An Update on the New Mexico Tire Bale House

A month ago I posted some information about the First Permitted Tire Bale House in New Mexico, and Kimi Ishikawa just added this comment to that post:
Thank you for this post, Kelly! Here is an update from our blog — our tire bales are installed! I went into a lot of detail in case anyone out there is curious about what’s involved in erecting the walls.

Also, Precision Structure Engineering has updated their website, and they have this whole page devoted to tire bale construction.

Now that the walls are up, we will be going back to dig through Natural Building Blog archives for references on hyperadobe (infill for the post & beam above the bales), DIY earthen shotcrete (for exterior & interior walls, and for earthen floors), etc!

I highly recommend checking out their blog post about their experience, as it is full of drama and interesting details.

3 thoughts on “An Update on the New Mexico Tire Bale House”

  1. I hear people referring to tire bales as “thermal mass” and others referring to them as “insulation.” It can’t be both, right? Aren’t “thermal mass” and “insulation” mutually exclusive? I understand “thermal mass” to be a material that absorbes and stores heat from warmer air, or releases heat to cooler air. I think insulation is something that slows this heat transfer rather than facilitating it.

    I have come to think that tire bales act as insulation, and that tire bale walls are consdered thermal mass only because of the covering of earthen plaster or concrete stucco. What are others’ take on this, and do you have any sources about this? I am utterly unqualified to speak on this subject, so the above is just my guess. If anyone out there has better or more authoritatve info, I would love to hear it, and to hear the source or background of the authority… when I look online for references I see a mix, or I see quotes saying that tire bales offer both thermal mass and insulation.

    The confusion might be compounded by earthships, in which individual tires are pounded full of dirt. So wouldn’t that be thermal mass (dirt) surrounded by insulation (tire rubber)? I have leaned against our (so-far uncovered) tire bale walls on sunny cool days, expecting them to be warm in the sun and cool in the shade… but they just seem cool…

    (I suppose I shouldn’t care just as long as they work as hoped once our house is finished — it’s just the nerd in me that wants to use the terms accurately.)

    • All materials lie on a spectrum between insulation and thermal mass. Heavier, dense materials tend to be thermal mass and lightweight materials with lots of pockets of air provide good insulation. For example wood can be both to some extent, where lighter softwood species are more insulating and denser hardwood species have more thermal mass; but neither of these are ideal for either of these applications. I suspect that the rubber in tires is similarly in the mid spectrum.

      I think you are right that tire bales would be more insulating because of all the trapped air in those huge bales; the tires used in Earthships are packed with soil, which is pretty good thermal mass.

      All of this is mitigated by how a material performs within the envelope of a structure, so it can be confusing for people who might experience adobe as insulating because it effectively stops heat from entering the building for a period of time, even though it is really thermal mass and will radiate that heat back into the building after several hours.

  2. Update: We are finally rolling again on this project (after a couple months of planning for, and getting bids on, the next steps).

    I updated our blog about installing our concrete bond beam. That was such an intense and uncertain task that it took two blog posts!

    Hopefully the next update will come more quickly… we are hopeful that the front wall and roof will chug along, since the same crew will help us through that part. I try not to think about the ten years after that, finishing the walls and building the interior, which we will likely be doing on our own bit by bit and step by step…


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