Category Archives: Construction

Posts related to the construction of an earthship

Martin Earthship Pack-out

It’s been well over a month since my last post and I’m sure there are people wondering what is going on with us. Fortunately, I have some Earthship related news this time.

Last Saturday (July 15th) we trucked down to Mallorytown (near Brockville, ON) and helped out at the Martin Earthship. It’s a full three hour drive for us to get there, so we were up early and out on the road to make it there for 10am.

We had been down there last year, helping to pound tires. This time, we were doing pack-out. For those not familiar with pack-out, this is what we call the procedure by which we fill in the spaces between the tires after they have been pounded with dirt. I talked about this extensively during our trip down to Salida, Colorado, so I won’t go into too much detail.

We had a really decent day for this, as it was partially cloudy, but no rain. Jay and Erin (the owners) also have these portable tent-like shades that we moved around the site to keep the sun off us as we worked.

Here is the first picture of us all looking very busy.

They only have three full courses of tires completed, with a fourth partially done, so it didn’t take us long to move down the length of the wall.

Here you can see the basic idea of what we’re doing. The idea is you throw in a blob of concrete (after wetting the surface of the tires first – very important or your concrete won’t stick) and then put an aluminum can in the space.

Cover the first can with more concrete and then put two more cans in. Add more concrete and by the time you have that all covered, you should be coming out pretty close the the outer edge of the tires. The purpose of the cans is to save on concrete, so they’re really just spacers in this case.

Here you can see Kat hard at work testing out the hammock.

By the end of the day, we had done the pack-out from one end of the house to the other. Here you can see me. It kinda looks like I’m looking for an offering with my hands out like that, but really I’m carting a handful of concrete over to the wall.

Overall, it was a great day, we accomplished things, met some new people, shared our ideas and generally had a great time. Jay and Erin are always great hosts.

Something to note on Earthship pack-out: if you wait until you have the roof on before you start doing pack-out, you can use adobe or cob instead of concrete. This may or may not be cheaper, depending on how easily you can get your hands on clay. You don’t want to do adobe/cob before the roof goes on though, otherwise, if it rains, it’s all going to fall out. Related to that, any tire wall that is exposed to the outside (like wing walls, for example) must have concrete for pack-out for that same reason.

If you’re wondering where we are at with our own Earthship, we still require an engineering stamp for our plans. We have found a local engineer who is himself building an Earthship so that is a big bonus. Unfortunately, he isn’t fully certified yet as he will be sitting his last exam in August, so we’re in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment.

Pounding tires at the Martin Earthship

Seeing as we have copious amounts of free time (that was sarcasm, if you missed it), Kat and I decided to go join a bunch of other volunteers last weekend (Aug 20th, to be exact) down in Mallorytown, ON to do some tire pounding.

Erin and Jean-Francois Martin have started working on their Earthship and put out the call for a volunteer day. Kat and I having experience with this sort of thing decided it would be good to go out and stretch our sledge hammer skills, as it were.

We hopped in our truck and drove the 2.5 hours from Maynooth to Mallorytown, which is down on the St. Lawrence seaway near Brockville. The event was supposed to start at 9am, but we got there at 9:30. We were also the first ones to arrive.

This is what the site looked like when we got there.


They’re not too far along, only two courses of tires along the back and three on the front.

Erin and “J”, as everyone called him, were extremely lucky to find a fully functional bobcat for only $6k and Kat and I are really jealous 😛


Unfortunately, even if that deal were to fall in our lap right now, we don’t have the cash available for it at the moment.

But I digress.

It wasn’t long before others showed up. Several families and their kids arrived and the fun began.

They had this interesting idea to put open tents over the wall so you’d be out of the sun while you’re working, which is a good thing, but the tent also got in the way when you’re standing on the wall swinging the sledge hammer, so it was a bit of give and take.


They also had a fancy laser level, which you can see on the right side of this next picture.


That little doohickey makes leveling your tires really nice, though you do have to contend with constant beeping. It’s great because it lets you level everything along an entire course the same, and it doesn’t matter if you’re working from both ends, or somewhere in the middle.

Otherwise, you have to establish the level of your first tire, and then level everything according to that first one as you move along working on each tire. Here you can see me doing just that, as the laser level was otherwise occupied at that moment.


There were a slew of volunteers and the kids did their best to help out as well.


Some of the volunteers have land and are working on getting their build going (like us) and others are fairly new to the concept and just wanted to experience what it would be like if they decided to go down the Earthship journey, as it were.


At the end of the day, I think Erin said the count was 54 tires had been pounded.


That’s not quite a full course over the back wall, but it is a major portion of it.


With so many people, we had different groups working in different sections so there will only be a minimum number of tires to fill in the rest of that course.


The cooling tubes will be put on top of the second course, so gaps were left where those will be placed.

At the end of the day, most of us took a short drive out for a quick swim to rinse off (it was really hot that day) and when we got back, Erin and J fed us fresh veggies and fruit and fajitas.


That’s Erin and J standing up. They were great hosts and many ideas were shared. Tires were pounded, progress was made and we all shared some laughs.

Great times for all.

Graf-Levac Earthship Visit number 2

Yes, only three weeks after the first visit, Bob and Marie had a second open house to show off their progress. Luckily for us, we were house sitting in Ottawa already so we didn’t have to make another major road trip for this one. Also, the weather was way nicer this time, as well.

I took some more pictures and I will try to better explain the changes to the framing that their contractor, Dave, has done for them.

First, here is a section drawing of what standard Earthship usually use.


So in that picture you can see the roof beams (logs in this case) sitting on the back wall and the vertical greenhouse wall. Moving towards the right, on the end of the logs there is a nailing plate and then the trusses are attached to that. The trusses are those triangular pieces that look shaped kinda like a bluejay’s head. From there, the window struts for the angled glass run down at 70 degrees to the front tire wall.

Now let’s take a look at what Bob and Marie have at their Earthship.


As you can see, the beams just run straight out. There is no nailing plate or trusses to deal with. The window struts run down from the beams at 70 degrees. They also have a significant overhang over the windows as well, which will reduce their summer sun gain, but not effect the winter solar gain.

This is a closer view of the roof over the east wing wall. You can see the framing around the outside that will contain the insulation that will be put up top. More details on that in a sec.


This is around the back of the east wing wall roof.


If we look up top at the actual roof as it was when we saw it, it has the decking put down along with the tar paper on top of that. Next there will be 8″ (20.3cm) of polyiso rigid insulation. That’s why that framing wall extends up so high above the edge of the beams.


From underneath, you can see the pine tongue-and-groove that they used for their decking. For the exterior sections, which will be covered over, they just used OSB (oriented strand board) as it’s not going to be seen anyway. The sections with the tongue-and-groove decking will not be covered; that will be what it will look like when everything is finished.


This next one shows a shot down the greenhouse hallway. Take notice of the vertical posts of the vertical greenhouse wall and are holding up the big support beam for the roof beams. They go straight down and sit directly on top of the footing.


Now compare that with the framing for this standard Earthship.


In Bob and Marie’s Earhship, there is no second pour of concrete, no elaborate stacks of lumber to create posts, no framing boxes. It’s really nice and simple. Of course, there will be more added in there once they start framing for the glass, but it is quite a bit more simplified.

Here are the stacks of rigid insulation that will be going up top.


This last picture shows the open section at the very back.


That open section will have a bunch of other details added, like eaves troughing that will channel all the roof water to the big cisterns. Before that happens though, they will be putting in all of the stuff to waterproof the section from the edge of the roof back to the cisterns as you don’t want water to get in behind your tire wall. That would be bad.

Great stuff, and we can’t wait to see it when it gets fully enclosed. Looking forward to that.

A visit to the Graf-Levac Earthship

A lot is going on and I am getting behind in my blogging. This post, though, is Earthship related.

Autumn last year we went to visit the Graf-Levac Earthship build that is going on down in Spencerville, ON. They had just finished all of the tire pounding and had all the forms up for the footings, buttresses and bond beam. Now with spring in full swing (and summer not too far around the corner), they have been working on getting the framing in and the roof on.

They had another open-house for visitors to come and see what is going on and ask questions. I find it is always a good experience to go to these things, if possible, as you get to see how others have customized their own Earthship.

Yes, we even have pictures.

This is a picture of the build site as you see it coming in. They guy in the yellow jacket is Bob Levac, the co-owner of this build along with his wife, Marie Graf.


When we walked in to see how the framing was going, we were greeted with something I have not seen yet in an Earthship: milled timber beams. I took a picture.


Those things are huge. 6’x12′ apparently (15.25×30.5cm). The framing for the posts and beam to hold up the roof beams was super simple too, as you can see in the above picture, as well as the one below.


No second concrete pour, no complicated box frames with large stacks of 2×6 lumber to make posts. Just big posts that go straight down to the footer and fastened in with a U post anchor. It’s a U of metal for the post to sit in and it has length of rebar welded to the bottom to sit in the concrete. Looks like this:


If you have seen the way the crew down in New Mexico does it, this seems way easier. This might have something to do with the fact that Bob has a guy named Dave Craig who is a professional framer doing this work. Dave has also been down to New Mexico and taken the Earthship Academy, so Bob and Marie are in really good hands.

You may be saying to yourself that wood beams that big must have cost a fortune. Well, as it turns out, Bob has a brother-in-law who bought a piece of property that had recently had a fire on it. The property had a large white pine forest and most of the trees had survived with only a few being scorched. However, the fire authorities said that they had to cut down all of those trees as the heat from the fire would have weakened the trees and made them susceptible to a particular bug that invades white pine after it has been exposed to heat from a fire. I don’t know the details, but anyway, Bob paid to have the trees cut down and milled and ended up getting them for a song and dance, relatively speaking.

Not all of us will be so lucky, but that was a huge cost savings for them and it gave them a tonne of lumber.

I took this next picture up top, standing on the berm looking at the top of the west wing wall, though you can’t really tell that from the picture cause I’m a little too close.


Same spot, just looking east across the top of the roof. You can see the size of all of those roof beams.


Here is a picture of Kat, standing on the top of the berm, just behind the cisterns. You can also see the cooling tubes poking out from the berm at the bottom.


Another thing I should mention, though I don’t really have a picture of it (you can see it from a distance in the first picture), is that they have done away with the truss detail that most other standard Earthships use for connecting the roof beams to the framing for the front glass. What Bob and Dave have done is just make the beams a bit longer and then run the framing for the windows directly down from that at the appropriate angle (70 degrees, in case you were wondering). Not only does that make the framing way easier, you save a bunch of cash not needing to get custom made trusses (or the time it would take to make them yourself).

This also means they can create an overhang over the front windows to reduce the summer sun, giving you a better cooling effect. The trusses were used to create a flat surface with a 45 degree angle where they mount the solar panels, but you can still do the same thing by building a little framework off the end of the beams.

Fascinating. This is why we go to these things. To learn what other people are doing and how they are making improvements.

Awesome stuff. We look forward to the next open house Bob and Marie have.