Kimi Iszikala

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since Oct 01, 2017
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Off-grid farmstead and builder on a mesa in northwestern New Mexico since 2019 with my hub. Working toward greater self-sufficiency, community connection, and stewarding our dryland mesa toward greater water infiltration. First step: build a tire bale Earthship-inspired passive solar off-grid home without decreasing our lifespan! Slowly but surely... Ours is the first tire bale home permitted in NM, and has the first permitted worm septic system in NM... or maybe even first in the U.S.?
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Colorado Plateau, New Mexico
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Recent posts by Kimi Iszikala

I think a new card deck is a great idea. I am curious whether you are envisioning this as an "upgrade" (revision with maybe a couple swap-outs) or a new version (with mostly new material, even if some of the history characters remain the same). Don't know which of those I'd vote for, but just curious.

My vote:
1. Green
2. Gold
3. Cream

Please don't make them plastic. Playing cards were around for a thousand years before they were ever made in plastic. Permaculture cards in plastic? No, no, no. Besides, if they wear out, they can still be repurposed as info cards, or composted, or burnt for fuel, and then a new set can be purchased.... $

1 week ago
I am way too lazy to turn compost, and live in a very dry area.

I use worms for food waste and Johnson-Su bioreactor for farm waste.
1 month ago
We are building our house and have a lime plaster scratch coat over earthbags filled with scoria. We can get occupancy permit with just the scratch coat done (after we finish the rest of the house, that is).

Problem is, a northern flicker is trying to nest in those scoria walls. By the time we realized it, it had broken through the lime plaster, and removed over a gallon of scoria, almost all the way through the earthbag.

We repaired that hole, and the next day it had tried to start two others -- luckily in an area reinforced with wire mesh where the bags connect to the roof, so it didnt get far. For now we strung some old CDs in the area as a scarewoodpecker, and it seems to be working OK to keep them away, but it isn't a long-term fix.

So then we were wondering if we have to wire mesh the whole wall before the final plaster coats... super expensive, a pain in the neck, and not effective since they still damage the plaster before hitting the wire.

A quick Google search indicated there is a paint-on coating used to deter woodpeckers from the new synthetic stucco, using similar chemicals to nail-biting deterrents for kids.

We don't want a paint-on coating, but thought maybe we could find a similar non-toxic additive to incorporate into our finish coat.

We will keep looking into this, but I thought I'd give a quick shout here in case anyone has done this? Anyone know what material to use and availability? Have any of you done this with a final plaster coat to good effect?
1 month ago
Thank you!

We probably can't put this right over the shower (nor on both sides) unless we manage to find a true wet-rated one. And we for sure won't  be building a wood fire in our shower! I assume the panels don't work through walls or we could put it on the other side of the shower wall to get our backside.

Hm. Maybe we will need to go with an old-school heat lamp for those times when we feel the need... Once we close the sun room on the exterior wall, hopefully we won't need supplemental hear too often...
3 months ago

Steve Flynn wrote:with these you only need 6 watts per square foot of heater capacity.  [...]   So if you have 500 square feet of space you should have about 3000 square feet or 6 of these panels to cover the space.  That is still significantly better than what electric baseboard offers.

Thank you for this, Steve!

I would like to understand your numbers... when you say square feet for the room, does that assume an 8' high ceiling? And I am guessing you meant 3000 watts for the panels instead of sq ft? So like 7 or 8 of the 400 watt panels for a 500 sq ft room? Or did I interpret that completely wrong?

A different question -- can these be used for short-term immediate heat, or do you need to keep them on for hours to "charge" the mass like under-floor radiant heat?

We have a 40 sq foot room with a shower, with 7' high ceilings. We were hoping to use a 400 watt panel to heat that when showering. We were hoping we could turn it on like 15 minutes before a shower. Is that realistic, or no?

Our camper is so tiny... the space where we were trying to keep our legs warm is only about 18 sq ft, and our feet and legs were a foot from the heater which sat on the floor. The camper is a popup so the walls are canvas above our sitting waist height, so it might not be a fair test... but I thought that was what these heaters should be good for; heating the objects in the room (our legs) rather than trying to heat up the air in a drafty space...

Any further insights would be so appreciated! Thanks again for your response.
3 months ago

Shirley Spurlock wrote:we will be starting of breaking ground then start  building our earthship home

Hey Shirley, I'd love to hear how your build is going...?
4 months ago

William Bronson wrote:
I will have to peruse your blog to see how that interacts with your earthen floor.

p.s. Within the "U" of the concrete foundation is "undisturbed dirt" and we are building up our earthen floor on that, all the way out to meet the shotcreted tire bales.

It may be our next blog post but I don't know how soon... we have completed small test patches of saltillo tile in the utility room and clay soil under the stairs, and finished our (conventional) loft floors, but still need to do our sloped shower floor before posting, and maybe some of the bigger saltillo & clay areas...
4 months ago
Thanks for your reply and kind words.

William Bronson wrote:I believe you mention in a previous thread that no foundation is needed for tire bales?
That alone is a huge cost saving.
I will have to peruse your blog to see how that interacts with your earthen floor.
It would have been easier to simply avoid building codes, etc,but you are unlocking regulatory barriers instead, and that is a great contribution to society.

Our engineer first drew it up on a concrete slab. We said we wanted to minimize concrete and asked for a rubble trench foundation just under the bales. He came back with a concrete foundation just under the bales, which is what we went with. The Colorado tire bale homes engineered by Mike Shealy do not use a concrete foundation, I don't think... Jim Gagnepain has posts on Permies about his build and might be able to give you more info.  In retrospect, we live on highly erosive sandy loam on the face of a high desert mesa, so my hub and I are happy with the concrete-under-the-bales solution. The rebar network provided the ground for our solar and electrical systems. The wire that wraps our bales is embedded in the concrete at top and bottom. We feel like it is rock-solid and that feels good. In a million years instead of sliding into a canyon, we think our house will be like a Bisti Badlands mushroom !

William Bronson wrote:I am curious, do you think applying shotcrete or another cementious stucco before pouring a bond beam would be easier?
Also, do you think a wooded bond beam work on tire bale walls?

I am not an engineer so I can't say what can or can't work, but can only give my impressions as a layperson owner/builder. I would not put shotcrete on top of the bales before adding the bond beam, as tempting as it sounds (yes it would make the process less scary). The bond beam needs to integrate with the bales. That pour did feel very dicey. We had to thread the needle -- avoid allowing literal tons of concrete to pour into all of the cavities, while allowing the concrete to integrate with the bales. It was wired and rebarred. We stuffed big voids with dry trash and put additional mesh on the top surface to slow concrete without stopping it. In the end, it all worked!

I would not used a wooden bond beam, and I think most people walking on the stacked tire bale walls would not want to use a wooden bond beam -- the unprotected bale walls are very bouncy and wobbly!  On the one hand the big blocks way a ton each, are solid as a rock, have a 4'x5' footprint, and "aren't going anywhere."  On the other hand, standing on top of 3 tiers of bales stacked brickwise, you can feel them jiggle when you jump, and sway when you rock side-to-side. Before wiring our bales, we had 3 we wanted to remove. My husband was able to shove the first one off with his foot, and as it tumbled down we were surprised to see that it took the other two with it!

I can't imagine being able to build a wooden bond beam that I would trust on that type of wall.

Once the concrete bond beam was poured, the whole thing really did become monolithic.

It might be different if you were berming all the way up outside the 3 sides. But no, I would still want to know that the walls were solidly connected so I wouldn't have to even imagine a bale falling inward.

Homestead Rescue (or whatever that reality show is called) had an episode rescuing a tire bale house build in Ohio. They had a wall falling over, among other big problems. It would be a good watch for anyone tempted to cut corners...

One more resource:  PSE engineering engineered our house (it was their first tire bale house). We can't legally share the plans they made for us, but they do share a couple pictures of our plans on their website at which also provides some general tire bale engineering guidelines. The first page shows the foundation-bales-bond beam connection, including the wire wrap and rebar.

And rumor has it there might be engineers in CO with Mike Shealy (R.I.P.) plans, but I don't know where or how to find them.

William Bronson wrote:Your choice to jump through the governmental hoops is admirable.
It would have been easier to simply avoid building codes, etc,but you are unlocking regulatory barriers instead, and that is a great contribution to society.

Thank you; that is our unpaid-career-in-retirement goal! But where we are, it also made it easier (possible) to obtain tire bales. In NM they are highly tracked as a hazardous waste, so we needed an environmental tire recycling permit to get the bales, and needed the building permit to get the recycling permit. I wanted the building permit anyway regardless of our building methods for the other reasons, but I'm not sure we could have gotten tire bales for this house without a permit.

In our county, building without a permit is very easy otherwise. Technically everyone in NM needs a permit; if the county doesn't require it you go through the state. The state requires a one-line county OK -- when we went to get that, even our county officials said, "Why do you want a permit? It's your land, isn't it?" Needless to say, most folks we know here built without a permit.

McKinley County NM, folks, if you are looking for a place with cheap land and permit-free potential!
4 months ago

William Bronson wrote: I've read some of the blog posts-this is an impressive project!
I am curious, is this build cheaper than using strictly conventional materials?

Thanks for the question. I would say it's impossible to compare apples to apples when looking at conventional vs this type of housing. I will also say our goal was not to be cheaper than stick built, but to build a passive solar off-grid house with low water impact that we would be happy to live in as our home through retirement. Our house is bigger than we thought originally because we raised the roof a little more to allow lofts with good headroom and the string of clerestories. It also looks (on the outside) bigger than it is (1000 sq ft interior footprint) because of the 6' thick walls and the big water catchment roof extending over the outdoor areas.

If we had contractors doing everything it would certainly be more expensive this way. You would either need specialized contractors or conventional contractors willing to take a huge risk which probably means high prices, and it's more labor intensive than stick built.

If we did it 100% ourselves the materials cost would certainly be cheaper than stick built. That just means that the tire bales, bond beam, earth bags, and dirt floor are cheaper than materials for stick building those parts on a concrete slab and installing HVAC. (Pretty much the rest of our house is conventionally built.) It is also far more comfortable because it moderates the temperatures so well.

Either way, the labor is more intensive for every step [except for laying the tire bales, which of course is vastly less labor intensive since two people can erect 3 massive walls in 2 days]. The unconventional work is more labor intensive in itself, and if you are inexperienced (like us, or like a conventional contractor) then you are constantly adjusting how to do things, testing, re-adjusting, then implementing. And spending a lot of time thinking. And planning.

Plumbing for switchable greywater reuse is obviously more expensive than sending all of your water down one sewer pipe.

Our vermiseptic is cheaper than conventional septic and way cheaper than having someone else install septic (plus provides a reuse for blackwater as submerged irrigation for landscape -- makes greywater plumbing less necessary, but we didn't get our vermiseptic permit until after I installed the greywater plumbing).

We are off grid, so building our own water and power infrastructure is more expensive than hooking up to existing services, but the utilities are free after that.

If you do it all yourself and account for your valuable time, green building is VASTLY more expensive.

If you do it all yourself and "pay" yourself minimum wage, green building is more expensive than conventional.

If you do it all yourself and think your time is worth $0, green building might be cheaper.

If you enjoy the work, then 4 years of building a house is a lot cheaper than 4 years of taking cruises, so it's way cheaper.

If you think of it as a great education, then 4 years of building a house is a gold mine compared with 4 years of college or 4 years of natural building workshops.

Bottom line: if you made a small and simple tire bale house we could lay the 3 main walls for $400 to bring in the bales + $600 to rent a forklift for 2 days (our very helpful landfill is only 7 miles away). Then you could cover the walls: lots of time with your own handheld mortar sprayer, plus the cost of the concrete, or using your own dirt for free (we used a shotcrete contractor: more expensive but only took 2 days). That is the cost of the most "different" part of our build, and you have a million directions you could take it from there to frame the rest in and put on a roof and install systems.

I would be happy to share our costs with you, except we don't know them! We do have records (our sold house equity, receipts, online receipts, bank records etc) but haven't taken the time to figure them out and I'm not sure if we will ever take the time...

You could do it more cheaply than we are doing it. We are thrifting materials where we can, but we did decide to make our "forever" home, so some of our decisions have added time and cost. We also chose to do this on a permit so that we can promote some of the technologies if and when they are successfully implemented, and that added costs -- we cross every t and dot every i and jump through every hoop and hope to stretch our state's acceptance. We also don't want to saddle our kids with a property that they can't unload and the permits will make it easier for buyers to get a loan, insurance, etc.

In any event, we still feel the decisions we've made have been worth it for us, and every person has to find that line for themselves. In retrospect I would have started with a small livable building that we could use as a learning project (and later guest cabin) so we'd have a more comfortable place to live while pursuing our dream. But I don't dwell on that -- we (usually) stay positive and keep looking & pushing forward! And we still share the same vision.

4 months ago

Bryan Elliott wrote:Kimi,
Wow!  You and your husband do everything with style.  I'm glad to see the update and pick up some ideas.  My wife and I are moving to New Mexico between Santa Fe and Las Vegas this year and we are going to be starting with no improvements also.  I don't expect our project will start the scale of yours but it's still going to challenge us.  I'll be studying your posts on adobe and plastering.

Excellent, Bryan! Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.

Thank you for the kind words!

If we could do one thing differently, it would have been to start ten years earlier.

If we could do one more thing differently it would have been to start with a 120 sq ft outbuilding that we could live in while building our house. So I am happy to hear you are starting smaller!

When you and your wife get to NM; feel free to PM us if you have questions. I highly recommend getting in touch with Cornerstones and joining in on a project with them in Santa Fe or Chimayo -- they are so knowledgeable and helpful! A day of volunteering with them is like going to a workshop but $hundreds cheaper (free), and they are often working in your neck of the woods so you can do it as a day trip.

Best of luck!
4 months ago