grand designs earthship house in Brittany, photo by Chris Tubbs

Sustainable home in the French countryside

A handmade house that's an eco-friendly mix of rammed earth, car tyres and salvaged materials

By Luke Tebutt | 26 March 2021

The Grand Designs earthship house is one of the most sustainable builds ever to appear on screen. Daren Howarth and Adi Nortje’s desire to build their home in an eco-friendly way freed them from the shackles of having a mortgage and the burden of the hefty running costs associated with a more conventional house.

Daren had wanted to build his own eco home, or more specifically an earthship house, since the early 1990s. As an environmental consultant, he had been inspired by the squat houses, built low into the ground using natural, recycled and found materials that had sprung up in America in the seventies. These original earthships promised a life free from the grid, relying on nature for power. Water was harvested from the rain and windows face the sun to capture heat. This heat is then soaked up by the walls, which are made from high thermal mass materials such as earth.

With insulation board made from recycled car windscreens, walls decorated with hundreds of glass bottles, a kitchen built partly with salvaged oak and a main structure made from around 200 tons of earth, excavated from the site and rammed into 1,000 car tyres – this self-build in Brittany, France, brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘waste not, want not’.

Kitchen made from salvaged oak from old sea defences

The kitchen is made from salvaged oak from old sea defences. Photo: Chris Tubbs

Generating power

The Grand Designs earthship house also harnesses modern technology to turbocharge it with more of nature’s power. As well as south-facing windows that capture the sun’s warmth, Daren and Adi installed a 2.3kW array of photovoltaic panels on the roof to transform the solar energy into electricity. They also fitted solar thermal tiles to feed into a 1,000-litre hot-water tank, connected to underfloor heating.

Tanks built into the back of the house have the capacity to collect 10,000 litres of rainwater. While the idea of an off-grid existence is a worthy aspiration, Daren and Adi decided it made more sense to stay connected. Apart from providing a back-up when full capacity is needed, feeding back into the grid is a money earner when the house produces a surplus of power.