Like many Americans, Jon and Laura Hagar are searching for a lender to refinance their home loan. But banks are leery of the Hagars. Their rural Colorado house is made of 17,000 old tires. A niche mortgage mess is brewing in homes made of earth, tires, concrete and trash. Environmentally minded people built them, hoping to conserve energy and to re-use what might otherwise wind up in a landfill. Such sentiments in some cases have been no match for the new resolve of the banking industry in the wake of the housing bust. Banks have become much pickier about examining sales of comparable homes, in deciding whether and how much to lend. Owners of odd homes can be out of luck. The Hagars built their 2,700-square-foot house by stacking tire bales—five-foot-wide blocks of compressed tires—to form the exterior walls. They plugged gaps between the bales with cans, bottles, plastic plates, and other junk and moved in toward the end of 2008. "We lovingly call it the trash house," Ms. Hagar says. The Hagars covered up all that trash with concrete, clay and stucco and installed south-facing windows to capture light, heat and views of the snowy slopes.