Tag Archives: concrete

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 23 (Atrium nailing plate and concrete form)

You know it’s going to be a rough day when the excavator is dragging itself up the hill.


We’ve been working that excavator pretty hard, so I’m not surprised if he’s getting a little slow 😛

There was a bunch of weird stuff that happened today.

Take for instance this picture. It looks like I have been replace by an donut eating alien.


And this person kept popping up in odd poses.


Though, she almost fell out of the window after that one.


This is where we started and ended our day: at the front of the atrium. We had to finish the trex nailing plate. It requires a double plate and the joints from one layer couldn’t overlap the second so we had more angles to figure out.


We had a hilarious moment in a not-really-funny kind of way today. Jared, one of the guys who was responsible for building the form for the atrium pour was around. I thought he would be able to tell us what angles to use for the cutting of the plates. His answer? “Oh it doesn’t really matter, just make it up.” That was funny and disturbing all at the same time.

Luckily, I had a pretty good idea what the angles were from all of the cutting I did yesterday, except now they had to be applied a bit different for the second layer. We eventually got it to work and our joints looked pretty snazzy, if I do say so myself.


To put the second plate on, you have to tighten the nuts on the anchor bolts nice and snug, then use a grinder to cut off the excess threads sticking up passed the bolt. I took a picture of Russ doing just that, with sparks and all.


Believe it or not, it took us until after lunch to finish the two layers of nailing plate. Kinda crazy when you think about it, but hey, when it’s all trial and error, it takes a while. It did feel like it was slow going though.

Probably because this crazy lady kept showing up and striking weird poses.


After we finished the plating (at least, as much as we could) we had to build concrete forms to pour the end pieces that were missed originally. I have never build a concrete form before and it wasn’t the most pleasant experience because I was trying to do it quickly. Mike R came by a couple of times and asked if it was going to get poured today. I answered, “I hope so.”

Here is a picture of the one side that we did.


We ended up finishing just a bit after clean up was called. We were using bits of previously built concrete forms screwed together with bracing and what not. It didn’t look pretty to me, but Phil came over and looked at it and said it was okay. So tomorrow morning, that will be the first thing we do.

Here is what it looked like from above at the end of the day.


Today, when we arrived on site, Kat snagged a before picture of what is going on up on the roof. Here you can see they have started the framing of the vertical green house wall for the second/back floor. Yes, the floor is wet because we had quite a bit of rain last night.


This is what it looked like by the end of the day. All of the framing in place, along with the big beam up top. Also, all of the tires for the back wall have been pounded and the can wall form for the upper bond beam has begun as well. The buttress forms are in place and ready to go, though I don’t think they have the rebar in them yet.

Quite a bit done for just one day.


The bottle work beside the doors is coming along and looking quite fine. Heather truly does a fine job.


Here is a closeup of freshly laid bottle bricks placed in mortar.


We had a visit from the lonely monkey bottle wall inspector today. As you can see, he does look pretty lonely, but at least he has a place to sit.


Remember those arches they are building above the entrances to the garage? Well, they’ve made quite a bit of progress.


You can see in that picture how they have extended a can wall up the outside of the arch. This is because the top of the arch is supposed to hold soil for some planters. It should be pretty neat when it’s all done.

Tomorrow, after we pour the missing concrete corners, we’ll start working on the framing for the atrium.

Colorado Earthship Build: Day 19 (Building a bridge)

We didn’t start the day with any bear visits, but there was an extra number of wild life sightings. We did our best to take pictures, but you will need to look hard.

This first one was a deer with a full rack crossing the river. If you look dead center of the picture, you can see the V of his antlers just on the opposite side of the river. I really wish my camera had a zoom.


Next we have a bunny. We’ve seen many bunnies since we arrived here and they have all been really small, compared to the ones back home. The one in this picture is sitting with his back to us between the two trailers.


Then we had the family of geese, which you have seen before. These guys love to float down the river and then fly back up stream to do it all over again. They have their own personal flotilla, as it were.


After our wild morning, we headed in to the build site to see what wonderful and interesting things we would be tasked with today.

We arrived at the build site to discover the graffiti elves had been busy overnight.


Pretty sure this was done by someone on the crew and it’s on a part that is going to be covered anyway. Several times, in fact.

We headed back up to the roof and finished putting the decking around the big vent boxes. That didn’t take long. Phil then assigned Jim (fun guy from Australia) and myself to build the bridge/catwalk between the east and west sides. We started by putting the second beam in place, leveling it, drilling massive holes all the way through it (I’m the one with the drill) and then pounding rebar stakes through it into the logs below.

Them beams ain’t goin’ no where.


Tada! With the beams now secured, we got to start on putting the rafters going between them in place.


Here is a picture I took while I was sitting on the middle of the beam, hanging over the empty space below. What was I doing there, you might ask? Well, when you put rafters in, it helps if you know where to attach them. So I was moving along the beam and marking the spots where the rafters would connect with the beams. I did that for both beams.

My legs were sore after that too.


Working carefully while sitting on the beams, Jim and I moved across the span and put in place nine 2×10 rafters, with space above them to put in some decking. Here is a look after the rafters were completed.


Mike Reynolds came over a number of times to look things over. I asked him if it looked like he had envisioned it and he said, “yes”. Mike seems to just look things over. If something is wrong, he will tell you. If he just looks, then all is good.

For some reason, Mike wanted to have some barrier put down across the rafters before we put the decking on and originally told us to use plastic. Unfortunately, they had just used the last of the plastic we had on hand to do the thermal wrap at the back of the second level. So instead of waiting for the new plastic to arrive, Mike had us use a roll of tar paper in its place.

Frankly, I hate that stuff. It smells, and it makes the whole area really hot when the sun shines on it because it is black. Oh well, we put it on anyway. We were also careful not to fall through between the rafters after having covered them with the tar paper.


After the tar paper came the decking. It was at this point that Kat found me and joined up. Jim decided we didn’t need three people working on this, so he went to pound some tires.

Kat and I finished the decking, though the last strip was a bit of a pain because it was only 1.5″ (38mm) wide. We ended up having to make use of Kat’s newly acquired table saw skills to rip the thin pieces.

Then, when we tried to put the pieces in place, it turns out the side against the beam wasn’t exactly straight, so we had to plane off some parts to get them to fit.

After all said and done, it looked like this.


Not bad for a days work, if I do say so myself. It was definitely fun to make.

Mean while, in other areas, there was a big team with MikeR and Rory all pounding tires at the back of the house to get the upper/back level going. Here you can see they have already managed to complete four courses and put in the thermal wrap (white foam board covered with plastic) behind it.


That can and bottle form wall got poured today as well. Oh, and if you thought maybe the concrete pumping truck was fixed and came back to help us, you would be incorrect. All of the concrete pours have been mixed on site and poured by hand. We are serious movers of earth (and concrete) here.


They had to clear more space behind the house for things like the four cisterns that are going there so the excavator was back doing its thing. Here is a shot of a tree getting a severe trimming.


Tire pounding update: they are now half done the fifth course. Those guys really got into it, considering I don’t think the first course was finished when they started today.


Around 15:30 the glass did finally arrive. There was a big team of people who helped to move all of the panes into the garage. I’m going to bet that’s what we will be working on tomorrow.


They also did the second pour for the atrium today. That took quite the number of loads of concrete as well.

If you look at that picture carefully, you can see Kat, who is also taking a picture. Perhaps if you went over to her blog, you might get to see what she saw through her camera.


That was all for today at the build site. Tomorrow will be more relaxed, so Kat and I will head out to the farmer’s market in the morning again to grab some fun things.

And now for a comment on camping.

I don’t know how many of you are campers, but let me give you a tip if you don’t have much experience. See this tent below?


This is our new neighbour at the RV park where we are camping. As far as I am concerned, this tent is useless. Oh, it’s fine if it doesn’t rain, but that fly on top isn’t going to stop the rain if it does decide to thunderstorm, which it does regularly here.

There are many tents like this up at tent city beside the build site. If those walls get wet, you and your stuff will get wet. If you’re buying a tent, get one where the fly completely covers it, not these little skull cap ones.

Oh, and another thing about tents: I have seen people put down a tarp or other ground sheet type layer under the tent, usually with the sides of it sticking out beyond the borders of the tent. If it rains, what do you think is going to happen? Unless your tent is on a slope, that tarp is going to catch water and hold it under your tent, pretty much guaranteeing you will get wet as it will just soak through the bottom if the water is just sitting there.

One more thing: always make sure you use those tent pegs that come with it. We had some other neighbours two weekends ago and apparently they thought it was nice and didn’t need to peg down the tent. Well, the wind came up and blew their tent, and everything in it, into the river. Should I mention that they had borrowed that tent from someone? Oh, they also had a tarp under it.

We saw that tent later in the garbage bin as the poles were completely ruined and the whole thing had been tied in knots.

Please think these things through and have a pleasant tenting experience. Stuff like this is why people hate camping, when really they brought it on themselves.

Just sayin’

Colorado Earthship Build: Day 15 (Framing layout and footing work)

Yes, today we did actually get to different stuff besides tire pounding and packout. Actually, at the moment, there isn’t a whole lot of tire pounding to do until we start the back/top floor. They have to finish the roof over the garage before that will begin.

We arrived on site, feeling pretty good about our rest on the weekend. It was also a mostly cloudy day and that is a good thing as it means we won’t get fried.

We started the day with a little layout measuring. You see they needed the layout marked on the Trex nailing plate that is sitting on top of the front tire wall. This layout shows where all of the window struts will be attached to said nailing plate. So, with sharpie (you can’t use a pencil to mark Trex, it just doesn’t show up) in hand, we studied the plans and measured out the lengths. Here is me being so happy about doing something different for a change.


That didn’t really take too long. Once we had the layout in place, we then knew where the doors were going to be. There are two doors at either end of the greenhouse hallway. This creates an airlock so as to keep more of your internal temperature in place.

Why mention the doors? Well, said doors needed footings under them. The exterior doors needed a 4′ (1.23m) footing to get below frost line. On top of that, the exterior side had 4″ (10cm) of foam insulation against it as well. The footing itself is 12″ (30cm) wide.

Kat and I tackled the digging of the one on the west side. Here is Kat trying to find her way to China.


Unfortunately, she didn’t make it that far and I had to take over.


The dirt here is full of small rocks. You end up using a pick axe to loosen everything and then shovel out the loose dirt. This makes it very time consuming. Actually, it was almost lunch and I thought it was still only 10:30. We got occupied during our activities today.


The interior door footings only needed to be 12″ deep, so those were really easy, except for the fact that we were already below grade, so they had to build it up as it were. They poured it in a very interesting way.

They laid down a layer of concrete and then formed it into the width they needed using a U made out of wood. Of course, you have to put rebar in the footing so those were gently laid on top of the first layer. Then they slowly built up the footing layer by layer, moving in dirt and rocks on the sides to keep the previous layers in place.

Kat and I weren’t working on that ourselves, but we were right beside the guys who were. We all had much discussion about this technique as it seemed a bit weird. In the end it worked out, but it took quite a while. It probably would have taken less time to build the form and just pour it than it did to do it this way, but they were only doing what they were told.

Incidentally, they did build a form to pour the other interior door footing.



Sung to the tune Livin’ La Vida Loca, by Ricky Martin

We’re into concrete footings, pack out and tire walls
We’ve been busy putting big logs up on those walls
We’re making good progression new stuff happens every day
For sure there is no question Earthships are here to stay

The weather doesn’t stop us, not the hot or pouring rain
Keep your eye on that hammer or you’ll end up with some pain
Maybe walking with a cane. Look out!

Uptop, chainsaw out we’re cutting la vigas shorter
The next piece falls right down, we’re cutting la vigas shorter
Can walls put in between, we’re using up lots of mortar
Perched on the wood beam, we’re cutting la vigas shorter
Cutting la vigas shorter
We’re cutting la vigas shorter



Yes, all of those vigas that were put up on Friday had to be positioned, leveled, drilled and have a long piece of rebar pounded through them into the beam to hold them in place. Once that is done, the ends have to be trimmed, as you can see above.

There was a lot of other interesting things going on today too. Like all of the work going into the roof over the garage. Here you can see how then have wrapped the ends of the logs and are pounding nails in to them. This is called porcupining (or hedge-hogging if you prefer :P) and it is done so when concrete or mortar is put around them, the nails bite into it and hold everything together.


Here is a closer view of that. All of the ends of the logs now look like Pinhead from the Hellraiser movie series. You can also see another can form being built that will be filled with more concrete. It’s not normally finished this way, but they need another bond beam to support the tires for the back/top floor. So, another bond beam it is.


Here you can see a shot further down the line showing the progress of the can wall form.


Here is a picture of the front/bottom floor at the end of the day. They didn’t quite finish trimming all of the logs as it started raining and there was a big thunder clap at one point. Not a good time to be standing on a roof using power tools.

They did finish trimming the ones on the east side though and you can see the nailing plate that they put over the ends of the logs.


This is the footing for the atrium. It was poured over the weekend and now they’re adding more rebar to it to continue the pour. Not sure when that will happen as we ran out of cement today, but new pallets of the stuff seem to show up when needed.


The logs are covered with simple 1′ (2.5cm) pine decking boards and then roofing membrane is put over that. There will be other layers, but I’m not certain what they will be as this will also be the floor of the back section so it will probably be a bit different than if they were finishing for a standard roof to the elements.


Here is a good shot of the arch over the west side entrance to the garage. You can see it has been poured now. It’s pretty massive. It’s gonna look interesting when they take the forms off it too. Both arches for each end of the garage have been poured now.


Alas, by the end of the day, our little footing task was not quite complete. We only started pouring it around 15:30 and we had several people working wheel barrows (including me) of concrete to try to get it done for the end of the day. Some of the wheel barrows are on their last legs. I had one fall over on me and I swore really loudly. We picked it back up and shoveled what we could back into the wheel barrow.

In the end, they ran out of cement, as I mentioned before. So we put some extra vertical rebar pins in the concrete so we can finish the pour tomorrow.


Hey, remember me mentioning taking off the forms around the buttresses? Well, looking into the garage now, you can see what they look like.


When it decided to rain hard at the end of the day, everyone took shelter in the garage. Including this crazy lady.


That was the end of our day and I have to say what a splendid day it was. We weren’t overworked, or watching the clock. When lunch came around I was actually eager to get back to our little project. All around, very satisfying.

We headed back to camp and made dinner. We had purchased some green beans at the farmer’s market on the weekend and I had a plan for those.


If you ever want a really simple side dish (or, if you make a lot of it, main meal), you can try this. Cut up some bacon into small bits and fry them in a big pan. Add minced garlic and mushrooms. Cook for a bit then add the green beans. Put in a table spoon of honey mustard (or in our case, a tbl spn of dijon and a tbl spn of maple syrup) and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

It always turns out awesome and it used up a bunch of stuff that we had that needed using up.

So there you go. Bacon, green bean, mushroom happy meal.