Recycling and sustainability are all the rage but the tire industry even now contributes heavily to landfills. In the United States alone, 300 million tires are discarded every year. It is vital to ensure that these tires are recycled in a meaningful manner. One innovative way in which used tires have been reused is through the construction of tire homes. Known as “Earthships”, these tire homes are made by packing tires full of earth, and then stacking them in a manner similar to stacking bricks. They are then clad with compacted earth to form a home. These homes reduce the penetration of heat in hot seasons and store warmth during winter thus providing extra insulation and reducing energy costs. They depend on the public grid for energy at minimal levels and are thus highly useful from the perspective of sustainable housing design and lifestyle.
These earthships are the brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds and he first conceptualized a “Thumb House“ in the early 1970s, going on to develop the concept further in the later year years His key goals when making these houses were to make use of locally sourced and recycled materials, to use natural energy sources as far as possible and to make construction easy even for those who had no specialized construction skills.
The tires used in the construction of these houses help to harness the energy of the sun and this is optimized with the use of natural cross ventilation to help regulate the indoor temperature. The thick, dense tire walls are staggered like regular bricks. The tire houses are normally horseshoe shaped structures having openings typically facing toward the Equator to maximize natural light and heat gain during the cold winter months.
The tire walls and compacted earth use the properties of thermal mass to absorb heat during the day and radiate it at night and thus there is minimal need for heating or cooling appliances as the interior climate remains comfortable.
Some might worry that the tires used in the structure might pose a serious fire risk. But this is not the case. The tires cannot react with oxygen as they are sealed within thick walls. The plaster used to cover the tires increases fire resistance to the building and tire homes usually meet (or exceed) local fire regulations.
A 2,000 square foot tire home would use up around 1,000 tires which would otherwise end up as scrap. Tire-bale houses which use a lot more tires have also been created. Tire-bale homes are fashioned from square bricks, each of which contain approximately 100 compressed tires and weigh about 2,000 pounds. These tiles are then stacked to create an exterior house frame and finished with a layer of plaster or stucco.
Over time, these building ideas evolved into the horseshoe shaped Earthships seen today. “Earthship” is now a trademarked name and design of Michael Reynolds who runs his Earthship Biotecture company from Taos, New Mexico.
Such earthships have been built in different parts of the world and they range from a school in Sierra Leone to a recycling center in Khayelitsha, South Africa and a visitor’s center in Ushuaia, Argentina. They have been built in many European countries including Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Estonia and Czech Republic.
The first official Earthship district was created in Olst in the Netherlands and comprised 23 tire homes.
There was even a movie called the “Garbage Warrior” which followed Mike Reynolds as he made more earthships. He plans to popularize this concept in the developing world
Tire homes can provide people in these countries with the means to make permanent and sustainable without using up expensive imported materials. The Earthship model has evolved a lot over the past four centuries and offers a fresh take on the dilemma of how to dispose off used tires
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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