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Helpful Hints: Construction Do-It-Yourself Advice
Tips and Tricks Picked Up During 25 Years as an Aerospace Engineer

Do-it-Yourself Tips & Helpful Hints

    Here are some tricks of the trade we have discovered that will save you a lot of time and energy, depending on the type of project, and what resources you have available to you.

Fundamental Issues of Traditional Earthship Designs

    Michael Reynolds of Earthship Biotecture is a great visionary who has popularized the concept of using earth filled tires for the purposes of constructing sustainable and economically friendly homes. However, following the exact details of current information or advice put forth by Mr. Reynolds WILL lead to important problems such as ventilation issues and window leaking. To quote Mr. Reynolds pertaining sustainable housing: "We have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible".

    What follows is our own personal experiences and some advice on how to solve these issues.

 Ventilation Problems: Solution

    In the houses themselves, we see "automatic" ventilation from the bottom front awning windows to the skylights open above in the rear. However, this isn't enough.

    We began to realize a serious problem the first spring we lived in our house. The first warm day after a solid freeze (<20º) the night before, brought enough water drips for me to suspect a leak in the roof, as if it had rained (no water on roof). Without ventilation built-into the cavities between the top of the insulation, and the bottom of the roof sheathing, there WILL be a problem. This air must be ventilated with outside air for the "rain" to stop. This is easy to do in advance, and is common in the building industry, but is not something that Earthship Biotecture will acknowledge or warn about.

    In all following home designs we've built in a custom ventilation system.  Easy when you're framing, and adds no more expense or complexity.   In some houses we've also made the roof all one plane, sloping to the South or North (click to see), whichever works better for the particular design geometry. This takes the pressure off the crease caused by the "kick-up", common in M.R. designs, and also precludes the need for complicated crickets.  All roofing and most of the framing is exactly like normal techniques and hardware (like half a common normal house).  Overhanging eves take pressure off the window drainage and can be engineered to reduce summer sun when necessary.  They also provide standard soffet vents, completely shield the top of the window mullions and are capable of collecting run-off with standard gutters and downspouts.

    An easy fix for M.R. designs and the condensation caused by the lack of ventilation in the old greenhouse roofing structure is the following: add by gluing/tarring 4" of dense EPS foam insulation to the outside of the "greenhouse" roof (sheathing), and add roofing and flashings over. This insulation precludes the roof sheathing, now interior to the structure, from ever getting cold enough to attract condensation.

Window Leaks: Solution

    Warning: The Michael Reynolds' window mullion design as seen in the book "Earthship", WILL lead to leaks and condensation drips around windows in solar window arrays.  DO NOT use butyl caulk under mullions, or wooden mullions, as recommended in the "Earthship" books.  Unless, of course, you don't mind leaks, ..many leaks.  If you use formed steel mullions as seen there, use full width .06 thick EPDM strips under mullions.

    We've also discovered off-the-shelf window mullion systems that not only make a beautiful window array, but will preclude condensation drips or ANY window leaks into the house.  This accomplished by sensible and ingenious design using proper materials.  Seals are made with extruded EPDM instead of butyl caulk, as recommended by Michael Reynolds.   image

    The only manufacturer we have currently located of authentic greenhouse window systems for slanted windows is Abundant Energy, Inc.

    Approximately $9.00 per running foot of window border.  This design may also be formed out of sheet metal and costs are considerably less, but the product won't be nearly as attractive nor as reliably consistent.  Surface finish durability becomes an issue using galvanized sheet steel, whereas the products above are hard anodized aluminum in many colors and are practically impervious to any environment for many years of service.

    In our lower window array, we installed three vertical awning windows in 3' x 2-1/2' wide in dormers.  Another approach is to use an awning window on the same angle as the window array, as shown on right. NOTE: Manufacturers of these windows will not recommend their use on an angle and custom flashing needs to be installed at the top of the window in order to preclude leaks

 Sub-surface Water Incursion: Solution

    Nothing will spoil your beautiful new passive-solar home more than water coming through your walls and up under your flooring! To keep walls dry, a full perimeter French drain is employed. The outside of the tire wall is then draped with two sheets of plastic film, lapped into the French drain. To keep floors from spotting with mineral deposits, a full coverage plastic sheet is placed between the gravel underlay and the concrete floor. Large, thick insulative floor coverings, such as wall-to-wall carpeting are generally not a good idea, but you can find a variety of acceptable flooring choices/contractors that will suit your taste and requirements at the local flooring store or home improvement outlet.

All of the designs, blueprints, and construction consultation that we provide at Touch the Earth Ranch take into account issues such as these, and provide economical solutions for them in the original designs.


images "... but physically pounding dirt into 1000 plus tires - ouch! Instead of pounding dirt into all those individual tires, a good friend and architectural designer of [passive-solar tire] houses, Michael Shealy, suggested we use TIRE BALES for the outside walls. "

by: Kathy K., Home Owner/Builder

About Michael Shealy

   As an Architectural Designer, Michael provides residential designs using hybridized practical building techniques. These methods are beneficial to the Earth and the end user, employing used tires that are a highly durable, easily obtainable/free building material that removes problem waste from the eco-cycle.