The Beauty of Bottle Walls
My first exposure to the concept of bottle walls was through one of Mike Reynold’s earthship books. Mike developed the idea of earthships in the 70’s when recycling was in it’s infancy. Landfills were filling up with glass bottles–a foolish waste of an amazing material. What Mike found was that you could build walls of amazing beauty and durability, that evoke the feeling of stained glass, by using these discarded (dare I say, “disgraced”?) receptacles.
In 2009, after researching a plethora of natural/alternative building techniques and design possibilities, we built a South-facing bottle wall in our earthbag round house. We had gotten most of the bottles out of a juicy group of presorted bins at a local recycling center. Each time we’d find a cobalt blue or light blue bottle, it felt like we had found a priceless treasure!
Bottle walls allow gorgeous diffuse light into a structure. The light doesn’t contribute too much to heating since it isn’t direct. We set the bottles vertically in our cob mix. This seals the bottle entirely and creates an enclosed air space that gives some insulation value. These days we also add perlite (a puffed mineral) to the cob mix to make it more insulative, and we add a bit of cement to quicken the setting process.
My cob-building chum Uncle Mud (Chris McClellan) has done work in rural Jamaica where windows and money are scarce. He said that bottle walls are a great way to bring light into a structure in such a situation since bottles are plentiful and free just about everywhere.
Our Biggest Bottle Wall Yet!
Our first and biggest bottle wall in the earthship is eight feet wide and five feet tall. There is a piece of bent rebar running through the middle horizontally for added strength, though you can’t tell in the picture above. Cobalt blue bottles are usually kind of hard to come by but luckily that’s what Bud Light Platinum is bottled in–problem solved! Bottle walls can be built in whatever pattern or shape you desire. This one has a tree motif, but these days I see all kinds of fanciful shapes and designs.
I often find my eyes magnetically drawn to whatever bottle walls are near me as I’m sitting eating dinner or walking through the house. The light that comes through the bottles and spills into the house can be quite enchanting and enthralling.