PHOENIX—An Arizona developer is seeking partners to build low-income housing using scrap tires as the main structural material. Robby Richards, president of Richards Development Inc. in Phoenix, bases his plans for scrap tire houses on the ``Earthship'' design patented by Taos, N.M-based architect Michael Reynolds.
Whereas Mr. Reynolds, who works for Solar Survival Architecture, has always built his homes to order for single clients in desert and wilderness areas, Mr. Richards wants to apply the Earthship technology to low-income subdivisions in the inner cities.
``There's a tremendous need for low-income housing in Phoenix and other cities,'' Mr. Richards said. ``It's an unserved niche I've chosen to work in.''
The high cost of construction using standard building materials keeps most low-income and first-time home buyers out of the new-home market, Mr. Richards said. But using the principles of Earthship—including main walls constructed from tires packed with dirt—could bring the price down substantially, particularly with economies of scale.
``The median home price here is $130,000, and a lot of people can't come close to affording that,'' he said. ``I want to see if we can get that down to $80,000 to $100,000. With current interest rates, (low-income) people can afford that.''
In the Earthship design, load-bearing walls are made of steel-belted radial tires packed with up to 300 pounds of rammed earth apiece.
Finished with mud, plaster or stucco, these walls have natural insulating capabilities to keep the home at a steady 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit without the use of artificial heating or cooling systems, according to Solar Survival Architecture.
Non-load-bearing walls are built with tin or aluminum cans and cement.
Prominent features of Mr. Reynolds' design include solar panels and wind generators for energy, rainwater collection in cisterns and waste water recycling for planters and gardens.
Mr. Richards believes the scrap tire construction—with its low materials cost and potential energy savings—can be adapted successfully for the mass-produced, low-income housing market. Mr. Richards envisions each home using about 1,000 tires.
Each tire can be finished with earth to make ``a 300-pound adobe block'' and create an attractive adobe home, he said. But Phoenix city officials are not yet convinced his plans are workable.
Finding sufficient scrap tires for his project is another ongoing task for Mr. Richards. He has had no trouble on his current small scale. There are plenty of small tire dealerships and garages ``willing to donate them just to get rid of them,'' he said.
Obtaining agreements for larger future supplies has been difficult. He could not reach agreement with the Gila River Indian Community of Sacaton, Ariz., which suffered a major tire fire after a pyrolysis project went bust.