Introduction: How to Make a Bottle Building
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We have built two bottle buildings.
One is a small storage building made with a variety of different bottles. The other is a larger building made primarily of wine bottles, with design accents made of old ashtrays, glass floats, candy dishes, glass blocks and Japanese floats, this building was originally built as a small concert space that will seat 50 people plus a small stage. We have also hosted art shows in the space.
This instructable will focus on the building of the walls of bottles. You will be able to incorporate bottles into your own structures or make garden walls with bottles. I will post other instructables that will take you through the building process from start to finish.
Step 1: Materials
Bottles, lots of bottles, in assorted shapes and colors if you would like.
Optional: Heavy weight glass candy dishes and ashtrays, glass block, Japanese floats and other interesting found glass objects.
Type S mortar mix.
Ivory dish detergent
Wood posts, sizes vary depending on your project I used 6X 8 treated posts.
Bolts to connect the treated post size depends on the size of your posts.
Lots of sponges
A mixing bucket or wheelbarrow to mix mortar.
A hoe or shovel for mixing mortar
Medium sized trowels (one for each person laying bottles)
A level (standard or a string level)
Step 2: Find Bottles!
This step is not as easy as it as it sounds. We don't drink so we didn't have a lot of empties sitting around. We asked all the bars and restaurants in our town plus some in neighboring towns to save their bottles for us. We ended up with 25-30 cases of bottles a week. and that just wasn't enough. The large building has approximately 10,000 bottles!
After several months of collecting bottles we were a long way from our goal. We ended up going to Oregon to get wine bottles. Oregon was the first state in the country to pass a bottle recycling bill back in 1971. But 12 years ago when we started this project most used bottles from wineries were going to the landfill. We rented a BIG truck and went to Oregon after the annual May winery open houses. We had called ahead and arranged to pick up thousands of bottles.
When we got to the wineries, they either forgot to save them or they threw them in dumpsters where many were broken. It was a terrible trip, we ended up getting lost because a bridge was closed and we pulled over for directions and the guy we asked owned a winery. He gave us directions to his loading dock and his crew used forklifts to load our truck to the roof with used wine bottles. Yahoo!!!
If you rent a truck for bottles, be sure to check the maximum load weight. Bottles are heavy! You may end up stopping every 5-10 miles to put more air in the tires. ; )
When you are choosing bottles, you may want to consider the relative strength of the bottles. Wine bottles are thicker than most liquor bottles. Beer and soda bottles fall somewhere between wine and liquor bottles.
We have not had problems with the bottle strength during the 10+ years these buildings have been up.
If you are going to try to get a building permit for your structure, I would recommend wine bottles to meet building codes. I believe our large bottle building was the first one in the US with a building permit.
Step 3: Clean Bottles
Oh Boy! This is fun! The easiest way to do this is to soak the bottles in water. in large plastic boxes or buckets adding a little bit of chlorine to the water helps prevent mosquito larva and scum. It seems to help the labels slide off the bottles.
This step is mandatory. Do not even think about leaving labels on the bottles. Many years ago a woman built a house in Nevada out of bottles and she did not remove the labels when summer came the mortar contracted and the labels stayed with the mortar and her house ended up looking like Swiss cheese. It had to be destroyed.
Step 4: Sort Bottles and Glass
After you clean your bottles, they need to be sorted by size and color. This will give you a palette for your wall design.
Step 5: Framing the Walls
This instructable is focusing on the bottle walls which are great for yards gardens and gazebos.
The large structure has a 5 inch foundation with 20 inch footers. Which exceeds the state and county building codes in my area. The small building has concrete footings and a dirt floor.
There is lots of information online on diy foundations and footings i.e.
Sink your posts into the footings or into ground if you are doing a garden wall without footers. I would not recommend skipping the footers except on low garden walls.
Use the level to make sure your posts are straight and level.
You can use post brackets to put the posts up. We used the brackets in the large building, but we sunk the post directly in the concrete in the small building. I plan to stick with the brackets for my next bottle building.
The beams can be laid across the posts and hammer them in with large nails. Or you can use post and beam brackets, L brackets or large bolts to attach the beams.
We nail the beams down to the posts in the large building then reinforce them with roof brackets.
I can add drawings if anyone needs them.
I will post instructables that cover the foundation later.
Step 6: Plan Your Wall Design
You can build your walls with a single type and color bottle. But why? Glass makes a great medium. You can rough out designs on paper or in sketchbook.
We did not plan out designs on our small building but the large building has a different design on each of the twelve walls.
Most of the forty other bottle buildings I have seen have the tops facing in. But, we chose not to do that because we wanted to hear the bottles whistle in the wind, they do. Also we had concerns about dust and creepy crawlies inside the bottles.
Step 7: Build the Walls
Mix the mortar according to the package instructions and add a ¼ cup of Ivory dish detergent and 1 cup of lime to the mix. The texture of the mortar should be about the same as organic peanut butter.
Tack a level string up between the posts at the height of a bottle on it’s side plus ½”.
There will be a ½ “ gap between the bottles. So you need to figure out the spacing of the bottles, so that the bottles end up centered between the posts. If you have large gaps on the ends you can make the gap between the bottles a little bit wider. The gaps on the edges can be up to 2” wide if needed (but, smaller is better).
The first layer of mortar should be about ¾ “ thick . Slather some mortar on the side of a bottle place the bottle in the mortar and press bottle down firmly. Use the trowel to form a curve for the next bottle. (see the sketchbook image)
The mortar should not go past the shoulder of the bottles. It will block out light. It also increases the cost of building significantly. The mortar on these buildings ended up at about 4 ½ -5” from the base of the bottle. The small building was started first as a test project and the mortar was 6” this was major overkill and wasted a lot of mortar.(see the sketchbook image)
After you have a couple of rows of bottles, stop and clean up your work use sponges and clear water to wipe down the bottle bottoms and leave a smooth surface on the mortar. It is easiest to do this with lots of sponges just use one for the initial wipe down then switch to a fresh clean sponge and wipe it down again, repeat until the bottles are clean. Clean off the tops of the bottles the same way. When you think the bottles are clean, wipe them down again. Seriously, do it or you will end up with mortar streaks on the glass. Be sure to wear rubber gloves while you clean the bottles.
Don’t lay more than four rows of bottles at a time. GIve the mortar some time to set between layers so that it does not sag.
Laying the bottles is actually very easy to do, we had people aged 5 to 80+ laying bottles in our buildings.
Keep going until you get to the beams. You are Done!
Step 8: Repairs
Okay, So now we have a building made out of glass bottles. They are going to break right? Well, Noooo, In the last eleven years we have experienced flooding, winter storms, minor earthquakes, vandals and a lightning strike in the large tree hanging over the buildings.
The roof did end up with some damage but not a single bottle broke.
I did remove a bottle several years ago to replace it with a different color. I used a hammer to break the bottle and I chiseled the remaining glass out the I put a thin coat of silicone adhesive inside the hole and slid a new bottle in place and it worked great
Step 9: Missed a Step
I forgot to mention that we put a window in the building across from the double doors for cross ventilation. We found a window at the re-store. The installation was very simple. We built the wall three feet high and placed a window frame on the bottles and built around it.
Step 10: PLANS
Here are some of the drawings that were submitted for our building permits for the large bottle building. You are welcome to use them to build, but they are not to be sold. They are copyrighted. If you decide to build a bottle building. Please let me know, I would be happy to offer assistance.
The small building is less than 120 square feet in size, so, it did not require a permit or drawings. We actually ended up just constructing without plans. The small building was supposed to be our practice building but it ended up being somewhat harder to build because we were making it up as we went.
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I'm planning on building a bottle window in my home but I'm concerned about the cement cracking. Did you use type S or type N mortar and did you get any cracks?
Your instructable is AMAZING!