British Columbia

'Earthship' takes off-the-grid living to new level for Manitoba couple

From the outside, Kris Platz and Nicole Bennett's home looks like a glass-fronted hole in a man-made hill. In fact, it's an Earthship — part of a growing off-grid architectural movement.

Solar-powered 'Earthship' is a more eco-friendly home built by digging below the earth

Kris Platz and Nicole Bennett share their solar-powered Earthship with their baby daughter in St. Andrews, Man. (Nicole Bennett)

From the outside, Kris Platz and Nicole Bennett's home in St. Andrews, Man., looks like a glass-fronted hole in the side of a man-made hill. In fact, it's an Earthship — part of a growing off-grid, self-sustaining architectural movement.

The concept of Earthships began in the desert of New Mexico roughly 40 years ago — a more eco-friendly home built by digging below the earth and constructed partially out of recycled and natural materials.

Platz and Bennett share their solar-powered Earthship with their baby daughter, the young family living behind 30 metres of glass windows, surrounded by walls of dirt-filled rubber tires.

"I'm a city kid — or I was a city kid — and I just like living in the country now, so this is just a great option to continue with this type of lifestyle," Platz said in an interview with Outside The Box.

"And if we can reduce our cost of living, then we don't have to work as hard or as long for our lives, so we can hopefully retire earlier and just reap the benefits of what we're doing out there."

Kris Platz and Nicole Bennett built walls out of dirt-filled rubber tires. (Nicole Bennett)

Platz and Bennett's home is known as the first of its kind in Manitoba, and is one of roughly 50 Earthships in Canada. The couple decided to build one after watching the documentary, Garbage Warrior.

It took them two years to gather all the recycled components — hundreds of rubber tires, glass bottles and cans — as well as purchase other materials, and then actually build the Earthship.

Earthship engineering

Despite the heavy use of recycled materials, Platz says there is a common misconception that Earthships are made of garbage, and that they're cheap and easy to construct.

In fact, the structure required careful engineering. Their $40,000 glass windows allow for maximum sunlight penetration, while an indoor garden allows for food production.

"We spent six months pre-planning," he said. "We had a really good opportunity to come in looking a lot like dirty hippies who want to build a house out of garbage, but actually, we had an engineering firm and project management team on board already."

The couple were able to obtain a building permit within six weeks. "And then we turned into dirty hippies," laughed Bennett.

Earthship life has its challenges — the couple endured their first winter with no source of heat other than the sun (they have since brought in a wood stove.) 

But Bennett says it's the right fit for both of them.

"It's a good balance between the both of us liking projects and unique things, and it goes along with going from city to country and just wanting a different life."

This story is part of a series produced in Vancouver about alternative housing options across Canada