Lakewood Ranch Herald

Earthship home planned for Myakka

MANATEE — Michael and Denise Pfalzer are seeking a building permit for their Myakka City home designed to be built using old tires, recycled glass bottles and aluminum cans.

The Tampa residents are excited about the prospect of getting started on their new home — known as an Earthship — hopefully in the next few weeks.

“We hope it’s soon. It’s been a long time. There’s no guarantees we are as close as we think we are,” Michael Pfalzer said.

It’s been the couple’s dream for about eight years to have a self-sustaining home in the country that’s resistant to hurricanes and disconnected from utilities. But it wasn’t until about two years ago that they became serious about building a home on their property in Myakka City.

Michael Pfalzer, who is an actuary for a life insurance company, first heard about Earthship in the late 1980s when an actor appearing on the Johnny Carson show talked about the idea. Later, he and Denise got more interested in the idea when they were viewing a book about Earthship communities in the United States.

The Pfalzers contacted Earthship Biotecture in New Mexico, which developed the idea in the 1970s.

Since then, they’ve been collecting the tires, cans and bottles to use inside the walls of the house.

So far, Michael Pfalzer has found almost 1,500 tires of the same size, which will be used as exterior walls. The feat required him going through piles at tire places, finding about one in 20 tires that would work. On tire-hunting days, he visited about eight tire stores, walking away with 15 to 20 tires on a bad day and 40 to 60 on a good day.

“It’s been a lot of work along the way,” he said. “It will be nice to enjoy the fruits of that labor at some point.”

They have not quite collected the 40,000 aluminum cans and 25,000 to 30,000 glass bottles for the interior walls. The bottles with cut-off tops are sealed together with duck tape and stacked like bricks for insulation.

The cost of the house is about 15 percent to 20 percent more per square foot than a traditional home, but it has its perks. There are no bills for heating, cooling, water or electricity.

Solar panels provide electricity, which is stored in batteries to power the houses appliances and lighting.

Typically, in areas of the western United States, Earthships are built into hills so that the house can stay cool. But since the property in Myakka doesn’t have hills, the house’s foundation will rest on flat land with soil built up to the roof.

The roof collects rainwater, which is filtered and stored in cisterns to be used for washing dishes, taking a shower and flushing toilets. The runoff is then funneled into the solarium where plants and flowers are grown. The house has the ability to store 5,000 gallons of water that will last three months during a time of drought, he said.

Health department officials still need to sign off on the project before a building permit is issued. There also are issues with natural resources and zoning that need to be resolved, according to a building official with Manatee County.

People from the community will be invited to volunteer in the building process or donate materials needed to complete the house, Michael Pfalzer said.

The new scenery inside the house will take some getting used to. Inside, the main design of the living spaces are circular shaped. Walls will be rough and uneven, unlike conventional drywall surfaces.

For one of the few flat walls off to the side of the atrium and the bathroom, Denise Pfalzer has plans to put a mural or piece of artwork.

“The way that this Earthship really works with the environment is to gather the energy and gather the water and maintain the temperature to minimize the impact in an elegant kind of way,” she said.

For more information on volunteering, visit www.earthship floridaproject.com.

Jessica Klipa, Herald staff reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7906.

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