Using Bottles In Cordwood Walls
What are you doing with all those bottles?
Answer: Making “bottle bricks” to put in our cordwood walls.
They let in light, color, and you can make fun patterns and designs with them. Each wall is truly one of a kind.
If you need a primer on cordwood building in general, READ MORE ABOUT HOW WE BUILD THE WALLS HERE
Bottle Brick FAQ Quick Navigation
How to make a bottle brick (supply list included!)
Here are some examples of finished walls with bottles in them:
How many bottles have we used so far?
We have used in excess of 200 bottles so far! We also made another 80 bottle bricks to use in the last wall, so in total we will have placed about 280 bottles throughout our house in a variety of random and planned designs.
How many bottles do you need?
However many we want really. Designs can be random, but may also be planned out to make particular patterns or pictures. There are beautiful cordwood walls around the world that feature constellations, nature scenes, and more. The only real limit to what you can create is your imagination!
Can you use things besides bottles?
Yes! We have a wide variety of drinking glasses, jars, and flower vases in our walls too. That big red one in the first picture is actually a flower vase we got at an antique mall. Everything is glass though. There are no plastic or metal containers being used anywhere in the wall.
How did you get so many bottles and jars to use?
Saving glass from home
Donations from friends
Shopping at antique stores
For free from a local winery
We started out by saving everything from what we used at home. Jars from pasta sauce, pickles, jelly; bottles from beer, soda, bourbon (it is Kentucky after all), salad dressing, olive oil, and even maple syrup! If it was a glass jar or bottle, we washed it and saved it in a big box for later. Being in Kentucky, of course, we had to represent some fine Kentucky beverages!
Once word got out about how we would be using bottles, we started getting messages from friends and family saying they had bottles to give. We’ve probably received around 50 bottles just from friends who wanted to donate to the cause!
We also had a fun “date” shopping at a local antique mall looking exclusively for fun colors of glass bottles. We found that large red vase in the first picture, plus we found a purple perfume bottle, an orange vase, and some ruby red drinking glasses. Most glass from home is either clear, brown, green, or blue, so we really wanted to find fun colors to mix in to our designs.
How we got over 250 bottles for FREE:
Kentucky has some utterly fantastic wineries. There are several in this area, but I decided to contact the good folks at Stonebrook Winery to see if they had anything available. They told me that they would save the bottles from their dinners and tastings and that I could come pick them up FOR FREE.
I wasn’t really sure what I was going to end up with, but I was super excited to head over there to check it out. I was not disappointed! I loaded the back of my car with six boxes of bottles. When I got them home, I washed them and laid them all out to dry. I took over the entire dining and living room with my haul:
I made two trips to Stonebrook Winery and received around 250 bottles from them all totaled. I loaded as many as I could into the dishwasher and hand-washed more while the load was running, and repeated this process until they were all clean. You want your bottles to be as clean and dry as possible.
Not really. The difference is nominal since the air is basically trapped in there. Air is a pretty good insulator compared to liquids and solids when it is trapped and can’t convect to the surroundings. We still have 8 inches of insulation in the middle of the wall cavity even when bottle bricks are used. The bottle bricks act the same way logs do within the wall, so construction is essentially the same.
What happens if a bottle breaks?
From what other cordwood enthusiasts have said, this is a relatively rare occurrence. If it happens though, you basically remove the bottle brick by breaking/chiseling it out and then filling the hole. If it was a perfectly round bottle brick you can replace it with one of the same size. If it was an odd size (i.e. wine bottle on one end and maple syrup on the other) I’d imagine you can fill the cavity with insulation and then cap each end with mortar. If we have to cross that bridge, I’ll let you know!
- Gather your materials: clean bottles/jars, metal flashing, duct tape, shears (to cut the flashing), tile saw or bottle cutter. We went ahead and bought the tile saw because we know we’ll be using it for other projects later.
- Determine the length you need to match your walls. Our walls are 16″ thick, so we made 16″ bottle bricks. If a brick isn’t dead on the length you need, aim to be a little bit longer rather than shorter so that the outside end can get the most light possible.
- If the bottles are very long (like wine bottles), use your wet tile saw or bottle cutter to cut them to a desired length. For example, we cut ours to be about 8″ as measured up from the bottom so that, when paired, they would be roughly 16″.
PAIR YOUR GLASS TO MAKE BRICKS
- Each bottle brick has two ends: one for the inside of the wall and one for the outside. They will be joined in the middle.
- Colored ends go to the interior wall and work best if paired with clear glass on the exterior wall. You can pair like colors, but you may experience darker or less brilliant colors as a result. It depends on what you’re going for and what colors you’re dealing with.
- Pair glass of like size and shape. For example, we paired the large red vase with a big pickle jar and a small perfume bottle with a skinny garlic jar. This makes it easier to join them later.
CONSTRUCT YOUR BRICKS
- Use a tape measure to space the glass out to the right length. If not the exact length, longer is better to get more light.
- Join your bottle ends together. If you are using short bottles, you can use a piece of metal flashing to connect them like this:
Or you can simply tape them together if they are close enough. For either application, you can use duct tape or window flashing/sealing tape. We used both kinds of tape depending on what we happened to have around.
I ended up adding a little bit more tape for structure, but you get the idea.
Here are a bunch Mark made with flashing tape, ready to go!
PLACE BRICKS IN THE WALL
They lay in the wall just like the logs do!
A note about construction and wall placement:
Some people advocate using flashing around the entire brick to enhance the light bouncing around inside the brick and to make the colors more brilliant in the house. Our results have been mixed with this. We’ve found that vertical placement in the wall has mattered more regarding how much brilliance you get out of it.
In general, bottles that are too low to the ground or too high (close to the roof overhang) get too much shade and don’t get enough light. Bottles in the middle of the wall to around 5 or 6 feet high get the most brilliance regardless of how we assembled them because the sunlight hits them more directly. This may influence your design choices.
You may have certain designs in mind when planning out your wall. Other times, you may opt to make a more random design. Random designs are a bit easier because you can let the natural development of the wall you’re building guide your bottle placement. Creating designs takes a little more forethought about how to build up your mortar so that your bottles are placed correctly.
A tree with clouds above. In hindsight, I wish I had placed this more in the center of the room instead of the corner because the design gets less light in the corner and is harder to see. I also wish I had flanked the trunk of the tree (brown bottles) with clear bottles because the blue of the “sky” makes it hard to discern what you’re looking at. Oh well…picture or not, we have pretty colors in our dining area!
The top of the wall features a little blue truck for our 3 year-old son. The bottle is a random mix of greens and browns (and one random blue one, for no apparent reason). There are also an odd assortment of sealed jars stuck in the wall against the post. These don’t see the outside and therefore don’t let in light, but they made good fillers for the wall as we ran out of short logs for the parts of the walls that go around the posts. You can also see that we used some stones from the yard for the same reason. Using stones and jars on these interior parts of the wall made for an interesting way to vary the texture too!
Here you see the bottom half of the constellation Orion in progress in the north wall. This is one particular design that is very special to me and that I’ve been planning to build for a long time.
Mark and I represented the Astronomy Club in our school’s homecoming court…because we are huge nerds.
The constellation Orion is one that I could always pick out easily. After my Dad passed away my senior year, I’d always look up at Orion and imagine Dad there. Over time, Orion became a special constellation for Mark too. Here is the finished product:
Items of Note:
You see there is still mortar on most of our bottles that needs to be cleaned off. I managed to wipe off most of the excess but still need to go back and clean off quite a lot from the little grooves in the bottle ends. The mortar does bind tightly to the glass, but even after a few months it’s been pretty easy to scrape it off. I also need to sand quite a bit off from the log ends and posts. I haven’t been too worried because the lime putty mortar stays pretty easy to clean off. If you choose to build with a Portland mix, it may be more important to clean the bottles and logs as soon as possible.
If you want to know more about our off-grid cordwood homestead project, click here. Be sure to join us on Pinterest,Facebook, and Instagram for more building and homesteading goodies that don’t necessarily make it to the blog. Thanks!