Episode-1065- Mark Kirkwood on Hybrid Earthships and Building Community — 83 Comments

    • Mark,

      Thank you for sharing some really great information, the earth ramming machine is interesting…

      Do you have more information on that lightweight concrete you mentioned?

      Thank You!

      • The mix changes by use.
        Insulationn mix
        80% granulated styrafoam
        20% type I/II Portland
        And a large amount of fiber

        Structural mix
        50% styrafoam
        50% Portland type I/II
        And a large amount of fiber.

        Fiber can be pulped paper, shredded plastic, besalt fiber, fiber glass fiber and so on.

      • shreded paper will not work it has to be pulped paper. WHICH I DO NOT RECOMEND! Paper degrades. your better off useing fiber glass insulation and sucking it through a shop vac to get the strands.

  1. Jack,

    Ever tamped dirt into tires for days? I have. They don’t call it “rammed earth” for nothing. It’s a young man’s gambit, let me assure you. 🙂

    We’re teaching families (almost 50 so far) to build a hardened shelter using a SINGLE 20′ High Cube container as the basis of sustainable structure. They build them in their yards or garages and then truck them to site on car trailers. Almost anyone can do it. And, it’s cost effective.

    Couple that with the other “sustainable elements” and you have a fallback in days (from deployment).

    We applaud Mark and his efforts. He’s doing great work albeit with a much stronger back! 🙂

    Thanks for reminding us that there’s more than one way to embrace a new path…


    aka: Ronin

    • Um did you listen to the show? Didn’t you hear about the fact that I brought up this very point and Mark has invented a machine that does the work for you?

      • Ok do we have pictures of this machine? He said he would sell it. Is there video of someone using it? I’d like to know more about this machine. I have found nothing on his web site so far.

        • yeah there’s not even any pictures of his earthship house, i’m calling fraud on this one.

        • Machine is going on sale next week. Mark just did a follow up interview with me I will play next week it will explain the no pictures issue. If you want an early answer email me I will be happy to tell you. Craig below seems to have a need to be a jerk here so he has to wait. LOL

        • i just think that if i had built a wonderful sustainable structure and was going to teach a course i would have more than a few days worth of work photographed. the only thing you have on your website showing YOUR earthship is that news report and some pictures of a few filled tires and a hole in the ground. as they say “pictures or it didn’t happen”

        • don’t patronize me jack, i want to SEE this structure, the whole show was about building this thing, and all that’s on his site is a room layout design drawing and a picture of a hole in the ground with a few rammed earth tires. even the news report just showed still shots of the hole in the ground. why is there NOTHING anywhere thats shows us a finished product. where is the information on his tire ramming invention? we talked about how much it cost and payment plans but i can find a single word about it on his site.

        • @craig you are being an asshole!

          You are calling this man a liar, if you were not I would give you an answer right now. Mark did a follow up with me yesterday of about 29 minutes, we discussed this issue. The answer is more then reasonable.

          I won’t bother to give it to you ahead of time. Calling someone a liar is more serious then apparently you think it is. Now stop being a fricken dick!

          Again if you didn’t call the guy a liar I would just give you the short answer right now. Mark can if he wishes otherwise you can just wait, probably till Tuesday.

        • Your right I am calling him a liar, maybb that makes me a dick or an asshole or whatever but I’ve seen too many snake oil salesmen showing up lately to take this at face value. If he can back up his claims with some proof ill be the first one to apologize to the man and sing his praises. But I’ve looked at his website, his facebook, his youtube, he’ll I even looked around on google earth and streetview. Nothing leads me to believe this earthship ever made it past the hole in the ground stage.

        • You are calling him a liar and I am calling you a dick for doing so. Snake oil sales hey? Do you have any active brain cells between your ears. To “sell snake oil” one would ask for money for something. Did you hear him sell a book? A video? Anything you could buy without going to a hands on training? I didn’t so what exactly is he selling to what end according to you?

          Some people just have a need to act like a dick at times, I guess you might be one of them.

          How about this, do you think it might be possible that to raise capital (especially after the loss they took in east Texas) that they might build something like this for a CLIENT vs. themselves? Do you think perhaps said client of such a structure might be a prepper? Can your brain take the connection to “OPSEC by contract” from there?

          Now please think, no one is selling you shit if they don’t ask you for anything. He didn’t offer you an ebook, he didn’t ask for a donation, he didn’t offer you “super secrete plans”, he offered those that want to the opportunity to come ON SITE to learn. That is not how a snake oil salesman works. All you had to do was ask without being a dick in the first place and you would have just gotten a reasonable answer to what could have been a reasonable question.

        • he’s selling courses, before I consider shelling out 1200 bucks i want to see the kind of work he does. he’s selling a tire ramming machine for 1200 bucks, i’d like to see it.

          opsec has nothing to do with this, that’s a very convenient excuse, if they were so worried about opsec why did they have a news crew out there???? im genuinely interested in a earthship monolithic hybrid and i want to see what he has come up with. but with every new detail it gets fishier and fishier.


          there is the location of the earthship gleaned from the news report. either that satelite images on google earth/maps are too old to show the construction or it is not there, either way their “OPSEC” is pointless when you have a news crew showing still shots of the HOA placard at the front of the neighborhood and listing the county its located in.

        • That is what was abandoned due to the dispute with an HOA. They built another one, that is the one they can not provide photos of or disclose the location to. Now stop being a dick, you said you won’t be going to their workshop and I am telling you that you won’t be missed. I am done dealing with you now, your questions have been answered continue to beat a dead horse at your own risk.

        • in my opinion, the guy has a plan, has a design, has the passion, has the education, but doesn’t have the money for materials and labor so he’s trying to put a course together to address those two obstacles. I’d love to see one of these built, but I’m not going to be suckered into paying for materials for the privilege of being free labor, you seem to think I’m pretty cynical, and i guess i am but Ive been burned twice now at cob workshops where we were just free labor for the week. (actually we were better than free labor since we paid for the course.)

      • Ummm… I listened. The machine seems to be able to the majority of the hard work thus equalizing the task to be attainable by anyone, young or old, good or bad back.

        • I enjoyed Mark’s weekend workshop this weekend south of Austin for 100 bucks. It was worth the money and a bonus was seeing the iron butterfly at work.

          It’s in beta but did the job. It was slower than pounding a tire myself, which I have taking Mike Reynolds coarse and on my own property, but the machine did all the work. It can easily do twice the work and I’d drink a beer or two or three and enjoying the productivity. The machine is real.

          I enjoyed hanging out with 3 other TSP’ers talking shop and learning. It was an information rich weekend and I thank Mark for putting himself out there and doing it and creating community.

  2. Wow I love what I learned today. I’m going to hear Mike R. speak in a few months here and I am so glad I heard Mark mention prices. I need, Ok I want a roof like Mark described!

  3. You guys said you could talk to each other for days…I could listen to y’all talk for days! WOW!

  4. Enjoyed the show today, but something caught my ear with my 13skill project. I am working on water catchment, and you started talking about PVC being very bad. I have been setting up a zero pressure system with PVC just sitting on the surface so it can be easily moved as I add compost and mulch off my rain barrels. All 1″ pipe with 1/16″ holes every 4 inches to slowly seep into the earth. It works great, I even have enough head pressure to run uphill for 50′ to get the water back to the high grade of the property. I am able to move the pipe from the lower valve to the overflow pipe to even deal with heavy rain moments. I want a system that requires no pumps or pressure. So is PVC a bad way to go in this situation? I have the pipe running up around my fruit trees and asparagus. Is this something I should be very worried about, when we have all the other hazards in life?!? I expect over time to have some pipes crack from Sun and being stepped on, but I would think that they will last quite a while if they are not really getting touched.

    • No Mark said it was bad, I agree it is unstable. Like I said if it was truly inert it would not get brittle when not buried. When it burns though it is HIGHLY TOXIC, is use PVC on my projects and would not hesitate to do so.

      If PVC isn’t perfect oh well what is, I would rather have PVC for water then most of the alternatives. My long term fear with mass market PVC infrastructure is more about mechanical failure.

      If you are doing catchment for drinking you should be filtering anyway.

  5. Yes, Jack, I did hear that Mark has invented a machine that assists him in building Earthships. I’m just wondering if it’s really manageable over a large project like a shelter project. For example, a tamping machine makes compacting soil “easier” but it’s STILL a chore. A jackhammer replaces a sledge, but it’s still work that exceeds what some can achieve. And, not everyone will have access to his machine. Some (probably most) will build Earthships the “old fashioned” way. THAT was my point… I think perhaps you misread my comment’s tone…

    • One thing that interests me about this type of earth ship is the natural climate control. We’re moving to TX from WA later in 2013 and want to have a good strategy for passive cooling. I also like the potential for wide floor plans, second floors, etc.

      Moreover, I’d have a tough time getting my wife to live in a container with everything defined by an 8′ width. Picking up a 40′ box and having it delivered is not free..and what if you want it placed up on a hill side or somewhere the truck can drop it. I like what I’ve seen of the container dwellings, but I don’t think they are for everyone either.

      Do you have a website where we can see some of the container shelters you’ve installed? I’m curious.

  6. I realy enjoyed this episode but Mark’s website doesn’t have any pictures of finished products (exterior, interior, perspective, etc). I can’t convince my wife to live in an earthcontact home unless it pleases her asthetic sense. Just being green and self sufficient won’t cut the mustard… I am very interested in this type of structure.

    Also, being in SW Florida, I am interested in what Mark said about cob-plastering controlling humidity. How exactly does that work and is it a negative factor in areas with high humidity.

    • CHopper: As much as I want to get out of the way of the collapse, I REALLY like Jack’s motto of living a better life if things go bad or even if they don’t. If I insist on making my wife live in something funky, and the world hangs together for 10+ years…there will be some splaining to do…

      My wife is game for just about anything, but I’d like her next 20 years to be a bit less of a hassle than the first 20 years of being married to me.

    • On the home page of Mark’s site, there are rotating photos right below the video. Wait a minute, and you will see 2 examples of completed homes.

      They are different, but look nice.

      • those are pictures of earthships he got off of google. it shows you the concpet but i still dont understand why he doesnt have any photos of his own earthship. you would think if he was running workshops he would want to show off his skills.

      • There is an incomplete Earthship outside of Tampa, FL currently for sale on Earthship Biotecture’s Website. I think the project ran out of monetary and emotional capital.
        I’m not saying it wouldn’t be very difficult to get permission from county mafia. If the right marketing scheme is fed to building code committee, anything is possible.

      • Perhaps I will build one as a second home(Guesthouse), and use a living roof with the solar detached so as to not attract notice from the tax man or code enforcement. My property doesn’t have any utility hookups, the nearest neighbor with power is over 3 miles away.

    • Cob does a good job with wet/dry environments because it can absorb moisture and then let it evaporate when things dry out. Obviously for consistently humid areas that won’t be the case, but cob has done well in very humid areas (like S. Oregon forests where Ianto Evans lives)

  7. So is there nothing to Paul Wheaton’s concern about tires offgassing/smelling? B/c if not, I want to talk to DH about considering this type of structure instead of an earthbag house. It would be cheaper (if you’re not doing it yourself) and not take as long to build.

    • I love Paul a lot in fact he is my guest tomorrow but I absolutely do not worry about many things that seem to keep him up at nights. This would be yet another one of them. I have never heard of anyone having lived in an earth ship that ended up sick from tire off gas.

    • A study has shown tires completely off gas after 20,000 miles or 2 years in sun shine.

      I wouldn’t put my family in something I believed would hurt us. But let’s be honest about this situation. If your worried about tires off gassing have you even looked at what a stick built home is made of and how bad it off gasses. Not even a close comparison. Stick built houses are toxic.

      • Um what about conventional cabinets, anyone ever check out the off gasing of most mass produced cabinets especially in the first few years, can anyone say formaldehyde.

  8. Great show. I will be looking into Mark’s classes. A wide variety of info.
    I love the part of the lost technology and knowledge.

  9. One of my favorite podcasts of all time, up there with Mr. Harris.

    I NEED one of those iron butterflies!! NOW! Even without an MSB discount 😉

    • Do you have a kickstarter for getting production going? I bet you have a few customers in this audience willing to kick in to get this going. I know I would, official kickstarter or unofficial direct prepurchase contract, you should have enough of an audience here to make that work.

  10. We’ve been considering an earth sheltered house for a long time, but this episode made earthship structures make sense. (Thank you!)

    However, considering the massive amount of human capital required to ram tires (even with your machine), what about using precast 1-ton ecology blocks instead of tires?

  11. Thanks for the great podcast! It just pushed my boyfriend and I over the edge on our decision to move to Texas. We have been discussing it for some time and when we heard your list of reasons, as well as a structure that can remain cool without a/c, we decided we had to do it. We also have family there and are realizing more and more that we want to be closer to them. Can’t wait to officially be a Texan!

    • We finalized our decision to move to TX on 11/7/12. Some great info and people to be found in the forums. Here is a thread on relocation to TX.

      My wife and her brother, mom and sis-in-law visited the San Antonio and Austin area in early December. They drove all over the hill country. They stopped to take a picture of a “Don’t Mess with Texas” sign. A woman was hauling her groceries in from the car nearby. She came over and asked if they were OK, if they needed anything and if they wanted to come into her home and use the restroom. (What?) I live in a nice town 1hr North of Seattle where most people are polite…but there is no way that would happen around here.

    • I’m not sure what it was about this episode.. but its got me wanting to move to TX too.


    • For us reasons to move to TX include:
      1. Generally nice, hard working, self-reliant, freedom and fellow-man loving people.
      2. Year round growing season.
      3. Unrestricted building in most places.
      4. SUNshine…coming from Western-WA (gray 6 mo/yr)
      5. Generally better economic outlook due to #1.
      6. General resistance to adding more government.

      …Being in the Austin orbit wouldn’t be my first choice because it’s a “blue” spot, but if that’s the culture that is pushing the sustainable permaculture ball down the field, so be it. “Libertarian” includes acknowledging people’s right to be different than I am, but I expect them to not try to change Texas into a nanny state.

  12. Cap’n Kirk, you get my vote for best TSP guest. I’m looking forward to learning all about you & your company.

  13. Love the episode. Looking at Mark’s site, I see very little in the way of finished homes. A 5 minute video walk through would go a long way. One great thing about Mike Reynolds Earthship site is the many videos of the different models. I see their newest one has a less expensive roof than the Global model Mark talked about. Also, I’d love to hear him talk about his aquaponics installs (follow up interview?). In a “traditional” earthship you’d have the pond in the greenhouse by the windows. Where does he put the plants and the fish with so few windows. I’m guessing it’s in a separate structure? Love the cheaper alternative to other earthships but I need more info to be convinced that Mark’s way can work as well.

  14. There is a short video on our Facebook page of one of our systems in the all most completed stage.

  15. Hi guys. Just want to chime in on the PVC issue.
    What most people think of as PVC (white plasticky tubing) is known in the trades as ‘schedule 40’, and everything that was said in the interview was true (I believe dioxin is one of the baddies released by burning PVC).
    However, there is another grade, known as ‘schedule 80’ which has a dark grey pigment added to it and is generally more robust. It is what we in the irrigation industry use for ‘exposed runs’ of pipe.
    The pigment protects the structure from UV rays and breakdown. I’m sure it’s at least as toxic as schedule 40 when burned, but more ‘stable’ in the sun.
    Schedule 80 is more expensive, between 1/4 and 1/3 again as much as sch. 40, but if you can only use it where the pipe is exposed to sunlight, and boots, it will be worth it.
    Hope that helps a bit.

  16. Also, on the poison PVC issue, there is a newish product out which is touted as being the un-PVC. It’s called Blu-Loc, or something like that, and apparently is doesn’t contain the evils of the polyvynilchloride compound.
    I haven’t yet used it in my own work, but other professionals I’ve talked to seemed happy with it.
    If you can find a specific irrigation supply store, they may have it, or know where it can be sourced.
    All the best,

  17. very interesting show. I t hought the USA was adopting international building standards. I would be happy if I can build what I want in SW texas.
    However, I do have some very nice draws which are very green by Google Earth. Keep up the great work Mr. Kirkwood and Spirko.

    • The USA is but this is not federal as it is based on local codes (agenda 21 yes is real) but the good news is they don’t have the time or resources to F with all sorts of outlying areas and parts of Texas that are even just semi rural like where I am now are made up of people that won’t tolerate this shit.

      Basically Texas for now is this way

      Suburbanite and Urbanite bullshit is for suburban and urban areas, it doesn’t get done if you get out of a traditional suburb.

      In semi rural areas (unincorporated areas of even major counties like Tarrant and Dallas) you are pretty much left alone. Build all the ponds you want you don’t even need a permit to do so. They only seem to really get in your face on setting up a septic system and that is just to be sure it is done right, nothing unreasonable. Anything else you are left alone. You still need a permit for a home addition, etc but just minor crap and again stuff that really is about basic safety.

      In true rural areas no one give a shit about anything. If anyone does complain the other locals, county sheriff, etc. pretty much tells them to shut their fing hole and move to the city if they don’t like something. Unless you are making meth or growing pot or something illegal like that the entire view is do as you please.

      We actually respect the desire to get the hell out of suburban hell around here. The people that want that shit all live in the true burbs and they are as big of a pain in the ass as a Massachusetts liberal! The key is they build their little theme park style HOA kingdoms and understand that as soon as you get out of the city their rules DO NOT apply.

      Basically people that live in anything approaching rural Texas just won’t tolerate shit. The government knows it, the urbanite yuppies know it and we all just leave each other alone. It is why I love it here!

  18. Is there some where I could find finished project photos of the earth ships that Mark has constructed. I’m probably overlooking a link somewhere but I can’t find them anywhere!

  19. This podcast is in my top ten of Podcasts on any subject.

    What a fantastic guy. I hope he returns many times

    Great work.

  20. After watching Garbage Warrior and seeing the discussion above about abandoned projects; I come to the conclusion that doing what you want, how you want it, in the middle of nowhere, without permission is the way to go. We will never get permission to innovate from the state. We must realize that we are ultimately responsible for our own lives and act accordingly. Civil Disobedience at its best!

    • We’re excited to move to TX by the end of 2013. The freedom to build what we want, add a second dwelling, etc. A true sign of a free(ish) state.

  21. Hey ya’ll, Love the show. I just wanted to share with everyone here the earthship I am building. Using traditional building materials. Want to give a high five to Mark for the interview and his progress with Biotecture Training…..We can build the “Global” model earthship with our plans in any area in the country, urban and rural. I have stamped architectural drawings for GA….Would love to talk sometime about our ventures and any collaborations…..GREAT JOB MARK and TSP! Big Love to you all. Contact me if you please, or 404-454-9995….anytime

  22. Hi Jack, I know it is the same project because Mark came directly from Tyler to the workshop I participated in. I spent six weeks in the woods taking Mark’s workshop and have been in contact with Mark ever since. I would say I know him quite well at this point.

    I could say a lot more about Mark and Morgan but will make a simple point: Mark told you there is a confidentiality agreement and there isn’t. He lied to you. If you have any doubt contact the owner of the property directly. Just get ready to hold the phone away from your ear.

  23. Okay, Jack. I’ll waste no more time trying to tell you what I know about Mark Kirkwood. Let history show that you have defended a very bad man.

    • seems my instincts were dead on, i knew this guy was wishy washy from the beginning.

      • Well your wrong and you are just being an asshole. This isn’t typical for you so if you email me directly I will share the back end information with you Craig, as for Angus this is typical and he can pound sand.

  24. Credit to u craig ward for pointing out weaknesses in Mark’s tales in spite of Spirko’s ad hominem attacks. One thing that has been revealed here is the flawed vetting process for Spirko’s guests.

    • Listen asshole! Both of you are wrong, I have discussed this issue both with Mark and his partner, you were not lied to, the house in the link is not the completed project. Get over yourselves.

      I have vetted this fully, I am satisfied with the answer and have agreed not to divulge anything further. You either trust that or you don’t trust that. We are done with this shit though. So if you don’t like my show, there are other ways to spend your time.

  25. In spite of my responses to Angus the Ass and Craig above, this is what was sent to Morgan at Biotecture Training yesterday by me,

    “I believe you but I am going to say this as reasonably as I can, until you guys have a fricken completed project that you can show to the public at large, NONE of you will be back on TSP.”

  26. one other thing i see a whole lot of sledgehammers in tires in those pictures, where is the “iron butterfly”? jack i respect that despite your personal knowledge of the situation, you realize the way it looks to those who are not “in the loop” so to speak. while i resent the attitude you have displayed towards me and my concerns about the truth of marks claims, i think you have made the correct decision. and as i said above, i’ll be the first one to publicly apologize to mark if he can show any shred of evidence of a completed project but i doubt that will happen. he seems to have a lot going on with his auquaponics workshops and he has all the relevant information on his site, i wouldn’t hesitate to consider one of those workshops and to be honest that is the subject matter he should have discussed on the show. i cant say what kind of evidence he showed you and I’m not doubting your word but i have this gnawing gut feeling that this man is a phoney. i wont post anything further about it because i think the issue has been resolved with your last post i do enjoy the show and the reason i spoke out was because of my gut feeling about this after having been taken advantage of myself twice by some fly by night workshop wizards.