Hello Everyone! I'm very excited to join you. I am currently in the process of purchasing my land and planning my homestead. This is my first post! So initially I wanted to build an earthship but due to the fact that I'm typically the only one doing projects I don't think I could handle that amount of labor even if I could gather a few volunteers. So I've melded plans with a modern home design I've had in my mind for a few years. I plan to lay all plumbing and electrical, install a beam supported single slope insulated log cabin type roofing with metal sheeting and rain collection, and install and possibly make front quadruple stacking sliding doors. So the home will be southern exposure facing, earth contact back single story slab, using passive ducting through the berm to cool and venting at front of roof. I decided to pass on the typical earthship design to save on my time and money since I will be doing the majority of the build. The biggest change is going to be the concrete work. Tires are definitely out. I've considered the gabion blocks but still feel they will add too much labor. My thoughts of lately are to have the concrete slab floor professionally poured and polished in concrete and having the back wall and bracing done in professionally poured concrete. I'd only frame the room divisions and southern wall. So this would save me a heap of work to get it to an enclosed shelter. I came up with an idea of using used or possibly new bin blocks. I feel they would have a ton of thermal mass, they are easily stackable and meant to support and hold back tons of pressure. Upon researching them I think the standard bin blocks would be overkill as the dimensions are 2'x2'x4' and weigh 2800lbs. But I found some mini bin blocks measuring 16"x16"x63". This would cost me $270 for an 8 foot 16" thick, 63" section. So with all that said go easy on me if this is a terrible idea. I feel the only downfall with the bin blocks is that I may want to finish the interior wall at some point whereas the poured concrete I would leave as is. I'm still in early stages of my design and trying to find a way to get the floors and at least back wall done inexpensively without much or any labor from me. So far I feel my best options are the bin blocks or poured concrete. Will this design hold heat load well enough? I guess I don't understand why I'd need a tire wall to create thermal mass and feel like these options could work well with my initial plans. Can't wait to hear some good suggestions!
I thought part of the earthship idea was curved walls for structural reasons. Would you do rectangular rooms with those and can they hold back the earth? If so, they seem neat to me. You can always anchor bolt wood studs to the interior to add a surface finish (and insulation).
Your choice could come down to building code, depending where you are. It may be that poured concrete, CMUs, or ICFs are what is expected.
The stacked bin blocks might present a waterproofing challenge, or setting them with mortar might be more than the precast guys want to do or cost more... definitely going to need a beefier footing.
If you are thinking that poured concrete could be a finished surface, then you might consider board forms, or some kind of decorative form-liners, over the standard foundation forms.
The bin blocks are an interesting idea. My concern would be water infiltration. I know it can happen with cement, but it would be slower than something with blocks I would imagine. Would you have some kind of layer to protect the blocks themselves?
Thanks for the replies. I checked out the links. I've been doing research on passive solar and notice so many use a similar design. I don't quite understand how my design wouldn't work just as well if not better. My plan is a single pitched roof, angled at approx 15 degrees, starting at 8 feet on the north/bermed side of the house. The south side will be a majority of windows and or sliding doors. I've always wanted an open to the environment feel on nice days. My plan would be to vent the highest point of the south side of the roof as well and pull air through the passive cooling tubes bermed into the earth.
As far as the bin blocks, that is exactly what they are meant for. To stack and hold back earth, rock, mulch, etc. My plan if I go with the bin blocks would be to do the back wall/north berm wall only in bin blocks. To brace it i had thought of doing two perpendicular walls on the inside to support the back wall. The bin blocks would also create the low part of the roof support for the timber beams. My only concerns are really weight and sealing them. I don't know if eight foot high worth of blocks would crack or settle a standard footing and foundation. Also I will be using waterproofing membranes on the outside of the north wall but I'm not sure if or how I'd seal them internally. My guess is, if they aren't, air and other small things may leak into the house.
Sorry, I see I had two replies while I was typing the last message. I see that the issue may be like I was saying with the footings and water. Although I tend to think addressing water infiltration would be really no different than any other earth contact home correct?
I was also wondering about building codes. I know laws inhibited earthship design for many years and I'm not going to battle the system on this so I guess if this gets ruled out poured concrete is about my only other option correct? Are there any other relatively cheap ways to build my berm wall that don't require an intensive amount of labor?
Very interesting idea ... neat to see someone trying to repurpose something.
As I see it, the strength/purpose of these is for materials handling yards (conc, sand, road base, etc.) ... they can cast these (conc is cheap for them), have heavy equipment to move them around, and these are in use to keep materials separate (who cares about water). This is their primary purpose ... materials handling.
To capitalize on that strength, you'd have to cast these & move them around yourself, and then use them in a construction detail that captures the essence of their purpose (stacking, no mortar, not ever moving again). At the moment, the only thing I can come up with is "dry-stacked footings", where, in the old days, a pad would be dug down and created, and rock would be dry-stacked up and out to finished pier height, and then the rest of the house built on these.
These blocks, if you cast them yourself, could be sized to work in your design (16" instead of 24"), although I'm unsure of the engineering that needs to go into them (rebar, etc.) ... once sizing and engineering is done, then cast away, and stack away. If not wanting to do just piers on pads (with in-fill skirting of some kind), it might be possible to borrow from earthbag technology, and develop a footing of crushed rock, which would save serious footing effort for poured conc.
Alternatively, if you find something similar already cast, and can buy them inexpensively, then you just need to work out the footing (earthbag rubble trench), and definitely make sure water never comes around, or drains out if it does ... site prep, swales, french drain, etc. No casting effort, and perhaps less strenuous block moving effort.
I repurpose heavy conc blocks (open cell, "stretcher" shape), as retaining walls ... when stacked together in a proper retaining wall design fashion, the ends interlock, and don't move (or bow out) over time. This isn't what they were intended for, but they are much less costly than "designed for interlocking retaining wall" shapes, and work just as well.
Assuming you can use bin blocks, I have never heard of them, I would glue them together which would also assist with preventing water trickling through them.
Surely letting them breath and using other techniques to keep them dry would be better.
Could you use a gantry system on big wheels to pick them up and move them along a wall.
With the gantry moving along the wall and out to a trailer etc.