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"Earthship" Wellhouse  RSS feed

 
Dave Ficks
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I have a family property in the foothills of Boise, ID with an old larger house that needs many renovations but also has some retro features that are very worth keeping, a smaller unfinished building that was begun as a house but left as framed (no electric, water, HVAC), 2 wells, and tons of south facing hillside, terraced land. There are SO many things I want to do with this property to make it a showcase of sustainability over the long term, and today I stumbled across the concept of Earthships. I've decided this year to have fun experimenting with some smaller scale projects like building an underground greenhouse over an existing 8' deep hole next to the smaller building and experimenting with some hopefully deer-proof hoop / cage systems on the terraces for produce (deer are our biggest challenge to gardening this land -- soil, sun and water availability are great).

One of the challenges I faced this year was keeping the wellhouse warm during what was an unusually cold December / January here in Boise. It currently is a 10' X 10' wood shed with no insulation, so heat lamps and at the coldest point a space heater were used to prevent freezing of mechanisms inside. So we have the wasteful practice of running electric 24/7 in there throughout the coldest months to prevent a freeze (which happened when one of the lamps burned out) and it occurred to me that a great way to mitigate this problem and start a more sustainable practice for next winter -- while experimenting with the idea of an Earthship at a small level -- would be to do a "wrap-around" Earthship structure - with recycled windows on the South-facing front. So I am saying I would NOT tear down the existing building, but build an earthship like structure around it. I can get the tires and sand easily, and already have some old windows.

Is this a crazy idea? What am I not considering? Thanks for any input.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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I'm assuming that one of the walls is a Sunward (South in the Northern Hemisphere and North in the Southern Hemisphere) exposure?

In one of the Earthship books that I read-I think it was Earthship III- they show how they wrap the Earthship tires around an existing house.

This can be done. I don't have the books with me. I borrowed them when I was working on a 'Ship. So someone with the books or with experience in this should pipe up, too.

Your building is small and not too deep, which is good. This is a primary consideration of getting the sunlight to absorb into the back of the U-shape structures walls. In order to make the U-shape you would remove the wooden boards from the Sunward wall, and build a window wall there, and the main sunlight would absorb into the wall opposite that (Poleward). I would paint that wooden wall black, for maximum heat absorption.

I can't remember all the details about how they integrate the house walls and the Earthship structure that is outside... The biggest issue I see in that retrofit idea is that your tire wall behind this black wall is not flat, but you want the tires as close to the wall as possible. In a 'traditional' Earthship your tires make a wall which forms up as of a bunch of rounded edges which are then infilled with cans and cobbed or stuccoed to make a smooth flatter finish. In your case you will have tires up against the wall, and so your wall is not directly against your heat absorbing wall, but touching only at the furthest extension of the rounds of the tires. If you line the outside of the wall with plastic to protect it, and then (as you build each layer of tires upwards) fill the gaps with something fairly solid, like cob, then the heat will conduct through the boards and through the plastic, through the mass of the cob to the tires. It should work.

Normally, Earthships are also backfilled against the tires with a large earthen berm, thus allowing the heat that is absorbed into the tires to be contained by the soil. If a person then covers the tires and the earth berm with plastic (which is in turn protected from UV by a layer of soil), then the Earth is further warmed, adding to the process. Dry Earth looses much less heat then wet Earth. This is the umbrella that is incorporated in more recent Earthship designs, PAHS houses, and WOFATI's.

The biggest problem that I see with this project is that your wellhouse is bound to be damp. Is it? That dampness may accumulate against the plastic of your walls, or if you don't go that route, then on the tires themselves. Not sure. It might dry it out, because of the solar exposure in such a small space.

Thats about all I got. I hope you get some more info from other Earthshippers. Good luck.
 
Dave Ficks
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Wow, Roberto - thanks! That is definitely enough information to make me think this is feasible and to get me started researching it and putting a plan together. Sounds like I need to buy those Earthship books! I will come back and post more as this project transpires ...
 
Dave Ficks
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Oh and I forgot to answer the question -- it doesn't ever seem humid or damp in the well house. It does seem like it should, so maybe I haven't paid enough attention.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1426
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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It doesn't have to be damp in a well house. It depends on whether you pump is sweating with condensation, whether your well is open to the floor... what the floor is made of... lots of variables.

It is probably a good idea to buy the books. Mike Reynolds, The Garbage Warrior who created Earthships would appreciate it, and they are a great read. A small Earthship project like this is a great intro to the craft (pun intended). Earthships can be a lot of work. We built a hydraulic ram to assist packing the interiors of the tires. It had a piston that pushed a plate of steel into one side. Opposite that piston driven plate was another plate that was fixed on a pedestal rather than a piston which pressed also, as a reaction to the opposing force. Sorry I don't have pics. Anyway, you will not need this for such a small project, but it was a Huge labor saver on a triple "U" building.

Good luck with it.
 
John McDoodle
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Location: ontario, canada
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i have lived in what i call "the pump-house" for a total of about 5 yrs. it is half underground on a south-facing hill-side and its about 18' x 18' on the outside, made from 8" concrete blocks with 8" solid concrete roof and floor. it has always been the location of the water pump for the property, the pump feeds an office trailer/mobile home about 80-100ft away up the hill. in my years living in this interesting south-facing dwelling i have done alot of work here. i have built an L-shaped bathroom with full shower - toilet - sink and a subfloor to house my drain pipes and subwalls to house polystyrene insulation and interior wall boards. i have installed a new front door and winow to something more modern and insulative - and the door has a window also for more southern light. it was divided into 2 rooms with a large brick division wall which is likely load-bearing - plus i added the bathroom (where the well pump is located) so its now 3 rooms if you count the bathroom. ive also installed a new propane 40 gal hot water tank and fireplace.

i want to install my RSMH in the near future and add a solarium/greenhouse to my front south facing side and get a more awesomer kitchen setup i want to grow more organic food and raise some chickens and so many plans - but im usually busy at work or lacking the cash to buy building materials so i do small accomplishments slowly when i can. and i can only do so-much being often or always on my own

i say you can do it- because i did it.
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