We’ve been building lean and green since the start of the “great recession” and even in that relatively short time we’ve seen a lot of change come through the green building industry. It’s been getting bigger and better every year and it looks like that trend is only going to continue. With that being the case, we like to put in the time to see what others are doing to advance the field, no matter how strange their ideas may be.

In an effort to do just that, we megabussed off to New York to see Michael Reynolds speak about his Earthship concept. If you haven’t seen his documentary, he is the head of Earthship Biotecture, the organization behind these off the grid, super sustainable, hippy compound-esque homes.

As we’re both big proponents of sustainable design we couldn’t help but compare/contrast our homes to his. But since Earthship homes are typically built on large rural sites and we really enjoy the confinement of the urban lot it just didn’t seem like we could get an apples to apples comparison. So instead we thought it made more sense to take some earthship design principals and evaluate how they might perform on our urban sites; a comparison of rural sustainability vs. urban sustainability if you will.

Thermal Mass

Thermal Mass is the driving force behind the functionality of an earthship. During the day the earthship walls, made of compacted earth inside tires, store heat from the sun and releases it when the temperature dips. It’s like a natural heating system that senses the cold. All good stuff, but unfortunately it takes a lot earth and a lot of space to hold that earth. When land is expensive and space is limited it isn’t really cost effective to give that much square footage over to your HVAC system. Having the right solar orientation is also important, and something you don’t really get to choose in a city.

Perhaps a better solution for limited square footage is a thick thermal mass floor. Some concrete, about 4 inches thick or so would be good. You would still need to have the right solar orientation to get the best performance but detailed correctly you could probably knock those energy bills down a little more.


Energy Production

Energy production is another pillar of earthship design. We love this one. It’s hard to argue with producing your own energy and producing it where you’re using it. We have done this in a number of projects in the past like Skinny and will continue to in the future on Folsom Powerhouse. But what we prefer to do is leave the option open for people to add solar as an upgrade as it does drive up the cost of a home and can price out some otherwise very worthy homeowners.  Shade from other buildings is still an issue here but in most cases it does work. Still, solar isn’t a ubiquitous solution in an urban setting.



Water Collection + Storage

Water collection and re-use is anther concept we love but unfortunately square footage lost to water storage would make rainwater collection for drinking, showering and flushing toilets a little ridiculous. The global model earthship uses two 5000 gallon tanks which would take up an area 16′x16′ and 8′ tall. That’s about half a row home basement full of water… something we generally try to avoid.

Gray water for flushing toilets is something that could be added. It makes a lot of sense, why not flush your toilet with less than pristine water? There might be a number of pluming code issues to work around, and inspectors scratching their heads at new connections but it could be worth it. What do you guys think, would you like to see a gray water system in your home?


Food Production

Next up is Food Production. In these homes you can harvest vegetables grown from your shower water and go fishing in your tilapia pond (not filled with your shower water). This is a case where urban issues like limited square footage and the hard shadows created by other buildings make a good harvest unlikely.  But if you’ve got the backyard for it we’ve got the landscape option for you! The foodie! Check it out on our customization page.

Food production is one of area of sustainable living where we like to say we give you the shell and then allow you to make your home as sustainable as you want. We’ll build it super tight, super energy efficient, with responsibly gathered materials whether you want that or not, the farming is up to you.


Sewage Treatment

Earthsips also go full hog and treat their own sewage with the aid of their indoor plants and outdoor Botanical Cells. Without the indoor planted area and a small urban backyard we prefer to rely on sewage treatment plants for this one.




You may have noticed that many of the things earthships do that works so well on rural sites are really limited by the size and orientation of urban sites. These limitations boil down to one important condition: density.

Cities are really not cities without a density of people living and working together. Earthships, done the classic earthship way, require a larger lot, more open space, less verticality, and the ability to orient your house according to the south facing sun. The city doesn’t offer those opportunities, but it does offer less commute to your job, a variety of restaurants, bars, concerts and shops. Everything that makes putting up with all those people around you worth it.

Despite the fact that Earthsips require a few specific situations to function well, Earthship living is still pretty impressive. I mean these things provide their inhabitants with all the infrastructural systems they need to survive. I’d be willing to bet your home doesn’t do that, and that’s probably why they’re called earth-ships and not earth homes.Even more impressive is that all of this built in infrastructure functions as a closed loop system. They don’t take any energy in, except what they make and they don’t have any waste.

Ideally our cities infrastructural systems would function like an earthship for a million or so people. Homes, and buildings in general, have a role to play in that, but in an urban setting the variety of land uses free our homes from the requirement of fulfilling every need necessary for our survival. That opens things up for a wider range of amenities and more of that spice of life people are always talking about. In a lot of ways city living vs. earthship living is like living on the USS Enterprise vs. a type-6 shuttle craft. Sure with the type-6  you’ve got a 50 cochrane warp engine and four RCS thrusters with the freedom of open space, but there’s no holodeck. Why would you want to live without a holodeck?

But don’t think were overly critical of the Earthship. It’s a great look into sustainable living and the fundamental concepts of sustainable design. In fact we think it would be pretty cool to see these buildings take over a lot of energy grubbing suburbia. But until that time a lot of their overarching concepts can be applied at a larger scale to our own infrastructural systems. At the building scale we can look back at some of the material performances and design intent to inform our own designs and take the elements which work in a given setting. But only under the exact right conditions would the earthship, in its classic form, function as a good urban living ship. For sustainable urban living you’ll have to settle for modest living quarters amongst the majesty of the enterprise.



Last Thursday was a busy night for design events in Philly. Not only did we have our own mid-construction event at Duplexcellence 2, but our architect pals at DIGSAU held their annual soiree and the talented artists from RAIR held an opening at Crane Arts showing off all sorts of cool stuff made in the past year from reclaimed construction waste. Needless to say, we were moving a little slower than usual last Friday. For those that couldn’t make it out that cold and wet evening, we wanted to show some pics of the event and give a brief recap of the project sales launch.

These condos are now listed for sale at the following links. The Lower A Units includes the rear yard and the Upper B Units include a roof deck. This area of Kensington South is one of our favorites and is probably the fastest appreciating of all of the areas we are currently building in.

Duplexcellence 2 Construction Event Living Floor

Yellow sawhorse make a great table in a pinch

Holding an event in the middle of construction is one of our favorite ways to give people a feel for the homes while letting them get a glimpse at the guts of a new home that you usually don’t have an opportunity to do. It’s also a lot of work. For this time around we installed the boxes and some fronts of the kitchen cabinets which were promptly removed the next morning to continue with construction. A makeshift island was constructed out of sawhorses and a random desktop. Some furniture and prints were brought in to give the living room and main floor a more lived in feel and allow visitors to better envision the space.

All is all the space felt ample for an open style living plan on the first floor. These units are efficient and we put a lot of time working with Manifest A-D on the exact details of storage, room layouts and general flow through the homes. The main floor proved it was more than capable of supporting a party of respectable size. We probably had 50 people through the event and it never felt cramped.

Duplexcellence Construction Event Living Room Kitchen

The sales team holds down the for in the kitchen while the design team discusses fashion in the living room

Duplexcellence Construction Event Living Room

The architect, Jeb Brookman, with his wife getting her power stance on

Duplexcellence Event Kitchen Island

Spiked Apple Cider is for Closers!

Duplexcellence Floating Stair

Resting disguised as filling out the living room ambiance

Teague and Ryker at Duplexcellence by Postgreen

Ryker and Teague give Federal Donuts four thumbs up

The 2nd floor is framed out for two beds and bath with laundry, storage and utility closets tucked into the spaces left over off of the central core. If you look closely you can spot our wall hung toilet temporarily mounted to it’s steel frame in the wall that will soon be hidden forever. This is the favorite feature of those who enjoy obsessively cleaning their bathroom floors.

Duplexcellence Construction Event Bedroom

Can you spot the floating toilet?

Duplexcellence Event Open Stair to Roofdeck

Double open tread stairs in this joint

Duplexcellence Front Bedroom

Engineered Lumber, 2x6 walls, open tread stairs, wall hung toilet - Not your average Philly new construction...

Duplexcellence 2 Event Posters by Postgreen Homes

A sampling of customization options tacked up throughout

It was too hazy for any decent roof deck shots so we’ll share one from a few weeks back from our Instagram archives.

Snacks were from Federal Donuts and spiked Apple Cider by Postgreen Homes. If you couldn’t make this one, we hope to see you at another in the future. Thanks for all who came out and supported this one.


One of the most fascinating times to walk through a new construction home is after it’s been framed up, but before the studs are covered with drywall. That’s why we try to have as many mid-construction tours of our projects as possible. It’s a time to learn more about the guts that make up one of our homes while also getting a sneak peak at the raw potential of the homes.

Tomorrow, Thursday 4PM – 6PM, we host our last such mid-construction event of the year at Duplexcellence 2. Check out our event page for more details and to RSVP. RSVP’ing is the nice thing to do and it helps us make sure we don’t run out of spiked Apple Cider and round deliciousness from Federal Donuts.

#Duplexcellence 2 first time seen at #GreenfestPhilly. 8 more duplex units starting in $200's and designed by #ManifestAD. #SouthKensington

So why should you come out to see this half built structure tomorrow. Most people like lists. Let’s make one. For those that don’t like lists, please stop reading now for your own benefit and re-read the paragraph above about cider and doughnuts.

Why you should go to there:

  1. It’s not often builders invite you into a house mid construction and your inner geek is really curious.
  2. This is the first day pricing is announced and these units are available for purchase and these units tend to move fast…
  3. You’ve always wanted to see exciting things like engineered lumber and PEX piping in person.
  4. These are the only condo units being sold in this amazing and growing neighborhood and you can’t afford a 2,000 SF home with a garage.
  5. It’s a great warm-up before heading to the RAIR Round-up a few short blocks away at 6PM at Crane Arts.
  6. These are the most customizable homes in Philly and the window for choosing options will only last a few weeks on this project.
  7. You’re tired of renting and want to investigate what it would be like to invest in Kensington South at the perfect time in its resurgence.
  8. You need to build up your instagram portfolio with more roof deck Philly skyline shots at dusk and maybe there will be a really cool prize for the best shot of the night tagged #Duplexcellence?
  9. You enjoy mingling with people who love design, architecture and the earth in general.
  10. Add your own reason in comments below.

We hope to see you there!


Urban Planning 101 – Border Vacuums

October 22, 2014

Folsom Powerhouse is between phases, Awesometown is soon to begin and Pop is selling… Sure we’ve got Duplexcellence II to worry about but that still leaves us with some free time to get back to blogging. So we’ve decided to pick back up with Jane Jacobs and continue our Urban Planning 101 series. This time [...]

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POP! Open House Saturday Sept 13th 11:00-1:00

September 11, 2014

Open House Saturday Sept 13, 11:00 – 1:00 2037 + 2039 Blair St. 3 Bed, 2 Bath, Roof Deck – 375,000 Plans for the weekend? Why not visit one of Philadelphia’s hippest neighborhoods and come take a look at our Pop! project, the nations first cork clad homes. We had some help from our good [...]

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Pop! Project – Now for Sale!

August 26, 2014

2037 and 2039 Blair St. Just off Frankford ave in Fishtown: Three Bedrooms, Two Baths, and Roofdeck. Also Cork. Lots of Cork.   Construction is complete on our long awaited Pop! Project and we’re pleased to announce its release on the market! These two have been getting a lot of interest as the first homes [...]

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Rich Brilliant Willing – Made in USA Lighting Options

August 13, 2014

We’re reaching the end of our #madeintheusalighting designers but before we close out we have one more east coast gang of 3 to show you. Rich Brilliant Willing, a clever combination of last names who may very well be all three of those things… who knows. They certainly have a formidable portfolio and some recent [...]

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