In 2003, about 290 million tires were discarded in the United States. That constitutes about 1 tire per person every single year. Fortunately, in the past 10 years the market for discarded tires has risen considerably: in 1990 only 17% of tires were reused or recycled, while in 2010 about 80% found their way into power plants, roads, playgrounds, or agricultural uses. This still leaves around 29 million tires every year creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes, fire hazards, and filling up landfills.
Earthship Biotecture, headed by architect Michael Reynolds, is a firm dedicated to providing sustainable design compatible with building codes and adaptable to any climate. Tire bricks are a large part in how they achieve this goal. Kept in their original form, tires are packed with earth and stacked. The resulting wall is then stuccoed, an important step to prevent the off gassing of the tires. Similar to adobe or other earth walls, tire walls create a thermal mass that works to regulate the temperature of the building’s interior. Tires provide a unit that takes little to no training to make compatible for building and are relatively ubiquitous around the world. This is important as all Earthships’ buildings are constructed through volunteer labor. What is great about this method is that it makes use of a waste material in a way that is sustainable.
Earthships have been around since the early 1980’s and are not a new phenomenon. Tire wall building has become part of the iconic language of these buildings and have proven that they are a viable building material when used in this way. Even so, it has not taken off as a go to building material for other types of residences. There is enough knowledge about using tires as a building material that they should be able to be introduced into conventional building methods with very little effort. In this way we could make up that 29 million+ tires that are not being used and perhaps get a little bit closer to creating a sustainable loop.