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 ...

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.


David with a small earthship in MI said...

I found too that a sledgehammer just doesn't seem to be the best shape for this. The face is too narrow so it seems to displace almost as much dirt as it compacts. Your power compactor looks like a neat solution. In one of the comments you mentioned that you still pre-pack a couple wheelbarrow loads before the power compactor. You might like to make what I used for all my compacting to do this. Basically I made a much wider sledgehammer out of cement, wire re-enforcing, and a heavy wood handle. If I made it again I might use a thick walled pipe for the handle as my wood one is starting to crack under the stress of heavy pounding. I used an old 1 gallon plastic pot that some plant from a nursery came in for a mold. Into this I stuck my handle with wire attached to the bottom. Then filled it up 4 inches or so with cement and let it all set up. After removing the plastic pot I had a great tool with a much wider head, much like the shape of your power compactor actually, that fits well into the curves of the tires. The wide flat bottom of the tool was also excellent for tamping the dirt in the center of the hole as well.

Sandra said...

I'll have to get Chris to comment on this as I'm having trouble visualizing your special tool.

Hand packing is actually not too bad...Chris pulls the tractor load of dirt right up to the tires and we shovel dirt in standing in one place and then we have tight fitting gloves with a plastic outer lining to prevent our hands turning into sandpaper. You can actually scoop from the centre of the tire up into the casing fairly easily and use your fingers to shove the dirt in the bulgy part. The muscles in my forearms are looking pretty good!

We are working slowly on the third tier right now as we are, at the same time, trying to do our perimeter drain and get the thermal wrap started.

How did you do your thermal wrap, David? Biotecture just updated its info on this and they are advocating a 6' out and 6' up thermal wrap area, with 4 inches of rigid insulation.

Anonymous said...

After 150 tires I have figured out that there is a pattern you can use. Hit the ground with the hammer and look at what happens. The dirt kinda flips out the side because the face is round. This face can be used to your advantage. Instead of hitting towards the wall of the tire hit at an angle. You will be prepacking ahead of you and the strike is more effective becaus eyou have blocked 75 percent of the places that dirt escapes by hitting at an angle. I also got a air tamper. That thing is fun once you figure out how to put the right amount of pressure on it. IM getting about half the force of a sledge but it about 700 hits per min so more work. But im still watling to see what my electricity bill looks like. But I have managed to pack 10 tires yesterday on about 2 hours. Which is way better then 2 hours of whackin away at the tires. PLus it sounds like a fully auto potato cannon. But I did think of that design about a year ago. I even priced the cylinder and all. I just never had the money. It looks good. I wish I had as much gravel in my dirt as you guys. lol

Dr Jack
Earthship Edom (Texas)
google "dr jack earthship" to find me. I have hd footage of gwc oin taos.