“It’s just a very beautiful way to use a very ugly piece of a cast-away part of industrialization,” says Dr. Alan Early of the Indonesia Aid Foundation, who holds a doctorate in systems engineering analysis from Cornell University and who has worked for the Peace Corps in Indonesia for 14 years.
According to Early, houses and buildings crumble because they are matted to a foundation. Earthquake-resistant buildings designed by the Indonesia Aid Foundation are constructed on a bed of tires filled in and around with sandbags, acting as a buffer between the house itself and the trembling ground.
“The tires themselves are the saving grace,” Early says.
Colorado State University tested a half-scale version of the IAF designed earthquake-resistant house on its seismic-shake table, both with and without the tire-sandbag foundation.
When the model was placed on the tire-sandbag base and shaken on an earthquake scale equivalent to a near fault event, only a few hairline cracks appeared. When the model was bolted directly to the table and exposed to the same magnitude of force, substantial crack-growth was observed on the concrete walls.
Although the other materials needed for concocting the virtually shake-proof concrete walls, such as gypsum, limestone and water, are available in developing countries, it can be difficult to actually bring the materials together. Tires, on the other hand, can be found virtually everywhere, Early explains.
The other great aspect about tires is that it's an abundant resource that is often hard to recycle. According to Early, many people will actually deliver the tires "just to get rid of them."
Stockpile tires create environmental and health hazards, according to the U.S. EPA. Disease-carrying rodents and mosquitoes can live and breed in tire piles. Also, scrap tire fires emit thick black-smoke, which is difficult to extinguish and can contaminate the soil with an oily residue.
In the U.S., 48 states have passed laws and regulations that deter the majority of the scrap tires created each year from going directly to the landfill. About 155 million of the 299 scrap tires generated in 2005 were used for fuel, according to the EPA. But while tire-derived fuel minimizes stock tire piles, it generates a significant amount of greenhouse gases.
New York-based Re-Tread has patented the Tire Log, a product that requires little energy to produce and is made from the rubber cut into strips and coiled around an internal core. Tire Logs are very much like a log for a log home, says Tom Hansen, Re-tread’s founder. They can be stacked together to build in a very conventional way, that is less labor intensive than building with whole tires.
Initial tests conclude that the products may be able to not only withstand earthquakes, but also floods, explosions and other natural disasters. The company is currently looking for universities interested in testing out a model constructed from Tire Logs on their seismic shake-table in order to further verify it ability to withstand earthquakes.
“If we get funding from the government, we would be willing to actually provide tire logs on a not-for-profit basis for the Haiti-relief fund,” Hansen says.
Although Early’s goal is to construct affordable, earthquake resistant homes for families in Indonesia in a not-for-profit manner, he believes the design could be used in Haiti as well.
“I believe it would have been a godsend if this research were ready for use in Haiti,” says Early. “I just think that Haiti is going to be building 200,000 houses over the next 10 years, and there may be a place for this method. If our research is concluded quickly this year, we may be able to offer this design for small-building organizations in Haiti.”