USED TIRES PACKED WITH DIRT and rocks, each weighing 300 to 400 pounds, form three exterior walls on an “EarthShip” home being built by the Severin family of Pomona. Allen Severin, left, and Mary Kay Severin, right, along with their son, Arron, have been working for about a year on the 2,000-square-foot “green” home. The northeast corner of the home is shown. The interior row of tires shown is being used as scaffolding. They are standing on an area of backfill and to the right of them is a “cooling tube.” A “How to Build an Earthship'' hands-on workshop is offered May 30, 31 and June 1. For more on that call the Severins at 417-274-9885. (Quill/Hampton)
Posted: Monday, May 19, 2014 1:17 pm | Updated: 1:21 pm, Mon May 19, 2014.
BY TERRY HAMPTON, Quill Staff Writer | 0 comments
Keeping 800 used tires and 8,000 empty water bottles out of a landfill in a creative way is as easy as building a house with them. Which is to say it's not easy but worth it, said Allen and Mary Kay Severin who are building an “EarthShip” house near Pomona.
They are combining the cast-off tires and bottles along with using other recycled and natural materials and investing thousands of hours of labor to eventually be able to live off of the grid, free from public utilities.
The Quill first introduced readers to the Severin family on Oct. 31, 2013. Allen and Mary Kay and their son, Arron, moved to the Pomona area from Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc., in April 2013 with the goal of building a 2,000-square-foot “green” home. They started groundwork over the summer and filled the first row of tires in September. The Quill recently visited the Severin’s property to get an update on progress.
They said that the extreme winter weather conditions presented many challenges and put a halt to work on many days. The family has been living in a camper since arriving in the Ozarks, which was rough during the cold. “But we survived,” said Allen with a smile. “We're from Wisconsin, so it was the best winter we'd seen in a while.”
The Severin's determination to remain upbeat and undaunted is an asset which serves them well in what sometimes must surely seem to be an overwhelming task. Asked if they have second thoughts about building the house, they both said no. “If we hadn't gone to visit an EarthShip home we might ask ourselves, 'What the heck are we doing?' But we know how great it's going to be, so we have no regrets,” said Mary Kay.
Three of the exterior walls of the Severin house are being built from used tires that are filled with rocks and dirt, compacted to make giant “bricks.” Construction is about halfway done on those walls which are being earth bermed, completely surrounded by dirt on the outside. The south side of the house will be a glass wall and will incorporate a green house.
Since the tires weigh 300 to 400 pounds each when filled, they are put in place before filling. They are laid one row at a time. They are over halfway done with the fifth row, which means they are almost halfway done with the exterior walls. The Severins have done most of the work themselves, but in recent times have had some volunteers helping them for which they say they are extremely grateful.
The tires and dirt provide thermal mass which means the house will not require heating or air conditioning units. The sun’s warmth which is collected and released by the home in the winter and the use of cooling tubes in the summer will provide year-round inside temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees. There will be three cooling tubes buried underground where the temperature is a constant 58 degrees. Air from the tubes which will be naturally drawn through the house by opening a skylight will serve to cool the home in the summer.
Solar panels will provide electricity which will be sufficient for almost every ordinary use, except generating the significant heat required to run a clothes dryer. An outdoor clothes line is already in place.
Rain will run off the home’s metal roof to be collected and stored in large plastic cisterns. The rainwater will be used three times, including to water plants in the greenhouse, before it goes into a septic system after its final use to flush the toilet. The interior walls will be plastered with a natural stucco, tinted with three different shades of clay gathered from the property.
A CHANGE IN PLANS
They are following a technique which has been developed over the past 40 years by architect Michael Reynolds who holds the registered trademark on the name EarthShip. Some of the details of their plan are evolving as they go. They had initially intended to use tires as the interior, load-bearing walls to divide the rooms and support the roof, but they realized they would be losing a lot of square footage and have changed their plans. They are going to use plastic water bottles which would otherwise be discarded. They estimate they'll need 8,000.
The 16.9-ounce bottles are filled with dirt, packed down in layers. The process takes about 10 minutes per bottle. The bottles will be placed side by side in rows to form walls and mudded together to hold them in place. Mary Kay said, “This is how we are going to build our interior kitchen, living room, dining room and bathroom walls. The filled bottles are 20 times stronger than a brick, fire proof and provide thermal mass as well. It fits right in with an EarthShip.”
When finished the Severin’s home will be completely self-contained, and it will allow them to be self-reliant which has been their desire for many years. They would also like to encourage others to pursue a sustainable lifestyle and are willing to share their methods with anyone who is interested in learning the process.
On May 30 and 31 and June 1 the Severins will host a “How to Build an EarthShip” hands-on workshop. It is free but limited to 20 attendees. For those who would like to attend from outside the immediate area, primitive camping sites are available. Contact the Severins at 417-274-9885 for specific information about times and what to bring. Prior to the workshop they will be looking to build up their supply of water bottles. They encourage schools, churches and other groups to save drinking water bottles, caps must be included. They are willing to pick up bottles in the Pomona-West Plains area. Call to make arrangements.
FINISHING THE HOUSE
For anyone who would like to lend a hand with construction, the Severins would appreciate volunteers and say it's a great way to learn the process. Some might not be physically able to “pound a tire,” but almost anyone can fill the bottles, a process which will take well over a 1,000 hours.
Their original goal was to be done with the house by Christmas of this year but the rough winter changed that plan. They do anticipate having the exterior walls and roof on by sometime in June and then they will be working on the interior. “We don’t want to spend a second winter in our camper so we plan to have the house done enough to stay in it this winter,” said Mary Kay, “even if we have to camp out in it.”
Mary Kay is chronicling their journey online with her blog at severinearthship.weebly.com. All are also invited to like their page on Facebook “Severin Earthship in the Ozarks.” The website earthship.com provides more information about “radically sustainable buildings.”
Mary Severin writes about her families embarkment on a learning adventure to build an Upcycled Home using Earthship Principals. To find out what these Principals are click on the Earthship Principals link above.