Building an Earthship Home

After being inspired by a MOTHER EARTH NEWS article, a construction company built their first passive solar-power, tire house earthship.

| February/March 1993

  • tirehouse1
    Tire disposal can be turned into something productive.
  • tirehouse2
    Construction begins on the solar-powered tirehouse.
  • tirehouse3
    A tirehouse is warm and secure.

  • tirehouse1
  • tirehouse2
  • tirehouse3

"It's one thing to read about it in a magazine or see it on TV, but when people see it in their own state, with someone they know, they start to pay attention. We're hoping they think, `I could live in one of these,"' says Sheryl Logan. A founder of Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) of Idaho, a small construction and land-development company, she is referring to Solar Summit—a new and totally solar-powered subdivision with super-efficient construction.

The idea for the first home came from a Mother Earth News article by Michael Reynolds, a New Mexican architect who designed and built the "earthship:' (See Earthship Homes.) Reynolds' construction design is based on the theory that the denser that matter is, the more stored energy it can hold; the denser the walls of a house are, the better able they are to retain temperature. Reynolds' concentrated walls of dirt-packed tires and aluminum cans are so dense they act as the home's primary cooling and heating source.

Kenny Olson, another one of PMA's founders, read the article and was intrigued. He and his company had been looking for a way to reduce waste and improve the quality of life in building, business, and life in general. Olson thought the earthship was a great idea because there are literally millions of tires out there, taking up space and polluting the environment. "It's a great thing to be able to turn such a significant environmental problem into something productive. There has to be more of this kind of recycling. There are actually some tire companies who will pay you to take tires!"

So he took the idea to his two partners, J. Scott Fenwick and Sheryl Logan, and together they came up with a plan to develop their own solar-powered tirehouse. However, when they found 110 acres of gently sloping ground north of Boise, Idaho, the plan of building one solar-powered tirehouse grew into a goal of developing an entire solar subdivision with 14 lots. Although this land had been plotted as a subdivision 12 years before, nothing had been done with it because of the cost of bringing in a traditional power supply was too high. "This is a wonderful example of having a vision for something that appears useless," Fenwick says. "Nobody thought this land would ever be developed because `normal' power is just too expensive out here:'

The Solar-Powered Home

Solar Summit's first home—similar to Reynolds earthship design—is a 2,500-square-foot adobe-style house cut into Idaho hillside. It's a split-level, with two floors made of stone, eight-foot ceilings, two bedrooms, and a metal roof. There are 30 windows (seven are operable) that slant to the south, deflecting the hot sun in the summer and soaking up the sun's low-angled rays in winter. As for the walls, they are made of 1,000 tires, each stuffed with over 300 pounds of dirt. Aluminum cans are stuck between the tires, and adobe or stucco covers the tires for a smooth finish. (It's hard to get much denser than this.)

As of November, five lots had been sold. What types of people are looking to move into this subdivision? According to Olson, who is also the development coordinator for the project, the average home builder is concerned with today's skyrocketing building-material costs, higher and higher energy costs, and concern for the environment. People want energy-efficient homes to keep these costs down, and are beginning to look for alternative building techniques:'

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