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Jacuzzi on solar power
Perched on a hill in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu is India's first 'earthship'. Built by Alex Leeor, a biotecture consultant from Brighton, UK, this biohome is versatile and economically sustainable. Says Leeor, "There are almost no drawbacks or limitations. It is incredibly easy and cheap if you choose the right design. My biohome stays warm or cool, provides water, food, power, and all at no cost. That kind of peace can't be bought. "
A biohome provides electricity, potable water, contained sewage treatment and sustainable food production along with natural heating and cooling using recycled materials like tyres and plastic bottles. Alex encountered the ingenious design at a presentation by American green architect Michael Reynolds in Brighton. Later in 2009, he settled in India drawn here by his devotion to Sathya Sai Baba.
Earthship Karuna soon became the tipping point in his life. "I now realise the importance of living self sufficiently beyond economics, " says Leeor. The earthship compels one to nurture a harmonious relationship with the environment. Seasonal changes, for instance, encourage Leeor to be cautious about his power and water usage. He uses what is available, minimising his impact on the environment. "The water harvested from my roof is clean. My friends nearby suffer constant electrical problems and power cuts. This closed system negates power lines. I get power and water 24/7 for free. The cost of the system is built into the house. No government can offer that to their citizens. "
Earthships encounter and interact with the biology and physics of the earth. The walls are built from earth rammed tyres held in place naturally by gravity and their own weight. They are stronger than steel reinforced concrete walls and give in to ground vibrations, which makes them earthquake, storm and tsunami resistant.
Harvested rainwater is stored in underground tanks. Sunlight warms the house, powers a bank of batteries and solar energy heats water. In summers, a convection engine based on thermal mass expels hot air through adjustable roof vents. Fresh air enters the house via long pipes buried underground. This cooled air ventilates and chills the house at virtually no cost.
Within a few years, Leeor hopes to organically grow most of his vegetables indoors. Planter systems are fed through kitchen and bathroom waste. The water moves by gravity. Excess water overflows to irrigate food and flower beds. "The plants relish the underground anaerobic bacterial pool. This decomposes waste and produces oxygen that cleans the water and provides nutrients. "
Overall, labour costs are drastically reduced, foundation is not required and material costs are minimal. Leeor says, "Everything is much cheaper before you factor in your comfort level. It depends on what you want and how you want it. "
Leeor also uses energy efficient appliances and lighting. He has an office with printer, large LED computer screen and an LED powered cinematic projector. The kitchen is outfitted with a fridge and blender. The bathroom has a solar-powered jacuzzi. No wonder it's quite easy to agree with his conclusion that "this is true sustainable luxury. "
EARTHSHIP KARUNA, KODAIKANAL
Rain water harvesting on rooftop Hot air expelled through roof vents Planters are fed by waste water from the kitchen and bathroom.
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