Category Archives: Construction

Posts related to the construction of an earthship

Work Weekend at Dash and Y.P.’s

Yes, we need to keep up with our Earthshipping so this time we spent some time the past weekend (Sep 23/24) working at Dash and Y.P.’s simple survival model Earthship. We weren’t the only ones helping either. There was a whole gaggle of friends and neighbours who had shown up to lend a hand. As a result, a number of things were accomplished.

Here is what it looked like from the back when I arrived on Saturday morning (Kat arrived a bit later).

So, if you remember from the last time we were here, Dash and I had been doing the fill in at the back between the domes. Since then, the rest of the fill was put in place, all of that was covered with four layers of rigid insulation and then a double layer of vapour barrier put on top of that.

When I got there, I was helping out to finish with the vapour barrier up around the skylights. That’s this area, in case you forgot.

Everything was covered with heavy dew from overnight so we had to try and mop it up as best we could before tacking it down. You don’t want to wait for the sun to dry it as that takes too long and it was stupid hot on the weekend. We got up to 36C with the humidex (97F) which makes it uncomfortable to work in.

Anyway, we split up the teams and others were taking care of the vapour barrier and I was put on rigid insulation carving details until lunch. Dash and Y.P. provided us all with a pizza lunch from the local diner so we were all well fed, but with the heat, it really reduces your appetite.

After lunch, we all gathered together to tackle the EPDM waterproofing layer that was being put over top of the vapour barrier. One of the key things about this layer is that it have no holes and you try to do it in one piece without having to create a seam as that can create a weakness in the seal. Needless to say, the rubber sheet is big, heavy and unruly to deal with if you only had one or two people.

Here is a picture of the group contemplating the roll of EPDM.

EPDM stands for Ethylene-Propylene-Diene-Monomer, in case you were curious. It’s essentially a pond-liner-grade rubber sheet. We unrolled it, cut it to length and then had to haul it into place. Here you can see me helping with the hauling (Kat was taking the picture).

With so many people helping, it didn’t take too long to get up over the lip of the roof and, more or less, into position. It certainly would have been a daunting task without all of the extra help.

EPDM is not the nicest stuff. It off-gasses in the sunlight and it has this fine powder-like coating that comes off so you and your clothes get covered with it. It really makes you want to take a shower.

Being short on showering facilities, and it being ridiculously hot out for the end of September, we all decided to go for a swim. It felt a bit odd with it being so hot out and seeing trees with their autumn colours and you’re swimming, but it was quite welcome.

That was it for Saturday, but I went back on Sunday to help some more. I had managed to pre-cut all of the first layer of insulation pieces on Saturday, so all we had to do was finalize any spots that still needed to be covered with vapour barrier and then start installing it.

Here you can see the first few sheets after they were put in place.

You can’t really see it as the corners are in shadow in the pictures, but there were some wood blocks installed in strategic places that we needed to trim the insulation around so it would fit so it wasn’t just a matter of slapping in the pieces and calling it a day.

There will be four layers of that rigid insulation so it will be well covered. The EPDM will go over that up to the top of the roof peak at the front.

As I mentioned earlier, there were quite a few of us helping out and not all of us were working up on the roof. Some were working out front.

You can go back to my previous post I linked above to really see the differences, but the plywood was put across the angled part and the doors were installed. Both the top and bottom sections had their plywood on, but they removed all of the top pieces so they could be stained and then reinstalled. This is to protect the wood over the winter, as they probably won’t be getting to putting the flashing on before then.

They also covered their fancy doors with cardboard to protect the windows and finish from harm during construction and moving things in and out of the building.

I couldn’t stay as late as we did the previous day on Saturday, as I had some errands to run in town. Y.P. had to head back to Toronto anyway so we quit at 13:00 for some late lunch. Did I mention it was stupid hot that day too? Well, it was.

Dash and Y.P. are now that much closer to having their Earthship fully enclosed. It will be a great day when that happens and I am very happy to have been a small part in making that happen.

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Day at Dash and Y.P.’s Earthship

It’s been too long since my last post, and it’s not like things haven’t been happening. Just got busy.

Fortunately, for all of you, I was over at another local Earthship yesterday.

A short 20min drive from our trailer is Dash and Y.P.’s Earthship. It is not complete yet, so I volunteered my time yesterday to help out. Actually, that was the second time this summer that I have been over there helping, but I forgot to take any pictures the first time so I didn’t have much to post. I remedied that this time.

This first picture is the back of the Earthship.

Dash is the guy on the tractor. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting his wife Y.P. yet as she is working in the city to support this venture of theirs.

Getting up a little closer and looking over that wall of white Styrofoam insulation you saw above, you get so see the area we were working on.

If all you have ever seen are global model Earthships, this may look a bit odd. This one is built using the simple survival design, which uses domes made of concrete. What you’re seeing in that picture above is the tops of the domes, three of the four in this Earthship.

If we move a bit more towards that far end you see in the picture above, and turn the camera south, you can see the empty gaps between the domes.

Standing on top of the western most dome and looking back you can see the retaining wall that circles the domes. That is what is covered with the Styrofoam insulation. The previous work day I was here, we worked on that concrete bottle retaining wall.

This next picture will give you a good shot of the framing for the greenhouse at the front. Dash used hemlock as his framing material of choice. He said he really like it too, as it made for a really rock solid structure. If you know anything about hemlock, “rock solid” is not just a comment on the framing technique. Hemlock happens to be one of the hardest of the softwoods.

The colouring of the hemlock is due to the stain they used to treat the wood.

I took this picture from above, standing on the western most dome, looking down through the roof framing into the area that will become the greenhouse. That door looking thing is actually just a window. That’s the door frame beside it to the left.

The bottle wall to the right will be finished up to the roof, insulated with more Styrofoam and then covered with the berm.

Next we’re looking down the length of the greenhouse. The greenhouse will eventually have an EPDM liner put in to contain the planters along the windows.

Here is a picture of the front/south face. If you’ve been following me for a while, you might recall we first visited Dash and Y.P. last October.

So, what were we working on yesterday, you may be asking? Remember those big gaps between the domes you saw in the earlier pictures above? We were filling them. Dash worked the tractor and dumped load after load of dirt over the retaining wall and I shoveled it into place, tamping it as we went along. We managed to fill in the first two trenches completely before lunch.

In the afternoon we worked on filling the gap between the two central (and largest) domes. There was a bit of a delay in getting to that stage though, as Dash had to build a dirt ramp up the outside of the wall so he could get the bucket of the tracker over the lip. Once that was completed, we were back to filling in the berm.

When you first begin, the gap is quite narrow and you’re thinking, “okay, this is going well”. Then you realized that the gap just keeps getting wider and wider as it goes up, needing more and more dirt.

We weren’t able to get it finished by the end of the day, unfortunately. This is as far as we got.

I don’t think we would have been able to fill it completely, even if we had kept going as we were running low on dirt by that point. Still, a pretty decent day’s progress for two people. Yeah, it was a full day of physical labour, but I knew that when I volunteered and I’m not afraid to break a sweat. Yes, you can get expensive machines to do the job quicker and faster, but you really need to pick and choose those carefully, or your costs just start running away.

Besides, I’ve worked with the Earthship Biotecture crew and they are no strangers to physical labour.

If you’re wondering what goes on top of the dirt after it is all filled in, there will be 10″ (25cm) of rigid foam insulation, two layers of 6mil vapour barrier, an EPDM liner covering all of that and then a 3″ (7.5cm) concrete slab will be poured over the thing like buttercream frosting on a cake.

There is a good chance that we will be doing more work over at Dash and Y.P.’s before the snow flies. The goal is to try and get it enclosed completely before winter arrives. With a little bit of help, I think that is quite achievable.

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.

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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 😛

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.