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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 8:57 pm 
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Joined: Mon May 30, 2005 1:04 pm
Posts: 140
Location: Heidelberg, Melbourne Australia
This great report comes from David Alder in NSW who has built a beautiful "Earthship" from recycled car tyres. Thanks David:
He writes:
We have had no
problems obtaining tyres for free. The usual question is do you have
Council approval. We do! I have really no real idea of building cost
comparison. The foundation is a concrete slab which due to problems with
contractors we ended pouring ourselves. The concrete slab for the house and
cottage including some paid labour was about $24,000. The walls have been
free except that we have used cement to stabilise the mud. So I guess we
could have spent maybe $600 on cement. Most of the main structural beams in
the roof are old railway bridge timbers and so far over specification that
it's ridiculous. We were after a look. The same is the case with the windows and doors which are recycled. So we have probably paid more than is
necessary to obtain the look that we are after. The internal and external
walls are mud plaster (see photos below). The internal walls and
ceiling are plaster. The internal ceilings are cathedral ceilings with
exposed beams.

We are located near Lithgow, west of Sydney. I am quite happy to let people
come and look by appointment but when we displayed our home in Grass Roots
we had people turning up as late as 8pm without letting us know.

We bought our property several years ago with the idea to set ourselves up
in a sustainable lifestyle. Our plan was and still is to produce as much of
our own food as possible and to build a house that is also self-sufficient
with no outside services other than the phone.

We initially planned a mud brick house until a friend introduced us to
building with car tyres. We built in two stages, The first stage was a
small cottage to learn how to build (since none of us has done it before),
then the second stage was the main house.

The rammed earth tyre construction (earthship) provides very thick walls
(700mm) which provides very good insulation. Already with no internal
heating installed there is a remarkable temperature difference inside.

We are relying on tank water and currently have 100,000 litres capacity on
site. We have yet to fill this because our current catchment is only 70 sq m
but once the house is completed this will increase to 340 sq m.

We have 20 X 80 watt solar panels with a 1600 amp hour battery system and a
small diesel generator as a back up. We have been living on the site in a
steel shed for 12 months and are still learning to live within our

Our hope for the future is to have both the houses and the our garden
available for inspection on a number of set open days during the year when
the public can come and see what can be achieved realistically in
alternative sustainable living. We also hope to offer workshops in
alternative building and sustainable living.

We own 120 acres of sub alpine forest and aim is to show we can live in
this environment without significantly affecting the surrounding flora and

I hope this gives you some idea of what we are doing.
David Alder

We first came upon this method of building while having a midlife crisis, buying 120 acres of forest and building a Sustainable Living business. We sought the advice of a friend who showed us a half-built workshop using a tyre-earth construction. We were instantly attracted to its deep walls and window seats, the free flowing lines possible, and the solid, part-of-the-earth feeling it had. We knew we wanted to build using recycled materials, that would have an organic flavour, but had decided that mud brick was probably beyond us. Our friend had done mud brick buildings as well as this new method, and had found the latter easier on old backs. The idea of being able to recycle the tyres in such a useful way really appealed to us. Full engineering specs were available, and our council passed our plans. Their attitude was very helpful, once they stopped laughing.

Economically, this is a good way to go. Obviously, used tyres are free. Our local tyre retailer trucks them out for us when he has a hundred or so of the size we want, and is happy to do so since otherwise he would have to pay to dispose of them. The earth on our block passed its testing and is fine to use, and all we pay for is the cement we use to mix with the earth. There you have your walls. Recycled windows and timbers blend beautifully with the earthen walls, as in all other earth building techniques.
It is heavy work, of course, but very satisfying. The wet earth mixture is packed into the tyres and into the gaps between tyres, and seeing the shape of the walls evolve, feels a bit like making a cubby house did when we were kids. On hot days, or when we are very tired, we can mix earth, cement and water in the cement mixer and simply spend the day packing spaces between the tyres, a cool and not too taxing process. We built a small cabin first, before starting work on the house. We have learned our trade, so to speak, on this smaller building, and developed our routines and techniques.
The tyres, empty, are laid out along the slab, and eventually one layer on top of another, as you would place bricks or blocks. Each tyre is then rammed with as much earth as can be made to fill it. The advantage of the tyres over conventional rammed earth is that your formwork remains in place, forever hidden, giving additional stability to the wall. The original US developed method entails ramming dry earth into the tyres using a sledge hammer. We tried this on our first ten tyres and quickly realised there had to be a better method. Our bodies couldn’t take the jarring. We experimented a bit and found that a stabilised wet mud brick mixture hand rammed into the tyres worked better, finishing off by pounding more dry earth in on top. This results in a rock hard wall. The final finish on the walls will be a mud render covering. The tyres are completely sealed within the wall, and not visible or able to decompose in the sunlight. This gives a wall surface similar appearance to other earth built homes, but a much thicker wall, which is an obvious advantage in cold areas.
A further advantage of tyre-earth construction over mud brick is that you are only handling the material once, because you make the walls as you go instead of making the bricks and then building the walls. We have made a lot of mud bricks as well, for use as garden steps, so we know which is easier for us. The shapes of the walls are only limited by your imagination and the constraints of your particular block. The tyre walls are load-bearing, and can be used to create some wonderful free form effects.
We decided on a corrugated iron roof. Recycled material featured high in our priorities, as did the look of large beams forming the main structural components of the house. We found the remains of an old railway bridge that had timbers very suitable for our needs at a nearby demolition yard.
The beams were attached to the walls with 2m long threaded rods that were included into the tyre walls as they were built. This was part of the fun in placing the beams as they had to be threaded over the rod as they were lowered into place. We almost got it right. All the beams lower smoothly into place except one, there is always one. As the crane was rather expensive, this one was lowered onto wooden blocks, redrilled and then lowered down onto the tyre wall using a car jack.
Undertaking the final plastering of the walls to cover the tyres also involved undertaking a range of experiments. We needed to ensure that we achieved a nice smooth finish, which provided a robust surface immune to being bumped and scratched, and also resisted water. Many experiments with different mixes eventually lead us to a wall surface we were happy with. The earth was sifted using a garden sieve to get rid of all the larger gravel in the soil. We experimented using a range of propriety products, linseed oil, lime and different quantities of cement. Eventually we found a mix of the local soil with 10-15% cement in a fairly soft mixture and applied with lime wash brushes worked extremely well. Many people recommended to us that the walls should lined with chicken wire to had strength to the plaster. However we found in general that as long as the tyres had a good tread still we seam to get a better adhesion of the plaster without the wire. In places we found that the wire inhibited the plaster gripping the walls. The walls were finally finished with a natural stone sealant to give them a little water resistance and make them easier to clean.
Before applying the final plaster we had to think about where we wanted plumbing and wiring. These need to be fitted in the walls before the final plastering is completed. The water plumbing was fixed to the tyres before being plastered over. The plumbing in particular made any irregularities in the walls stand out and how important it is to ensure that the walls are vertical. Our walls were designed to be 70 cm thick. We ended up in places with walls somewhat thicker than this due to our inexperience and the need to have the shower-head over the top of our heads.
Stud walls were used for the internal walls mainly due to the need to conserve space. The tyre walls being so thick and the building site being steep, using tyre walls internally would have meant a significant increase in the size of the floor slab and foundations and also the size of the excavations. The stud walls were fixed to the external walls by screwing them to the tyres before they were plastered.
The windows and doors we had been lucky enough to find at a demolition yard before we started building. This made it very easy to know how big the spaces needed to be. While we were building we made a frame the size of the window or door to make the space in the wall. This frame was fixed to the surrounding tyres using strapping. When we had finished all we had to do was slide the window or door into the frame in the wall and fix it to the frame. The bridge beams except for one window in the gable ends where we used old ironbark railway sleepers formed lintels for the windows and door.
The last twelve months has seen us learn a whole range of skills from ramming earth to various skills in carpentry, rendering, plastering, tiling and concreting. Using the tyres has proven very simple with no special skills needed except a lot of hard labour. We did learn how important it is that your local tyre merchant supply uniform sized tyres or else it is very easy to get the walls out of kilter. Inexperience resulted in some irregularities in the walls which can be solved by thickening the render but greater attention to laying the tyres would solve this problem. On a number of occasions we learned the benefits of planning ahead or, in our case, not planning ahead. Again this is learnt from experience or having someone to regularly talk to as things progress. This is mainly knowing what needs to be built into the walls like roof ties, pipes and cabling and power points.
On top of all this, we get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that we have recycled many more tyres than we have used on cars that we have owned. This adds a whole new dimension to our sustainable home!
David Alder


 Post subject: whtie ants
PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 11:18 pm 
The house looks fantastic Dave. On a you have any preventative measures in place to deter white ants from chewing those fantastic railway sleeper garden bed walls you've built?

 Post subject: Sleepers
PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2006 4:02 pm 

Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 8:21 am
Posts: 14
Location: Lithgow
We have doner nothing. After two years no problems. We use old sleepers in our last home and had no problems after almost 15 years. I am not aware of what you can do other than use creosote which I am not prepared to do in an edible garden.

 Post subject: any regrets using tyres
PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 8:01 pm 

Joined: Sun Mar 05, 2006 8:33 pm
Posts: 5
Location: Queensland
Hi I think ive spoken to you before would you build with tyres again,Im contemplating using either car tyres or ramed earth and would apreciate an honest opinion.I live in sunny Queensland and have a 1/4 acre block in a very small country town and I dont want to build a conventional style house.any opinions most welcome. thanks Shane. the house does look good but so you can appreciate my questions.

Hi im interested in building with cobb tyres or straw any help appreciated I have a 1/4 acre in the country town of Linville and need to build a livable dwelling on a shoe string budget

 Post subject: any regrets using tyres
PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 6:28 am 

Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 8:21 am
Posts: 14
Location: Lithgow
Absolutely no regrets using tyres
It is very labour intensive packing the tyres.
The cottage in the photos used about 450 tyres and that would represent about 110 man days work (working about 4 hours a day) working longer days we found we were so exhausted that we needed a day or two of to recover. I will also say we are not young and so not as fit as we could have been.
We also live in a cold climate and the very thick walls (approx 700mm) have been very good. The cottage maintains a temp of about 18 to 20 degrees. Some additional heating required in winter (temp down to -7 outside) but this is minimal. I might have some concerns in a hot climate unless some form of passive ventilation is incorporated in the design. Once the walls get hot they would take some time to cool down. Even in summer here when temp can get up to 35+ at night they rarely exceed 16 degrees.

 Post subject: Council approval
PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 7:11 am 

Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 8:21 am
Posts: 14
Location: Lithgow
In response to an email from Sylvester and an often asked question I offer the following

My advice in approaching Council is to go to them asking advice not going to to tell them what is about to happen. I have found if they think you are looking for their help they are much more amenable. We went asking what they would expect in our application and then went over our application with them before we submitted it. With several meetings down with them before submitting or application our approval went through in minimum time because both us and Council were happy with the application before it was submitted. I dont think any Council can ignore alternative building these days. I know of at least 3 universities in NSW with schools working with alternative building and the CSIRO has a division on alternative building. The Charles Sturt University Campus is built from Rammed Earth in Albury NSW. The Earth Building Association of Australia has just published a Code for building in earth and if you check their website they have a list of contacts for builders, engineers and architects.

We also included with the application a photocopy of the pages from Michael Reynolds book Earthships (widely available, we got ours from Amazon) showing how the tyres were packed. Finally we obtained from Michael Reynolds ( a copy of the engineering report on Dennis Weaver's house which we included as an attachment to the submission. I might add that Ed Paschich book The Tire House also has an engineering report as an appendix, we got ours at Amazon. Earthship Biotecture also produce a Building Code.

Bob Rich's Earth Building book (Australian) is very helpful in earth building techniques.

Recommended books are
Earth Building by Bob Rich (general earth building and Australian)

Earthships by Michael Reynolds (original designer of the idea of building with tyres)
Tire Houses by Ed Paschich ( Ideas more refined than Reynolds and also has case studies and an engineering report in the appendix)

There are also articles in
Owner Builder Nos 94 & 122
Grass Roots Nos 158, 166

Hope this is of some help

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