the Tire Bale house project


We believe that hindsight is always 20/20 and that you can learn from everyone else's mistakes. Everyone we have talked to that has built an earthship type home has said that they would have done one thing or another different if they had to do it all over again. As we go forward in our project, we would like to share with you some of the things to look out for and some of the mistakes we have made.

1.  Be Forewarned: Before you buy any land to build any type of alternative home, talk to the county and see if they require a building permit or even have a building department. Some counties will cause you nothing but trouble if you try and build anything but a traditional stick home. We won't kid you about the labor intensity and dedication involved in building a tire home by yourself. Yes, it's hard, but worth it. A building department will want you to cut corners to complete your home in a specified time period. Our former building inspector loved alternative building and was very progressive thinking. He told us that if we showed progress each year he would extend our building permit to completion. Now he has retired and the new (in 2012) inexperienced building inspector has changed the rules. First off, we are being told to expedite our building or face a fine each year it is not completed and buy another building permit. Secondly, the county has thrown away our engineered and approved building plans. The new inspector had the audacity to ask us for another copy. If we had known that the county two counties north of us requires no building permit (only electrical and plumbing permits which are controlled by the state) and welcomes alternative building, we would have walked away from this property and this backwards county. We can't afford to keep buying permits and paying fines. We need to put our money into building the house. We'll let you know if or when this situation gets straightened out.

Update: June 2013 -
We asked the new building inspector to come out and inspect our framing thinking that we needed to get it approved before we could finish the electrical and plumbing rough-ins. We got that backwards. She said that first we have to get both the electrical and plumbing inspected before she can inspect the framing. This meeting sure went a lot better than the last. She has mellowed a bit and is willing to work with us to get this house finished. She even offered some helpful information about increasing the "R" value of the roof/ceiling by adding 3 inches of foam and then fiberglass or blue jean batting. She has also extended our building permit for another year.

By the way, I've been doing a little research about counties in Colorado that have no building codes. You can do this too for any state you are interested in. I also found a book called "No Building Codes" (see that lists states throughout the United States that have no building codes in the unincorporated areas. Keep in mind that many of these counties have cities or towns located within them that do adopt codes.

Here is a list of Colorado counties that currently have no adopted building code (that we are aware of):
Cheyenne, Conejos, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Kit Carson, Mineral, Phillips, Prowers, Saguache, Yuma.

2.  Check out any contractor that you intend to use and be there when the work is done! We had a contractor grade the driveway, put in the septic, and do a little clearing on the homesite. He put in the septic 3 feet too high causing us to have to raise the house higher than we wanted and with an additional expense we don't need. We asked him to clear out a 100 ft. perimeter around the house and chip the slash. What he did was clear out 60 ft. and take the slash to a pile in the woods creating a fire hazard during an extreme drought. We weren't around when he did the work. We made the mistake of trusting him. Then he had the gall to charge us for the work he didn't do and we were stupid enough to pay him because we lived 280 miles away and couldn't check it out. We now ask neighbors and friends for recommendations.

3.  If you intend to build with tire bales, call tire recyclers all around your area and find the closest with a baling machine. Go talk to them and see if they will use the same size tires in the half bales as they do in the full bales. The short bales we are using have 14 inch tires instead of the 15-16 inch tires of the full bales, requiring additional work to raise them up to the same level. The freight hauler we used gave us a break in cost since their trucks were being driven to a nearby city empty (deadheading). Now they had a full load both ways.

4.  As far as cost to build goes, don't think you can build this for pocket change. You can, however, save a lot of money by building it yourself and using contractors minimally, if at all. You can also hunt for used materials, anything bargain basement or destined for the trash (Steve took a job in construction for a while and brought home rebar, metal braces, and assorted other treasures destined for the trash. It's amazing what gets wasted on a construction project).

5. If at all possible, build without a mortgage. Mortgage lenders usually shy away from alternative buildings anyway. We're building strictly out-of-pocket. It makes a project go a lot slower, but we figure we are saving a couple hundred thousand dollars in the process.

6. We took our own advice and asked around for a reputable excavating contractor (see mistake #2 above) to backfill the east end of the house where the garage will be. We also had to have the backfill compacted to at least 95% before the county would let us set the last tire bales. We found a company that really did a wonderful job and the compaction tested 97-100% using 31 loads of Class 6 road base. We thought it would cost an arm and a leg to get this done but it only cost an arm so we had enough money left over to buy a little wine and celebrate. We set the last of the tire bales on 6/3/2007. Yippee!


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