You’ve probably never heard of hyper adobe. And what’s a bunker bus? Why would someone want to move off-grid to the Arizona Desert? On this week’s show, Richard Ward gives us an inside view of his 24-acre homestead outside of Bisbee Arizona, where he teaches sustainable, natural building practices and off-grid living. And make sure you listen to the end because Richard has an invitation for our listeners to actually come and EXPERIENCE and help build with natural materials through an Eco-Residency program.
In This Episode:
- Learning through teaching natural building techniques
- Why building underground makes sense in the desert
- Hyper adobe 101
- Getting enough water in the desert
- You may want to rethink using railroad ties
- All about the bunker bus
- What is the Eco-Residency Program?
- How the Terraform Community works and what they’re doing
Links and Resources:
- Richard Ward’s first interview on THLP
- Hajjar Gibran talks about Aircrete
- Eco-Residency Program info and application
Richard Ward began his tiny house journey in 2015 when he built his first 250 sq ft tiny house on wheels from scratch. In 2017 he built a second 54 sq ft tiny home and spent, in total, 4 years traveling the country. In January of 2020, Richard bought 24 acres outside of Bisbee, Arizona, and started a non-profit focused on teaching sustainable, natural building practices and off-grid living. Terraform Together over the last year and a half has hosted over 100 eco-residence and built multiple structures using the natural materials from the property.
This Week's Sponsor:
Tiny House Decisions
Tiny House Decisions is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. And it comes in three different packages to help you on your unique tiny house journey. If you're struggling to figure out the systems for your tiny house, how you're going to heat it, how you're going to plumb it, what you're going to build it out, then tiny house decisions will take you through the process systematically and help you come up with a design that works for you. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions for podcast listeners. Head over to https://www.thetinyhouse.net/thd and use the coupon code tiny at checkout!
It's always a good idea to let people know what they're walking into
Terraform Together teaches a lot of natural building techniques
The Eco-Resiliency program will feed and house people in exchange for labor – while teaching them about natural building
The bunker bus provides a community gathering place
They currently have water trucked in but are moving toward rainwater harvesting
It took over 160,000 pounds of earth to build this Hyper Adobe structure
Bottles are beautiful and a great reminder of how to use recycled materials
Elements of the structure are built in as the Hyper Adobe is laid
Railroad ties are not as inexpensive as they may seem
The compass allows you to make sure your walls are even
Hurricane straps hold the roof in place
Richard Ward 0:00
You know, like I said, this house, I think it's probably around 160,000 pounds of dirt in one mass. So when people ask what we do out here, I say we take dirt from one place and we put it in another place in a slightly more organized fashion.
Ethan Waldman 0:15
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 203 with Richard Ward. You've probably never heard of Hyper Adobe, and what is a bunker bus? Why would someone want to move off grid to the Arizona desert? On this week's show, Richard Ward gives us an inside view of his 24 acre homestead outside of Bisbee, Arizona, where he teaches sustainable natural building practices and off grid living. Make sure you listen to the end because Richard has an invitation for our listeners to actually come and experience and help build with natural building materials through an eco residency program. I hope you stick around.
I want to tell you about something that I think will be super helpful as you plan, design and build your tiny house. Tiny House Decisions is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. It comes in three different packages to help you on your unique Tiny House journey. And if you're struggling to just figure out the systems for your tiny house, you know like how you're going to heat it, how you're going to plumb it, what construction technique are you going to use like SIPs or stick framing or steel framing, Tiny House Decisions will take you through all these processes systematically and help you come up with a design that works for you. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions for listeners of the show, you can head over to thetinyhouse.net/THD to learn more, and use the coupon code tiny at checkout for 20% off any package. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/THD and use the coupon code tiny for 20% off.
Alright, I am here with Richard Ward. Richard Ward began his tiny house journey in 2015 when he built his first 250 square foot tiny house on wheels from scratch. In 2017, he built a second 54 square foot tiny home and spent in total four years traveling the country. In January of 2020. Richard bought 24 acres outside of Bisbee, Arizona and started a nonprofit focused on teaching sustainable natural building practices and off grid living. Terraform Together over the last year and a half has hosted over 100 eco residents and built multiple structures using the natural materials found on the property. Richard Ward, welcome to the show.
Richard Ward 2:53
Hello, thank you for having me.
Ethan Waldman 2:56
Yeah, or I should say, "Welcome back to the show." So we were chatting before we started recording. When you were last on the show you had had really just purchased this property, this 24 acres and brought your your tiny house there. But there really wasn't much else there. Can you can you catch us up on on the various projects and things that you've you've worked on since then?
Richard Ward 3:19
Yeah, so I think when we first talked, it was kind of early 2020, we had just purchased this 24 acre lot. And we're living just in an old RV with no water, I think we had probably just gotten electricity set up. And since then over we just celebrated our two year anniversary in January and have really grown the place to be actual sustainable offer at Homestead. So in, I think it was June or July of 2020, we started hosting people through the apps, Workaway and Wolf, and then have kind of transformed that into a full nonprofit where basically people come out and you know, work on the land. And then we teach them natural building. We teach them kind of off grid living skills. And basically the goal of it is to create advocates for the environment. So kind of my view on the thing is, you know, with climate change and all that happening, really the only big ways to impact that are through government and through big business. In my world. I don't want to be a part of either of those. But what I can do is create a space where people can come get connected with the environment in a more sustainable way and then hopefully send those people out to become those big advocates. And that can be as simple as somebody realizing their water usage at their home and reducing that or we've had people that have completely left their city lives and are now starting homestead because of their time out here, so.
Ethan Waldman 5:04
Fantastic. Yeah, and the property seems like a natural building playground in a way like you just kind of choosing different methods of natural building and just jumping in and giving it a try.
Richard Ward 5:21
Yeah, so we, one of our first big builds was our root cellar. And so that was earthbag technique, which is basically a Woven Bag that you've built with the the natural sifted dirt that we dug out of the root cellar. back those up, stack them put barbed wire in between them. That was our first really big build, we've gotten into Hyper Adobe. So that is a similar technique, but a little bit different in that the bag is almost kind of a mesh, and you've just a tiny bit of cement in there to kind of solidify the bags. After doing that the hyper Adobe versus the earthbag building, we'll never be doing earthbag building again, the hyper Adobe is so much nicer and easier and just quicker to work with kind of things. So really, what we do out here is like our, you know, we're learning on the go, and we're teaching as we're learning, which is really cool. So doing things like cob building, which is just sand, clay and straw, everything we get from the property, a little bit of water, mix that together, you can use that as actual structures, or we use it a lot, or basically the exterior of our builds, to kind of weatherproof, insulate all that kind of thing. And really, we're just experimenting with a lot of different things and trying to figure out what is the best, easiest, most sustainable way to make these structures that you know, will easily last two or 300 years. These these Hyper Adobe, our little tiny Hyper Adobe house, which has become a behemoth of a project. That was, I think, roughly 160,000 pounds of dirt. Oh my gosh, including including our rock that we had to sift out and we got that the bag work is almost done. We have like one or two more layers.
Ethan Waldman 7:22
Richard Ward 7:23
But we did that bag work and two months. So we've been definitely, you know, busy out here and moving a lot of dirt.
Ethan Waldman 7:33
That's pretty quick. And do you ever like rent a, you know, an excavator or a loader to do like to excavate a whole bunch of clay for your cob projects? Or is this all by hand?
Richard Ward 7:46
So we do I have a guy that he has the the backhoe that comes out. So in October, we started our kind of main home community space. And as part of that, he dug out I think it's about a 20 foot round hole that's about 12 feet deep.
Ethan Waldman 8:08
Richard Ward 8:08
And so yeah, it's that's basically our basement or the main house. So where we are, we get a lot of what's called lychee, which is essentially what they make concrete out of, and so about a foot and a half down into the ground. It's just pure concrete. So we definitely have to have an excavator come out to start the projects. But once we get the project started, everything is sifted, packed, you know, mixed all that kind of stuff by hand.
Ethan Waldman 8:37
Yeah. Very cool. So let's start actually with the root cellar. How big is it? And and are you are you using it as a root cellar truly?
Richard Ward 8:50
Yep, yep. So we finished that project a little over a year ago. There's, with everything out here there's always little stuff that we have to do. But we've been using it for about a year and a half. It's about I want to say about 10x10 Square little root cellar, okay, and basically what that acts as as our pantry for our community.
Ethan Waldman 9:14
Richard Ward 9:14
Because we've had, usually we'll have somewhere between five and 10 people out here at any given point in time we've had up to 15.
Ethan Waldman 9:22
Richard Ward 9:22
And so being able to have a temperature controlled place where we can keep produce and things like that is really important. Over the year that we've been using it what's been really nice is we haven't really seen the temperatures get below like 50 degrees in there and we haven't really seen them get above like the mid 70s. And with this, we're going to be adding some more insulation into the roof and another door to kind of act as a break, an insulation break, before the summer hits. So I think once we get those things in, we'll probably be in the like upper 60s to low 50s These year round down there, which is really nice, because we don't have a ton of electricity out here. Solar, at mostly batteries panels are fairly inexpensive, but batteries can get really expensive and trying to 24/7 temperature control ar room for electricity is a lot. So just by building underground, we've achieved that without any electricity. And that was also the inspiration for the big house basement, because we're going to be doing some like geo thermal regulation down there.
Ethan Waldman 10:34
Richard Ward 10:34
And essentially having a basement with some tubing that goes underground, buried in the dirt. And so basically, we can pull the cold air from underground in the basement and pump it up to the main living areas. We're also going to be doing some passive solar stuff with it basically creating a greenhouse inside the house that's kind of blocked off. So during the summer, we can pump the cool air from underground. During the winter, we can pump the heat that's produced in that greenhouse room into the rest of the house. So basically, with a couple little you know, 10 Watt, 12 volt fans, we've got heating and cooling.
Ethan Waldman 11:14
Nice and you you're in the in the desert, but it's you experience kind of a full range of very hot and cold temperatures.
Richard Ward 11:24
Yeah, we have like six or seven seasons out here. But we get in the summers worry, we are high desert. So we're at about 4500 feet. But in the peak summer, I mean, we'll get up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter, we've gotten down into the teens. And with the desert, the normal flux shallow fluctuation of things is somewhere between 30 and 40 degrees difference between the hottest of the hot during the day and the coldest sort of cold at night. So yeah, we may be at 105 During the day, but we may be at 68 during the night.
Ethan Waldman 12:04
Yeah. Yeah. Or I was thinking more like, you know, 80 degrees during the day and 40 degrees at night. That's like summer and winter, in one day.
Richard Ward 12:13
We've gone from mid 70s to the 20s is kind of where we're at right now.
Ethan Waldman 12:17
Wow. Wow. So how are you heating currently just like wood burning? Or how are you heating currently?
Richard Ward 12:24
At the moment we use propane stoves kind of full RV. Propane. Yep, I would like to switch away from that eventually into more wood burning stuff. With our Hyper Adobe, the nice thing is, we get what's called thermal mass. And so our walls are 18 inches thick. And so all day, the sun is heating up that structure, but the heat's not penetrating. And then at night that heat does penetrat it. And so during the day, it stays cool. And at night, it stays warm.
Ethan Waldman 12:56
Richard Ward 12:57
We don't have the roof on it yet. So I haven't been able to test this theory. But yeah, that's kind of the thought behind it. So you can supplement a little bit with like a small rocket stove or something like that. But you don't need a whole lot of extra heating and cooling is the goal.
Ethan Waldman 13:14
Nice. Yeah, so the Hyper Adobe, that's I think the project that I've been following most recently, you you post great, great photos and video updates to Instagram and Facebook. And so it's just course by course these long red bags, right?
Richard Ward 13:32
Right. So the the best way to kind of think about it is they almost look like the like onion bags that you get from the grocery store or potato bags that are gonna have all the little mesh holes in them. And what that does is we're mixing a mixture of what we're using, which is varies from place to place and pile the pile, but we're using two parts, our native soil, one part sand, which at the beginning of the project, we were getting sand from our wash. Eventually, we did have a pile of sand brought in just because I drive an old truck and doing you know, multiple tons of sand every single day. And that was putting some wear and tear on it.
Ethan Waldman 14:17
Richard Ward 14:17
So we did have have sand brought in. And then we use basically 10 parts dirt to one part cement. And that just kind of helps glue everything together. And what's nice with the perforated bags that we didn't have in the root cellar bale build with traditional bags is since it's perforated. When you wet the course below it you and then put a fresh course on top of that basically the clay will bond to the layer below it.
Ethan Waldman 14:46
Richard Ward 14:46
And so the whole structure is basically one giant you know, like I said for this house, I think it's probably around 160,000 pounds of dirt in one mass. So
Ethan Waldman 14:58
Richard Ward 14:59
When people So what we do out here, I say we take dirt from one place, and we put it in another place in a slightly more organized fashion.
Ethan Waldman 15:05
Yeah, yeah. And it's, that's so cool. It kind of welds itself together as you go. And then I'm sure the water also is is somewhat of a precious resource, you know, that needs to be brought to the site in order to wet it.
Richard Ward 15:21
Yeah, yeah. So that's one thing that was a learning experience on this project was, since we had the community starting up, we have 5000 gallons worth of tanks, and at the moment, we're having to get water brought in.
Ethan Waldman 15:37
Richard Ward 15:37
So we'll get 4000 gallons at a time. And dirt last winter, we had six people out here and 5000 gallons worth of tanks would last us somewhere between five to six months, hosting somewhere anywhere between like four and 10 people. Yeah, since we've been doing this, we learned that that is, there's a lot more water that goes into it so that those tanks that would last five to six months are now lasting about a month and a half, which is not ideal. But we did recently, basically make friends with somebody that has a well, so we can start kind of pumping our own water out of that.
Ethan Waldman 16:15
Richard Ward 16:15
It will be really, really nice for the future.
Ethan Waldman 16:18
Now, would you Is there potential to have a well dug on the property? Like would there be water down there? Or is it is that not in the cards?
Richard Ward 16:27
It's not in the cards for me personally,
Ethan Waldman 16:30
Richard Ward 16:30
because where we are to have a well dug is somewhere between 40 and $50,000.
Ethan Waldman 16:38
Oh, my gosh, the
Richard Ward 16:39
Yes. The and the issue with that is Arizona is not great at regulating their agricultural farming practices. And so our aquifer has dropped 100 feet in 10 years. So a lot of the wells around here are starting to dry up, which is why we're switching to rainwater harvesting is our goal. We do a tiny bit of that right now every inch of rain will get a couple 100 gallons that we can use. But in the long run, we are in the desert, but we're considered a wet desert. So last year, we actually had our biggest monsoon rain on record. And so we got over 20 inches of water, which with enough roof storage and enough tanks, we can actually sustain ourselves totally off of rainwater.
Ethan Waldman 17:28
Right? Right. And it's just about having enough collection and enough storage.
Richard Ward 17:33
Yep, yeah. So we need to sustain for people out here, we need about 4000 square feet of roof. And we need about 10,000 gallons worth of tanks to make it through the year. Because we get most of our water in about a six week period during monsoon seasons.
Ethan Waldman 17:50
Wow. Yeah. So so with this Hyper Adobe structure, what, what is the structure going to be? When it's complete? Like is it a residence for you for residents? What is it?
Richard Ward 18:03
Yeah, so the idea behind this was to create a test house before we started the main house. So the main house will be somewhere between 12 and 1500 square feet. And we created this, which is about 280 square feet. It was intended to be a small project. But it's actually the biggest thing we have on the property right now. Because 15 feet looks very different, or 15 foot diameter looks very different on the ground, before the house is built. And before you realize you're putting two to three tons worth of dirt in each layer. And so the idea behind this is basically to be a test house. And so we tried a bunch of different ideas. We used a lot of like bottles in the walls that are kind of artistic and let light in but also kind of showcase like the ability to recycle trash and make something really beautiful.
Ethan Waldman 18:59
Richard Ward 19:00
We had some hard learnings on this, which was good, because again, I wanted to kind of screw up on a small scale before we screwed up on a main house sort of situation.
Ethan Waldman 19:08
Richard Ward 19:08
Because these homes are pretty permanent. And so eventually, this will probably become a residence for one of our Eco residents. One of our volunteers that comes out here to learn, and also kind of a showcase house of like different building techniques and things like that.
Ethan Waldman 19:30
Nice. Can you share one or two of those hard learnings just in case there's anyone listening who's interested in Adobe?
Richard Ward 19:37
Sure, sure. So I think our biggest screw up which this and I don't take this lightly at all. Because we're in environmental sustainability nonprofit, we're about building healthily and sustainably. One of the things that I learned the really, really hard way was about using it railroad ties. And so, logically railroad ties. They're very inexpensive. They're, you know, 12x9, like really solid wood.
Ethan Waldman 20:10
Richard Ward 20:11
And in my research, I had seen other people who had used those as part of their construction.
Ethan Waldman 20:16
It looks like your doorframe and window. Yes, I see. I says railroad ties as the doorframe.
Richard Ward 20:22
Yeah. So they look really cool. They're really inexpensive. They're really structurally sound.
Ethan Waldman 20:27
Richard Ward 20:28
The issue I found out after we had them installed was that they are soaked in what's called creosote, which is full of nasty chemicals and almost poisoned myself, because of the smoke coming off of them whenever they were cutting them. So we have remedied the situation. There's a product called Creoshield that is specifically made, because a lot of old buildings, they use those creosote beams not knowing they were toxic.
Ethan Waldman 20:59
Richard Ward 21:00
And so they there is a company that specifically does that to make sure you can it's like a spray on epoxy or something like that. That encapsulates the railroad ties.
Ethan Waldman 21:15
Richard Ward 21:15
The issue is, it's very, very, very, very expensive to have that done. And so our cheap railroad ties that look really cool, became really expensive after doing that, but yeah, we're able to solve the issue. But that was definitely one of our biggest learnings. A lot of the things we do out here, like I said, we do a lot of experimental construction methods and things like that. So this was my first time doing Hyper Adobe build. And so we learned a lot about like, what a good mix is and what a good system is. And once we started getting high up on the wall, I mean, it's it's when we're on build days, it's it's an all hands on deck kind of thing.
Ethan Waldman 21:56
Richard Ward 21:57
We'll have one person that's constantly constantly mixing batches. We had one person on the ground, one person on scaffolding and one person on the wall, like handing up buckets. And then usually it's me running around with, you know, looking like a chicken with my head cut off trying to keep ahead of everybody on like, "Okay, do we need to put a stair in? Do we need to put bottles in? And are we putting our electrical lines in and or what's the next step on that level?" Because once once the walls are out, there's not a lot of going back and, you know, changing things.
Ethan Waldman 22:29
Right? It's cool. So it seems like you are actually anything that needs to be structurally attached to a wall gets built into the wall while you're like on each course.
Richard Ward 22:40
Yep, yeah, that's the idea behind it. And this project, we we went really, really quick on, we did, I think 40 courses in about a two month period. And so a lot of that, like, one of the things that was another kind of learning opportunity was to attach your roof to the bag. So you use hurricane straps. And it's basically like a big ratchet strap kind of system. And you embed those in the walls. So the weight of the wall is holding down the roof. Well, I didn't order enough hurricane straps, we just kind of continued on moving because the hurricane straps were supposed to be delivered before our next build day. They weren't. And so we just kept moving and kept moving. And now we're having to drill through these walls to install the hurricane straps, which is not it and so yeah, it's just you know, we're running quick on this build. And that's kind of kind of the point was to learn, okay, how important are these different things? How important is planning? What can we add afterwards? What do we really need to consider on the, the, you know, initial build, and one thing with you know, I've been doing tiny house design and construction since 2015. And my thing is, using a lot of reclaimed materials using a lot of like scrap and salvage stuff.
Ethan Waldman 24:09
Richard Ward 24:10
And so you don't always know what your dimensions are what you're going to get or find, you know, when you're dumpster diving.
Ethan Waldman 24:17
Richard Ward 24:17
So it's it's an interesting challenge to build something that needs so much planning and it's so permanent, while taking into consideration like, I have no idea what my cabinets are going to look like, I have no idea what what size sink I'm going to be getting. Things like that.
Yeah, yeah. Wow. Well, it's it's, it's a fascinating project to watch take form. And, and I can't wait, you know, thank you for sharing those learnings. Because again, like, sometimes it's it's a paradox that you have to slow down to save time later. But yeah, the hurricane straps. That's a perfect example of it.
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it's, I should have known better, to do more research on the railroad ties, it's just hard when you see other people using it. And you're like, "Okay, that's cool. That makes sense." But one thing that's really important doing any kind of scrap salvage, things like that is to know where where your materials are coming from and what, you know, chemicals and stuff, because I know a lot of people do like pallet construction. And some of those pallets are very, very, very toxic. Some of them are fine, but you just need to know, you know what, that what that palette is.
Ethan Waldman 25:32
I'd like to tell you a little bit more about Tiny House Decisions, my signature guide, and the resource that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. It starts with the big decisions, which is, you know, should you build a tiny house yourself or with help? Is a prebuilt shell a good idea? Is a house on wheels better than on the ground and what works better for you? Deciding on the overall size, deciding on whether you should use custom plans or pre made plans, different types of trailers and more. Then in Part 2, we get into the systems, so heat, water, showers, hot water, toilets, electrica,l refrigeration, ventilation, and we're only two thirds of the way through the book at this point. From systems we go into construction decisions, talking about nails versus screws, SIPs versus stick framed versus advanced framing versus metal framing. We talk about how to construct a subfloor, sheathing, roofing materials, insulation, windows, flooring, kitchen, I know I'm just reading off the table of contents. But I just want to give you a sense of how comprehensive Tiny House Decisions is. It's a total of 170 pages. It contains tons of full color drawings, diagrams and resources. And it really is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions using the coupon code tiny, when you head over to thetinyhouse.net/THD, that's THD for Tiny House Decisions. Again, that's coupon code tiny when you check out at thetinyhouse.net/THD.
So another project that I'm really curious about is actually before I ask it, what I'm noticing in the pictures of the Hyper Adobe is that it reminds me a little bit, I interviewed someone about Aircrete construction, which is kind of a cement mixture that you make, and you mix it up with dish soap. So it becomes really kind of light and fluffy. And you create, you basically build blocks out of it. And then you build these round dome structures. And I'm seeing, you know, how you are using a compass, you know, basically a fixed center point to kind of guide the course of each wall. And that's similar in that form of construction as well.
Richard Ward 28:03
Yeah, yeah. So the one thing with Hyper Adobe is you can do round structures are great round structures are like the most stable that you can build. And you can't really do domes with the Hyper Adobe, you can do domes with Super Adobe, which is a different that has is a different type of bag, and then you put barbed wire in between it to hold everything together.
Ethan Waldman 28:31
Richard Ward 28:31
But that compass acts to get just make sure you're staying round in staying in line. That was another learning on our on this build is we didn't really - like we had the compass, but we weren't checking it as we were going on each course, starting out, and then our courses kind of started bowing outward. So we had to bring them back in. And so our first like 10 or so layers are a little bit wonky. But again, kind of learning. Okay, how important is this? To because, you know, obviously you're checking everywhere and making sure it's exactly perfect. And that takes a lot more time.
Ethan Waldman 29:08
Richard Ward 29:09
But we kind of learned after those first couple courses in our wall started kind of bowing outwards that we definitely need to be more vigilant on that.
Ethan Waldman 29:18
Richard Ward 29:18
And it's hard to with. I mentioned our Eco-Residency program, everybody that comes out here as volunteers, some of them are here for a couple of weeks, or a couple months. And so a lot of the people that are building this are brand new to living off grid and brand new to construction and brand new to this sort of building technique.
Ethan Waldman 29:40
Richard Ward 29:40
And a lot of the times it's just me kind of checking everybody's work while trying to stay on top of all the things you have to play around on the bill.
Ethan Waldman 29:50
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, so yeah, another project that I wanted to ask about is the is the bunker bus. Yeah, looks like Have you took a school bus and kind of partially buried it?
Richard Ward 30:04
Yep, that's exactly what that is. So we again, we're talking about kind of the harsh weather conditions out here. And we get a lot of people that are van lifers or tiny houses, or, you know, that kind of stuff, people coming in teardrop trailers, and one thing that we realized was really important was to have a community space.
Ethan Waldman 30:24
Richard Ward 30:25
And the guy who does a lot of my road work, and he does all the excavating out here for me, we were talking and he used to do salvage. So, you know, someone would have a property they bought and wanted everything taken off, and he would go remove everything and toss it or whatever. And he had this school bus that was graffitied, it was bullet hole ridden. It had been used as somebody's target practice, like, it was, the engine was completely gone off of it. It was It was nasty. But he's like, "I've got to get this out of my yard, because it's just, it's terrible." And I was like, "I'll take it." And he's like, "Pay me to tow it out there. And you can have it." And I was like, "Awesome." So the day before he was gonna bring it out, I was down in the root cellar, and it was 100 degrees outside, and it was 70 degrees down there. And so I called him and I was like, "What do you think about burying the bus?" And he was like, "I don't care just pay me to dig the hole." And so I was like, "Cool." So he brought the bus back out dug the hole, will actually be launching that video series here in about a month or so nice of that going into the ground. And yeah, he brought it out on a trailer and drag it over there with the backhoe and dropped it in the ground. And then we've been doing renovating it. So actually, we have two people living in there. Now. It's everything out here is kind of in partial construction, just because of the way our permitting system works. You have to get your exterior finished on everything. So a lot of what we do is get the exterior done. And then kind of get the interior functional. So the bus has kind of become our overflow. bunkhouse situations. So we have clean beds in there. And then also kind of a community space. So we have a little TV in there and an office space and nice, just basically a space for people to go where they can be inside. And not necessarily like if they're living out of their van or something like that. It's nice sometimes to just get out of your own space to have a place to stretch your legs.
Ethan Waldman 32:36
Yeah. And it looks like you've done also some some earthbag and cob work kind of around, down into the entryway and at the back door.
Richard Ward 32:46
Yep, yeah. So we had sense it's buried in the ground, it's buried up to the windows. So we didn't want to totally bury it, because that would have like, compromised it structurally. And then also, you would lose kind of all your natural light. So it's just buried up to the windows. The funny thing was the guy that brought it out, wanted his tires back. So we were going to take the tires off the bus before or once it went into the ground. He didn't dig the hole wide enough to take the tires off. And so we ended up having to just puncture the tires and let it settle onto our little block yet. And yeah, so we ended up building a little staircase down, it's still got the original bus, or it still got a lot of the best windows, but a lot of the windows that were a bullet holes, we ended up taking out and putting just some like thin steel, basically with the buses made out of over all the openings that were shot out, and then ended up you know, doing it like you would do a normal bus conversion, took the walls off, insulated it, you know, put up, we ended up putting up drywall, well put in some beds, stuff like that. So electricity down there. We have outlets and all that kind of stuff. It's very cool. It's not the most beautiful bus conversion I've ever seen, because it's still partially in construction, but it's a really nice functional space for community members.
Ethan Waldman 34:17
Yeah, and just a very clever way to reuse something that you know, essentially sounds like it was never going to drive again.
Richard Ward 34:26
Well it had no engine
Ethan Waldman 34:28
but it but yet it was a viable space. That was already done. You know, you didn't have to build walls and build a structure. You just dug a hole and stuck this thing in the ground.
Richard Ward 34:41
Yep. Yeah. And I mean for the the excavation and the delivery, it was about 1000 bucks. And so it wasn't free, but I mean a cheap Home Depot shed that's like eight by eight is three or $400 and so get a steel structure out here that's 40 foot long and Whatever, seven feet wide on the inside, like that's, that's very, very inexpensive. And then we probably have a couple grand back in, you know, building materials and stuff like that drywall but a lot of the bus seats were one of the projects we're working on recently is we took those old bus seats and kind of stuck them together and made some organization for our shop for like plywood and scrap wood and stuff like that. So cool. We actually have the, all the old gauges and stuff that'll go in somewhere, I don't know where but they're all like, old busted out gauges that look pretty cool. And we're able to get a lot of the scrap material and reuse it in different builds in different places.
Ethan Waldman 35:47
Very cool. Very cool. So let's talk about the Eco-Residency program. Because I think that wouldn't be surprised if some listeners got in touch. It sounds like you know, if you're interested in getting your hands on some, some natural, eco friendly building techniques and just get get some experience
Richard Ward 36:10
out. Tell us about it. Yeah, so this program, for people who are I should say, it started as we were taking workawayers. So there's a website Workaway.info where you can go and basically, people have host profiles. And they have, you know, you can sign up as a volunteer and just travel around. And the general idea is that your host will feed you and house you. And then you work on the property for a certain amount of time on whatever project. So when we started out here, we were doing Workaway. And that has kind of evolved into our Eco-Residency program, because we had so many people that came out here that were like this place has changed my life, I you know, have never had the experience of getting to use power tools or anything like that. We had one girl that came out that she was being in our early 20s. And always wanted to work in construction, but never had the opportunity to because she grew up in a family where, you know, the women don't work in construction kind of thing. And she had no experience, but she was one of our best builders after like three months being out here.
Ethan Waldman 37:24
Richard Ward 37:25
You know, she she needed she needed the technical training that she had the drive to get stuff and build stuff and all that. So seeing people come through like that, it was really inspiring for me to actually make this thing and make this a nonprofit and expand this program in a way that you know, we can actually grow in the future. So kind of the the gist of it is basically we have people apply, we do have limited space. So we can usually host Around 10 people at a time. And you know, the the residency is kind of last anywhere from two weeks to six months, we're pretty open as long as people are contributing members, good pits for the community, all that kind of stuff. That as people go through the application process come up, either we host a lot of Van lifers and a lot of tiny houses and travelers and stuff like that. So people that bring their own residents is a lot easier for us.
Ethan Waldman 38:26
Richard Ward 38:27
Because we have six spots, four or six beds, on the property that we can host people. Okay, but basically, the idea is that, you know, you come out, we feed you we house, you give you a parking spot, we've got showers, kitchen, all that kind of stuff. And then you work on the property for around 25 hours a week is what we ask.
Ethan Waldman 38:50
Richard Ward 38:51
And a lot of that comes with, you know, we'll do dedicated build days, we'll do dedicated, like class days. And so, you know, we did a cob class recently. And so that was an hour of going through the history and the science and you know, how the, the clay interacts with the other particles and, you know, actually out there in the field, getting your hands dirty, getting your hands muddy, building with these natural materials. Yeah, yeah, you mentioned that this is kind of our playground. And so a lot of the stuff for me, the fun part is learning different techniques, and making stuff that's like functional housing, but also really cool and really beautiful and really inexpensive. So, like our Hyper Adobe home, the budget on that is somewhere between 10 and $15,000. For a house that'll last 200 years. Yeah. And so, giving people the opportunity to learn how to build their own house, learn how to, you know, even if it's just like, hey, changing an outlet or how to use some power tools or just, you know, different things. A lot of the things, a lot of people find a lot of value in some of our power tool kind of class things. So teaching people how to use a saw safely, and how to use, you know, the right kind of screw in the right kind of bits. And, you know, that kind of stuff. So, our classes vary significantly, depending on what projects we are working on at the moment. But, you know, it's, it's a really great program for people who maybe haven't had the experience to build, want to learn more about both the off grid living the natural life, or natural building, but also just some basic kind of construction and confidence building and community building and stuff like that.
Ethan Waldman 40:44
Very cool. So are you currently accepting applications?
Richard Ward 40:49
We are constantly accepting applications. Like I mentioned, the Hyper Adobe build was 160,000 pounds of dirt moved by hand in about two months. And so the more people we can get out here, the better. It's, it's hard for me to plan because we don't have like, a set structure of like, Oh, you're here for only a month or whatever. So a lot of people that come will stay until they don't kind of thing. So it's always hard for me to know, I can only plan about two weeks in advance if we have, you know, openings or not. But it's a really, pretty easy interview process. I do tell everybody that living out off grid in the middle of the desert is definitely a hard situation. But we have a really good community. And we have a lot of programs that educate and things like that. So it's kind of living on the extremes of like, you know, this is a really beautiful, gorgeous area, and really great people and a lot of good learnings. But also it's a lot of hard work.
Ethan Waldman 41:54
Yeah, it does, you know, looking just at the photos of the finished structures, you know, negates all the hard manual labor that goes into it.
Richard Ward 42:04
Yep. Yeah. So we do get some people that get burnt out and stuff like that, which is fine. But we also have people that, you know, we've had two people that came through our program that now own land. Right, next right in the same little valley that are starting their own homestead.
Ethan Waldman 42:22
Richard Ward 42:22
because of their time here.
Ethan Waldman 42:24
Yeah, and I think I will, I'll direct people to our previous interview, which I'll link to in the show notes for the episode, because we go into, well, your tiny house journey, you know, your your first kind of two to three tiny homes. And then also, you know, this location and why you chose this particular part of Arizona for the kind of local regulations or lack thereof.
Richard Ward 42:50
Ethan Waldman 42:51
Nice. So, want to turn to kind of kind of the future. I know, you said you can only plan specifically two weeks in advance, but on on TerraForm. Together the website, I see that you are thinking about this 1500 square foot, Earthship.
Richard Ward 43:10
Yep. So that we actually had our first day building on that couple days ago, right, yeah. Which was really exciting. So we're still at the point of getting our basement leveled out so that we can start putting back work down there. But, again, part of the Eco-Residency program is inherently we need big jobs, we need big projects that are aspirational, to work on. And so you know, my I see myself this is my, my forever home. So I'm 30 right now. And I hope he and I get another 30, 40, 50 years on this earth. And so I'm kind of looking at the future of, you know, climate change and things like that. And, yeah, you know, not to bring the podcast down. But that's not super optimistic, as things said. And so this larger Earthship is kind of our big bill that will probably last I mean, I'm estimating probably the next five or six years to actually get it finished. Yeah, for our permits, we have a year left to get all of our bag work done. Get all of our exterior done, which is stressful.
Ethan Waldman 44:27
Can you extend if if you don't?
Richard Ward 44:30
So we can get a one year extension. But I know my thought process and how I work so if I give myself a one year deadline, I should be able to hit it within two. If I give myself a two year deadline, it may take four. Just because that's the yeah that's the way building works out here and especially during the winter. Our winter's our busy season because everybody we get all the snowbirds coming down and you know, everybody wants to be running around in shorts and a T shirt in the middle of January. So yeah, we try and get as much done as possible in the winter. And then the goal is to have our basement done before the summer hits. And so we do have that room, that's probably going to be around 70 degrees during the summer when it's 105 out. But yeah, are looking to the future, this is going to be about a 1200 square foot house. And the nice thing is, it's something that will last out here for you know, a couple lifetimes and with the community one thing that we've I've learned realized is my house is my first tiny home, which is 250 square feet. And I guess two Christmases ago, we had 15 People living out here. So we had, and the weather wasn't good. And so we had our entire Christmas dinner with 15 people plus myself and some friends in my 250 square foot house cooking on a two burner stove. And so the goal of this house is to be we're doing basically a 17 foot diameter underground section, a 36 foot diameter above ground section. And then also like a little small 15 foot diameter bedroom in there. So the nice thing is, when we do have big gatherings and stuff like that, we'll have a space for that. And also, as you know, with the tiny house living when you have friends over, there's no privacy as far as like people climbing all over your bed and getting in your nightstand and and stuff like that. So I would really really like a just a bedroom. that's mine. That people aren't everybody travelers coming in and yeah, seeing our business.
Ethan Waldman 46:42
Yeah. And now are you the sole full time resident are there other full time people there?
Richard Ward 46:48
So I I'm kind of run the community. Since we are a nonprofit, we do have a board of directors, two of our board members actually live in the same 40 acre lot that I I live on. And so they're all here locally, our community director and then our environmental sustainability director. They're both great people or community directors, the sweetest lady and makes friends with everybody instantly, which is nice, because she can go advocate for us in the community while I'm helping build. And then we're working with our environmental sustainability director which he's he's a neighbor that's less than a quarter mile away and his background is in. He does surveying to make sure grazing practices and stuff are seen to in a sustainable way. And then he's actually working with us a lot to regenerate the land out here. So we're doing a lot of rainwater harvesting, building berms and swales and basically taking the land back from the cattle grazing that has basically destroyed all of the natural plants and stuff like that on this land. So it's me running a lot of the things and kind of wearing a ton of ton of different hats, that we do have some support from a couple neighbors that are really interested in our cause. We've also started to connect with other homesteaders in the group. So doing some community outreach stuff, and this upcoming Sunday, there's been a group formed that I'm just getting to be a part of that is basically two times a month, everybody will pick one person's homestead and you know, 20 or 30, people will descend on it and work on whatever project they're working on. So we're going to start taking our crew and you know, helping out some of our neighbors and that kind of thing.
Ethan Waldman 48:40
Very cool. And expanding out to the community and helping others. That's great. Yeah, yeah, for sure. And anything, is there anything that I haven't asked you about any projects or things that you're excited to share with the listeners?
Richard Ward 48:56
Yeah, I mean, it's, it's been really exciting to see our this Hyper Adobe build come up. I feel like after two years of living out here, we're just now getting kind of out of survival mode. And it's nice to like, you know, know some things and being able to like, plan accordingly and not just, you know, feel like we're just surviving out here, but that we're really thriving with a nonprofit, that's that's a huge thing. Because up to this point, everything's been self funded. And so being able to accept donations from people and being able to I once we get, you know, all the paperwork and stuff like that because we are fairly new and the IRS and all that take some time but our end goal is to be able to get donations from you know, like the big box, Home Depot, Lowe's and that kind of stuff. One thing in particular is like cement and concrete you know, they'll do busted bags that they have will go in the trash, but yeah, they can donate it to a nonprofit, or taking stuff that would have been thrown away and actually using it to teach people and, you know, create these really cool houses that will last for hundreds and hundreds of years. So, yeah, becoming a full nonprofit, I really wish I would have done that earlier. And, but that's, that's been a really exciting development on our part. And really, just like that has brought in so many things, again, with our, you know, our environmental director that their sustainability director that's like working with the land, we put in a few tests, rainwater harvesting stuff this last year, and got like 15 tomato plants and a watermelon that we didn't plant. We didn't plant we didn't put the seeds in, we didn't water, we didn't do anything with it. It was just I call it a I'm patenting this rapid composting system.
Ethan Waldman 50:56
Richard Ward 50:57
where basically, you just make a really, really poorly built composting bin that all the animals get into. And then they eat all the stuff and then go spread the seeds. Yeah. So we had that happen. And then we got a bunch of plants that just popped up. And that was kind of cool to actually be able to like, harvest tomatoes. And it wasn't a big watermelon. It was maybe six inches long. But we ended up eating a watermelon that just popped up out of nowhere sort of thing. So yeah, it's it's been cool to like, see the land and year after year after year and being able to work within kind of help it out, you know, where it doesn't need human intervention.
Ethan Waldman 51:37
Very cool. Very cool. Well, I look forward to continuing to follow your journey and the journey of your community. And hopefully in another year or two. I'll have you back on the podcast to talk all about the Earthship being done. Yeah. Heard that's being done. Yeah, and, and all the other things that are going on Richard Ward, Thanks for Thanks for being here again.
Richard Ward 52:04
Awesome. Thank you so much for having me.
Ethan Waldman 52:06
Thank you so much to Richard Ward for being a guest on the show. Today, you can find the show notes, including a full transcript and links to everything we talked about at thetinyhouse.net/203. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/203. Well, that's it for this week's Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman. And I'll be back next week with another show. See you then.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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