Tires Sizes: 215-75-R15(27.7” x 8.5”) up to 235-75-R15(29.0” x 9.3”) are the optimum sizes for consistent course leveling.

Burn Course: A row of tires sitting below finished floor to help level the site. The process of laying in rows of tires to raise building elevation.

Stepping: When tire work starts low and steps up to a higher level or high going down. Tires stepping up or down must sit on level, undisturbed earth.

3 tire turn: Three tires turning to cut through a right angle to enhance stability in the corners.

90 degree turn: Tires follow a right angle based on string layout.

Base course: The first group of tires set on undisturbed earth usually all the tires are the same size.

Stagger: The tires need to be staggered like bricks or blocks. Ideally centered over the two tires below.

Batter: The process of setting each new row of tires back from the inside of the house, out. This is typically an inch and a half per course.

Butt: Tires must be pressing against each other to create a friction bond.

Squishie: When the natural stagger creates a gap, it can be filled by squishing a tire in between two finished tires.

Half tire: Half of a tire to span a small area at the end of a stem wall. Its recommended to use a retread tire that is found on the freeway to prevent releasing toxins through cutting.

Common Earthship Components

Lath basket:
A basket made of lath that is filled with cement and large rocks for displacement.

Stem wall: A row of tires that end without connection. Usually used as a footing for exterior greenhouse. Must be insulated and have a vapor barrier installed.

Retaining wall: Wing walls made of tires that hold back the burial.

Recycled Materials:

  • Bottles (plastic and glass) - Cans (aluminum and tin) - Cardboard

  • Scrap metals

  • Scrap insulation

  • Recycled windows and doors

Thermal wrap and vapor barrier: A “jacket” that insulates and water proofs the berm.

Rigid insulation: This is an R10, water proof board. The water proof feature allows us to install it into the earth berm.

Straw bales: Recommended for dry climates but still re- quire a plastic wrap.

Cardboard: Cardboard has R-value and with the proper thickness can achieve R-20.
Such layering is recommended to be sealed in contractor bags.

Scraps: Pieces of rigid insulation sandwiched together in a construction bag.

Bond Beam: A continuous beam of rebar steel and cement that connects the roof to the tire work to satisfy the structural engineer inspections. The interior pour dimensions are 10” by 10”.

Pins and staples: Used for “Simple survival” design to connect the ferro cement vault to the tire work. Usually
a free form with cement to bond the cage to the tires. All pins and staples must be painted with Rustoleum paint to prevent corrosion.

Packout and Shaping

Packout: Throwing mud or cement into the spaces be- tween tires to fill the the void and to eventually bring the level to final shape coat over tires.

Shaping: Prepping plaster to a continuous ow. “Wavy gravy is better than lumpy bumpy.”

Footings: Concrete and steel that provides a structured base from which to build upon.

Agitating: Settling the pour by creating an aggressive vibration that works the material into the nooks and spaces of the form.

Concrete Mixing

Mortar mix: For a dry climate we use a 3 to 1 ratio of sand to Portland cement. This is used for setting bottles and cans and plastering. We use engineered fibers for extra strength.

Concrete mix: Two buckets of sand, one bucket of Port- land, and two buckets of rock for enhanced strength.

Plaster mix: Usually uses plaster sand and is a much more creamy consistency.

Aggregate: 1” gravel or chip rock.

Fibers: Construction fibers add strength to cement plaster and prevent cracking.

Thermolube: Thermo-lube is used as a winter admixture that provides thermal characteristics required for a faster set and increased early strength. Reduces the time that fresh concrete or mortar needs to be protected from freezing.

Brown or Float coat: Normally the second to last coat applied to a surface. Formed by applying a smooth, thin layer of cement and then lightly rubbing the surface to create a slightly gritty surface. A oat sponge or a con- tractor sponge is recommended for use.

Slick or Hard trowel: This is the final coat in which a smooth and uniformed surface is formed through use of a spray bottle and pushing hard with the trowel.

Adobe Mixing

Adobe mix:
For a dry climate we use a 3 to 1 ratio of sand to dirt. One handful of straw is then added to the batch.

Clay: Your sand to dirt ratio will be determined by the amount of clay in the dirt. Clay is the structure of adobe which can be used for building bricks or plastering. Sifting screen: For finishes sand will need to be sifted through 1/4 inch mesh netting or even smaller.

Chopped straw: You can chop straw yourself or buy finely chopped straw. (Only one person in Taos has the machine to make finely chopped straw.)

Water: Needs to be fresh water. Don’t use grey or any type of tainted water.

Glue all: Adding Elmer’s glue can be added to a finished adobe plaster mix to enhance strength and reduce moisture.

Slick trowel (a.k.a. hard trowel): A final plaster coat that is smooth and uniformed and formed by using a spray bottle and pushing with a trowel.

Mica: A sparkling sand that can be put into Adobe.

Alize: A clay paint that requires a hand buffing.

Mix Consistencies Creamy: Usually indicates a mix with more water.

Stiff : Less water and sometimes with an additional scoop of sand added. Depending whether it is cement or adobe plaster.

Slurry: A very wet mix to fill in larger cavities.

Can/bottle mix (mortar): No rock and usually sticky.

Green: Cement that is still in early curing stage. Not recommended to walk on but can still be hard troweled.

Concrete & Adobe Slabs

Finish floor:
The final oor level. Must be level to all door bucks.

Subfloor: Concrete and remesh pour, 3 1/2 inches below finish floor.

Expansion/control joints: Breaks in the pour to control cracking.

Screeting: Using a straight edge to remove excess mate- rials on a floor pour.

Cream: The moisture that has worked its way to the surface.

Acid etching: A technique of burning a stain into a concrete slab.

Ferrous sulfate: A more natural fertilizer material that pro- vides a similar finish. No respirator or gloves required.

Roofing Structures

Vaults: The type used in the “Simple Survival” design. Typically installed on small U or circular shaped tire walls.

Domes: Used with the hut designs. The outer dome is a ferro cement/ birdcage structure that receives multiple coats of cement.

Cages: Bird cage type structure made with rebar, lathe, and netting.

Trusses: A framework, typically consisting of rafters, posts, and struts, supporting a roof, bridge, or other structure. This is an affordable and simplistic roof structure that allows for multiple types of insulation.

Beams: A long, sturdy, piece of squared timber or metal spanning an opening or part of a building, usually to sup- port the roof or the floor above.

Vigas: Long trees carved and used in a structure to hold up the roof. Traditional southwestern style of roofing.

TGI (TJI) Truss: Truss joist I-beam. This is another easy to install and easy to insulate roof structure. Only a couple of people are needed to install.

Ferro cement: Also referred to as ferro concrete, is most commonly applied with a mixture of Portland cement and sand applied over layers of woven or expanded steel mesh and closely spaced rebar.

Potato chip and spit 1” layers: Throwing small chunks of cement to create a surface to plaster upon. The purpose of this technique is to apply a lightweight coat to solidify the structure before adding too much weight.

Scratching: Scratching grooves in the cement to enhance connection for the next coat of plaster.

Back ll and tamping: Compacted, stabilized earth typi- cally located behind tire retaining walls.

Parapet: A small raised wall above the roof work that normally wraps around the building. A parapet helps hold snow and guide water to the cisterns.

Berm: The mass of dirt that buries the back of the house.


Metal Gauge: It is recommended to use 26 gauge met- al for gutters and more ease of bending around organic shapes. Propanel is 18 to 20 gauge for longer spans.

Wire Gauge: Lower gauge number means more strength. It is recommended that you use higher quality wire for cement plaster on the tire walls.

Lath: A type of backing material for plaster. It is the strongest mesh we use and is usually a quarter inch that is diamond shaped and forms a basket to hold and bond plaster.

Rebar: Short for reinforcing bar. A common steel bar used as a tension device in reinforced concrete and reinforced masonry structures. Half inch or #4 rebar is commonly used in Earthships.

Remesh: Provides expansion and contraction reinforcement to add strength when pouring concrete pads. Usually a 6 inch by 6 inch roll or sheet.

Stucco netting: Made from 20-gauge galvanized steel used as reinforcement for plaster, masonry, veneer, as well as other uses.

Chicken wire: 1” hexagonal mesh. 20 gauge galvanized steel.

Hardware cloth: 1/8” by 1/8” mesh, 27 gauge steel.

Bailing wire: Single loop flexible steel wire used for many applications to attach and bind. Commonly used on ferro cement designs to tie in a three forms of steel.

Propanel: Corrugated metal roofing used on the Global Earthship. It collects the cleanest water. Powder coated for approved collection of clean rain water.

Galvanized: Galvanization is the process of applying a protective zinc coating to steel or iron, in order to prevent rusting.

Valley Flashing: A high gage roll of metal, also powder coated and is ideal for nonrigid structures.

Plaster stop: A formed metal product used to terminate plaster against the door, windows, or end of wall.

Drip edge: Bent metal to prevent water from reversing its flow.

Roofing and Water Catchment

Canales: A canale is the Spanish word for canal, and is used to describe the drains or waterspouts used to move water from a roof and away from the side of a building.

Scupper: A settling area for debris in the gutter system before the water gets to the tank. This is a pre-filter for water prior to entering the cistern.

Risers: The extension above either a cistern or septic tank to allow for more burial.

Salad bowl: A stainless steel bowl that is perforated to slow the ow of water for the filtering process.

Polyethylene Cistern: Currently being used in all earth- ship designs.

Tire Cistern: A circle of tires that are packed out with cement and then wrapped in stucco netting and plastered many times on the inside. After the final coat is applied these tanks are normally painted with Thoroseal or Dam- tight.

Metal Cistern: These tanks are made of steel. They do rust after 25 years. Typically galvanized. Like the polythylene, these need to be insulated and buried to control temperature.

Cans/Concrete/Rebar Cistern: Like the tire cistern it is a cement tank painted with Thoroseal.

((Note: Any cistern that is exposed can cause algae, evaporation and bacteria. In such cases, recirculation is recommended. ))

30 lbs Roofing Paper: Felt roofing paper provides asphalt saturation for waterproofing and adds an extra layer of protection. 30lbs use to mean it weighed 30lbs per 100 square feet. now it only weighs between 16-27 lbs.

EPDM 45 mil: An extremely durable synthetic rubber membrane (ethylene propylene diene monomer) widely used in low-sloped buildings worldwide. Earthships use this rubber for roofs, grey and black water containment cells. We commonly use 45 mil EPDM but it can be made up to 60 mil. For reference a credit card is 30 mil thick.

6mil Plastic: Also comes in 2,3,6,10, and 30 mil.
Mil: is not to be confused with mm. It is 1/1000 of an inch or .001


Square: A corner that has a 90 degree angle. A square corner can always be checked by using the Pythagorean Theorem. A squared + B squared=C squared. If one side is 3’ and the other is 4’, then the hypotenuse will be 5’.

Level: Having no part higher than another-- at or even surface.

Plumb: The Y-axis equivalent of water level. Straight up and down.

Flush: Completely level or even with another surface.

Racking: Pushing and pulling framework to make sure its square.

Dado: A slot or trench cut into a surface usually to receive glass.

Scribe: Marking of a line by cutting or scratching with a pointed instrument. This will usually provide a cut line for a rigid material to an organic shape.

Shim: A shim is a thin and often tapered or wedged piece of material.

Compound Mitre: Cuts angle and bevel at the same time.

Planing: To smooth or plane with a planer. To reduce a stock dimension to a thinner thickness.

Ripping: Cutting through the long side of a piece of wood.

Bullnose: A rounded convex trim created by folding lathe over itself. This prevents a crack in the wall between a door or a window.

Purlins: It receives a fastener to create an attachment be- tween itself and the roof structure that creates the insulation sandwich effect.

Blocking: Blocks of wood that raise level, provide sup- port, or to create attachment sites.

Bracing: A temporary support serving to brace a structure prior to locking in framing.

Rim Joists: The final joist that caps the end of a row of joists. This creates the box effect around the perimeter of the roof structure that eventually receives the insulation and metal. It is also where we attach the gutter.


CDX: A kind of plywood that is produced by glueing together sheets of veneer each of the layers is glued to the opposite grain of the one below it. This is the most common board used in decking or sheeting.

OSB: Oriented strand board. Another commonly used plywood that is very affordable.

S4S Rough sawn: The S4S designation simply refers to how many sides have been presurfaced. A S4S board is fully surfaced on all four sides.

PT: Pressure treated wood. This wood is pretreated with chemicals to prevent rot.

Trex: Plastic composite wood

T and G: Tongue and grove. This wood is prefabricated with a extended piece on one side and a grove in the other. The pieces fit together and lock together without any space in between.

Rough dimensional lumber: Wood cut into planks that have come straight from the sawmill after drying.

Dimensional lumber: Dimensional lumber is a term used for lumber that is cut to standardized width and depth specified in inches. Usually used by furniture makers.


ISO screws: Long screws with a square top that is made to go through insulation and into wood.

Propanel screws: Designed for fastening propanel to wood accompanied with propanel tab washers.

Trex screws: Steel, dual-threaded screws to use with TREX composite screws.

8,16 penny nails: A common 16 penny nail used in general construction today has a standard length of 3.5 inch- es (8.89 centimeters). It is called a penny nail because way back you could buy one hundred 10-penny nails for 10 cents or one hundred 16-penny nails for 16 cents. A 8-penny nail is two and a half inches (6.35 centimeters)

Roofing nails: A steel, galvanized nail with a large, at head.

Galvanized nails: Nails that have been treated with zinc to prevent rusting.

Ring shank: Sets of nails for use with nail guns. Normally they are hot dipped and galvanized for corrosion protection.

Cement nails: Concrete nails are used for any work that requires nails to be driven into cement.


Natural ventilation: Earthships want to encounter natural phenomenon and our ventilation systems bring in air through natural convection.

Skylights: Because of ventilation needs, Earthship sky- lights are operable and can be opened or closed accord- ing to need.

Velux: A prefabricated window system complete with a dual tilt and screen.

Transom: A hand-made, custom, and affordable window found above door passage ways. It provides access through interior greenhouse and works with the vent tube.

Hopper: A small hand operated window found in the front of many modular Earthships.

Dormer: An operable window built into the front face of an Earthship.

Cooling tubes: Steel tubes that run through the berm and into the Earthship. The air is cooled as it travels through the berm and then is released into the house.


AC/DC: In direct current (DC), the flow of electrical charge is only in one direction.
Earthships try to incorporate as much direct current (DC) electrical fixtures as possible. DC uses less energy and can be used even when the inverter is off. Refrigerators need to be DC as they are the most power consumptive- appliance and they are on all of the time. In alternating current (AC), the ow of electrical charge periodically reverses direction. AC is the form in which electrical power is delivered to mainstream businesses and residences. To use AC in an Earthship one must turn on an inverter.

Photovoltaics (a.k.a. solar panels): Earthships use mono-crystalline, poly-crystalline and thin film photovoltaic products.

Wind turbine: A power generating fan powered by the wind.

Micro hydro: Power generated from running water (river, stream, waterfall, etc).

POM: The Power Organizing module. A prefabricated power system with breakers, inverter, charge controller.

Deep cycle batteries: A lead-acid battery designed to be regularly deeply discharged using most of its capacity.

Charge controller: Controls power going to the batteries.

Breaker Boxes: Also known as a load center, a steel box that holds multiple circuit breakers wired to circuits that distribute power throughout the home.

Inverter: Converts DC power to AC.

Low voltage DC: A fail safe system that is installed to the POM to prevent over discharging your batteries.


WOM: Water organizing module...The WOM is a prefab plumping fixture with filters, pumps, and pressure switches.

GW board: Grey water board...The grey water board has a pump and a filter. It pumps filtered grey water to the toilet.

Digester: A small box made of trex with a copper pan filled with holes on the bottom. Coconut shavings and worms are then added to the box.

Recirc: The recirculation device brings hot water to sinks, thus preventing a loss of water waiting for the hot water to reach the appliances.

Four-way recycling: Water is used four different ways in an Earthship. First, the water is used in a conventional way, such as a shower or washing machine. Second, the water flows into a grey water containment cell and the plant roots use and clean the water. Third, the water drops into a well at the end of the planter and is pumped into the toilet. Fourth, the water is flushed into a septic tank and it overflows into a black water containment cell where the black water is treated and absorbed by outdoor landscaping.

Fifth Way: When the water works its way to the end of the black water cell, left over water could be pumped out and used one more time.

Solar hot water heaters: Tubing filled with Glycol gets heated under solar glazing and then heats a tank of water.

Grey water: Grey water is water that has already been used once. This is water collected after showers or wash- ing clothes.

Black water: Black water is water that comes from the toilet. Some places also consider dish washing water to be black.

Septic Polyethylene: A plastic tank. Must be buried.

Concrete: The standard and accepted tank. These are easily found prefabricated and can be delivered.

Outlaw: A hand made and dug with precision septic that is usually round and with a diameter of 5’ 6”. The depth is 6 feet below the inlet pipe. It is rubber lined and filled with semi-truck tires as the main base. Small squishy tires are used to stabilized the large tires. The lid is a hand-made in the ferro cement + birdcage style.