Our Environment, Animals, and Purple Dog Animal Sanctuary (Part II- “The How”)

from The Purple Dog Coding, Tech, and Business Blog at Purple Dog Enterprises.com

Purple Dog Animal Sanctuary

I founded Purple Dog Animal Sanctuary, a 501 (c) (3) public charity, to tackle 3 needs. The first is to provide a home for abandoned senior dogs (with the intent of expansion for other animals in the future). Secondly, to reduce traditional energy reliance by using efficient methods and repurposed material to promote the sustainability embodied in rammed-Earth mass technology. Thirdly, to do so at low cost to encourage others to develop and build similar structures.

My vision is to start at a relatively small scale and over time develop a multi-use public complex around a thriving and self-sufficient animal sanctuary. Luckily, before I am even able to break ground on the sanctuary I’m in a favorable starting position because a similar (but a bit more complex) building design has already been approved under Florida and Universal Building Codes and was being built by others in neighboring Manatee County (I live in Sarasota County).

The actual design, construction, and approach of Purple Dog Animal Sanctuary draws from numerous existing technologies and systems invented, refined, and furthered by architect Michael Reynolds. I’ve used his books and so much information from others to derive plans and specifications adapted for Purple Dog.

I am not afraid to use non-conventional methods to meet needs. A typical brick and mortar process can be costly, wasteful, and energy inefficient in the long run. We shouldn’t be scared of going off the beaten path. By showing others how the process works I will help promote both energy-saving construction as well as provide a place where older dogs can live out their days or be adopted to forever homes.

I will go into a bit of depth here to demystify a lot of the construction and maintenance and to show what has inspired many to build in this environmentally responsible manner. I also encourage you to take a look at various websites to see just how colorful and beautiful many of the interiors are.

The designs I am using make use of are based on techniques developed by Michael Reynolds. He currently lives in New Mexico, but this architectural journey started when graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1969. The Architectural Record published his thesis in 1971 and he built his first recycled material house in 1972. That house, affectionately known as his “Thumb House” because of its profile, actually used empty beer cans wired together into “bricks.” Those bricks were then mortared together in a patented process. The entire process has been refined dramatically in over four decades worth of hard work, dealing with political bureaucracy, and revolutionizing material use and construction techniques.

Reynolds says he had an epiphany the moment when he realized that practically any object, whether it be an old bottle or used tires, could not only become part of the building structure but could also be used for their insulating properties. He has written five books concerning “Earthship Biotecture.”Stephen Fry in America showed Fry receiving a guided tour of Reynolds’ home and information about how the Earthship systems work. A 2007 documentary, Garbage Warrior, highlights his life and work.

In Garbage Warrior, Michael Reynolds describes one model design called The Phoenix:

“There’s nothing coming into this house, no power lines, no gas lines, no sewage lines coming out, no water lines coming in, no energy being used… We’re sitting on 6,000 gallons of water, growing food, sewage internalized, 70 degrees (21 degrees Celsius) year-round… What these kind of houses are doing is taking every aspect of your life and putting it into your own hands… A family of four could totally survive without having to go to the store.”

The name “Earthship” was coined by Reynolds’ wife, Chris. It is so named because like a ship, it is meant to be a self-contained, operable “vessel.” Over time, Earthships were able to become off-grid relying on solar power, geothermal cooling, growing food, and water cycling through greywater and black water systems. “Earthship” is a registered trademark of Michael Reynolds and his organization and home are located in Taos, New Mexico.

Environmental activists and celebrities became interested and Reynolds was even commissioned by actors Keith Carradine and Dennis Weaver to build high-end models.

Current Earthship technology uses Rammed Earth Masses to regulate interior temperature. Used automobile tires are rammed with native dirt to provide both structure and natural insulation. Each rammed tire ends up weighing approximately 300 pounds. This thermal mass construction combined with natural cross ventilation and the stack effect (thermal draft or chimney effect) of moving air provides natural heating and cooling while maintaining comfortable temperatures inside.

Another wonderful aspect of Earthships is their adaptability to any climate. At least 17 countries have Earthships. They range from frigid Canada, with minus 30 degree temperatures, to hot and humid areas like Haiti. Japan and France have joined the club as well.

There are usually a few concerns people have when they learn about such a design. First, we all know tire fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish. However, the tires in Earthships do not burn since they are not in piles and there is no access to the oxygen that fires need to burn as the walls over the tires are fully plastered and/or finished with concrete, adobe, or other covering. The Hondo Fire of New Mexico in 1996 hit an Earthship and the tire portion of the structure remained intact and did not ignite whatsoever.

Outgassing from the tires initially worries some. However, technical reports conclude there is nothing to worry about because as these are used tires, they have been exposed to the elements for years and there is no threat of harm.

Earthships are not only designed to meet building codes but also to exceed performance required in the Uniform Building Code (UBC) adopted in most states.

From Earthship.com: “Building codes and lending institutions basically control the type of housing that is available or possible. This is because building permits and financing must be obtained prior to building. Most new or different concepts have to be rigorously proven to the building code officials as officials are not being paid to take risks on new ideas. They are being paid to enforce existing dogma. Consequently, they tend to go by the existing books regardless of environmental or human issues to make sure they don’t lose their jobs.

“To further complicate the matter, the lending institutions do not necessarily accept any approvals of new ideas by the building code officials anyway. Their objective is to secure the resale value of the dwelling to cover themselves in case of default by the borrower. Consequently, they stick to things that have been proven to re-sell over the years, regardless of whether they are appropriate for the planet or for the people.

“Every state follows the same Uniform Building Code. This code has a clause that allows for alternative methods ‘not covered in this document.’ It states that alternative methods must meet the requirements and standards of those presented in the UBC. Your objective would, therefore, be to illustrate that Earthship Biotecture meets and exceeds the standards put forth in the UBC. In New Mexico, this has already been done. If you plan to build in New Mexico you are home free as far as the codes and permits go.

“Every state has a different policy on how approvals are handled. For example, New Mexico has a statewide policy. If something is approved by the state office it holds true all over the state. Colorado, (where many Earthships have been built), has a county by county policy which means that each county has the power to interpret alternative methods as they see fit. This means that if one county approves, it does not necessarily mean that the next one will. Several counties in Colorado have approved of this concept. No one has rejected it.”

Today’s Earthships use U-shaped walls, which provide excellent stability. The walls are backfilled on the exterior to provide additional strength and insulation. Smaller tires can be used in higher courses in the wall and each additional higher row is staggered back approximately an inch to allow for even more structural integrity.

The ends of the walls are further bolstered by concrete half blocks. The tops of tire walls are “can and concrete bond beams” made of recycled cans and concrete, or wooden bond beams with wooden shoes attached using concrete anchors attached to poured blocks of concrete inside of the top tires.

Non-load bearing interior walls can be made of a honeycomb pattern of aluminum cans joined by concrete. The walls are then plastered with adobe or concrete finishing.

Earthship design allows for catching, storing, and using water from the local environment, whether it be snow, rain, or condensation. Water enters a silt-catching filter, then flows into a cistern. Gravity then allows the water to flow through a water organization module (WOM) that filters out contaminants and bacteria producing safe water for drinking. The WOM has a conventional direct current (DC) pump which pushes the water to a pressure tank in order to create regular water pressure throughout the structure for sinks, showers, and more.

Toilets do not use water directly from the WOM, they use greywater. Greywater is water that has been used already (from the sinks, showers, etc.). Before it gets to the toilets though, the greywater is channeled through grease filters and particle digester and into a rubber-lined botanical cell. This water is unsuitable for drinking, but plant life thrives on it. After passing through the botanical cell and watering plants the greywater flows to the toilets for use in flushing.

After use in toilets, the resulting water is referred to as black water. Septic tanks and a leach field or drain field further make use of the water as exterior plants away from the Earthship structure love the nutrients in black water. Like with water, Earthships are designed to collect and store their own energy as well. The majority of electricity comes from photovoltaic solar panels. Wind turbines can also supplement power production. DC energy is then stored in deep-cycle batteries. If needed, integration with the standard grid can be done.

It is standard practice to use a Power Organizing Module (POM) to take stored energy from the deep-cycle batteries and invert it for alternating current (AC) use. The POM is simply placed on an interior wall and wired completely conventionally. Standard circuit breakers and converters allow the energy to be used for appliances through everyday outlets.

Earthships make use of balancing solar heat gain from windows, thermal energy retention in the walls and soil, and natural ventilation for cooling. The collective thermal mass of the rammed-Earth mass walls absorbs heat during the day and radiates it at night providing even temperatures without additional electricity for air conditioning or powered heaters.

Ventilation is enhanced by cooler air coming in through a front “hopper” window and air flow coming from buried air tubes. The air drawn inward through the tubes due to the chimney effect (stack effect) is naturally cooled before it enters the structure because the piping is underground where the soil is substantially colder than the surface. The result is a natural air conditioner with streaming fresh air.

Earthships have been built throughout the world. Locations in Europe include Scotland, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Estonia, and the Czech Republic.

African sites include South Africa, Sierra Leone, Malawi, and Swaziland. Other areas around the globe featuring Earthship technology are Easter Island, the Philippines, Canada, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, Belize, and Guatemala.

The largest concentrations of Earthships in the United States are in New Mexico and Colorado, but other notable Earthships are in Texas, Georgia, Montana, and one partially built in Manatee County, Florida.

The 21st century brings problems of both type and magnitude the likes of which we haven’t seen. We need creative ideas and methods to solve them more than ever. The building techniques I’m using for Purple Dog Animal Sanctuary demonstrates just one way I don’t blindly accept the status quo.

Click here for Our Environment, Animals, and Purple Dog Animal Sanctuary (Part I- “The Why”)

Visit the Purple Dog Animal Sanctuary website here.