The drinks are in the house

The real joy is in the preparation:

Conservationist uses wine bottles to build energy-saving house

A house in Western Australia’s south-west is being built entirely from recycled wine bottles.

Around 13,500 wine bottles will be used in the walls of the house, which owner Peter Little says will save energy.

He says by filling the bottles with water, the entire building will be insulated.

Mr Little has spent 30 years developing environmentally-friendly building methods and he says this one has potential for Australia’s hotter regions.

“Water is probably, I think one of the miracle building materials of this century which nobody is using,” he said.

“From our point of view it can store more energy, heat or cool than any material we know.”

30 Comments Posted

  1. I remember seeing the solar power station whilst at ANU… (they have a ‘spare’ on campus which is the same as the White cliffs one). I recall very little except that the guys who ran it were exceedingly friendly and gave us a tour and a bit of info.

    About mud brick houses and earthquakes, a student in Australia was featured on the ABC’s inventors program with this:

    which is basically a low cost wire and bamboo frame to attach to the walls of the house, to give a bit more strength in an earthquake. It can be retrofitted. See also:

    The idea is to “give these buildings enough structure to keep them standing long enough for people to get out”, so not ideal for your permanent mudbrick home in NZ, but a good and cheap option for developing countries.

  2. I mentioned the White Cliffs solar power station above.

    You can see it on Google Earth at:

    It utilises “Concentrating Solar Power” (CSP) – a form of energy production technology that concentrates large amounts of solar energy onto a small area. Here, the energy density is much higher than that available from just beam sunshine and the efficiencies of its conversion to useful energy (ie electricity or steam) is much higher.

    The White Cliffs solar thermal power plant was constructed in 1978 by the Aus.Nat.Uni.
    and the lessons learnt by it led to further developments in the technology. There are some sort of photos here:
    and the wikipedia article is here:,_New_South_Wales

  3. Awww that was sweet of the Frogster to do that for me/us 🙂

    Yes! I like that word, but I shan’t hijack this thread any further to discuss it here.

    I’ve just emailed the Frogster a link to a comments pagination plugin for WordPress, so if they manage to install that successfully then I anticipate our S59 thread will be reopened again and we can resume our brainstorming back over there.

    My email is zanavashi(at) if you want to send the links to me directly.

    Cheers m’dears,

    PS: I’m just tucking into a yummy gooey chocolate birthday cake my friend baked for me today (weeeeeeeeee sugar rush!)…. here’s a big fat cyber-slice comin’ your way ole chap…. ( >

  4. Thread-hijacking in progress-

    The word “retaliation” springs to mind Zana (your long post got e-mailed despite the blog limitations) … I think there may be better words and phrases to put in place here, but I would probably accept that one.

    However, I would also consider seriously including the inverse of Borrows’ amendment words in the sense that any act using an implement, striking above the neck, leaving lasting bruises would not be automatically be covered by section 1.

    I sent you some links but they’re in moderation.


  5. Zana

    This is what I have just “gathered” in my browsing over the years.

    I had another on CelCrete but the link is dead and I have to search to find it again. There was also a very cool site which featured a hardiboard foam sandwich… capable of supporting a truck. Still to be rediscovered.



  6. michaelangelo Says:
    March 14th, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Well this is right up my street – although I don’t drink alcohol – which I would probably need to do in order to supply all those bottles – I have come across this system before. There used to be a house in Queenstown made of bottles but they were not filled with water

    The Bottle house in Queenstown was bought by property deviloppers and is now a horrible looking row of shoebox apartments, for trendy yuppies with 4×4’s and widescreen tvs.

  7. Ah thanks Russel, I admit I am ten years out-of-date with the the building codes (since moving on to other career directions), so I would be very very pleased to hear that there is such a code which is the earth-building equivalent of the code for timber buildings.

    I have to say that I find it terribly annoying that government departments that are our only source to access these kinds of legal standards are forced to have to run as a profit – just one of the many many gripes I have about government services that have been forced to move to an income-generating mode. ($280 for just a friggin PDF file! Grrrrrrrr!)

    Having a code in place that eliminates the need for expensive engineering reports would certainly act as a much better incentive in promoting these kinds of sustainable living choices, but I also think they need to have codes to cover a wider range of eco-friendly alternatives than just earth building. Not perhaps as practical tho, I admit.

    I am in the process of gathering a links archive for a new website I am working on that has links to all kinds of sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle options in NZ, so I’d be most grateful if members here who are in-the-know (and I get the sense we have a few of you here who are) would be kind enough to share them.


  8. There is a New Zealand Standard for Earth Building which I think the Earth Building Assoc did a lot of work on (somene may know more about it) –
    Of course it is expensive to buy the Standard, $280 for the PDF, which has been a stupid ongoing probelm with our standards because Standards NZ has to generate income but that’s a secondary issue.
    Presumably the Standard could be turned into an acceptable solution under the Building Code which would mean that so long as builders followed the acceptable solution they shouldn’t need lots of expensive engineers’ reports to get council signoff. But I need to get more info on it.

  9. # michaelangelo Says:

    “The building trade is notorious for being slow to change or embrace new and environmentally green techniques.”

    They’re not necessarily slow to embrace new techniques. The leaky homes crisis was partly due to builders being quick to embrace cheaper new methods, and there has recently been a major new trend called ’tilt-up’ buildings, whereby the walls are made in a series of concrete slab sections that are manufactured horizontally off-site, then lifted into place with a crane.

    I think the lesson is that the building industry will embrace new methods willingly, so long as they do not look at all hippie-like, and involve big muscly cranes and get promoted by people who wear boring suits and have their eye on the bottom line. Untreated timber caught on because it was not promoted as not treated with chemicals, but was promoted as ‘kiln-dried’, which sounds industrial and high-tech and not at all hippie.

  10. Eredwen –

    You have it completely correct as far as the earthquakes go. The compressive strength of rammed earth is fine, but much like a concrete block structure, there has to be something else in it to give it a chance in a quake. Multiple stories would become a problem. Preferred for an earthquake zone would be a geodesic dome or an underground house, but the geodesics are noisy and the underground house will have drainage issues in places subject to heavy rain (most of NZ). Straw-Bale construction would be a good cheap alternative, also needs reinforcement but has less inertia when the quake hits. Tile roofs would be a big no-no. Big problem for NZ housing though is that the wall thickness of a bale-house becomes significant on our postage stamp building lots. It’s what I’d want here, but it may not be what I get. Embedding the house in the land contour is something I’d be looking to do, as deeply as possible whilst retaining adequate drainage.

    I’d want to know the durability of that fly-ash based concrete, particularly in long-term exposure to water.


  11. # alistair Says:
    March 17th, 2007 at 3:22 am
    “I’m sure I visited the French mission in the Bay of Islands when I was a kid, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Then a couple of years ago I visited it again, after many years of living in France, and I was completely blown away…”

    What you saw when you were a kid was an incorrect restoration in a twee English style. They re-restored it in the 1990s, so that it now much more closely resembles what it would really have been like.

  12. Michaelangelo,

    There’s a house being built on the Geraldine downs at present with a number of eco-feautures. They are using a lot of concrete in the first stage – both becasue it is built into the contour of the land so that it doesn’t stand out on the skyline and have too much of an effect on the landscape values of the region, but also for its heat sink properties.

    They are using waste fly ash as one of the ingredients (you probably know better than I what standard ingredient it is replacing) in the concrete as apparently this reduces the embodied energy of the final product.

    Katie, Organics NZ does have good material on eco-houses but if you want a good refernce source in this area you could go to EcoBob – a relatively new eco-building resource site (you’ll have to google it I can’t remember the address).

    Heartening that the Green Building Council has been established to start shifting the commercial building sector toward sustainability.

  13. Mich :
    Rammed earth is a beautiful material and is used all over the world – and we still have buildings standing in NZ that were built over 100yrs ago.

    I’m sure I visited the French mission in the Bay of Islands when I was a kid, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Then a couple of years ago I visited it again, after many years of living in France, and I was completely blown away…

    The rammed earth (pisé) construction technique used is exactly the same as that of bits of my own house, and lots of barns etc. where I live… the Marist brothers who built it came from the Lyonnais region where I live.

  14. Eredwen, our earthquake regulations are a very big part of the difficulty getting building consents.

    A decade ago I was studying architectural drafting with the aim of becoming an alternative building consultant. I was a devoted follower of Reinhard Kanuka Fuchs and was intending to use my qualification alongside his Building Biology course (which he was trying to get approved by the NZQA at the time).

    Unfortunately I was to discover that pretty much every home I ever designed would end up with me having to get a very expensive engineering certificate to qualify for building consent – with the engineer making three times more money from all my designs than I would – so I gave up and decided I should have been better directing my studies towards structural engineering instead. (And then I ended up doing a bit of a career diversion to turn my talents towards digital graphic design instead.)

    I think what needs to happen here in NZ is that a group of structural engineers are commissioned to formulate some kind of “alternative building code” (which would of course vary from region to region, depending on earthquake risks etc etc) that covers the fundamental designs of non-timber building materials (I hate to call them “alternative building materials” – cos they were actually here millennia before our current ones).

    In this age where sustainable living and low-ecological footprints are becoming popular in the mainstream, I would surely love it if the Greens were to spearhead some kind of initiative like this that makes these kinds of eco-friendly dwellings more accessible.

    But hey, I would support it just for the aesthetic principles alone – just cos I so detest rows of 2×4 boxes in sub-divisions hehehe 😉

  15. I not sure how our earthquake-conscious regulations do/would affect the stuctural requirements of Rammed Earth Dwellings in some parts of Aotearoa.
    Reinforcing in the walls would be required everywhere I suspect (?)

    Banks Peninsula is covered in loess (fine glacial clay) which works very well for bricks and for rammed earth.

  16. Thanks Prim
    It is important that we do get changes that are sustainable. Emboddied energy is one thing, building practice another. But you are right we need to ensure that the opportunity is not hijacked by those industries who put their own profits in front of the community queue.

    The building trade is notorious for being slow to change or embrace new and environmentally green techniques.

  17. I think that the Building Code is currently under a major review – is this an opportunity to get these sorts of buildings into the regulatory scheme?

  18. One of the big problems that designers are facing with designing and building truly sustainable housing is the raft of regulations in the planning and building codes. The sorts of buildings that we are all commending dont appear in the NZS3604 and so local authorities make it difficult to give them consent. They then have to be categorized under alternative solutions for which they make it even more difficult.

    Rammed earth is a beautiful material and is used all over the world – and we still have buildings standing in NZ that were built over 100yrs ago. It is easy to get consent on toxic timber structures etc…. as the regulations are designed to suit our timber industry.

    I use more and more concrete as a structural heat sink element – but would prefer theaesthetic and healthy rammed earth/rock solution. But not in every situation.

  19. Soil & Health Asssociation mag, Organics NZ, has been running stories on earth-bulding and other sustainable forms of eco-builiding over the last 18 months.

    I think you can search for topics on the website! Back issues are available for most bimonthly issues, plus you can order books through them, eg: “Passion for Earth”, a recent publication about the earthbuilding renaissance.

    No, I’m not on commission!

  20. Cordwood stacks – great place for wild life including wetas. Used extensively in Austria and USA

  21. I thought that when (unflattened) bottles were used in wall building (as in Joe Polaischer’s house featured in the April issue of North & South – “Permaculture Paradise”) they were left empty – i.e. filled with air rather than water – to give the desired insulation properties. Air pockets are a good insulator.

    Even his walls aren’t made “entirely” out of bottles though, there is a binding material that holds it all together – could be done with cob, adobe or cement I expect.

    Another use of glass as a wall-building material was highlighted by a Prometheus loan a few years back to a woman in Golden Bay who built the walls of her house out of cord-wood (that’s right, lumps of firewood folks), recycled crushed glass, pumice and cement.

    The cord wood acted like bricks – but inexpensive and high insulation value bricks. The recycled crushed glass was used as a cheap alternative to sand in the cement mix binder, the pumice was added for it’s higher insulation value (air gaps again). The walls were rendered interiorior and exterior for finish and weatherproofing.

    One of the advantages, in addition to the cost, was that the walls were easily shaped and sculpted – similar to adobe and cob houses.

  22. I assume that given the current drought conditions that is impacting australia that this will all be grey water, I wonder if with a bit of anti-freeze they could be adapted to NZ.

    Although it could add a whole new meaning to the term “leaky homes”- apologies to anyone who actually has one..

  23. Alistair
    yes he would be – those toilets in Bay of Islands are great. Wonderful colours coming thru the flattened bottles in the walls. Of course they dont have any insulation value.

    Of course glass could be remoulded into something else – say glass fibre batts! But they do not of course hold the heat and would require more energy input. One system that is more commonly used as a thermal sink is water filled 10gal drums located behind glass sheets. Swimming pools can also be used for liquid heat storage.

    Solar boosted water in a concrete floor or wall also acts in a similar manner. Trombe walls do the same. I think in Canada they use boulders located under the foundations for heat storage – well below the freezing level.

    I am experimenting with using steel cladding on a wall/ roof over a separated internal wall space on the sunny side to act as a thermal collector. The heat generated is then moved around to where it is required using a solar pump. I designed a toilet for DOC on Tiritiri island along the same principles except that it was designed to extract smelly fumes from the lower chamber via a sealed central wall into a solar heated sealed roof space and then into the a vent to the outside. There were never any obnoxious smells in the cubicles. Solar venting

    Its a great pity that I didnt use some flattened blue and green wine bottles like Hunderwasser

  24. The thing is how to get this type of building more mainstream, if appropriate. Has anyone in the industry/government taken a serious look at this? It’s all very nice when laypeople comment from time to time, but my question is – how to go forward…

    I also agree with stuey – I have heard about buildings with walls made of bottles, some years back on NZ TV. The programme probably featured the Coromandel building.

    Related to the recycled/reused bottles point, there is a company called “Green Glass” that makes wine glasses – and other glasses – out of used wine bottles: . Good stuff!

  25. There’s a technical error in this article (though possibly not in the design of the house): water is not an insulator – it does not stop heat getting in or out. What it does is store heat really well, thus absorbing heat when the air is warmer, and emitting heat when it is colder. But it absorbs heat from, and emits heat to, both the inside and the outside. On a really cold day, your heating costs would be much higher than an ordinary house, because the water would keep absorbing the heat from the air.

    What you really need to do is build this house, then stick insulation on the outside of it, so that the water only absorbs heat from the inside, and only radiates heat to the inside. It may be possible to make good insulation from used polystyrene coffee mugs.

  26. You know, I dont think thats news. I stayed in a shed in White Cliffs, outback NSW in 1989, where the walls were “entirely” made out of old stubbie beer bottles. I must dig out a picture.

    Barry Brickells famous homemade railway in Coromandel has walls made out out of wine bottles as well.

    White Cliffs is also the site of an experimental solar power station, involving about a dozen satellite dish shaped solar dishes which, as far as I remember, reflected and concentrated the suns energy into a point – I cant remember how it worked now, but the array of dishes sure looked impressive.

  27. Interesting idea, the story is sadly light on detail though. I have to question the statement “… built entirely from recycled wine bottles.”.

    The roof too?

    What is the binding agent to give the walls some structural integrity? Is the floor made of bottles as well – how are they going to get over the unevenness issue – stand them upside down?

    I expect that the bottles would be mainly used as a wall filler (like straw bales) with the structural support, roof and floor made of other materials. It’s a pity stories like this don’t inform more and fantasize less – people who are genuinely interested in learning from this new building technology would not be a lot wiser after reading this article..

  28. Well this is right up my street – although I don’t drink alcohol – which I would probably need to do in order to supply all those bottles – I have come across this system before. There used to be a house in Queenstown made of bottles but they were not filled with water. Frost could be a problem in less tropical realms!

    The nearest to glass bottles is glass bricks – now they have been around for a long time. Perhaps we could design packaging (like bottles) in such a way that they could be re used as efficient building materials. “reshaping the future”! Imagine knocking back a couples of bottles of reisling knowing that you are providing a couple more blocks for your livingroom!

    Com’on you guys stretch your imagination and see what you come up with next time you visit the supermarket, hardware or bottle store.

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