Image at right: Anthony Cronk stands next to a tower of tires that make up one of the walls of the house he is building. When finished, the tires will be covered over with stucco, making them almost impossible to see.
Lorraine family preps rubber tire home project
LORRAINE — A family from this town has put the rubber to the road on an energy-efficient home constructed primarily of recycled car tires.
Anthony S. Cronk, a wood-shop teacher at South Jefferson Middle School, Adams, said his tire house project has been in the works for about four years. He first came across the idea while looking for a wood furnace for his home. From there he stumbled across the website for Earthships, a green home building initiative that reuses discarded materials to create houses.
Rows of tires form the outline of the Cronk family?s planned home in Lorraine. When finished,
the home will stand nine rows of tires high, except for the living room, which will be 12 tires high.
“I showed my wife, and said, ‘This is something we could do,’” Mr. Cronk said.
The premise for the house is simple: the heavy rubber tires serve as what Mr. Cronk called a “big thermal mass.”
Harnessing heat from the sun during the day, the tires release that stored warmth at night. The house’s windows are angled to prevent overheating during the warmer summer months, and are most effective when the sun is lower in winter.
At first, acquiring the tires for the house was relatively simple. Placing an ad on sites such as Craigslist, Mr. Cronk initially made money by being paid to take away peoples’ tires. He said those initial tire pickups netted about $600. However, he eventually found he was getting too many broken and unusable tires with holes in them, so he switched to two nearby repair shops, where he hauls away discarded tires for free. Mr. Cronk said he added a special rack to his truck that carries more than 20 tires.
“You’re using a resource that would otherwise be wasted,” Mr. Cronk said. “By and large, most of the tires here would otherwise be useless.”
To create the filled tires that make the foundation of the home, Mr. Cronk first places a piece of cardboard at the bottom of the empty tire, then uses rebar rods to prop wider the tire’s opening. This creates a space so he can pour in a mixture of mud and straw, which he then pounds to ensure its thickness. Each tire when finished weighs 350 to 400 pounds.
While he initially used a sledgehammer to pound tires, he more than doubled his productivity by switching to an air tamper. Completing nine tires a day for most of the process — the air tamper he’s used since the summer lets him fill 19 tires a day — Mr. Cronk said he has filled 550 to 560 tires. The space between the tires is then filled with mud to create a flat surface and that layer is then covered with stucco to create the building’s interior and outward-facing walls, making the tires almost impossible to see.
Most of the house will be nine tires high, with the exception of the living room, which will be 12 tires high. Above the living room, a second floor is planned. Constructed of papercrete, a combination of recycled paper pulp and concrete or clay, the upstairs area will contain the Cronks’ master bedroom and a wraparound balcony.
Melissa A. Fregoe-Cronk, Mr. Cronk’s wife and a science teacher at Watertown High School, said the house was a result of her husband’s desire to “provide the best life he can” for her and their two children — a 3-year-old daughter and a 1 1/2-year-old son.
Ms. Fregoe-Cronk said Mr. Cronk has done nearly all of the physical labor on the project, spending hours after school and full days on weekends filling and placing tires for the house.
“Everything he’s done up there shows what we mean to him,” Ms. Fregoe-Cronk said. She said their children also have come up to help with the project, moving mud into tires.
Mr. Cronk said most of his family members were supportive of the project, and many of them have come out to help on the project. However, he admitted his in-laws were a little skeptical about the home’s design.
“What’s wrong with a two-by-four and some nails?” Mr. Cronk said his in-laws asked him. Ms. Fregoe-Cronk said her parents have called the house a “muskrat hole.”
The use of rubber tires is just one of many green efforts taking place in the house. When finished, it will have solar panels and water collection points, along with a cooling tube that will draw outside air underground before directing it into the house, bringing the air’s temperature to about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, water will be reused in portions of the home. Water first used in the kitchen’s sink will then water a small greenhouse space at the front of the home, before getting one final use in the home’s toilets before being sent out.
Ms. Fregoe-Cronk said the home has become something she can talk about with students in her science classes.
“Kids are excited about it,” she said, adding that children often ask to see pictures of the house’s progress.
After lining the tires up, Anthony Cronk uses mud to fill in gaps between them.
He also uses household soup cans to ensure that the space in the gaps is completely covered.
In addition to being more environmentally friendly, the use of tires has led to big savings in the home’s construction costs. Including the costs of buying a backhoe and a skid steer, Mr. Cronk said that so far he’s spent approximately $25,000 in building the house. He said the biggest expense he’s had so far was paying for architectural plans created by local engineering firm Aubertine and Currier. The plans set him back approximately $5,500. The firm had never worked with a project using tires.
“They had a lot of questions,” Mr. Cronk said. Brian A. Jones, an architect at Aubertine and Currier, described the project as “unusual.”
“This is a first,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s a sign of people trying to build efficiently and inexpensively.”
Mr. Jones said the biggest challenge was educating building inspectors of the house’s safety.
“The building inspector wanted to be assured that this thing wasn’t going to fall down, and it was structurally sound,” Mr. Jones said.
While Mr. Jones was a supporter of the house, he did note that fellow builders may have difficulties in recreating Mr. Cronk’s work. Though materials are cheap to acquire, the labor required for the work would be either too exhausting or expensive.
“It’s only for the most aggressive owner who has a pretty strong back,” Mr. Jones said.
For his part, Mr. Cronk will require some extra Goodyears and a few more good years of work before his home is complete. He projects the house will be finished by the summer of 2013.