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Eco-friendly Earthship to be new home for Six Nations grandmother

A grandmother living at the Six Nations reserve will receive a new, sustainable home this summer. The company building it says its "earthships" could be a new, affordable housing option for Indigenous communities across Canada.

The homes are built from recycled material, and require no utilities

Flower Doxtador stands with her grandchildren outside her home at Six Nations. (Malone Mullin)

Flower Doxtador lifts her plywood gate, shuffles past a pair of grandchildren and enters her white and blue trailer on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford.

"It's pretty cramped right now," she said. "There's seven of us here."

The two-bedroom trailer has been Doxtador's home for the last 25 years. She and her daughter sleep on couches in the living room. Her grandchildren share the two bedrooms.

"This is home for us," Doxtador, 56, said as the the smell of grilling hamburgers wafted through the front door. "This is our land."

But after a quarter of a century, her home has become nearly unlivable. There is mould and rust. The roof leaks. In the winter, cold air easily penetrates the thin, cracked windows.

"There's no cash for me to fix anything up," Doxtador explained.

Outside the trailer, her 7-year-old grandson Levi climbs on a neatly stacked row of 250 car tires. By the end of July, the used tires will become the foundation of her brand new, recycled home: an earthship.

Earthships

Craig Cook gave CBC News a tour of the eco-friendly earthship home he and his wife Connie built out of tires, bottles, cans, dirt and concrete. 2:30
Earthships are off-the-grid homes built from recycled material like tires, bottles and cans, reinforced with dirt and concrete. They are designed to be completely self-sustaining, with no need for hydro, gas or water connections.

"[Earthships] are more like a ship, a vessel," said Michael Reynolds, the American architect and environmentalist who built the first modern earthship in the 1970s. His company, Earthship Biotecture, will build Flower Doxtador's $70,000 home in July, which is being funded jointly through donations and the company.

In Port Dover, Ont., about an hour south of Six Nations, Connie and Craig Cook used Reynolds's designs to build their own earthship three years ago, one of just a handful in Canada.

"Everybody thought we were crazy," said Craig Cook.

Connie and Craig Cook's home cost just $70,000 to build, and now their only utility bill is for their phone. (Malone Mullin)
Outside, the home is dominated by a bank of large, south-facing windows. A few car tires are visible near the front door, but the rest are covered in concrete. On the roof, a water catchment system collects rainwater.

Inside, the two-storey structure has a loft-style layout, with free-standing walls built from glass bottles and pop cans. A large elevated garden sits near the windows, where the Cooks have grown everything from potatoes and zucchinis to pineapples and bananas.

Total cost: $70,000. And besides a telephone connection, the retired custodians don't pay any utility bills.

Does it work?

Craig Cook's 3,000-square-foot earthship cost $70,000 to build. (Malone Mullin)
The Cooks' friends worried the home would smell of rubber, thinking it would be freezing in the cold winters and boiling in the summer heat.

But in his bright living room, Craig Cook explained the indoor temperature doesn't move more than a few degrees all year.

"The house is like a big battery, it's saving energy and giving it back to you," he said, praising his home's finely-tuned thermal mass.

At approximately 3,000 square feet, the Cook's home is much larger than Doxtador's will be, but the materials and design will be similar: a U-shaped tire foundation, and walls built of bottles and cans.

"Most of the people we see building them aren't wealthy people," Craig said "They're living in some stage of, 'it's not finished.' They're working on it slowly as they can afford it."

During their twice-monthly open houses, the Cooks have raised around $2,000 to fund Doxtador's earthship.

"I think once the people on the reserve see it and experience it and see that it is a nice place to live and it is a good environment to live in, I think they'll embrace it," Connie Cook said.

A new housing solution?

Several people on the Six Nations reserve will help build the newest Earthship, getting an up-close look at the construction process. (Malone Mullin)

During the construction of Doxtador's home, Earthship Biotecture will train six to 10 people from Six Nations in the intricacies of building earthships.

"If people want to replicate the project it will be a little easier with some hands-on experience," said Marianne Griffith, the Canadian representative for Earthship Biotecture.

Once the company's construction crew heads back to its headquarters in Taos, New Mexico, Michael Reynolds wants Doxtador's home to be an inspiration for the rest of the community. Like the Cooks' home, it will require no utilities, and it will create filtered drinking water from rain.

"When they walk in Flower's house this winter and see that they're comfortable and dry with no fuel, we don't need to say anything else," Reynolds said.

There will be challenges. While earthships can pass building codes, securing a loan is difficult.

The Cooks said their home did not qualify for any traditional mortgages.

There is also the possible stigma of living in a home made of what would otherwise be garbage.

Flower Doxtador said she was surprised when she learned about the materials, but she's gotten more comfortable with the idea. She thinks others will follow.

"I could see it catching on ... as long as people see that it works and everything," she said.

With just two rooms, her new earthship won't be large enough to house everyone in her family, so her old trailer will stay put, just down the hill from the new structure.

And while the new building will be made of unconventional materials, Doxtador says the earthship concept is deeply familiar.

"Our upbringing is to try and respect Mother Earth and be as kind to her as we can," she said. "The way we live now it's not really being kind to her. We're ruining her. This other way, you're not ruining her."

Connie and Craig Cook's cat enjoys a sunny spot in their eco-friendly home. (Malone Mullin)