It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since we first started working on the “Garbage Garage” , a new garage constructed using rammed-earth tires and salvaged glass bottles. (see our post from June 2009)

Last month, the painters completed their work. It is done!



In this blog, I’ll discuss our design process and preparing for construction. Next month’s blog will be focused on the construction process.


The genesis of this project was 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.

We are grateful to our amazing clients (Elizabeth and her husband Joe)  for the opportunity to be involved in such an interesting and important project.  We appreciate their tenacity in getting the project done and their amazing outlook even during the biggest challenges we encountered.

Construction Documentation and Planning for Construction

The project was quite a journey…we worked hard with Joe Fix, our structural engineer, on proper detailing for the project. The wall details and construction became a hybrid of the methods used by Long Way Home in Guatemala and methods traditional for this area and required for permit approval. Ericka Temple, who is part of Long Way Home, assisted with the construction drawings and was also part of the construction crew. The final design included a massive concrete foundation with steel reinforcing bars anchoring the foundation to the tire walls. Here is one of the wall details:

 rose_wall secs copy

Placing the garage on the site was another challenge. Construction of the garage would be near a beautiful cherry tree and we needed to avoid harming it during construction. We also wanted the placement to ensure that the garage was not seen first while approaching on the drive. Matt Ulrich from UBLA provided the site design work for what proved to be a perfect location for the new garage.

DSC_0109 (16)

We had some touch and go with the moving the project forward. Our first hurdle was finding a contractor comfortable working with the rammed-tire process. Our clients planned to bring a Long Way Home crew from Guatemala to complete the tire portion of the project, but contractors were still squeamish and bid the project (high) accordingly. We even had one low point in the project when our client requested that for cost reasons, we revise the drawings for conventional construction. The project lost all momentum until Elizabeth said, “Wait! What are we doing?” She really wanted the garage to be as originally conceived, a demonstration of construction using salvaged materials.

GreenBridge’s partner company, The Riverview Company, stepped up to the plate. Steven was excited to see the construction method and was comfortable working with the Long Way Home Crew. Next hurdle – permitting!

The Permit Process

When we were initially looking at the project, I spoke with the Georgetown building inspector. He was excited to work with us in the permitting process. He is also a ‘green’ builder, and we felt we had a strong advocate in the town. Once we were ready to submit for permit, we found out that he no longer worked there!! The interim inspector ended up being incredibly helpful and supportive of the project, but did request review from the state inspector and additional engineering documentation for the project.  Once we’d submitted proper engineering documentation and agreed to have the rammed earth in the tires tested for compaction throughout the construction process, the permit was approved. We obtained structural reports from EarthShip verifying the structural integrity of the rammed-earth tire walls, and we engaged McPhail and Associates to provide compaction testing.

With our soils engineer at the ready, contractor in place, and plane tickets purchased for the Long Way Home crew, we were ready for construction. Stay tuned to our next blog on construction of the Garbage Garage!

Juli MacDonald, GreenBridge Architects



Starstruck at Greenbuild 2008

November 21, 2008

expo2On Wednesday, I visited USGBC’s Greenbuild 2008 with Lisa Kawski of lmkinteriors, ltd.  We were so excited as we rushed from the frigid outside into the beautiful Boston Expo Center.  We quickly realized that we had no chance of sticking together.  Lisa was focused primarily on interior finishes, and had a goal of finding some new resources for sustainable fabrics and furniture.  I was more interested in the building envelope and new options and technologies for its construction.  So we split up fast, but kept up via cell phone…..

These shows are always somewhat overwhelming.  For example, it’s easy to get into a conversation about bamboo and its questionable ‘green-ness’, and then find that a half hour has passed and you are still in the first aisle.  Time is limited and there is a lot to see.  Most vendors were able to scan our badges to load us in their database.  It is a great way to know that you’ll be able to learn more about the product later, but Lisa and I were both a little concerned about what to expect from them in the future.  An email follow-up is desirable, a full ‘architectural’ binder is not! expo1










I found myself drawn to green resource collaboratives and distributors.  If the collaborative or resource center has a strong vetting process, these can be an effective and efficient way to keep up-to-date on and select materials and products, and to anticipate drawbacks or any special considerations.  I have some favorites already – Building Green ( is one of the most respected and reliable sites for assessing the value of materials.  I’ve also been intrigued by Toolbase Service Design and Contruction Guide, which incorporates feedback from the field on new materials and systems. 

At Greenbuild this year, I was introduced to some new exciting resources:  Sylvania lighting launched (Wednesday), a green social networking site (and an advertisement for Sylvania, of course), allowing disparate greenies to connect. is another potentially valuable resource for green buiding products and professionals. 

jaga1My favorite building product of the day was the Jaga radiators, found at .  I was stopped dead in my tracks by how beautifully designed the units are.  The Jaga units are hydronic or water heating units, which can replace fin-tube radiators or baseboard radiators.  They are a ‘Low-H2O’ fin tube radiator, so hold less water than a traditional fin-tube radiator, so they heat faster and in a more uniform and precise way.  

From their website:

“After detailed scientific research, the fin tube radiator has been redesigned for maximum heat output with low water temperatures.
  • high tech aluminium fins: corrugated fins with increased contact surface and smaller interim distance for extra power
  • parallel flow copper tubes with brass collectors
  • radiator dimensions are calculated to provide the best air circulation with a lower exit air temperature
  • low “inertia”: because of the low water content and weight, heat will not be stored in the system, but be emitted directly into the room “

Richard Trethewey from This Old House was checking them out too – I’ll be curious to see what he thinks!  Yes, I was starstruck by Richard Trethewey….”Is he the plumber from This Old House??”  Wow.