A couple lives in an off-grid Earthship made out of bottles, tires, and other materials collected from the trash.

Laura Davies and David Buchanan live in an Earthship in Almeria, Spain. Their home is autonomous, meaning that they rely on energy from the sun and water from rain.

The couple started building the Earthship in 2007. Over a decade later, they are still working on home improvements.

The building features many of the traditional Earthship elements, like south-facing windows and planters, but the couple has also added their own elements, like a geodesic dome.

Laura Davies and David Buchanan celebrated their 50th birthday by moving into a new home.

It wasn’t a house with state-of-the-art appliances or the latest technology. It was a home, in essence, made from trash.

The couple spent seven years designing and building an Earthship, which is a house built from upcycled materials, like tires, bottles, cans, and doors. 

“Sometimes I’ll wake up, and I’ll say to Dave, ‘Did we really build this?'” Davies told Insider. “There is a real sense of achievement, not in a sort of bragging way, but more the wonder that you can actually do it.”

The couple moved to Spain in 2002 for a change of pace. They initially purchased a Cortijo home, which is a traditional Spanish home, to renovate. After living there for a few years, the couple decided they wanted a home that was a little more remote.

When searching for where to move next, Davies and Buchanan focused on two things: low costs and a smaller environmental footprint.

They came across Michael Reynold’s Earthship concept, which seemed to accomplish both.

“Firstly, they’re just so beautiful, so handmade. And the concept was really good. I just thought, ‘Wow, we could actually build this ourselves,'” Davies said.

Michael Reynolds built the first Earthship in the 1970s in a response to the growing awareness around trash and clear-cutting forests.

“There was an observation that the way we live on this planet is not really that stable and that secure, not to mention that ecological,” Reynolds told Insider in a previous interview. “I observed those things and started trying to build a building that addressed them.”

Reynolds designed a home that encompassed what he believes are the six functions humans need to survive: food, energy, clean water, shelter, garbage management, and sewage treatment. 

An Earthship is designed to be autonomous and off-grid, which means it captures its own electricity and water, and it grows its own food.

Earthships rely on passive solar to heat the building. South-facing windows are angled to collect sunlight to warm the inside of the home. This makes Earthships more successful in certain climates with arid, sunny environments, like New Mexico, and fortunately, southern Spain, where Buchanan and Davies live. 

The couple decided to adopt Reynolds’ design for a home on their 50 acres in Almeria, Spain.

Originally, they had planned to test-build a one-bedroom home. After that, the plan was to build a larger Earthship as the main home and the first structure would act as a guest home.

Thirteen years later and more planning, work, and time than they could have imagined, the intended guest home is now their permanent residence.

“I just think it’s brilliant,” she said. “When we first came to Spain, we never dreamed we’d do anything like this.”

The couple spent seven years building the home before they moved in.

The couple started building their 860-square-foot home in 2007. With help from friends and volunteers, the couple would spend one day each week building their Earthship. 

The couple told Insider they had no goal time to complete the project.

And throughout the build they were met with multiple setbacks: Buchanan had a handsaw accident, hot Spanish summers prevented them from working, and the planning process took time to get approval. 

The couple worked with the local planning department and local architects to get approval to build the unconventional home. In Spain, a vast majority of homes are built from concrete. But it wasn’t the tires or cans that made the local planning department pause, it was the wood. 

“It took us seven years to build it, and it took us seven years to wade through the planning process,” Davies said.

In 2014, the Earthship was finally livable. Davies and Buchanan moved in and continued to build. 

“Six years later, and we still haven’t finished it,” Davies said. “We’ve had so many other things going on.”

So the home remains a work-in-progress. “The building will stop,” Buchanan told Insider. “Not because it’s finished, but because it’s not that important to finish.”

The dome is the buildings iconic feature, which have three skylights.

The geodesic dome is the home’s iconic feature.

Sitting atop their home is a bright white dome.

The couple modeled the design after the Moorish domes, which are popular throughout the southern region in Spain.

While the domes are typically smooth, the couple added a modern take with skylights. 

Buchanan and Davies described the dome as the most challenging part of the build, as it took two years to finish. 

But it was worth it, the couple said. 

The Earthship also features an open kitchen and living room, one bedroom, one bathroom, and a utility room. Davies and Buchanan use solar panels to power the home and collect rainwater.

“We catch all our own water, so everything that we use for us and our animals and the garden is all caught on the roof of the Earthship,” Davies said. 

The dome was modeled after local Moorish domes you can find throughout the southern region of Spain.

Davies’ favorite part is the temperature. The south-facing windows are designed to trap heat in the winter, and the home always hovers around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. So when it’s in the 30 degrees outside, it’s warm inside without a heating bill.

“The first winter we were here, it was snow outside, minus 3 degrees Celsius, and it worked,” Buchanan said.”To be in
a comfortable 17 degrees without any heating, that was just absolutely wonderful.”

The couple has the traditional Earthship planters built along the glass-side of their home. While they’re currently not filled with anything, Davies said she plans to grow herbs and other ornamental plants.

“It’s just a beautiful place to live,” Davies said.

Outside of the home, the couple has also built a few other buildings on the property. Two sheds, animal shelters, and a few other projects have been constructed over the years. 

Materials for the home were collected from the garbage.

Aluminum cans, bottles, and tires all played an important role in the construction of the home. Davies estimates that the 860-square-foot home used over 300 compacted tires. Bottles were used to create the structure and design for the Earthship. 

Buchanan described weekly trips to automobile stores in search of old tires. The couple was constantly on the hunt for items sitting outside of bins, like old doors, which now line their porch. 

The tires serve as building blocks for the home and are packed with dirt.

These materials also helped the couple save money. Although they haven’t tallied the cost of the home, they estimate that a builder could create their living room and kitchen area (about 375 square feet) with around $12,000.

The materials might not cost much compared to a traditional home, but it takes a lot of effort and construction, which is why some Earthships can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

The couple lives with their cat, sheep, and donkey.

While the couple loves their home, it does present some challenges,

The couple is met with unique challenges in the concrete-flooded town. They’ve struggled with critters, including termites and woodworms.

“It’s what most homeowners have to deal with,” Davies said. 

However, Buchanan and Davies have no regrets in their style of living. 

“The main thing is that you can build them yourself,” Davies said. “Obviously it takes time and work, but I find that so exciting and so liberating.”