Tag Archives: cans

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.


Colorado Earthship Build: Day 9 (Rocks, packout and concrete)

We woke up this morning to a beautiful mountain sunrise. We’re up at 06:30 and the sun has technically risen already, but it doesn’t crest the mountains in the east until about 06:50 so we get to experience it every day. It was extra nice today as it rained quite a bit yesterday so everything was a bit soggy. Having the sun come out to dry things is always welcome.

Today, we woke up to this view.


Mmmm, misty mountains. It was so nice, I had to take another picture.


Yeah, it did look as awesome as you think πŸ™‚

So, if you remember from yesterday how they poured the concrete for the bond beam over the center wall, well, that was a big focus for today. It was getting two more big tire courses pounded with rocks and then another can form for another bond beam placed on top of that. The next bond beam is really important as it will tie into those side walls that Kat and I were working on earlier, plus it will tie into the arches over the garage entrances and the bond beam across the back wall as well as all of the buttresses. It’s one big massive pour, with a tonne of rebar work that will tie everything together.

They had already prepped the first course of tires on the all when we arrived.


Kat and I were assigned to help with that right away as it was a big priority. We were split off from each other, Kat at the east end, myself at the west. I hauled buckets of rocks for a few minutes during the early rush, but then most of the bucket haulers became tire pounders so I took over filling buckets with rocks. This isn’t gravel, it’s rocks.


Not the easiest things to shovel. The basic technique is to put the bucket on its side and pretend you’re paddling a canoe, only in this case you’re paddling through a pile of rocks, not water. I did that for almost three hours. Constantly. By the end of that, my shoulders and elbows were like jelly. However, at that point, most of the two courses of tires had also been complete, so it was a good feeling to know that I helped keep everyone going with rocks for their tires.

I did have to take a break after that. Sat down, drank more water, ate two nut bars and just took a breather for a few minutes. It was around 11:00 when I went over to see what Kat and the rest of the east side gang had been up to.

Apparently I missed the pouring of a concrete slab for the start of the stairs.


We also had the guy with the excavator move a bunch of dirt back up on top where the cistern is cause a lot of the dirt that had been there was pounded in to tires now.


In the afternoon, Rob and Helena worked on the steps. Here you can see the first row of cans.


After the cans, they laid bottles on top of that, then poured another slab and leveled it.


While all of that was going on, Kat and I were viciously packing out the tire wall. I learned some things about packing out today. I actually got to ask Mike Reynolds, why we were packing out with mortar instead of adobe. The answer? Because if it rains, all that adobe will fall out. Additionally, on some walls were you want extra strength, mortar or concrete has much better strength than adobe. Good info to remember.

Another thing I learned while packing out is that mortar is heavy, in relation to the cans. You see, often in videos of others packing out between the tires you see people literally throwing the adobe/mortar at the wall. This is fine if you don’t have any cans placed in it; you can throw it all you want. But when you start putting in the cans, if you throw the mortar, it will totally crush the can. The purpose of the cans are to take up space so you can save on mortar or concrete or adobe. If you crush them, you really don’t get much savings.

So after crushing a few cans, I went a bit more gently.


Remember the wall we were helping with this morning? Well, by late afternoon it looked like this.


Tires all pounded, rebar stakes in place, rebar cage mostly completed, fancy wooden form placed above the door and the can wall form already started. An interesting point to notice, they placed the can form on top of a layer of lath. I didn’t get a chance to ask anyone about that, but it may be due to the fact that they didn’t have time to pack out the tires below like they did for the first one. I’m really just guessing. Maybe I’ll find out tomorrow.

This place is a regular flowing fountain of concrete and mortar. As you can see in the next picture, they also mixed and poured the front footing for the vertical green house wall.


They have three cement mixers going all day, every day. The guys that run those are always busy, and dirty too πŸ˜›

Anyway, back at our section, this is where Rob and Helena made it to with the stairs.


The base for the first step is in (part above the bottles) and the start of the second step is in place. The raw concrete will eventually have flag stones installed on them.

I have to say, this was the first day where I didn’t pound any tires at all. It was kinda nice, though the rock shoveling was intense. I have to say, that if you are a professional rower or paddler, if you want to get stronger, paddle some rocks into buckets for a few hours every day. When you get back into the water, it will feel like nothing πŸ˜›

Tour: The Pyramid

This tour is really short. That’s because this next structure is really small. It’s not even an Earthship. It’s a pyramid.


This little guy was right beside the castle where I was staying. It’s small. It only has one room with two levels connected by a ladder. I do apologize as the pictures aren’t that great. It was really cramped inside so it was difficult to get the camera far enough away so you could really see what was going on.

Anyway, this is the entrance.


I should also mention the structure you see in the background on the left side of the above picture. That is what was called the Turbine house. It had a vertical axis wind turbine on the top that ran for almost 30 years with no maintenance. That’s a lot of continuous power generation. It is no longer running now, though.

Back to the pyramid. When you go inside, there is a small room with a ladder in it. The interior walls on the bottom level were all bottles, as you can see.


Going up the ladder, it gets even more cramped, but I did manage to take this picture of where some of the plaster had come off the wall, showing the old steel cans that were used to build the outer structure. You can also see how the little flower shape created by the bottles really shows the light.


Those are all of the pictures I took, but I have included some really old pictures I scanned out of one of my Earthship books that show it being built.



It’s always fun to finish with a double rainbow πŸ™‚