Tires, Cans and Bottles, Oh My!
June 8, 2009
This month I started the design work on a new garage in Georgetown that will have walls built from rammed-earth tires, cans and glass bottles… keep your mind open and read on!
Methods and Results
The construction methods are not new; this type of construction is closely related to indigenous building methods that have been used for centuries. However, an architect and builder in New Mexico, Michael Reynolds, is the visionary behind building with garbage. He has been using old tires, cans and bottles for decades, to create homes that are entirely self-sustaining and off the grid. His website www.earthship.net and the documentary ‘Garbage Warrior’ are the best resources on his life and his buildings.
A Michael Reynold’s design and built home
Tire building is an alternative construction technique that uses discarded tires and dirt as building materials. The tires are filled with dirt found on the site and then stacked to form walls. The tires are then covered with a stucco-like finish.
In another eco-friendly building method, glass bottles or cans are stacked like a masonry wall or within a wooden frame using mortar, and the wall is then finished with stucco.
These construction types have many benefits. First, they provide an environmentally friendly way to use items that would otherwise be either in a landfill or would need to be recycled. Second, they can be beautiful. The tire walls can have a smooth stucco finish and will be very thick, with deeply set window sills. When glass bottles are used (two bottoms of bottles are taped together to make an enclosed bottle), the walls bring in a beautiful dappled colored light to the interior of the building. Third, tire or dirt-filled-can construction in a habitable, heated structure (not a garage) has an added benefit of being a solid thermal mass, which holds the sun’s heat from the day and slowly releases it’s warmth throughout cooler evenings. And finally, these alternative construction types are examples of looking beyond status quo in construction practices to create more sustainable buildings.
The genesis of this project is my client, Elizabeth Rose, who is president of Long Way Home, a community-based, nonprofit organization in Guatemala that is building homes and schools using these construction methods. In Guatemala, these construction types are a perfect solution for very poor residents who need shelter and community buildings. In addition to the benefits noted above, building with tires, cans and bottles is cheap; the materials are virtually free, labor costs are low, and the building techniques are easily taught to otherwise unskilled laborers.
Elizabeth saw her family’s need for a garage as an opportunity to showcase alternative environmentally sustainable building practices and to help potential supporters understand the important work that Long Way Home is doing.
From the Long Way Home website:
“Long Way Home’s mission is to collaborate with community members, drawing together knowledge, experience, and creativity into the design and implementation of development projects. For example, by utilizing alternative building methods and community collaboration, Long Way Home has completed Parque Chimiya, a sustainable community park. In addition to the new soccer field, basketball court, and community kitchen, alternative building methods promote the collection and reuse of local garbage which help to combat environmental and health issues caused by trash burning. A healthy environment, Long Way Home believes, is integral in sustaining a healthy and empowered community.”
Making It Happen
The garage design is a simple gable form and incorporates elements (roof lines, window style and details) from the main house. In the craftsman-style wood detailing above the garage doors, we’re planning to use the glass-bottle construction. From a design perspective, we’ll be working on which of the building techniques make sense around the building and on the details with our Guatemalan experts, our structural consultant and the builder.
For the project to be feasible in Georgetown, we will be relying on structural demonstrations by our engineering consultant and on the open-minded building inspector in Georgetown. The construction itself will be a combination of local builders and a visiting team from Guatemala. We’re incredibly excited to see the project and the process take shape. I can’t wait to share the work of filling one tire with Elizabeth! Stay tuned and see the sites below for more information.
Long Way Home http://longwayhomeinc.org
Michael Reynold’s website http://earthship.net
A great post on alternative building materials: http://energysmartideas.com/blog/category/alternative-building-materials/