By Mary Elizabeth O’Toole
After a seemingly endless wet winter season, the weather is finally warming. For Pippa Creery and Bob Kloske, the arrival of spring means finally getting back to working on their earth-bermed tire home in Ship Harbour.
In May, we reported on some of challenges of their home build (“Laughing at 800 Tires” May 2019). This month, Pippa and Bob share tips for others interested in building their own low-impact, self sustaining home.
Their first piece of advice: Do your research! There are a wide variety of options and approaches ranging from incorporating environmentally responsible elements like solar power in an existing grid-tied house - to designing and building a new off-grid home, as Pippa and Bob are doing.
Talking to others is key. “There are more people getting involved in the alternative building movement,” Pippa said. “Most people are happy to share their knowledge or arrange a visit. It’s especially helpful to find someone building under similar conditions.” There are also many videos and articles on the Internet, as well as books, to help you narrow down what type of construction best matches your interests and needs.
Pippa and Bob use a small loader, but they’ve done much of their work by hand. “Building this way allowed us not only to design according to our lifestyle,” Pippa said. “But you also get an intimate knowledge of all the structures – which will also mean we can fix most anything that goes wrong.” Bob added that they had gotten some crucial alternative building experience by first putting up a small cordwood cabin. And there’s always the option of contracting some of the work out so you can move in more quickly.
Even if you decide to do most of the work, you will still want to gather information from others. Although more people are becoming familiar with non-traditional approaches, it can still be a challenge to find skilled people willing to work with you on alternative approaches. Pippa and Bob say they were lucky to find a supportive engineer, a knowledgeable local contractor, a resourceful salvage yard operator, and helpful local businesses. “Working with traditional contractors provides a different perspective and the sharing works both ways. ”
Bob emphasized the importance of planning the order of operations. “As we were building our walls, we had to be careful to leave gaps for ventilation tubes, radon vents, water pipes and electrical and plumbing conduits,” he said. “Similarly, we can’t install our front planter before we move in all the dirt to complete the back wall.”
But even with the most careful planning, there will be surprises. “We expected earth to be available and relatively inexpensive, so the cost of that was a bit of an eye-opener,” Pippa said.
When asked about getting help from friends and family, Bob joked, “Well, we haven’t had too many people actually show up with their boots on ready to work. Some people choose to organize large work parties and get the job done quickly, but we prefer to work away at it on our own or with a few helpers.”
For a video on a completed earth-bermed house on PEI, check out this video, Earthship Home - Young Man's Inspiring Building & Living Experience, https://youtu.be/LraJwVRH5Pw
You can also learn more about natural building options with the Deanery’s Permaculture Design program http://thedeaneryproject.com/permaculture-design-certificate