| Feb 10, 2005

Building Houses of used tires and tin cans February 10, 2005

Feature article February 10, 2005

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Building houses out of used tires and tin cans by Jeff Green In the struggle to figure out what to do with the millions of used tires that are piled up throughout North America, turning them into building materials might not seem like a likely option. But Michael Reynolds, a designer from New Mexico, has been building houses out of recycled materials since the 1970s, and the system he has developed for building what he calls earthships might be coming to Sharbot Lake.

There are private dwellings built using earthship technology or biotecture in the village of Clayton in Lanark County, and at a property near Bancroft. A group based out of Carleton University would like to construct a building that will be a showcase for environmentally sustainable technology at the foot of Sharbot Lake.


For the past 12 years, Karen Hawley has worked for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Carleton, an environmental organisation based in Ontario Universities. When she was younger she spent her summers in Sharbot Lake and thinks the village would be an ideal location for a resource centre on environmentally sustainable construction, built using Michael Reynolds tire house design and technology. Her father has donated a two-acre lot on Road 38 just south of the causeway at the foot of the village of Sharbot Lake for the project. A group of four educators and students from the Carleton community, who are all interested in putting up a building out of tires, dirt, tin cans and concrete, have joined her on the project. The building would be outfitted with the latest in energy efficient technology, from composing toilets to solar-powered water heaters to systems for recapturing and using greywater.

Last Friday Karen Hawley, along with management team members Steve Turpin and Brock Baker, made a presentation about the fledgling project at the Sharbot Lake Country Inn to a group of about 20 people, including Central Frontenac Mayor Bill MacDonald and Clerk Administrator Heather Fox.

What the three presenters bring to the project is boundless enthusiasm, $75,000 worth of in-kind donations, and experience in helping to build other tire houses.

One source of funds could come from the tires themselves. In some cases, builders have received $3 for every tire they took out of the waste stream. The building process begins with placing old tires down and pounding dirt into them. The buildings are generally built into hills on the north side, with the entire south face being made up of angled windows for maximum passive solar heating in winter. The external walls of the building will be made up entirely by piling up tires and dirt, right up to the roof trusses. The design uses a modular or pod system, and the current plan is for a three-pod structure that will be about 1200 to 1300 square feet. The building lot fronts on Road 38 and backs up onto the Trans Canada Trail.

The location on a major roadway, with a connection to the trail system is ideal for a Sustainability Resource Centre said Karen Hawley. Steve Turpin pointed out that the tire house in Bancroft, which is located on a back road, receives 1,000 visitors a year, so you can imagine how many people will be drawn to a building like this if it is promoted as a public site.

The group will be looking to raise funds for the project. Windows will be expensive and there will be costs associated with preparing the land, and building a driveway and a parking lot, etc. They are hoping that since it will be a showcase for environmentally advanced technology, manufacturers will donate or sell items at a reduce price for the Centre.

The preliminary plan is for the building to house a Sustainable Construction and Consulting business along with the not-for profit Sustainability Resource Centre, as well as incorporating office space for rent by an organisation such as the Frontenac Environmental Partnership. A fair trade coffee shop is also envisioned.

In responding to the presentation, Central Frontenac Mayor Bill MacDonald said the township would do what it could to help, and invited the proponents to meet as soon as possible with township building inspector Ian Trickett and Planner Cathy MacMunn to make sure it could conform to the townships building regulations and Official Plan.

The Management team has the goal of starting construction early this summer, but they will have to work hard to get the necessary approvals in time. Some of the people attending the meeting questioned the timelines, and the possibility of attaining funding in time, but there was a generally favourable response to the project.

Brett Colman, a Ministry of Natural Resources employee who is coordinator of the Frontenac Stewardship Council, said he would bring the project to the Council to see if it could be included in the Councils work plan. If that happens, I might be able to work on getting some funding for it, he said.

Karen Hawley, Steve Turpin and Brock Baker all said they were pleased with the response at the meeting. We have a lot of work, a tremendous amount of work, to do to get this off the ground, but we were extremely pleased with the response to our first presentation, Brock Baker said.

Extensive information on building with recycled and naturally available materials is available on the web at www.earthship.com

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