Lime Plastering the Tyre Wall

I’m getting the final course on the straw bale wall. As it turns out, I’ve probably got about half a ton of lime render that I over-ordered, so I tried a test patch last week on the inside of my tyre wall to see how it would stick.

Here are some photos. As it transpires, the lime render sticks remarkably well to the tyre surface! I’ve also filled the voids between the tyres with a lime/straw mix though in hindsight, the mix in the photo is probably a little lime render heavy as it’s drying quite slowly but I’ll try other ratios in the next few weeks.

The particular ratio of materials in the mix of lime render is not known to me, as I ordered it pre-mixed from Ty Mawr (ask for their straw bale mix), but I know it’s a combination of lime putty, sand, finely chopped straw and hemp.

I was going to plaster with clay between the tyres, but if I’ve got the lime spare,  I’m happy to work with that. On searching the internet, there is precious little information about lime plaster and tyres (who would have thought!) that I feel I should try and share as much as I find out on here. If anyone else has tried, or tries this, let me know.

Earth Rammed Tyres as a retaining wall

Earthships: How to Pound a Tire from Earthship Biotecture on Vimeo.

As Spring draws closer, I am nearing the end of my tyre ramming in the back garden. I am just completing two retaining walls and a foundation trench consisting of over 300 tyres. While I’m sure this does not make me an expert on the subject, I feel that building in the area that I am, I have had to cope with challenges that are not normally faced by other blogs on the subject I have read. My construction of the first wall was admittedly amateur in places, and I want to do my bit to ensure that anyone else taking on the task of constructing a retaining tyre wall does not make the same mistakes as me.

When you are looking to build a retaining wall, you need to think about a couple of aspects, which I will address below:

  • Use of the wall
  • How you want the wall to appear afterwards
  • Height of the wall
  • The type of soil you are retaining

Use of the wall – do you want it to be waterproof?
One of the mistakes I may have made with my first tyre wall is not considering this aspect. My tyre wall was just thrown into the ground, not thinking about putting a waterproofing membrane behind it with a drainage trench. Some people raised concerns about the water behind the wall pushing it over, but I found that the water simply seeps through the small gaps between the tyres.

If you want the tyre wall to be waterproof, you should consider a french drain design with a waterproof membrane between the drain and the tyres. This means any excess water will drain down the french drain and out through a pipe you can install in the wall, or wherever you want. By doing this, you ensure that your tyre wall will be waterproof, which is ideal if you are using it for an earthship style building! For information on waterproofing, skip to the end of the post.

How you want the wall to appear afterwards? – Do you want to plaster over it?
If you want to avoid the bare tyre look on your finished wall, you will have to think about plastering it. On an exterior wall, this is going to be difficult using natural materials, but it is not impossible. One thing you have to ensure you do, however, is waterproof the wall, so that there is no water leaking through gaps! This in itself brings its own complications. I’ve tried to outline these at the end, followed by a section on plastering.

Height of the wall – How much are you retaining?
In my building work, I have built a tyre wall six courses high. This stands approximately five feet, or 1.5 metres, maybe a little higher. I don’t think I would be comfortable going much higher than this the way I am building, as my walls are pretty straight, albeit with a slight step back as it goes up. I also have iron rebar through the walls to act as reinforcement. If you are looking at building walls approaching 2 metres (around 7 feet) or higher, then you should definitely consider two things, the length of the wall, and stepping the wall back as you climb. If the wall is longer than, say 5 metres, (about 5.5 yards) then consider either curving the wall or building in a buttress to strengthen it.

Planning, planning and, oh, more planning.

Apologies, it has been a while since I wrote a decent post on here. It seems all I’ve done for about a year has been ramming tyres. Probably because that’s pretty much all I have been doing!

At the last count, I’ve got about 50 tyres to go to finish the final retaining wall and I cannot wait to get them out of my way! I’ts not that I haven’t enjoyed ramming the tyres – far from it, actually, I think ramming tyres is brilliant fun and has got my upper body into a decent shape! It’s more that, after two years of digging trenches and turning a big hill into a terraced garden, I am ready to move on to the next stage.

This next stage is all happening this Easter. It’s exciting and equally terrifying. I ordered the straw last September and had it stored at a friends farm in Brecon. In five weeks, that straw will be making its way down and the walls will be going up, along with the roof of the building.. all of this will take place over one week!

This is the pitfall of building without a timber frame. Since I need the straw to hold the roof in a monolithic structure, the walls need to be built, then the roof placed in top. When you have a material like straw, you need to keep it protected, and for those precious few days when the roof is going up and being covered, you have to pray for good weather and a smooth operation. It’s no wonder a lot of people would go for the timber frame approach!

To ensure that the week goes smoothly, everything, and I do mean everything, has to be planned to the smallest detail. I’ve got a shopping list as long as my arm, consisting of roof timber, lime putty, tarpaulins (essential weather protection kit!) and clay. Delivery times are being considered, as some of the materials will require lugging up to the back of the garden, and to be honest, it can be a very overwhelming operation to plan!

This is where I am at currently. I’ve just put in the order for the timber for the roof plates, and the joists, which I hope to construct before Easter. I’m bidding on a Gripple for compressing the walls on eBay, and emailing lime suppliers about prices and delivery dates. It’s mental, but as Easter draws closer, I can’t wait for it all to arrive and all to fall into place. I won’t be surprised when it’s all over that I get bored and look for my next project, because this stage feels very addictive!

Rammed Earth Tyre Wall Plate

With the first tyre wall finished, I am able to use my short breaks between ramming tyres getting the top of the wall finished. As you can see, I’m using some 3″x2″ timber to create a ladder-like wall plate, which I am then levelling using stones built carefully on the tyres.

The tyres are not perfectly level, but the stones sort that out, and it looks lovely!

The pace of the work is not the fastest, and I have to gather the stones from the garden which fit, but I’m so far finding the work looks great from a distance and also suits the purpose nicely.

The work is a little slow as you have to be careful when placing the stones.

Eventually, the wall plate will be filled with stones to the top level, and I can put either decking or paving stones on top to finish it off, and prevent most of the rain that falls from falling onto the tyres, thus preventing any erosion occurring over time.

The stones create a nice frame around the tyres.

I’ll keep you informed as the wall plate progresses. It should be finished this week, if the weather goes along with the forecast!

I’ve added some more stones to the wall, and I’m rather chuffed at how things are turning out. I’m going to do this for the whole wall, and cover areas with various decorations. I’ll keep the posts updated on this!

Taking the stones between all the levels to hide the dirt at the joins of tyres.

Tyre Wall Decorating

I just had to post this photo. I have been wandering around the internet in my spare time, and I am a fan of the website (though I’ve not got an account yet 🙁 waiting for an invite!! **EDIT: I have joined! My link to my wall is on the right!**)

Its basically a site where you can post things you like on a wall so you can collect a scrapbook, for want of a better word, of the things you like. So, in need of inspiration for how I will make this tyre wall look attractive on the outside, I searched “tyre wall pinterest” on google and got some brilliant ideas!

Check out some of these photos. I’m going to try a combination of these to break up the long wall, and make it stand out in a nice way. Lets hope I have some spare time in the summer for it! If you have any ideas on how the tyre wall can be decorated with a low budget, let me know!

Earth Rammed Tyres Links & Thoughts

Over the last few days, having seen so many useful websites on how to build using the methods I am using, I’ve been thinking about how I can make this website more informative for people who are looking to learn more about eco-building.

I’m trying to collate all the information I have gathered into simple posts, so people can hopefully find this one post, and all the links I have, and save themselves a fair bit of time.

I’ve tried to put useful comments by each link so you can get an overview of whats on the page. If you find this page and use it, It would be good to know if you find this useful, please leave a comment!

Please also see my Pinterest page for links to interesting articles.

Earthship Wiki on Tyre Ramming
This page is a pretty filled out resource which details everything you need to know, like selecting tyres, and techniques to follow when laying the courses.

Bristol Green House
I linked to this website on another page, but there is this section, which links to the specific page on tyre ramming. It it a pretty good account of a real tyre ramming project, where the wiki page above documents methods in a more theory based way.

My Experience
As I work on my walls, I’ll document more on my experience and post it here.

Ideal Tyre Size Selection:
Currently, I am using 175s (width of the tyre) to build my walls. While the wiki linked to above recommends 195s, am finding that once filled, the tyres bulk out to much wider than their normal width, and the 175s tend to be reliably high profile, so I can get plenty of earth into the rim. For building work, I would heartily agree with the website – 195 is nice and big for holding a lot of weight and take a reassuring amount of ramming to get solid.

My main lesson I have learnt when completing my largest wall – make sure all tyre sizes are the same.

I have collected from a number of garages for this building, and in their eagerness to get rid of their tyres, they have all tried to give me sizes that are close to what I am looking for. E.g. I’m collecting 195/65/15 and they want to give me 195/60/15 or 195/65/16. Initially, I accepted these sizes, but if I were to do the building again, I would refuse. It causes you headaches if your tyres creep out of alignment, which will happen if you do not stick to the same sizes!

Tyre Settlement:
In the process of completing a course of tyres, I have noticed that given a few days of warm or wet weather, the rims of the tyres might settle a little. This could be down to me not ramming enough, or perhaps the type of soil I’m using. Either way, once I have finished a line of tyres, I find it useful to go along the completed row, checking the rims and doing a little bit of extra ramming where needed. Bear this in mind if you have the spare time, as it might help out in the long run.

Cardboard Base:
I only tried this later on in my build, but after seeing a few people use a cardboard insert as a base for the tyre, I think it is the best way of ramming. If you don’t, then as you ram, you get earth falling out the bottom into crevices. This is both difficult to tidy up, and also can cause the tyre to get earth underneath it, upsetting its level. By using cardboard, you get a flat bottom which will be easier to level with other tyres, and tidier to plaster later!

While a rammed tyre stands up to rain quite well, and lets it wash off the top, I have found that if you are halfway through a tyre, you will have real problems finishing it, if it has been rained on. The water gets in, and has trouble getting out, and a few whacks with the sledgehammer brings out the muddy mess that has soaked into the earth inside. Try and avoid this by either covering half finished tyres, or by not leaving any tyres unfinished overnight!!

When you build a wall for a building, you need to ensure that it is waterproof, so you should look into installing a membrane behind the wall. This way, you can plaster the interior when you are done and have no issues with water seeping through and getting damp on your lovely walls! This is not so common with the original earthships in Texas, because the ground is so dry, but in wetter climates, it is essential.

In the long run, if you are building a wall which will be exposed, you should make sure that there is something covering the top, to stop any water getting into the tyre, or rain hitting the tyres and wearing away the earth inside over time. I’ve got no evidence myself to prove that this will be a problem, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Putting a membrane behind the wall and under the first course of tyres also allows you to plaster the wall without any worry that the plaster will get wet from behind.

How to Ram a Tyre Wall

Do you often find yourself looking for something different to do?
Do you find that the gym offers no real challenge?
Are you often longing for a way of quickly tiring yourself out?
Do you long for a way of combining money saving with exercise and environmentally-friendly construction?
Yes? They tyre ramming is for you!

I took to the tyre wall today, with the plan of learning how easy/hard it is to ram a tyre with earth, and build a wall. I learnt quickly that it is not something for the faint hearted to take on. If you are thinking of building something from tyres, get this fact straight – it is hard work!

My dad and I tackled digging out the slope enough to foot the first few tyres down. Once we had them in place, filling them with earth was easy, and you then jump, hammer and sledge-hammer them for a good half hour before you find the tyre looks finished. A few more whacks with a sledge tells you that you probably are about halfway! Honestly, its amazing how much earth and stone you can cram into one tyre.

They are sitting fairly level now, and I think this first wall is going to be five tyres high, maybe 6. Tomorrow, I’ll have to get out of there and measure up how wide the wall will be, so I can get an idea of how many tyres I’m going to need. With one morning spent, we have four tyres in place, and four ready to be hammered. On early estimates, I would say that the wall is going to take around 100 tyres, so plenty of mornings left to work!

With that in mind, I sent out a volunteer newsletter yesterday. I am planning to get everyone involved in volunteering near the end of April. From the 16th to the 22nd, I’ll be in the garden (weather permitting) so if you fancy an escape from the gym, and fancy building some muscles, or if you want to help out in other ways, like planting some vegetables, and digging out some vegetable patches, you are more than welcome to come on down. Give me an email, tweet me, or leave a comment here, and I’ll be happy to sort out arrangements for a visit down.