Colorado Earthship Build: Day 16 (Installing door frames)

So yesterday we worked on the footings for the exterior doors. Today, the plan was to install the doors.

The doors and their frames are premade by Earthship Biotecture in Taos and then they just ship them to the build site for installation. This does save a lot of work, however these doors are made from real wood. It’s only spruce or pine, but you build something looking like the below and it’s no lightweight.


That’s actually two doors and one frame. I removed the doors from their frames for easier installation and transportation. Here is a shot of just a frame.


Yeah, all of the doors have that funky semi-arched look and it was our job to install them on top of the footers that we poured yesterday. Only there was one problem: we weren’t able to finish the pour of the exterior door footing yesterday as they ran out of cement. We left it looking something like this.


We only missed it by about 3 or 4 inches (7.5 to 10cm). There was also one extra problem we had to deal with: 3-4 inches is not enough depth to put in an anchor bolt. I mentioned that to Phil in the morning and he said he thought about that last night evening as well. We ended up using a different technique to get around this.

What you do is take your nailing plate that would normally be attached via the anchor bolts and porcupine it with nails or screws. Kat did that while I was fetching doors (a lengthy process). Here is a shot of the porcupining. You put the nails at all different angles.


Once that was done Kat also painted the plate with a sealer called SuperDeck. Not sure if we have that brand in Canada, but basically it is a wood sealer type product. After all of that prep, it was time to finish the pour. So we ordered up some concrete and dumped it in the trench.

Here is Kat working her leveling magic.


Unfortunately, I didn’t take an after picture so I’ll just have to describe it. After you finish pouring the concrete and have it all leveled, you put the nailing plate on top of the wet concrete so all those nails that you put in the plate penetrate the concrete. It should sit flat on the top of the footing. We leveled the nailing plate after putting it in place making sure it was as perfect as we could get it. When all that is completed, you leave it to let the concrete set.

From there we moved over one door footing to the interior door to prep it to receive a door frame. This one did have anchor bolts, so the first thing you need to do is grind off the excess threads sticking up over the bolt. Here is me doing just that.


Putting in a door frame has a lot of fiddly steps to it. It’s not like you can just put the frame on the nailing plate, screw it in and call it a day. There are so many measurements you need to take.

Using the site level (also called a transit level) we took height measurements to make sure the nailing plate was the correct height.

Here is a picture of Mike Reynolds evaluating Kat’s transit level use.


We also established a string line so we would know exactly where the door frame should sit. There was a lot of measuring using a level and a framer’s square for that too. We were told how far over from the wall to put the door frame so we measured that carefully as well.

Next we had to bore out the holes on the bottom plate of the door frame where the anchor bolts were sticking up. This allows the door frame to sit flat on the nailing plate. That’s kind of important.

We eventually got everything set, measured, leveled and braced. We had to re-adjust it a bit, but eventually we ended up with a plumb door frame all braced and ready to have bottle work started around the outside of it.


Or so we thought. In the above picture, you can see Heather, Rory’s wife (who is responsible for most of the amazing bottle work that Earthship Biotecture does) preparing the frame by porcupining it with screws so it will bind with the mortar around the bottles.

Anyway, it all proved to be for naught. It turns out Phil made a measurement error and the position we had put the door at would not allow the window strut to reach the greenhouse trusses above without hitting the door. So we had to rip the whole thing out and move it over 6 inches (15cm). Unfortunately, by the time we found the error and managed to remove the all of the bracing and frame from the nailing plate it was time to clean up.

It was a bit disappointing to do all of that and then have to take it all apart, however, having done it now we should be able to do it much quicker tomorrow.

Once again, we have more pictures from other areas around the build. Remember the bottle work beside the door into the garage from the house? Well, it’s all lit up now. Kat took this fun picture.


As mentioned above, we had to remove the door frame so we could move it, but that was after Heather managed to have fully porcupined it so that made it more challenging to move. You can see it out of its spot in the picture below. You can also see the big nailing plate with some of the green house trusses having been put in place.


Just in case you may have thought that we forgot about the stairs on the west side, those have been worked on as well so they are up to the same level as the east side.


Here is a shot of the roof with all of the decking on it. If you’re wondering about the gap in the middle where you can still see the logs, that’s where more can wall in-fill will be happening along with more concrete. This will end up being the front of back/upper floor so I’m pretty sure there will a couple of tire courses there to meet up with the glass coming down from the roof.


Remember those rebar arches over the garage entrances? They started with a basic rebar frame, and then a remesh grid was wired to that. Now they have added lath to that to create a cage like structure that will receive the mortar for the arch.

If you’re wondering what that grey plastic pipe going through the mesh work is, that is conduit for electrical. I’m pretty sure there is going to be a light embedded in the top of the arch so the garage entrance will be lit.


Ahh, yes. That atrium detail at the front. Here you can see they have started to put in the form for the next pour. There is some seriously complicated carpentry going on there. No wonder it has taken them a few days to get it right.


We had another Q & A session with Phil at the end of the work day today.


Back home, a number of people who are building homes that I have spoken to have mentioned a new code that requires a certain amount of air flow in every room. This boils down to most people being required to install expensive duct work and ventilation systems in their homes. I asked about this and Phil had a two part answer: first, from his experience, Earthships generally have plenty of fresh air coming in so he didn’t think those ventilation systems would be necessary. The second part is that proving that to people who approve building permits would basically require some number crunching by an air quality engineer. I guess we’ll be looking into that when we get our plans.

Another thing I asked about was all the wood framing being used in this build, as traditionally, Earthships use mostly can walls for interior walls. In this particular case, they have a lot of pluming and electrical going through all of those walls, so making them out of cans would make that work really difficult. Many of the differences we are seeing on this build are simply as a result of the unique design and not to be considered what you would normally put in a standard global model Earthship.

If anyone reading this has any specific questions they want to know the answers too about Earthship construction or design, please let me know and I’ll do my best to get an answer before we leave.


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