I'm in Safford, Arizona - a small mining town about 100 miles east of Tucson, at the base of Mount Graham. I'm volunteering to help build an Earthship for 3 weeks.
Safford, Arizona is a small city located in Graham County, and some of the things it is known for include:
- Agriculture: Safford is a major producer of cotton, alfalfa, and other crops, thanks to its fertile soil and irrigation systems.
- Mount Graham: This nearby mountain is a popular destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and stargazing, and is home to several observatories.
- History and culture: Safford has a rich history dating back to the 19th century, and is home to several museums and historic sites that showcase the city's cultural heritage, including the Graham County Historical Society Museum and the Eastern Arizona Museum.
You know your in a small town when: you make the local paper.
If you are every in that part of Arizona, this chain is phenomenal. They are Baja style, which means they don't try to sneak rice and beans into a carni asada burrito, and call it square.
The Trailhead Hideaway is put conveniently nearby, a favorite amongst the crew, especially Friday night karaoke...
The Earthship Encounter
Peter the host, and owner of the property, pounded most of the 800 or so tires in the wall by the time I arrived. He told me the process took him about a year, working alone for about half the wall, and then eventually finishing with the help of local hire teenagers.
Peter sourced all the tires locally through the many tire shops in town. These shops will give you the tires for free, sometimes agreeing to haul them to your property themselves, because they pay a recycling fee per tire (about $5 or so per tire that they pass on to the customer when we buy the tire). So the more tires they give away, the more of that fee they can keep for themselves.
This encounter has a south sloping metal roof, that funnels the rainwater into plastic cisterns, 1,700 gallons each, with four total.
The "stem wall" trenches are beginning.
The pre-manufactured roof trusses, and lumber for the front face and greenhouse framing on site.
This was my living situation, I started in the tent, but we had some crazy weather, and my tent got wet underneath, and so eventually I was sleeping in the truck. That solar panel powers a Yeti 1000x that I used for powering all my electronics on the build, including my laptop and cameras.
Our morning meetings with Deborah, one of the five Earthship staff, with 15 volunteers.
The stem tirewalls set into the trenches are packed with gravel, and all subsequent courses are packed with whatever local dirt is on site. The point is it keeps groundwater from getting into your tirewalls in times of torrential rain, and a groundwater rising. The number of underground or "burned" tire courses the building gets is all determined by rainfall and current groundwater levels in the area.
Meg, a bartender from Los Alamos, New Mexico, going to pound town.
Mid-morning vibes with Jasmine.
Max, of Santa Fe New Mexico.
Sharon, from Washington State
Will from Tennessee, rockstar, homesteader, surviving one of the many weather events of our 2nd week.
Interior framing going up.
These window boxes were build on site by a team of 3-4 people, while the rest of us worked on the stem walls and the building tire wall.
Order among chaos.
And it's not an Earthship build unless there are at least two dogs on site at all times 🙂
Here the the inner building framing is nearing completion, and the two concrete footers are formed.
Sol came all the way from Argentina to participate this build!
Billy, Youtube host and permaculture advocate from North Carolina, and Sabrina, architecture student from Austin, Texas, do the layout for the trusses on the finished plating.
The truss support is nearly finished, and the footers are poured with concrete.
Concrete "pack-out" continues on all exposed tirewalls.
Casey begins the layout for the greenhouse framing.
Max applying a weather proofing wood varnish to the finished framing.
Truss installation begins.
Suns out, Guns out with Sabrina!
The greenhouse door and window boxes are installed.
Jasmine is on an epic road trip, coming from San Francisco (by way of Alaska.) She is originally from Maryland.
Dawn comes from Tucson, where she works at a local farmer's market.
Miracle is an artist from nearby Globe, Arizona.
Will and Billy discuss something important, like Karaoke at The Trailhead Hideaway later.
Billy hero shot.
Glyde is from West Hollywood, California.
Gaelan, of the Earthship staff, checks the truss install.
With the trusses secured, they are framed together.
Our humble weather battered kitchen area.
Progress on the front, end of week 2.
A look from inside, as the plywood goes down over the trusses.
This will eventually be the greenhouse.
A trip to a local hot springs in the area the 2nd weekend produced these photos...
It's a Miracle!
Warm fires and deep conversations...
January 23rd, 2023
Beginning week three, progress so far...
The greenhouse rafters are on, and the final sheets of plywood are installed.
After a moisture barrier goes down, a layer of 2 inch thick poly-iso insulation is tacked through the plywood and into the trusses.
An east/west oriented line of perlins are layed down, to serve as a fastening place for the metal roof. 1 inch poly-iso insulation is used in the between spaces in order to fit snugly to the roof.
The building has 4 inches of rigid foam insulation buried into the berm, angling, and connecting to any exposed wood.
The thermal mass of dirt varies depending on factors such as moisture content, density, and composition, but in general, it has a moderate to high thermal mass due to its ability to absorb and retain heat energy.
Earthships take advantage of this by trapping a section of dirt against the house as a temperature buffer.
The Propanel roof installed.
January 27th, 2023
Final crew picture.
Post Field Study
January 28th, 2023
Me and a few others are hired by Peter to stay on, in my case two extra weeks, to finish the front and sides of the exposed roof, with metal- also known as flashing.
Kevin (from Las Vegas) and me work on the flashing together.
Me and Kevin's dog Niko, chillin.
The metal is two feet wide and comes in rolls of 50 ft. We have to measure, cut, and bend these pieces in 12 foot metal brake. There is not alot of room for error once you start bending the metal, it's a fairly exact business.
Backside flashing progress.
Me and Peter install the rain gutter, which will slope from the center to each side of the building and diverted into the underground cisterns, providing water for the home.
February 10th, 2023
And finally, my time came to leave, back to my home in Los Angeles.
Me and Peter, final day.