July 2013 - Where are we now?

posted Jul 22, 2013, 7:26 PM by Nicole Bennett   [ updated Jul 24, 2013, 7:51 PM ]

Swimming at the gravel pits

Ok, I admit, we have not done a great job of keeping our posts up to date on the website. So much to do and it's just so much easier to post on Facebook (click to check our group out if you haven't)! And so the last time I posted was really about the roof finally going on and it did in January. And now we have been at it again since May 2, 2013 and it's about time to share a bit (almost three months into the build year and counting). 

And so in May 2013 we started building again. This year we took the advice of a few volunteers from last year and applied and were accepted as WWOOF hosts (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). As hosts, people who are travelling in Canada can apply to participate in our project. Through this wonderful program (and our return Earthshippers from 2012, Stevie & Scottie) we have extended our family at times from as small as 4 to as big as 9 (I sure learned what it was like to feed a lot of boys!). Volunteers have come from all over the world! So when May started, our family was made up of Angie (Portland, Oregon), Katie (Oakland, California), Stevie (Red Deer, Alberta) and Scottie (Calgary, Alberta). And boy was it cold! Still some snow on the ground and the temperatures into the negatives at night. Camping involved a lot of blankets and 'snuggie' rocks. Good thing it didn't drop below zero in the Earthship because our warm weather friends stayed in there for the first week.

And so our first official day began (May 2nd), we started with laying out the can footings for the walls and took it from there. Soon enough there were walls going up all over! When Scottie arrived with a cement mixer suddenly pack out was moving along real quick and soon enough we were into scratch coat on the walls. And the planters started to go in. And then it was on to roughed in plumbing and electrical. Soon enough some creative bottle brick designs were being put into action and the empty shell started to fill out. As of middle of July we are about 75% complete the build and struggling through all the hard parts (most seem hard to us - so the struggle is constant!). At times we feel like we're cracking up - but not yet broken. There is no doubt in our mind that we will be livingin our home by early Fall this year (versus the trailer like last year!). We are a bit over budget, and overwhelmed but still very positive and excited at each new thing.

Are we taking volunteers still? Yes, but more or less day volunteersor weekend volunteers (except under special circumstances) - contact us or check out our Facebook group for more info. Some fun things coming up soon include finishing plaster, concrete floors, more bottle brick patterns & installation, and the final installation of the solar system (including panels). 

Thank you for everyones support - we just couldn't havedone this on our own. Peace. 

Being books - the Human Library Project

posted Jan 12, 2013, 10:31 AM by Nicole Bennett   [ updated Jan 16, 2013, 5:51 PM ]

Kris & I have been asked to participate as a Book in this years Human Library project. Winnipeg Public Library, in partnership with CBC and The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is hosting the Human Library in 2013. This year will feature over 30 Books in 3 days, held once again at the Millennium Library. 

In a Human Library, people become the books and are 'borrowed' for conversation. The Human Books come from all backgrounds and ways of life, but they all have one thing in common: for different reasons they are often subjected to stereotyping or prejudice. Books and readers meet for a 'loan period' of up to 30 minutes in a safe and welcoming environment – the library – with the opportunity to listen, ask questions, and share experiences. The Human Library creates a new way to connect with each other: one Book, one Reader, one conversation at a time.

Kris and I will tell our story (so far) of building our sustainable home (Earthship). You can 'reserve' us or any other book after January 14th. We have shifts: 
  • Friday January 25th (noon - 5) 
  • Saturday January 26th (noon - 5)

Check out more details and see the collection in the catalogue at the website 

If you don't live in the province you may find there is a Human Library Project in your area. 

Happy 'reading'. 

The roof & flashings - January 2013

posted Jan 10, 2013, 6:52 PM by Nicole Bennett   [ updated Jan 10, 2013, 6:56 PM ]

At long last we were ready for the metal for the roof and window flashings to go on. The second week of January our roofing company, Oakwood Roofing, had all material and started up. The Earthship roof is no small deal in materials and cost - it's around 2000 square feet. We put together the roof layers ourselves up to the point we needed until the metal & flashings - that we contracted out (we also got help with the greenhouse framing). 

I'm sure you could save some money on the roof - especially if you are in a warmer client. We got some good prices on some things - but it still adds up to a lot. The big items to put together this roof included:
  • 20' 4"x12" structural douglas fir beams, 42 beams ($8,511)
  • 1x6 douglas fir decking, 2000 square feet ($5,845)
  • PSU 30 Titanium Vapour/Ice/Water Shield, 27 rolls (layer over fir decking, 2nd layer over OSB) ($2,993)
  • Polyiso Insulation, enough for R50 across 2000 square feet ($7,850)
  • OSB sheets, 2000 square feet ($1,966)
  • EPDM, 10'x100', 2 rolls ($1,456)
  • Metal for roof & flashings with installation ($20K approx.)
  • Trusses for the front face roof, 51 ($1,940)
  • Crane for fir beam installation ($1,361)
  • Then there's additional wood, nails, tarps, and other miscellaneous supplies for vent boxes
To put the lid on our home and greenhouse we will spend over $52,000. This is the biggest ticket item for the entire home (by far thank goodness). It's more than we originally budgeted but it's almost done and looking fantastic. 

Here's some photos so far: 

Thoughts on getting started

posted Jan 1, 2013, 6:34 PM by Nicole Bennett   [ updated Jan 10, 2013, 3:55 PM ]

A few thoughts about getting started with your Earthship build

Over the past few years we have amassed information on Earthships from many sources. There is a wealth of content out there since this sustainable home method has gained press - from Earthship Biotecture, owners, builders, Facebook sites, sustainable home websites, and the list goes on. In 2012 we started our own build and had the opportunity to learn a few things first hand. 

It may not be as hard to get started as you think - just take the time to sort things out.

1. Earthships can easily cost the same as building a conventional homes - they aren't "Cheap"

  • From articles claiming Earthships can cost as little as $5,000 to home builders sharing budgets of $55,000 for over 2000 square feet - the claim is that this home is cheap to build. The reality is that the cost is going to be dependent on your design choices [which will be dictated in part by your climate] and your method to get things done [self build versus hiring a builder]. A lot of these claims are not based on reality. 
  • Some of the budgets being shared do not include costs of materials the owner may have already. 
  • A lot of the materials are expensive. If you take the time to start to breakdown the large items you'll see cost adds up quick: roof, power system, insulation, windows & glass doors, concrete. 
  • If you choose to build a global model style and do most of the work yourself (like us) we suggest you budget $125-$150/ square foot. 
  • That being said, if you choose to build something very small or you have a warmer climate and can avoid some costs (e.g., insulation) you can save some money.

2. You can get financing for an Earthship

  • If you qualify and can get all the check-marks required you will be able to get financing. Key checkmarks for us? (1) Home insurance, (2) CMHC approval, (3) Plans & budget, and (4) Approval to build. We got financing with Sunova Credit Union, the first institution that we approached and worked with.

3. You can get home insurance

  • There are a lot of insurance companies out there - it's a matter of finding the right one and educating them so they can understand what you are doing. After approaching around 25 companies it was the Cooperators who spent some time working with us and approved insurance.

4. Getting a building permit is totally possible

  • First, I'll say that this probably is impossible if you're trying to build in a city. Getting a permit was my greatest worry (not Kris's for some reason). For us it was a matter of education of the powers that be. Kris had meetings with the building and planning people in each region we were considering living in and all four regions said that with the engineer stamps they would be happy to have us build our Earthship. After we got the plans stamped & application submitted it took 4 weeks and we had a permit. This isn't everyone's experience - but we encourage you persevere and be aware that it may not be as bad as you think.

5. Earthships are not made with over 80%-90% recycled materials - make a materials list

  • We hear all sorts of numbers about how Earthships are made up of tons of recycled materials. Earthships are reusing materials that would be considered recycling. It's true that Earthships use old tires, used aluminum cans (lots of them), and old bottles (both plastic & glass). It's also true that they use concrete, wood, steel, glass, and all sorts of other materials that you likely will have to buy.

Bottle Brick Making by Kris

posted Dec 31, 2012, 5:05 PM by Nicole Bennett   [ updated Jan 3, 2013, 4:32 PM ]

What is a bottle brick, how do you make them, & how much will you bleed?

A bottle brick is a brick made out of two bottle ends taped together. These are used to create pseudo stained glass designs within walls of Earthships as a design feature to enable more light to transfer between rooms or from the outside to the inside. 

We will easily use a few thousand of these bottle bricks in our own build.

The Andy Hickman of the Northeast Georgia Earthship has done some beautiful bottle work in his home. Here's a photo from his build an a link to his Facebook page

Since we have a lot of time on our hands between building Kris started making these in 2011 and continues to make them in the evenings. The cleanest method for this longer term creation of bricks is to etch bottles and achieve breaks through alternating hot and cold water. Kris is up to 99% success rate meaning the bottle breaks as expected and therefore is usable. Here's Kris's method for bottle brick making:

Kris Plantz Bottle Brick Making Instructions:

1. Get the labels off - Soak the bottles in water with a bit of dish soap. Some labels come right off and others require some scraping with a putty knife (depends on the type of glue used on the label). While soaking to get labels off if there is crap (e.g., dead moths, mould, sticky stuff, etc) in the bottom of the bottle you may also want to soak the inside to start cleaning that up.

2. Etch the bottle at 4" from the bottom - When etching put the bottle in a plastic tub big enough to work in - this keeps the glass dust contained. Our bottle etcher was ordered from Prairie Stained Glass in Winnipeg for around $100. You can buy the replacement blades for around $25. Once you have your etching style down pat you'll find your success rate will go up. Kris tips: 

  • Sharp blade will work much better than dull.
  • Start out practicing with more common glass colours like brown or green - later you'll want more clear & blue. It took Kris over 100 bottles before he really figured things out.
  • Only one complete turn from the etcher is required.
  • Thin glass shatters more easily so less pressure & sharp blades are recommended

3. Alternate dipping in hot & cold water until bottle breaks at the etch mark - Kris's tip is to make sure the hot water is not boiling. He normally boils the water and than takes it off the stove and uses it shortly after (maybe 5 minutes or so as boiling water causes shattering and uneven cracking). The cold water bath should contain about 75% ice cubes. Dip the bottle in (hot bath bottom end first and make sure caps are off) for approximately 12 seconds (to begin with and extend as the water cools) and then into the cold bath for a few seconds until you see the etch line expand around the entire bottle.  One more dip in the hot bath for a few seconds and you should hear a light cracking sound which means the bottle has been broken.  Lift the bottle out of the path and pull the two ends apart.  Sometimes there are some uneven glass pieces sticking to the rim - you can remove these with some pliers after the bottle cools. More Kris tips:

  • Use a mix of more than half ice cubes to water for the cold bath.
  • As the ice cubes melt it takes longer in the cold bath to get a good break. For him, a 12 second hot bath when the water is piping hot and a few second cold bath works pretty well. After around 10 minutes of work you may need to increase your hot bath to 30 seconds. 

4. Clean the 4" bottle pieces - Clean these out good and then dry them to 100%. If you leave any dirt or moisture you'll get to see this on the insides of your bricks after you install them. Not pretty. 

  • If you don't want to get cuts on your hands - wear gloves.

5. Tape two same sized ends together using packaging tape - Use at least two layers of packing tape at the seam between the bottles. Best practice is to tape a clear end with a coloured end (or two clear ends). This will allow the most light transfer to occur.

You may want to wear gloves - especially when cleaning the bottles. Kris has cut his hands many times but not often anymore. If you're not so comfortable with sliced up hands then take precautions. There are other ways to cut bottles - if you need to do a bunch in a short period of time we suggest using the messier but faster tile saw approach (use a GOOD tile saw).

6.  Most importantly, be prepared to bleed a little.

November 2012 Update

posted Nov 18, 2012, 4:08 PM by Nicole Bennett

Well it's been a long and somewhat tedious fall for us.  Since our Alberta boys (Stevie and Scott) left us a few weeks ago progress had been slow until we hired CJ Fiola Renovations to finish our roofing and exterior windows for us.  We should be fully closed up by the middle of December (which means I can finally sleep at nights).  The roof is ready for the metal roofing and the windows should be installed by the end of the week (Nov 25th).  Oakwood Roofing is installing the standing seam metal roof and all the flashings for us in about 2 weeks time.  After that, we will be working weekends (if the interior temperature stays above zero) for most of the winter and I (Kris) will be unfortunately going back to work to make some money instead of spend it.  As of right now, we are projected to spend approx. $220,000 on our build minus plans and permits.  Thanks to all the volunteers who helped us out during our building season!!!  We will be finishing all the interior work next spring/summer and hope to have it move in ready by July (and could always use as much help along the way!).

September Update - MB Earthship 2012

posted Sep 27, 2012, 3:45 PM by Nicole Bennett

A friend reminded me recently that our website could use a little updating - and so here I will attempt an update on the highlights from August - September in one post with a promise to improve my posting skills in the future. First let me say that we (Kris & Nicole) have experienced the best and most busy summer of our lives. Building your own Earthship is wild - tons of work, research, planning, debating, checking & double-checking, and crossing of fingers. I would only recommend doing this yourself if everyone who will live in the home is fully committed, on the same page, and ready for some sacrifice.

Kris has taken the summer off (thanks to his workplace AMEC who supported his leave of absence for the project). I've been working and taking vacation to participate in construction as much as possible. For us in 2012, when I say "done" I mean: Roof is on & front windows installed. This will get the home closed up for the winter. Then we can start work early in the Spring of 2013 (finishing in summer of 2013). We are pretty close to meeting this goal and if the Manitoba weather holds we should achieve it!

Our July update was all about tires - because July & August were almost purely about pounding the 11 tire course retaining wall in place and related work (like the cooling tubes & cisterns). I'll try and give some highlights:

-1800+ hours into tires - The approximate labor hours it took to install cooling tubes, finish retaining wall, put cisterns in place, and install the thermal wrap.
-800-850 Tires - The amount of tires it took to finish the retaining and south wall which acts as a footing for the exterior greenhouse wall.
-12 Tires in One Day- The record for amount of tires pounded by one person in a day (held by Scottie). It takes a long time to pound tires - easily an hour or more on a large one.
-12 weeks Camping (still going) - The longest length of time a volunteer has camped out and worked as part of the core crew for the build (held by Stevie). We are so lucky to have volunteers stay for anywhere from one night to many weeks. We never could have got this far without the support & expertise.
-13 weeks (still going) with no shower - With the exception of creek runs and the famous "hot bucket shower" my husband holds the record. I can't think of any other way we could have done this other than living on the property like we have. The outbuildings have provided space for things like summer kitchen, 'living room', work shop, storage and more. It's a really different experience living like this - and a lot of fun.
-Alberta Wins - The province that the most out of town volunteers came from. We've have over 4 longer term volunteers come from Alberta including Calgary, Red Deer, and Lethbridge. We've also learned there are a few Earthship builds in Alberta - just not sure the exact location yet of any.
-$15,000-$20,000 - The amount of money it will cost us for excavation & skid steer work. This is the biggest overage on our budget so far. Our original estimates were not even in the ballpark. It was easy for an excavator to spend an entire day digging and moving dirt to pound into times.

The pump truck - our first big concrete fill was for buttress footings & footings for the interior south wall.

Interior greenhouse wall - we made a can wall for the form - it almost blew out but was saved by the rigid insulation

Roughed in the cisterns - we've been getting our drinking water out of these since we filled them up with a water truck in August - this provides us easy access to water on site for concrete work plus drinking water to fill our containers with.

The buttresses will tie everything together - at the top the rebar is hooked into rebar in the bond beam - we are doing these pours On Saturday September 29th.

Three foot rebar lengths get painted with rust paint and driven through three layers of tires before the can form is built for the bond beam. We got to buy a rebar cutter and bender to do all our own form work ($425).

Making a can form - we'll use thousands and thousands of cans as part of this build. This form is for the bond beam on the top course of tires. Leave 3 fingers space between cans.

Check out our Facebook group:
Check out Picasa Album:
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Costs to date - Phase 1

posted Aug 4, 2012, 11:20 AM by Nicole Bennett

Everyone (ourselves included) is interested in how much things cost. Since we are being financed for this build (thanks to Sunova Credit Union) we are keeping close track of the costs. I've promised a number of times to share these. So we are posting our actual costs to date and will continue to update them monthly (or so). 

The costs so far add up to about $36,000 - inclusive of Phase 1 which comprises permits, the tire walls, thermal wrap, and cooling tubes. We have very few costs remaining so the following represents close to 75-85% of our costs for the phase. After the completion of this phase we will be able to do our first of four planned mortgage draws. 

Phase 1  Cost          Comment Category
Lot Grade Permit  $2,500.00      $1500 refundable at end Plans & Permits
Building Permit  $956.00   Plans & Permits
Plumbing Permit  $160.00   Plans & Permits
Structural Engineer  $600.00   Plans & Permits
Earthship Plan  $9,000.00    Cannot charge to mortgage Plans & Permits
Tire Run Costs (travel/van)  $480.00    Van rental/ gas Tire Walls
Tools (Shovels,Sledge, Knifes, Tape, etc.)  $619.00   Tire Walls
Concrete  $161.19   Tire Walls
Laser Level  $1,114.00   Tire Walls
Metal Lathe  $40.00   Tire Walls
Excavation work  $6,100.00   Tire Walls
Poly 6 mil  $322.70   Thermal Wrap
Tuck Tape  $51.63   Thermal Wrap
Nails  $40.00   Thermal Wrap
Insulation (3', R15, 6000 sq feet,Reused)  $6,950.00   Thermal Wrap
Spray Foam  $67.00   Cooling Tubes
Culverts (5 @ 20 ft)  $1,377.00   Cooling Tubes
Cisterns (2 @ 1770 gallons ea)  $5,300.00   Plumbing

July monthly progress update

posted Aug 2, 2012, 10:26 AM by Nicole Bennett   [ updated Aug 2, 2012, 10:40 AM ]

On June 29th, 2012 we got our building permit - as of August 1st (with a week off for Folk Fest) we have leveled our site, installed our cooling tubes, started the thermal wrap, got our cisterns and just about finished the 6th course (row) of tires. With the help of some great volunteers we are on schedule to finish the first phase of the project by the end of August. That means we would have all 11 tire courses complete, front tire wall complete, along with cisterns installed & thermal wrap in place. If you haven't yet come by to try your hand at some work and learn some more about Eathship builds then come by in August for a day (or whatever you'd like) and join in the fun.

Day 1 of the build - getting the first course of tires level and pounded

Day 2 of the build - 28 tires in place (Kris inspects the work with the Prom Queen 5000)
Plans for the site lay-out - really important to get that first row right!

Day 7 & 8 - The first big weekend push in July got us to the third course!

Booster Juice brings us some refreshments for the volunteers (Bill & Alana enjoy in the shade of the barn)

Day 13 and the second big weekend - we were up to the 4th course and time to start installing cooling tubes and the thermal wrap (rigid insulation)
Thermal wrap sits 4 feet behind the tire wall.
Installing insulation around the cooling tubes (1 in each room & 2 in the main room)

Around Day 18 (July 27th) we are on the 5th course & filling in around the gaps cooling tubes with concrete blocks - that weekend we start the 6th course and moving on to the 7th by August 2nd

It has been so hot! Lucky for us an awesome creek just up the road makes a perfect swimming hole.

All that works makes us hungry - and The Sledgehammer cafe was born.

We could never have made it this far without the support of our core crew and volunteers (both physical and mental). If this keeps up we should be on track to complete the first phase by end of August! Thanks everyone,
Nicole & Kris

Folk Fest supplies all the cans for the build

posted Jul 13, 2012, 10:28 AM by Nicole Bennett

This year we partnered up with the Winnipeg Folk Festival environmental crew. The crew added an extra step to their can/bottle separation process and bagged thousands of cans for us to take away and use for the projects. We now have all the cans we need for the build. These will be used in many locations including as filler between the tires to reduce mudding effort, as bricks for interior can walls, and all sorts of other locations including making molds for concrete pours for the bond beam on the retaining wall.

We are so thankful to the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the Environmental Crew. We hope to do this again next year to stockpile for the next build.

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