Tire Houses: An Effecient Construction Method
Exploring the Benefits of Using Earth-friendly Materials
Tire Houses: An Effecient Construction Method
Did you know?
An average sized tire-house will remove 2,000 tires from the ever growing pile. Beyond that, an efficient passive-solar design will save billions of BTU's and millions of kilowatt hours NOT created with hydrocarbon fuel.
In addition, earth rammed tire-homes have LESS than a "Carbon-Zero" footprint. Meaning, the construction of such a building removes materials from the planet (such as tires, bottles, and cans) that would otherwise take excessive energy (and pollution) to traditionally recycle. The result is a "negative carbon" footprint construction method!
Tire Wall History
Though the "Earthship" books began being published in the late '80s, tire walls have been around much longer. See the picture at left, a tire-retainer wall created in 1935, in Black Forest, Colorado. Passive-solar technology has been more or less 'popular' since the early '70s "energy crisis". Putting the two together with an Earthy marketing twist, is the Michael Reynolds' product...the "Earthship". The three books, Vols. I, II & III, give you enough information to understand the basic concept and sometimes get yourself in a bunch of trouble if you DIY like I did.
The tire-house (generic "Earthship") can be a very practical method of building a bermed, passive-solar residence, using mostly renewable and free building materials that draw little from the Earth's energy resources (that haven't already been drawn). They are easy and pleasant to live in, though quite a bit different than stick-framed houses. They are also low maintenance and cost effective to construct. Due to their continuous invisible carbon footprint, they give back to the Earth in a much larger sense, for the life of the home.
How does it work?
In that the construction method itself provides thermal storage (thick, heavy walls), no thermal mass needs to be imported into the structure to store the heat gained by the solar array of South-facing windows, as is necessary in stick-framed passive solar homes. This inherent thermal mass storage and the almost continuous addition of vast amounts of heat via the solar windows, keeps the inside temperature relatively consistent within "normal" living temperatures, once the thermal mass of the house "charges" with heat. The plumbing in this house would never freeze, in spite of outside temperatures being well below 0˚F, because the biggest part of it is well below the "frostline".
Our winter auxiliary heating amounts to less than one cord of firewood per year, and burning wood could be abandoned completely if we didn't spend so much time outside. Our winter minimum inside temperature is usually around 63˚F in the shade. In the sunny windows the temp can be over 100˚F even with the outside temp being as low as 0˚F. On sunny winter days, we don't need a woodstove at all.
As a result of the large amount of thermal mass in the house, the ambient temperature doesn't fluctuate as it would in a stick-framed home with no heat. Even with the woodstove going, the inside temperature doesn't go up but one or two degrees because of the large amount of "stabilized" mass. The thermal mass of the home literally pulls heat out of the air. Then when the air temperature of the room goes below the temperature of the walls, the heat comes out of the walls to keep the room relatively warm and stable.
Peripheral drains, insulation and plastic film vapor barrier are placed in the earth berms that are built-up to the tire walls, in a configuration that amplifies the capture of thermal mass storage, prevents heat loss/gain and allows normal drainage to avoid the home's interior. This stabilized interior can be obtained in any climate, by placing insulation while facing and shading windows.
More used tires, less work! ... Tire Bales
In 1998 I was introduced to tire bales by the folks at Midway Tire Recycling, Midway, CO. They'd heard that I was designing homes using rammed-earth tires and wondered if I would be interested in using tire bales instead. Upon seeing them used in building a tool shed, and doing some intensive research, I knew they would be a great alternate for pounding dirt into tires, provide the same functional values, AND, they'd use 10 times as many used tires.
It took 4 years of searching alternate building groups on the Internet to find a Registered Professional Engineer who would recognize their value and go ahead and stake his engineering career on an untried residential building material. Thanks tons to Leonard Jones, P.E., R.I.P., who then approved my first set of tire bale house plans for my first tire bale client in August, 2002, yet another in October, of that year and off we go. Its been almost all tire bale houses since then. Its so much easier to build, its definitely THE BEST alternative to pounding tires.
Tire bales are a product of the tire recycling business, the ever growing piles of tires and the limited space recyclers are faced with. They are big "rubber bricks" composed of roughly 100 used tires, compressed under great pressure and wrapped with five, 1/8" diameter, steel wires, actually weighing-in at a ton and are sometimes FREE to the end user!! They produce a thermal mass wall with exactly the same characteristics as a rammed-earth tire wall, only its 5 feet thick. See more here
"Michael has been great to work with and has provided many helpful suggestions and even helped us get a Professional Engineer to approve our plans prior to taking the plans before the Grand County Building Department !"
by: Laura H., 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.