Pippa Creery and Bob Kloske’s retirement involves a lot of dirt.
The couple are building an earth berm tire house, which they hope will be a little piece of paradise in Ship Harbour, on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.
The south-facing home will have a wall of windows to capture sunlight, as well as solar panels on the roof. They’re building it into an embankment in the hope the dry earth will serve as insulation and store thermal energy much like a battery.
The off-grid design is modelled after an Earthship, a style of sustainable homes developed by American architect Michael Reynolds in New Mexico. It’s one of a handful of similar projects in the Maritimes.
“What appeals to me about this home is once it’s built and up and running, it doesn’t require any resources to maintain itself,” said Creery.
The home will have five rooms: a main living room/kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a utility area that will include the water filtration system and storage.
Creery said in traditional builds, the air must be heated, meaning it’s a crisis when the power goes out on a cold day. In this type of home, the structure holds the heat.
“You’re building up heat storage in all the tires and the dirt and the floor. The house will basically take care of heating and cooling itself,” she said.
A Halifax-based engineer interested in sustainable building took on the project and helped the couple ensure they had the necessary permits.
The home will have a south-facing wall of windows to capture as much sunlight as possible. The roof will be slanted at such an angle that rainwater runoff can be caught. Grey water used inside will also nourish plants and vegetables growing in front of the windows.
For Creery and Kloske, leaving a small environmental footprint has always been important. But Kloske needed a little convincing that an Earthship was livable.
He wasn’t sold on the first few he visited.
“They were dark and dingy and I thought … there are better ways of living. Since that time we really started researching and looking into it. We found some beautiful homes and they’re working beautifully. And I thought this is the way to go,” he said.
Pippa Creery and Bob Kloske don’t have a timeline for when they expect to move into their home. For now, they’re focused on finishing the walls and hope to frame the structure before the winter.
Since the couple broke ground two years ago, they say they’ve gotten plenty of support from the local community with people stopping by to learn more.
“It’s getting the message out there that we have to start doing things [differently] or in 20 years we’ll be frying. That’s the big thing, taking care of the planet, doing our part,” he said.
“It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a contribution,” said Creery.
Pippa Creery spends much of her day packing dirt into tires. Each one takes about half an hour. They end up weighing about 130 kilograms and they’ll form the walls of her future home.
Much of the material, including the old tires, is found in Nova Scotia. So far, one of the more expensive items has been bringing in the dirt to create the berm and pack into the tires.
Eventually, the wall of tires won’t be visible. There will be five rooms, including two bedrooms and a large living area with a kitchen with an earthen floor. The walls will be finished with adobe plaster.
A hallway featuring a planter will run along the south wall under the windows. The plants will be watered with grey water from the household, ensuring it doesn’t go to waste.
Kloske initially wasn’t keen on the tire house concept. He worried it would be too dark and damp, but after visiting other Earthship-type homes, he was sold on the idea.
Rainwater will be caught as it comes off the roof and filtered inside for use as well.
Good ventilation will be key. They’re building along the coast and with the damp climate, mould is a concern. For now, they rely on a network of tarps to keep the earth as dry as possible.
There is a network of tubing built into the berm that is designed to help air circulate. If it’s too hot, warm air will rise and can escape through tubes closer to the ceiling. Cool air will be drawn in through tubes closer to the floor. The opposite will happen on cooler days.
The property has been in Creery’s family since her grandmother bought the land in 1946.
The plans include a wood stove to ensure there’s an extra heat source during the coldest months.
“We’ll also have skylights in the back we’ll use and opening windows along the front for summertime use so you can get good airflow,” said Creery.
“It takes two or three years for the house to be fully functional and for the so-called batteries to be full and to bring the heat in and take the cool out of the house.”
A Halifax-based engineer interested in sustainable building helped the couple ensure they had the necessary permits.
This summer, Kloske and Creery have been packing earth into individual tires that will form the walls of the building. The work is physically demanding and tedious at times. Packing each tire takes about half an hour.
“They’re the bricks of your house. If it wasn’t packed in tightly, you wouldn’t have a good, solid wall,” said Creery.
They hope to have the roof on and the front section framed by the winter, which would allow them to start work on the interior.
Pippa Creery says the home is ‘a drop in the bucket’ for taking care of the planet, ‘but it’s a contribution.’
Though plenty of people have offered to help, Kloske said he and Creery enjoy working together and going at their own pace.
“This is now our retirement job, as long as it takes. We’re having fun and we’re enjoying it and we take it one day at a time. When we get it done, we get it done,” he said.