sustainability Australia Earthship

Earthship Ironbank is Australia’s first approved Earthship project. It is currently being used as a commercial bed-and-breakfast as well as a test site for Earthship research. Designer Martin Freney, founder of Earthship Eco Homes is using this project to uncover how energy and water efficient Earthships are, and whether they work will in the Australian climate.

Design features

sustainability Australia Earthship front verandah

The design was inspired by Michael Reynolds’ “Simple Survival Model” Earthship, which focuses on the five main human needs of shelter, water, sanitation, energy, food and waste management (garbage).

However, this project has a number of sustainable innovations (and experiments), making it more robust than an Earthship just for survival:

  • A “green” gravel roof for bushfire resistance and water filtration
  • Hempcrete insulated entry and bathroom ferrocement vaults
  • Operable skylights in the greenhouse
  • Twin front-facing earthtubes (for extra summer cooling and to deal with site slope)
  • Increase north-facing roof for additional solar panels and hot water service
  • Indoor battery storage (to reduce battery temperature)
  • Outdoor pump and valve box (to reduce noise)
  • Side entry
  • Framing for shade sails on the greenhouse glazing to deal with summer heat
  • Fire sprinklers
  • Sensors to monitor air temperature, humidity, solar radiation and air speed in the earth tubes

sustainability Australia Earthship bathroom


According to Freney, approval was surprisingly easy, possibly due to being in a rural area and finding the right engineer and private certifier.

However, there was an issue approving the installation of an indoor greywater system, with SA Health rejecting the proposal due to concerns about potential smells in the home, people coming into contact with greywater by digging in the garden, and potential future owners not paying attention to maintenance and operation issues that might lead to health risks.

Regardless, the system was installed, tested and then “decommissioned” by removing the heart of the system that allows the user to direct the water either to the greywater planter (which is not allowed in South Australia) or out to the septic tank (which is what the law requires).

sustainability Australia Earthship backyard