Introduction: Plastic Bottle Insulation

Picture of Plastic Bottle Insulation

This is my first instructable

As everyone knows wasted heat is wasted money, energy, and comfort.

I was trying to find the greenest, most cost efficient way to insulate my house. While searching for insulation i discovered that gases are really the best insulators. (other than a vacuum thanks Gofish)

After scratching my head a couple of times trying to figure out how to seal off air in my 1960s home, I though duh empty bottles.

Step 1: What You Will Need

Picture of What You Will Need

1. Empty bottles (with lids)
2. Empty attic space
3. Filler, this can be almost anything,
like expanding foam or blown in insulation
but for more recycling i used plastic bags.

Step 2: Scout It Out

Picture of Scout It Out

As you can see my attic has no insulation whatsoever.

Step 3: Wrap the Bottles

Picture of Wrap the Bottles

start wrapping the bottles in the plastic bags as shown

Step 4: Start Stacking

Picture of Start Stacking

Start standing them side by side.

Step 5: I Think I Need More Bottles....or Less Attic

Picture of I Think I Need More Bottles....or Less Attic

This should help keep a few thousand empty bottles and plastic bags out of the landfill.


Chimonger (author)2017-05-10

How are those bags doing now, several years later? Those plastic shopping bags, will start to crumble to bits. Those are "biodegradable", and light, heat/cool cycles, work to degrade the plastic. Usually takes several years [approximately], to start coming apart.

IDK about the plastic bottles...those last longer, for sure.

Some have filled soda bottles with sand, and stack them to make walls, tying the capped bottle-necks together then covering both sides with chicken wire, and plastering with earth plaster or cement plaster...forming a massive wall which is insulated some.

Similarly, plastic packing 'popcorn' will degrade with heat/cool cycles.
However, I've successfully used those nitro-pak drink boxes [like you get soy milk, etc. in]; empty them, rinse well, let dry, re-cap. Then assemble into bundles that fit between your wall studs or rafters. I taped bundles together using packing tape. Those form a closed air space, and, they are reflective inside, have a _long_ lifespan, and resist heat/cool cycles nicely. We used these, to insulate the roof of a small camping shack...stacked to fit between 2x6 rafters, cover the whole assembly with Reflectix or heavy duty aluminum foil, then salvaged some 1/4" thick boards to cover that all in. Seems to work pretty's been there for over 10 years, and they still seem to be doing a good enough job...and importantly, still intact.

Kay from SA (author)2010-11-12

In South Africa we have a huge housing shortage with millions of people living in tin shacks! Do you think it would be possible to assemble used 500ml soda bottles in a vertical position to insulate the walls of a shack? These could be "plastered" over with a mud and clay mix to seal off air leakage and improve the fire risk. I’ve toyed with the idea of stringing the bottles together in an alternating up / down pattern to minimise gaps creating a "bottle mat" the same size as an exterior wall Does anyone have any ideas on how to attach the mat to the tin wall?
Would lightly scoring the interior side of the bottles be enough for the "plaster" to stick? Any low cost suggestions would be appreciated

Drewbaccaa (author)Kay from SA2013-11-27

That would work... but heck mud and clay make great insulators on thier own.... I have seen straw bails carved with chainsaws then covered in clay/mud used as insulation... quite effectivly i might add. It would probably be better to use stucco slathered on the outside and inside of a hay wall and not just mud.

Nichan (author)Kay from SA2012-01-10

Go here, be inspired!

DragonDon (author)Kay from SA2011-02-18

Everyone in Africa should be considering this guy:

foobear (author)2013-10-28

yes, why water in them? the weight would become tremendous. I hear that all you need is trapped air for insulation. Shouldn't empty bottles be better for this? What is the reason that people aren't doing this? Is there some health concern with the plastic of the bottles outgassing something? thank you

mario59 (author)2011-07-15


AntonioMDC (author)2011-03-09

have you seen what they do with aluminum cans and/or glass bottles in earthships where they use them like bricks in an earthen mortar? this might not be suitable for insulating the attic but for the walls of a building it is a great idea. here is one picture but sometimes they are plastered over and you can't see them at all. plastic bottles might be OK in that case because they would be behind the masonry and not such a fire hazard. in fact if you can get your bottles behind a fire barrier of any sort that would be adequate for styrofoam I would think you were as safe. and if you embedded them in spray foam first you would be even more protected and that would be light enough for the attic and you wouldn't have to worry about how they start to degrade and leak after a few years of sun and heat. also by filling the wall/ceiling cavities with bottles before spraying you could save a lot of the costly spray foam and still have decent R value as long as the bottles weren't big enough to develop convection currents inside. I think that is one of of the advantages of crushing the cans a little, though maybe they are just doing it to make them key into the mud better, though in this case they would be keying into the foam so still a good step to take.

TheMightyBeagle (author)2011-01-25

I noticed your bottles seem to be filled with water. My question is can your ceiling hold up that much water (assuming you insulate your entire attic this way)? Remember a gallon weighs about 10lbs. Have you tried cardboard as a quick fix until you can get some real insulation? I've lived in an accient house with crappy insulation before. To save energy we used all our flattened moving boxes to line the attic until we could move into a better house. Having all those moving boxes on hand also helped us get the hell out of their in hurry when we found a better place to live.

looped (author)2011-01-14

If you are worried about fire, just put some borax (a fire retardent used in shredded paper insulation) around. Oh it also works as a pest control system, animals don't like borax.

ihwild (author)2010-10-31

Air is only an insulator if it can't be moved. If you have any air leaks that can flow through the insulation then it fails. This is why windows are sealed and gas filled. Any air that can get in from outside will cool off the home in the winter as it absorbs the heat. The less air leaks you have the more energy efficient your home will be. I'm researching insulation right now for our house. I'm currently like the flame retardant foam insulation as it seals off air leaks. R value is almost meaningless if it lets air in. should have some information. Also check your local codes they might specify certain specifications otherwise you might loose the right to occupy the home if work needs to be inspected and fails.


Course there is the flip side to a sealed tight home. It traps moisture and indoor pollutants.

Giggitygoodbag (author)2010-07-19

I wish punctuation would kill sarcastic people.

stinkindog (author)2010-06-08

ha-just saw that you said EMPTY bottles. sorry, i had a homer moment! i still think that sand or dirt would raise the r value without raising the "fire risk" so many have expressed concern over.

stinkindog (author)2010-06-08

i like the idea but water weight and the water freezing are drawbacks. the thermal boundary in your attic would be the ceiling. once you insulate, the attic will be whatever the outdoor temp it will freeze when the temp drops. i can't imagine that a bottle wrapped in plastic would not freeze. maybe sand or dirt would work as fill.

biofueljunke (author)2010-03-01

i kno what im gonna insulate my cold bedroom with

fosteem1 (author)2010-02-09

With the bottles standing up you get the same R value through the whole space.  You would get a far higher R value in you laid the bottles down on there sides.  Each layer of bottles would act as a separate layer of insulation from the one above it.  Creating a higher R value. 

As for the plastic Vs fiberglass issue.  Insulation is sold in many forms besides fiberglass all of them burn and a lot of them draw bugs. For example there is Styrofoam it goes up like a torch.  And the bug drawers are made of shredded newspaper or recycled bluejeans or any other kind of fabric.  The only problem with plastic i can forsee is plastic isn't stable.  It outgasses as the gas leaves the plastic it become more and more brittle.  So over time if you put your weight onto the bottles they will crush instead of flexing.  So i would make sure that they are in a place you are not going to be having to travel over.

strmrnnr (author)2009-04-20

If you buy your water buy the case, you could re-pack the near undamaged case, tape it up and shoot in some expanding foam as you mentioned. You would end with a brick of insulation then.

BluTiger (author)strmrnnr2010-02-02

That really makes sense to me. Good Idea. Sounds like a building material too.

thisdude (author)strmrnnr2009-04-20

cool kinda like a big lego block..I still like the fact that i was able to reuse the bags... its like killing two litterbugs with one stone... i may do all three thanks for leaving a comment i was beginning to feel like a loser

generator (author)2009-11-23

 i have a solar heating/cooling book that talks about how water holds more heat than air or other materials. it tells you how to put bags of water in your attic to collect heat from the day and house and release it back into the night.

so i say, fill em with water for better heat retention

BluTiger (author)generator2010-02-02

With water weighing so much per gallon. I wonder how much weight an average ceiling joist can handle (10 lbs per sq ft)?. H2O= 231 cubic inches and 8.35 lbs per gal. How much water would you need?

ztevo (author)2009-12-27

i think you would be much better off taking washed aluminum or steal cans (maybe throw some rat and bug poison into a few of the cans in case they atract rodents",  seal the cans with a peice of aluminum foil. Or take two cans cut the tops off of both and put one inside the other to make s sealed canister.

Before loading your addict with plastic let me suggest an experiment"

Take a plastic walmart bag twist it into a rope then light the bottom of the rope on fire hold the burning rope over your hand for say 30 seconds.   after that experiment imagine thousands  of those ropes burning over your bed over your body.

Also consider the air trapped in the bottles,  every time one of those bottles rupture during a fire more oxygen is going to be released to fuel the fire,  in a normal fire that space would have been filled by carbon dioxide slowing the rate of burn of the contestable materials,  by storing the air in the bottles you would be providings more oxygen to the fire causing for a hotter and much more violent fire.

Maybe those new aluminum beer and soft drink bottles would be ideal for what you are trying to accomplish.

Sorry to poo poo on your Idea but I do not want to see you or other people reading this get killed.  
Google  "great white club fire"  100 people were killed in less then 5 and a half minutes because the owners of the building insulated it with plastic.

Giggitygoodbag (author)ztevo2010-01-24

Illiteracy kills more people than plastic bottle insulation.

ellislake (author)2009-09-20

the simplest and cheapest insualtion is plastic bags. im gona get round to do my instrcutable on cheapest insualtion ever. all you need to do is collect plastic bags rather than throwing them away and scrunch them up a little and put them between the joists then put a flat piece of plywood over them as a floor. that way theres no issue with weight and the bagsd are free and not going to waste on a dumping ground this owrks by trapping air inside the bags and insulates the loft. its simple i have done it in my loft but only about 10% completed so far.i think i will ahve to do the instructable soon as i got some free time coming up soon what does everyone think

ztevo (author)ellislake2009-12-28

I think that if someone drops a cigarette butt during a party you and all your guests will go up in smoke.

prometheus442 (author)2009-06-18

I think this is a great idea. Just putting this out there. mud, clay, cement, etc. with the plastic bottles could make a good building material with a fairly high insulation value. Along those same lines, glass bottles might provide a structural/weight advantage and they would be better for vacuum insulation if one had the equipment and know-how. As far as insulating an already existing house, I don't know. I suppose glass bottles might work for fire-proofing.

P.A.Beard (author)prometheus4422009-12-03

lampajoo (author)2009-11-19

if you put a little chunk of dry ice in each bottle, let it evaporate and then seal the bottle it might help extinguish a fire. just like how people do when they are storing grain in sealed containers.  putting water in them would reduce the R-value.

such a good idea, it would be a shame to let something like a fire hazard get in the way.

VitoVonAntwon (author)2009-11-18


Sorry to have to mention this, but You don't want to use pet bottles and plastic bags as insulation.   It will burn horribly, causing tons of toxic smoke that potentially will killyou in your sleep.  See that bx cable running from the fixture.  If that ever shorted (it's safe enough) but if it did....  Also contact your insurance company.  Will they still insure you if you used non industry tested insulation....   Just things to consider. 
Blown in cellulose uses boric acid as a fire surpressant.  Glass blown insualtion has very low fire properties.  It's basically glass. 

Did you know that most fire deaths are from smoke inhalation.  Even if you make it out, you've inhaled toxic chemicals.   Firefighters who have to come and save you are also at risk, of getting lung cancer. 

I Love those new polystyrene foams also, but they burn just as bad as this. 
Code says any foam panels have to be covered with sheetrock.  WHy....
it gives you time to get out before it bursts into flames.  


shandapanda (author)2009-07-24

Hi, I was wondering if you ever got your wole attic filled and if it made a significant difference in your bills? Shanda

Daddydano (author)2009-04-26

I didn't mean to touch off a toxic debate :). I like your idea because as all these brainiacs (you know who you are) have mentioned one great truth, air is a great insulator. How about a work around? It would be safer is the containers were surrounded by something fire resistant. I know this makes it more work but if all of us can put our thinking caps on we might come up with something easy. How about some old movie curtains from the 1940's. By the way that's a joke (movie curtains were impregnated with asbestos lol. ;). Hey how about collecting vacuum tubes from old TV's and Radio's. lol That would be a sight.

thisdude (author)Daddydano2009-04-26

what do you think about putting a layer of crumbled drywall down first. (also recycled) or even full pieces
this stuff is good for fire resistance then using it as a base for the bottles.
drywall----------------- recycled
+bottles----------------- recycled
+air--------------------- free
+plastic bags----------- recycled
+expanding foam------ ?
=insulation for cheap

thisdude (author)thisdude2009-04-26

of course the insulation would be about 9 inches thick by this time but the r value would have to be pretty good also

Daddydano (author)2009-04-23

The only problem I see is what if there is a fire, the gases from burning plastic are toxic. I like your idea though. I also like the comment about repackaging the bottles and filling the open spaces with foam. That would have to make a high R factor. Keep with those ideas.

thisdude (author)Daddydano2009-04-23

yeah i know what you mean but wouldn't the fire be more hazardous than the plastic fumes.

_soapy_ (author)thisdude2009-04-26

No, most people die from smoke inhalation rather than from the actual flames. Also, melting burning plastic drips downwards, self-sustains even in small amounts, and spreads a fire incredibly well. If there is a fire, this 'ible might well kill you.

thisdude (author)_soapy_2009-04-26

well I understand that, but i don't think this would be the most flammable thing in my house, being built out of solid wood, if a fire did start in here i would only have a few minutes to get out anyway. Question? Would the plastic fumes rise or fall? Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't everything that burns give off toxic chemicals

_soapy_ (author)thisdude2009-04-26

Fumes are hot, and generally rise. That's why you crawl along the floor to get out the house, as you can both see better and breathe better. Likewise, flames burn upwards. HOWEVER when plastic burns, it drips flames downwards, spreading the fire very very fast, and setting fire to the lower stuff, which then burns upwards more rapidly. It is also a great fuel source. Lighting a bit of paper when trying to start a fire doesn't work nearly as well as lighting a plastic bag. As regards every that burns giving off toxic chemicals, yes, they do, but some things are more toxic than others. CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) will kill you in large amounts, but since you can see through it, you can easily leave the room when you start to feel breathless. (CO2 isn't actually toxic, it kills you because your brain does weird things. This doesn't happen to fish, who are fine as long as there is still oxygen.) The toxic thick smoke from burning foam is too thick to see through and contains lots of nasty stuff like hydrogen cyanide. That'll kill you. In general, the heated fumes are the cause of death, then you get cremated afterwards.

tukas (author)2009-04-21

Are the bottles full of water or should they be empty and you are just using them for demonstration purposes.?

thisdude (author)tukas2009-04-21

the bottles should be empty but i came up with this idea as you can see only a few days before the deadline, so i was kinda in a rush and i wasn't that thirsty btw what do you think about it

tukas (author)thisdude2009-04-24

It is extremely interesting. We have a used house. There is shredded ceramic fabric up there now. My hubby thinks it is flammable. I am thinking your idea and re-applying the ceramic batting on top would be sweet.

tukas (author)tukas2009-04-24

p.s. The ceramic is not flammable just misunderstood.

_soapy_ (author)tukas2009-04-26

That's the reason it is glass or ceramic, rather than plastic. Plastic burns, and burns well. This is why we don't have shredded plastic as insulation - it is far lighter and so cheap it is almost free compared to glass fibre. If you keep the bottles full of water (assuming the loading doesn't bring the house down) it might put the fire out should one start. Certainly, if it is just the plastic bags and bottles, then it's a huge fuel source for a fire. Take one of these units outside and touch a flame to the bottom edge. Then make your mind up about having a few hundred of these in the roof!

thisdude (author)tukas2009-04-24

lol you could always fill the bottles up with gasoline that way he wouldn't be accused of paranoia. just kidding i originally though of blown in insulation on top but then used the bags but all three should give a very nice r value

thisdude (author)thisdude2009-04-24

let me know how this turns out and also post some pics. If you decide to do this

Gofish (author)2009-04-23

I love this! Air as an insulator is only surpassed by a vacuum, but hey if you want to store heat for a heat exchanger water is cheap as,but not good to store in an attic unless it's built for the purpose,(weight!). My house was built from scrap and local timber in 1923 and I have been thinking about insulation as age creeps up, hey thisdude I'm going to use your idea mixed with/bedded in dags or fluff topped off with a layer of fiberglass batts. That should also stuff the rats and Opossums around a bit to! Ha Ha. Good one mate.

thisdude (author)Gofish2009-04-24

hey thanks I'm glad someone else appreciates the genius of this... lol i like to think so anyway

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