and two vertical-access windmills; collect and treat its own water; treat its own sewage; and provide space to grow food. Solar panels would be oriented for the mean angle between winter and summer, and several thin-film panels on the east and west would grab some east and west sun.

The residence would be six stories, with living space on the first two floors. A six-story steel infrastructure would hold solar and wind systems and augment passive solar heating. A reflective surface running the east/west length of the structure would reflect light during the cool and cold months downward into the green house, where it would be captured and used to warm the house through a passive solar heat-exchange system. The reflected solar heat gain, along with super insulation and thermal storage, is expected to reduce back-up conventional heating by 80 percent. As is traditional for earthships, all the home’s living spaces would be buffered from outside temperatures by greenhouse structures.

A rain catchment system on the roof would initially filter water through a silt catch and store it in a cistern with overflow to municipal street drainage. A Water Organizing Module (WOM) provided by Earthship Biotecture would filter and pressurize water from the cistern. A rain/snow catchment system would harvest roof run-off and send it through silt /particle catches into underground cisterns, where darkness would prevent bacteria growth. Drinking water would be sent through mesh filter and ceramic bacteria filters. “This water will contain no health questionable chlorine or other additives,” Ruck states in his proposal. “It will test better than the municipal water system for overall potential negative effects to the human body.”

An alternative sewage treatment system would separate grey water from black water, the effluent from toilets and the kitchen sink. Grey water would run through the greenhouse planter and re-captured to flush the toilet. Black water would go into a conventional sealed septic tank where anaerobic process breaks down solids into liquids, which would go into an outdoor rubber-lined botanical cell filled with local indigenous plants. The plants oxygenate the water as they use it, cleaning it up enough to use on the ground if desired.

Massive, insulated exterior walls would keep indoor temperatures relatively stable. “Existing homes all over the world using this method have an average temperature low/high range of 20 degrees maximum--this means usually a lowest of lows is 60 degrees and a highest of highs is 80 degrees. These are the worst extremes. Normal is between 65 and 75 degrees... and remember—this is without any fuel what-so-ever,” Ruck states. Following the earthship tradition, some walls will be made from old tires filled with earth, but the home will be built to meet city requirements for structural walls.

Ruck plans to offer monthly tours of the building.

 earthship overview 

Ruck's earthship would fill a vacant lot on Manhattan's Lower East Side. 

earthship street overview 

The proposal's traditional earthship architecture includes a greenhouse, which buffers the living spaces. 

earthship dining 

Filled with plenty of natural light, the home would be passively heated and cooled. 

earthship bedroom 

The bedroom would be buffered by the greenhouse space. 

earthship greenhouse lower level 

earthship greenhouse stairway 

earthship greenhouse upper level 

The greenhouse provides insulation and a filtration system for gray and black water. 


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