Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another Blog worth following

Here is the link to James' blog about his travels across Canada (with a stop at our place). Check it out!

Half Way There!

We have finished the fifth row of tires!

Only five more to go ...

Unfortunately I have NO pictures of this milestone as our camera is broken! We are attempting to solve this problem ...

The last of our July volunteers left yesterday. Thank you to everybody who came and helped over the last month, this progress would not have been possible otherwise!

Anna made a surprise comment the evening before she left. It went something like "Pounding tires is much more enjoyable than studying for my chiropractic exams!" I admit I added the emphasis but the quote is true ... So for all you people faced with a dreadful work prospect, just remember we have something more enjoyable here and its a FREE activity!

Sandra and I have spent the last few days catching up on house chores and taking a bit of a break. The garden is thriving ... mostly. The potatoes seem to have been struck down by blight, but the tomatoes vines are groaning and the onions will be ready soon.

The chickens are starting to lay eggs. We are getting about two a day now, and one of them today was actually quite large. The chickens have taken to invading the lamb enclosure, but happily the chickens and lambs get along well.

The lambs are steadily putting on weight, and all seem to be shaping up nicely. Have I mentioned that 4H lambs taste wonderful?

Over the next couple of days we plan to get more of the thermal wrap installed and berm the first five courses of tires. We also need to finish installing the building services (water lines, electrical, telephone).

We do not anticipate getting a lot done over the next two weeks as next week we are going on a kayak adventure to the Bowron Lakes. We are planning to navigate the 116 km circuit of the lakes so we will let you know how that goes.

Last weekend we prepared for our trip by dumping the kayaks ...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Installing thermal wrap...insulating our thermal mass!

Here is the beginning of our thermal wrap, installed on the east wall. Essentially we increase the thermal mass of the tire walls by wrapping them and 3-6 feet of dirt with rigid insulation and poly. During winter, the insulation traps the thermal mass of the tires and dirt and slows down the heat transfer into the rest of the bermed wall, allowing our house to remain warmer longer.

We decided to match the R value of a traditional basement wall, which is 12. This piece of blue styrospan is 2.4 inches thick and is suitable to be buried. Earthship Biotecture recommends doubling the insulation using two, two inch pieces, mostly for added rigidity for backfilling, but also to gain a few extra R values.

We decided to stick with one layer of R12. The original earthship designs did not even include a thermal wrap and as we intend to heat with an auxiliary source, we made the call to stick with a single layer. This picture shows the 2x8 sheet of insulation with the 6 mil poly that will run on the outside of the insulation, into the edge of the drainage system.

Here it is with the second and third piece attached. As each piece is placed, we are leveling them individually and to each other.

Chris and James extending the insulation along the north wall.

Here's the insulation (again on the east side), next to the cleanout for the drainage system. The insulation takes a 45 degree turn around the first U (our bedroom!)

Here it is from the opposite direction with the poly tuck taped to the insulation. Our next layer of poly will overlap by 6 inches. We will take the insulation up to about six feet (as we continue filling tires) and then the rigid insulation will slant inwards to the roof, creating a "ceiling" for the thermal wrap.

Looking east to west. As we turn the corner we add more poly and attach it to the piece already sloping into the drainage system (not shown here).

We are holding the insulation in place by means of these small wooden "cradles". Made of scrap wood, each is intended to cradle the ends of two adjoining pieces of rigid insulation (thereby necessitating the bare minimum of cradles). Where the insulation turns, we use a dedicated cradle for the end of each piece. We are also tuck taping the joins of the insulation. This also helps keep it aligned. To answer an obvious question: yes we will bury the wooden cradles. Who cares if they degrade down the road. The bermed walls will more than hold the insulation in place over time.

We only set the thermal wrap to about half of the north side of the walls. We need to feed our services through the conduits we placed under the first round of tires and we still need to figure out what some of those are (including the proper gauge wire for renewable electric)! Alvin brought in his amazing excavator to help us with drainage and backfilling, so we had him backfill oh-so-carefully around each side of our thermal wrap. He has a delicate hand on the controls; it's the hours he's spent with kids and grandkids, playing Nintendo since the 80s! Here's a video of him doing the backfilling. We sent him away until Monday when we hope to have the thermal wrap set on the remainder of the building for backfilling.

Tomorrow we lose James. He's been here just over a week, having made his way across Canada from Newfoundland with the intention of settling in Victoria. Before getting himself set up there and looking for work, he decided to make a stop and help us with our home. He's been taking carpentry and has lots of insightful questions for Chris about the construction. At first he worked only with us, before Sean and Anna made their way back from Victoria to rejoin us. They brought Josh last Sunday and the four of them have worked in concert since then. Josh is a story teller and always sees the humour in situations. Despite having very little construction experience, he has been digging in with fervor since arriving. He's headed to Calgary tomorrow for a wedding and then will return to Victoria to his work. Chris and I hope both James and Josh will come back again and help with another aspect of our project. Together with Sean and Anna I will always think of this group of 20-somethings as the "Fab Four", they are relentless workers and were the first ones to sign on to the Darfield Earthship!

We are looking forward to welcoming other volunteers in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Frugal Finds

My best frugal moment of the last few weeks: Shopping the kids' clearance racks at Sears for camping clothes and racking up $200 for swimsuits, rain jackets, rain pants, and a whole bunch of other stuff, then discovering it was scratch n save day on clearance items. Helen scratched a 40% off ticket, Katie a "pay your GST" ticket. Wow! We never win anything! It was like Christmas in July!!!! No, it was like...STEALING!

Phenomenal Progress Today!

Today we made great progress. I hung around for the first few hours helping Alvin and then took off for Kamloops for an appointment and to pick up more of our materials.

While I was gone, Kim, Curtis, Josh, Anna, Sean, James, Chris and Alvin filled half of the fourth round of tires. And, when it was stinking hot this afternoon (I wasn't going to work), they went back at it and now have only one "U" of tires left to fill! Wow! Every Earthship should have a tire press and great volunteers.

Yesterday I phoned the building inspector to find out if he had a particular schedule of inspections or whether or not the building authority would defer to the engineer for all inspections. Since 2005 inspections by registered professionals (engineers and architects) are becoming the norm on non-Part 9 buildings in our regional district and inspections by the regional building authority on these buildings are being phased out. This is also true for our earthship and Chris will be responsible for ensuring that the work he has specified is carried out satisfactorily, according to his stamped drawings.

Mind you, the building authority reserves the right to inspect if it so wishes, even if there is an engineer or architect on the project. We actually welcome this as we feel it's important for our building authority to become familiar with alternative designs. If all earthship projects went through the permit process--we think we may be one of the first permitted earthships in BC--then they would shed their "alternative" status and eventually earthships may not require the services of an engineer. This can often be an added cost of $5-7000!

I've questioned the value of our building permit cost- $1500-- in the past, but for the pave-the-way factor alone, it may be worth it!

Here's the west perimeter drain with the top layer of filter cloth. Next step is to start backfilling and install the thermal wrap. The second photo is the north (back) wall showing the perimeter drain partially backfilled.

Ongoing activity!

The last five days have been very full!

Since Wednesday, James has been here helping us. He arrived just in time to help us with the perimeter drain; I don't think he was expecting to help sort rocks when he offered to build our tire house! He's been a good sport and it was only a few days before we moved back to filling tires.

We took a break on Saturday to celebrate Gail's retirement from nursing. We spent the afternoon and evening at my brother Tom's cabin near Bridge Lake. It was nice and relaxing and Chris and I took the tandem kayak out together for the second time ever. It's been a long time since we've paddled together without kids.

Despite good intentions on Sunday the day meandered with odd jobs. Mid morning a family from Kamloops came to visit and ask questions about the house. Sunday evening I took the kids to weigh in day for the lambs and dropped Helen off at Dad and Gail's for a few days. Stephen and Katie and I returned home to find Sean and Anna returned with Josh. Alvin brought his big excavator in anticipation of faster work on Tuesday. Monday evening was a flurry of packing for summer 4-H camp in a very chaotic house!

This morning we tidied the house, hung laundry, fed lambs, vacuumed our rug and swept the floors and then two very wired kids and I left for Stump Lake and five days of 4-H camp. Upon my return through Kamloops I dashed about picking up supplies and trying to figure out pex hose and propane lines.

When I returned on Monday evening, the Robinsons were here (see their blog at and Nikki and Monica came to help. It was the biggest group of like-minded people we'd had here yet. We planned a potluck and by 7:00 or so everyone stopped working (we're on the 4th round of tires!)

I took the Robinson girls, Sierra, Ocean and Indigo to feed lambs (what an adventure!) and to check for eggs. What lovely inquiring minds those kids have! They discovered our frog family in our water service pipe and were quite entertained by them.

The Robinsons are the first family we've had visit our project with young children and we are amazed at how similar some of our own values are and how closely aligned our thinking is on how we want our family life to be. We, for example, don't think it strange at all that Kim and Curtis Robinson sold their home and bought an RV and have been travelling and home schooling their kids. That is seriously cool. What a great expererience for the entire family (sort of like closing your family business to build a house out of tires and pop cans!)

By 9:30 the mosquitoes were getting agressive and Monica and Nikki had to make their way back to Lone Butte.

Tomorrow we fill more tires. We are so grateful for the help; the house is moving along at a speedy pace thanks to the simple abundance of extra hands.

I continue to get more offers of assistance and requests to come and see what we are doing for later this month and next. I haven't had time to respond to all of them, but hope to do so this week. So far, we haven't turned anybody down as we know that getting into the thick of things is the best way to learn before a person builds their own earthship.

We've been taking photos and with Monica's cache of photos I will try to get some more posted in the next few days.

And yes, I am posting this in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Some days are so packed with activity that I have trouble falling asleep!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Updated expenses

I've taken a few minutes to update our expenses. I should note that I'm including GST in all figures, until I apply for the refund.


HPO $425.00
Building Permit $1,504.00
Septic Approval $157.50


Excavation $1,950.00


Tire Walls (inc. poly, Metal Lath + portland cement) $513.04
Perimeter drain (inc. PVC pipe and fittings, filter cloth) $528.46
Thermal Wrap (inc. poly, rigid insulation, tuck tape) $3,769.11
Nails/other fasteners $16.12
Tires $0.00
Dirt $0.00
Tire press $0.00
Cardboard $0.00



My rough estimates for our building project (minus permits) was about $5,000 to complete the drainage and the thermal wrap. So far, without our excavation time for the drainage trench, we are at $4,313.69 for these items for these two items. Based on my experience quoting out log buildings, I tend to build in a good cushion and it's a good thing I did! I grossly underestimated the cost of the rigid insulation, thinking this would cost us about $1500. We may still have to purchase a bit more, too.

Overall, we are on budget for getting the earthship to lock up so we can work on it over winter. I'm pleased by that and hope that the roof doesn't throw me any curveballs in terms of cost!

More supply shopping

Tuesday found us on the way into Kamloops with a list of supplies we needed to complete the perimeter drain for the building, the thermal wrap and the rest of the materials to do the tire walls. We are now on our third row of tires. Sean and Anna left last Saturday on errands in the lower mainland. We sure miss their help! Things go slower without them!

As our tire walls increase in height, we need to start backfilling so that we have a same-level surface to work on. That meant putting in the perimeter drain and starting the thermal wrap. On Monday evening we sat down and made an extensive list of supplies that we needed for Wednesday, which is when we asked Alvin to return and do some trench digging. On our way into Kamloops Tuesday morning Chris hit the cell phone and started to get some prices.

Our biggest learning curve was on what kind of rigid insulation to buy for the thermal wrap. The thermal wrap is the layer of rigid insulation that is buried around the house (to the height of the roof) that contains the heat around the house and prevents any thermal heat we acquire in the house from seeping slowly out into the ground. For a better explanation of this go to Earthship Biotecture at:

Rigid insulation differs in kind and price. The blue kind is the one more generally accepted for burial. However, we found a white brand that was half the price. Most sales people told us that it was not acceptable for burial. However, we saw a little bit of text on the promotional material that indicated otherwise. Sharon Donchi (who used to arrange log home shows and now works at Home Depot) called the technical rep for this company and it turns out that it can indeed be buried. We however, wanted to achieve an R12 value, which is generally accepted by Code for a traditional basement wall. This less expensive brand was only R8. By the time we ran the numbers the blue brand was still more expensive but probably by only 10-20 per cent. Using the white brand may have been less expensive, but it did have a lower compression value AND it is not generally viewed by traditional building authorities as a product that can be buried. When all was said and done we decided on the blue brand.

Generally perimeter drains are constructed using a product called Big O. This is a black, perforated, flexible pipe that is laid in a slightly sloped drainage ditch around the building. The pipe is accompanied by filter cloth and drainage rock and then buried. The idea is that if water accumulates around and in the ground surrounding the house, it will drain into the pipe and be passed around and beyond the house. However, our family and friends had had issues with Big O collapsing over time so we decided to use perforated 4" PVC. We also decided to install three vertical cleanouts should we ever get a plug up. For us, digging through 10 feet of bermed earth is a bigger issue than with a traditional home! More pictures of the finished drain in a few days!

The PVC pipe was a lesson in going to the specialists. We priced this product at all the big box hardware stores and there was up to a $5 difference in a 10' piece (ranging from $20 locally to $15 at Rona Hardware). As we were driving past Andrew Sheret, I pulled in and Chris came back with a quote of $11.10 per piece. With savings in hand, we started loading up.

Today another volunteer earthship builder arrived. James is from Newfoundland but is moving to Victoria and decided that before he got a job there, he wanted to do a few things, inlcuding help us for a few days. We are glad to have his help and look forward to Friday when Sean and Anna return with their "mate" Josh.

The photos are fairly straight forward but I'm having trouble manipulating them and being able to put captions on them. The trailer shot is of 30 of our 140 pieces of rigid insulation. There are several shots of the drainage ditch and because I'm always behind the camera, Katie took some pictures of me, doing what I do best, apparently: sitting and supervising!

Eggs have come

On Monday we got are first egg from our hens. Instead of it being in the laying boxes it was in the corner of the chicken house. It was tiny compared to the Schillings eggs. Yesterday we put fake eggs and somebody told us to put golf balls in so we did. This morning I went to go check for eggs and there I saw a small egg a little bit bigger then on Monday. It took me a long time to get the hen out of the laying box.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fun with tires!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Finished the second row of tires!

We finished filling and tamping the second level of tires this morning, and this afternoon we poured the concrete half tires and spacers on the second level.

The last five days have been busy as we charged ahead packing and filling tires. Our best day so far is over thirty tires packed, and we have been averaging around twenty.

The packer works well. With one person operating the packer, and one person supplying dirt we can get a lot of tires filled. A third (and sometimes 4th) person follows behind the packer crew filling and tamping the centres of the tires that have just been packed. One of the welds did break on the packer and I re-welded the joint that evening (hopefully better).

We are definitely finding that no two tires are the same, particularly when made by different manufacturers. Add in variations in remaining tire tread and sidewall condition and our 'bricks' have minor variations in height and wall coverage. Not a huge deal but you do have to take time levelling and matching adjacent tires. For the next round there are a few spots where I may use slightly thicker or thinner tires to adjust for these variations.

Yesterday afternoon we started preparing for pouring the concrete half blocks. We started by laying wire mesh around the location of the half block. The mesh is attached to the surrounding tires using 2" roofing nails. We also used tin roofing screws (because I have some leftover from other jobs), and these were very effective in securing the mesh. We also attached a hay wire tie from the mesh to the tire to help strengthen the mesh while the concrete was being poured and curing.

We actually poured our first half tire yesterday evening. Just as we were finishing the pour we got caught in a rain storm and had to get everything put away and covered for the night. To make matters worse the storm knocked out the electrical power and we did not have any water pressure while cleaning up. BC Hydro did not get power restored until around 10:30 am today. Breakfast was poached eggs and toast on the barbecue, and we started packing tires in the morning using the generator. Incentive to get the earthship done and off the electrical grid!

We poured the concrete using a portable mixer, screened gravel/sand off the site, and portland cement (3/4/5 ratio).

We added engineered fibres to each batch of concrete to increase the tensile strength of the concrete.

By the end of the day this is what the site looked like!

More detailed photos and captions courtesy of Sandra.

Concrete 1/2 block forms using mesh.

Here's Sean finishing up a mesh form.

Filling the second row of tires: Line with cardboard (and plastic if rainy/wet) fill with dirt, same ole, same ole!!! As many others have discovered before us, getting a perfect cardboard circle is not only difficult, it is hard to stuff in the tire! We consulted the book and started shoving two rectangles in the hole. In the rain and dampness we used thin, used lumber wrap to line the cardboard, otherwise the cardboard was soaking through before we could compact the tire.

Here's Stephen in the blue jacket filling a second row tire!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Flower Mystery Solved!

Stephen's student teacher posted a reply to our mystery! The flowers are called Livingston Daisies and she purchased the seeds at Art Knapps.

It's a small world. I was in at the Royal Bank in Kamloops today and I noticed the lady helping us had the last name of Curle, which isn't common. I asked if she was related to Stephen's student teacher and it turned out she was her mom! I left Stephen's email address and this blog address with her. Jillian had just returned from Asia and took a look at the picture on the blog tonight!

Jillian just received her teaching certificate this spring! Congratulations! I know all the students in Mrs. Fraser's Grade 4 class loved her. Here's to finding a job quickly, Jillian!

Cardboard Scavanging

Today we spent the day in Kamloops tending to errands, grocery shopping and some materials shopping for the house. We needed to get the material to pour small concrete "half blocks" for infilling in the tires. Chris will probably elaborate on that later.

Our other mission was to round up more cardboard, which is used on the second round and every subsequent round, to prevent the dirt from falling to the round below. Essentially we need a large "plug" for each tire. I had already made the round of our local stores in Barriere.

I wasn't prepared to be stunned by our cardboard search in Kamloops. Much like our first foray into tire gathering, I hadn't realized how much cardboard there is in our consumer lives! We first went to The Future Shop, figuring that a large appliance store would have big pieces. The appliance salesperson gamely disappeared into the back room and came back, somewhat apologetically, with 5 or 6 medium sized boxes. Apparently the stack of cardboard had just been "crushed". I asked him what day would be best to come and when did they "crush" their stack? Apparently any time somebody walked by and felt like compacting it.

I didn't really clue in yet but after I pulled up to the shipping bay of Sears and sent Chris in, only to see him come out shaking his head, we started our education. Chris told me that he and another gentleman were both after cardboard but they could hear the crusher start up as they approached the door. No go at Sears.

Next we pulled up to the Bay and Chris waited for a bit while an employee loaded a patio table into somebody's truck. I watched the fellow shake his head at Chris. After he got into the car I was beginning to think that these crushers must be hydraulic and make a lot of really cool noise, if they were crushing so often!

Next we went to Home Depot. I'm going to digress. We humans have a really fine tuned ability to select the information that is important to us. Despite having been at the Home Depot many times, as well as other large stores, I couldn't think where each store's shipping department would be. Some were so obvious it was amazing I didn't notice them before! But I guess when one's mind is on its target (the product to purchase) one does not think of the input/output part of the equation.

At Home Depot Chris came out with another 4 or 5 decent sized boxes. Then to my least favourite store, Wal-Mart (blech). I wish I'd had a camera. Lined up in their shipping lane were about 20 pallets with the crushed cardboard waiting for removal. These "crushers" do a really compact job. While Chris was in trying to wheedle some cardboard out of them, I was trying to decide if taking a whole bale of cardboard on our trailer on a subsequent visit would yield enough of the stiffer cardboard to make it worthwhile. Still not sure.

No luck at Wal-Mart, although Chris did ask how they handled their waste cardboard. At Wal-Mart, they distribute grey bins (we've all seen them!) around the store and as they fill they get wheeled to the back and immediately crushed. So our window of opportunity is pretty small.

Off to Superstore for grocery shopping but first to the shipping department for cardboard. Here, their policy is not to give cardboard to ANYBODY (???)

Once we'd packed in groceries and lamb feed, we were pretty full so we headed home.

On the return trip I was comparing our tire hunt to our cardboard hunt. Each waste material was waaaayyy more plentiful than even I imagined...AND even with cardboard it felt like showing up right after the tire recyclers had visited our suppliers!

Sean and Anna stayed behind and slogged away at tire pounding (in between downpours). They WANTED to; we're not slave drivers! We left them with some cardboard, which we had been finding blew out the bottom once it got water soaked (remember we were damping our dirt to help fill the tires). We also left some old lumber wrap so they could try lining the cardboard to prevent sogginess. I had also suggested some of our old advertising signs, which were on core-plast, a plastic version of cardboard. The core-plast was a winner! Unfortunately we don't have enough to do a whole house! My next project is to call around to the sign makers and see if they have any used core-plast they want us to take off their hands.

Coming up soon: Pictures of how we fill tires now that we are using the tire "press" and an updated expenses posting now that we picked up material to pour a little concrete. This expenses exercise is very good for us. It forces us to organize our receipts which is necessary when we complete the house. In Canada when you build a new home that is your primary residence, you can claim back all your GST, which is a 5 percent tax.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Expenses to Date

I wanted to update our expenses to date, so that I don't lose track of where we are. As you can see more than half our costs are permits, with most of the other half being excavation expense. We got huge value out of the excavation; it remains to be seen if we will see the value in the permit costs!!!

We are now onto the second round of tires and in a few rounds will put in the perimeter drainage system and lay in our services to be buried in the back wall berm. We are thinking ahead and putting in a few more conduits, but essentially we are allowing for: electrical wire for net metering, electrical wiring for the renewable services (solar and wind which we will probably install on our shop roof, it's huge), water line from our existing deep well, water line for our harvested water, ethernet and telephone wire and a gas line for our propane appliances (maybe).

We expect to pay a few thousand dollars to accomplish the above, but after that it is all free tires, cardboard and dirt (with a bit of concrete for the half tire blocks).


HPO $425.00
Building Permit $1,504.00
Septic Approval $157.50


Excavation $1,950.00


6 mil poly (under tires) $107.20
10' 4" drain $22.46
Tires $0.00
Dirt $0.00
Tire press $0.00
Cardboard $0.00


Sub Total

Sunday, July 5, 2009

We Are Getting Serious ...

Over the last week we have been busy pounding the base layer of tires for the earthship.

Sean and Anna Renaud arrived on the 1st of July and for the next couple of days we pounded tires as I described in my last post. Speaking for myself (although I suspect everyone else will agree) I was exhausted after a couple of days of this activity. Each tire was taking a good half hour to fill and compress and the pounding was brutal. Everybody laughed on the third day when I told them that I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep ... but I really was not joking!

There had to be a better way ... I searched fruitlessly on the internet for a couple of evenings and did not come up with any obvious solutions. I did establish from a couple of different blogs that the tire size we are using is large and other people have struggled to pound tires this large as well.

Anna actually solved the problem by telling me to visit this web site ( These people built an earthship in New Zealand and also struggled with pounding larger tires. They solved the problem by building a simple tire press. Intrigued, I studied the press in the pictures on this web page. I figured it could not be worse than pounding them by hand so decided to try building my own press ...

I started by scrounging available materials on hand. I borrowed the hydraulic drive from our band resaw, found a small hydraulic cylinder in my spare parts (bought it at an industrial auction years ago), a 16" diameter steel pipe from some scrap steel, and miscellaneous hydraulic fittings I had on hand. Bear in mind that we have been operating a log house and planing business for the last ten years.

I cut two curved packing plates from the steel pipe (generally I would recommend wearing long pants when doing this step). I welded a packing plate on each end of the cylinder, hooked everything up and ...

We had an indefatiguable tire packer.

The packer worked but it had some problems; it was difficult to load dirt into the tire around it because it was too big, and the packing plates were so big that it was difficult to position the packer in the tire.

I made some modifications ...

I truly appreciate the expression "we are cooking with gas" now because we are packing with oil and man is life easier!

We do find that the gravel we are packing needs to be damp, and that the packer does not work well with clay.

We packed 27 tires today and it was a lot of work, but not impossible work.

We hope to finish the base round of tires tomorrow (83 tires total) then we will be starting the second layer and the perimeter drain.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Zen or the Art of Pounding Tires ...

We finally got to pound tires today!

The kids and I moved enough tires for the first tier of the building yesterday morning, and spent the afternoon laying out rooms. The kids struggled with rolling tires, but were very impressed when I dumped tires out of the back of the dump truck.

Every time we design and lay out a building it always seems too small when the shell is initially laid out. As Sandra says you always worry that the rooms are big enough for their intended use, and feel badly for the customer. By the time everything is closed in (the walls are complete and the roof is on) your perspective changes and everything looks fine. This building is no different ... every thing looks too small only this time we are the customers! On the assumption that everything will go back to its proper size when it is closed in we have decided to take a deep breath and carry on ...

This morning I used the backhoe to level the ground for the retaining wall wings, and this afternoon Sandra and I double checked all the measurements and straightness of the walls. Everything looked good so we put a double layer of 6 mm vapour barrier under the first couple of tires and started pounding.

Lots of people have expressed opinions on the experience of filling around 900 tires with compacted earth using a sledge hammer. These opinions have ranged from skepticism about the process to suggestions that this might be suitable work for a chain gang. I admit to approaching my first tire anxiously ... my hopeful attitude is that it is cheaper than a gym membership and a good opportunity for meditation while focusing on a repetitive task.

The first step in the process is to shovel dirt into the tire. This was quite easy ... as I remarked to Sandra in those first five minutes I could do this all day. Shoveling dirt is physical work but not particularly hard (I say this after ten years of handling 300 pound plus timbers for a living). I could already feel my mind wandering as I settled into the repetitive task of shoveling and had to remind myself to stay in the meditative moment.

Once the centre of the tire is full of dirt the next step is to push the dirt into the casing using your hands. This was still pretty easy and a lot like gardening. You continue shoveling and pushing until you can get no more dirt into the tire. I still had no complaints, I can easily lose an hour weeding the garden.

The third step is compacting the soil in the tire. Compaction is accomplished by swinging an 8 lb sledge hammer repeatedly into the casing while moving around the tire to ensure uniform compaction. As the soil compacts more dirt is shoveled in and you repeat the process with the sledge hammer.

By the end of 10 minutes of wildly swinging my sledge hammer and sending dirt everywhere we had packed our first tire. I was sweating heavily, my arms felt weak and I had definitely lost the moment. My thoughts ranged from wild schemes to automate the process to wondering if we could switch to straw bale at this point in the construction project.

Experience has taught us that succeeding at repetitive physical labour requires working at a pace that you can sustain for a couple of hours and staying focused enough on the task that you do not risk hurting yourself. By both counts I was in trouble.

Sandra did more of the packing on the second tire while I went back to my happy place shoveling dirt. She did not wave her sledge around nearly as much as I did and there was not as much dirt flying around but at the end the tire looked (and felt) pretty much the same. Lesson learned (I think I LOOKED more impressive packing the first tire though)! We finished off by packing one more tire to make sure we were getting a feel for the whole process.

Sandra and I packed three tires and we spent about twenty minutes packing each tire. The estimates I have read state that a compacted tire takes approximately 3 wheel barrows of dirt and weighs around 300 lbs. So ... we have about 897 more tires to pack, that is a lot of free exercise and meditation time.

We are planning to work in the mornings and evenings when it is cooler, and take the middle of the day off. Personally, I am planning to spend this time off thinking of more reasons why this is a great experience. I will start by exploring the many evils of automating this process and the environmental benefits of packing each one of those tires by hand ... with a sledge hammer.
The work is really quite enjoyable; you get a great work out (for free), and you can achieve a state of mind that people strive their entire lives for. Frankly I cannot think why anybody would not want to do this, and we will probably have to insist that some people go home when we get overwhelmed by volunteers.