By Lori Brown on Jul 29, 2009

Building With Tires

Each year, nearly 300 million tires are disposed of in the U.S. alone. The EPA estimates that markets exist for approximately 80 percent of those tires, leaving an estimated 60 million scrap tires to be stockpiled or landfilled.

Luckily, the market for scrap tires continues to increase. Whether used as fuel, ground and recycled into new products, retreaded or used in civil engineering projects, their rate of recycling and reuse continues to climb.

One such method of reuse is beginning to gain popularity among eco-friendly builders: building with tires.

Rammed-Earth Construction

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Tires are packed with earth, then stacked in a brick-like fashion. Photo: earthship.net

As the name suggests, the primary material used in rammed-earth construction is, well, compacted earth. We’ve used sand, clay and other compacted soils for centuries in building, from Jericho, the oldest recorded city in history, to the modern day architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Rammed-earth homes are designed to maximize energy-efficiency, remaining relatively warm in winter months and cool in summer months.

Their dense design is ideal for thermal mass storage and their orientation is meant to capture lower winter sun rays and block more direct summer rays.

Recycled automotive tires filled with compacted earth form what are called rammed-earth bricks and are used in place of traditional wood framing. Soil is tightly packed into the frame of the tire, with a cardboard sheet placed across the base. A typical 2,000 square-foot home uses 1,000 scrap tires on average.

Small gaps in the frames, due to the tires being round, are filled with recycled materials, typically aluminum cans or bottles and adobe.

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The "Earthship" concept was created by Michael Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotecture. Photo: unplggd.com

Tire-Bale Construction

An alternative to rammed-earth tire bricks, tire-bales have been used recently as a way of utilizing scrap resources without the intense labor of packing 1,000 tire bricks.

A tire-bale is a square brick of approximately 100 compressed tires, weighing about 2,000 pounds. Homes built with tire bales use thousands of compressed tires, many more than standard rammed-earth bricks.

They are stacked like oversize bricks to frame the outside walls of the home.

After the walls of rammed-earth and tire-bale walls are smoothed with earth, they are finished with layers of plaster or stucco.

Fire Hazard?

It may be an automatic assumption that homes made of tires, which are highly flammable, would pose serious fire risks. Because the tires are sealed within thick walls, they are not reacting with oxygen. The layer of plaster covering the tires also provides additional fire resistance. The buildings meet and often exceed fire requirements.

This article is part of Earth911.com’s Building With series.

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Comments

  1. KinKStar says

    An interesting concept, which unfortunately, still is rarely used or even mentioned in the real world, because it’s seen as some kind of new age building. People need some modernization of the design in order to be able to accept this look, and while it can be made to look ‘normal,’ what is involved in the building process itself. Does one have to own several acres in order tp place these materials into the ground?

    Many, many questions! More pictures would be great, as well as personal experiences from owners and/or builders.

  2. joe dupont says

    Has anyone bolted tires together and made an arch with them. or a vault. it would seem that
    either full or empty.. properly secured to the ground that an arch cold be made.

  3. says

    Our family has built an earth-rammed tire garage at our suburban home in Georgetown, Massachusetts this summer. Please read about it in my blog at http://lizyrose.wordpress.com/.
    Interestingly enough we used 540 tires for the walls. We ordered them from a licensed scrap tire company in Littleton, MA called JP Routhier. They chop up the incoming tires into smaller and smaller bits to make tire derived fuel (TDF) and ship it to paper and wood processing plants in Maine. Presumably the fuel is going to make some 2 x 4s that will stand in the walls of a garage and eventually rot. Using the tires saved all the energy and expense of shipping the fuel and creating more greenhouse gases to make a raw material (the 2x4s) that will not have the resilience and the flexibility that the tire does in the first place. Our motto is: Don’t renovate, REtire.

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