Tires, Cans and Bottles, Oh My!

June 8, 2009

This month I started the design work on a new garage in Georgetown that will have walls built from rammed-earth tires, cans and glass bottles…  keep your mind open and read on!

Methods and Results

The construction methods are not new; this type of construction is closely related to indigenous building methods that have been used for centuries.  However, an architect and builder in New Mexico, Michael Reynolds, is the visionary behind building with garbage.  He has been using old tires, cans and bottles for decades, to create homes that are entirely self-sustaining and off the grid.  His website and the documentary ‘Garbage Warrior’ are the best resources on his life and his buildings.

reynoldsA Michael Reynold’s design and built home 

Tire building is an alternative construction technique that uses discarded tires and dirt as building materials.  The tires are filled with dirt found on the site and then stacked to form walls.  The tires are then covered with a stucco-like finish.

tire construction 2








In another eco-friendly building method, glass bottles or cans are stacked like a masonry wall or within a wooden frame using mortar, and the wall is then finished with stucco.

bottle construction

These construction types have many benefits.  First, they provide an environmentally friendly way to use items that would otherwise be either in a landfill or would need to be recycled.  Second, they can be beautiful.  The tire walls can have a smooth stucco finish and will be very thick, with deeply set window sills.  When glass bottles are used (two bottoms of bottles are taped together to make an enclosed bottle), the walls bring in a beautiful dappled colored light to the interior of the building.  Third, tire or dirt-filled-can construction in a habitable, heated structure (not a garage) has an added benefit of being a solid thermal mass, which holds the sun’s heat from the day and slowly releases it’s warmth throughout cooler evenings.  And finally, these alternative construction types are examples of looking beyond status quo in construction practices to create more sustainable buildings.

glass bottlesThe Project

The genesis of this project is my client, Elizabeth Rose, who is president of Long Way Home, a community-based, nonprofit organization in Guatemala that is building homes and schools using these construction methods.  In Guatemala, these construction types are a perfect solution for very poor residents who need shelter and community buildings.  In addition to the benefits noted above, building with tires, cans and bottles is cheap; the materials are virtually free, labor costs are low, and the building techniques are easily taught to otherwise unskilled laborers.

Elizabeth saw her family’s need for a garage as an opportunity to showcase alternative environmentally sustainable building practices and to help potential supporters understand the important work that Long Way Home is doing.




From the Long Way Home website:

“Long Way Home’s mission is to collaborate with community members, drawing together knowledge, experience, and creativity into the design and implementation of development projects.  For example, by utilizing alternative building methods and community collaboration, Long Way Home has completed Parque Chimiya, a sustainable community park.  In addition to the new soccer field, basketball court, and community kitchen, alternative building methods promote the collection and reuse of local garbage which help to combat environmental and health issues caused by trash burning.  A healthy environment, Long Way Home believes, is integral in sustaining a healthy and empowered community.”

Making It Happengarage elevations

The garage design is a simple gable form and incorporates elements (roof lines, window style and details) from the main house.  In the craftsman-style wood detailing above the garage doors, we’re planning to use the glass-bottle construction.  From a design perspective, we’ll be working on which of the building techniques make sense around the building and on the details with our Guatemalan experts, our structural consultant and the builder.

For the project to be feasible in Georgetown, we will be relying on structural demonstrations by our engineering consultant and on the open-minded building inspector in Georgetown.  The construction itself will be a combination of local builders and a visiting team from Guatemala.  We’re incredibly excited to see the project and the process take shape.  I can’t wait to share the work of filling one tire with Elizabeth!  Stay tuned and see the sites below for more information.

Long Way Home

Michael Reynold’s website

 A great post on alternative building materials:


24 Responses to “Tires, Cans and Bottles, Oh My!”

  1. Interesting, i have never seen houses decorated by bottles before, they look really good.

  2. Brian Rubenstein Says:

    I have watched the documentary on Reynolds on either the Sundance Channel or the IFC channel and it was fascinating. I recommend it if you have not yet seen it.

  3. greenbridge Says:

    It is a fascinating documentary – my client is working on having Mike Reynolds as a speaker for a Long Way Home fundraiser later in the year. I’m looking forward to meeting him and learning more about his current work.


    necesito informacion de costos, mantenimiento ,espacios para pòder construir una casa con materiales reciclables, y si me pueden enviar imagenes .
    estoy interesada en poder hacer una casa. gracias

  5. Paul Becker Says:

    Very interested in learning how to build with tires,bottles, and other environmentally sound materials. Please email me any information that might be helpful. Thank you.

  6. Heya.I came upon your post from Google and thought it was great!. Have you been writing for long?Not long ago I recently developed a blog on my own and its been a enjoyable process. I’ve met some new people since then but it is hard work sometimes! Once again, much appreciated for your article!

  7. greenbridge Says:

    Hi Alisa, thanks for writing, I’ll check out your blog this weekend. We’ll be writing more about this project in the coming months as its scheduled for construction this summer.

  8. […] via earthship, makingthishome, greenbridge, […]

  9. […] via earthship, makingthishome, greenbridge, […]

  10. […] Tires, Cans and Bottles, Oh My! (via greenbridge blog) This month I started the design work on a new garage in Georgetown that will have walls built from rammed-earth tires, cans and glass bottles…  keep your mind open and read on! Methods and Results The construction methods are not new; this type of construction is closely related to indigenous building methods that have been used for centuries.  However, an architect and builder in New Mexico, Michael Reynolds, is the visionary behind building w … Read More […]

  11. […] those are glass bottles built into a wall… how beautiful! and earth friendly!  (via greenbridge) […]

  12. John Shulz Says:

    I found your site while searching for related information. That is a very interesting concept of using bottles to incorporate into a house. Nice pictures.

  13. greenbridge Says:

    Thanks! It’s a great project. Hard to find nicely colored bottles however….

  14. This looks like one project that I’d be interested to seem up close. The design patterns are very unique.

  15. […] It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since we first started working on the “Garbage Garage” , a new garage constructed using rammed-earth tires and salvaged glass bottles. (see our post from June 2009) […]

  16. […] will focus on the garage’s construction, the best part! See previous posts for information on Project Genesis and Design, Permitting and Preparation for […]

  17. jerome Says:

    this piece of info is soooooo good ………… try publishing more such information ……:)

  18. […] feature on Greenbridge Architects (a Greater Boston green design company) blog about using  and tires, bottles and cans.    Regardless of all that, take the trip to Rockport and be […]

  19. used tires Says:

    You ought to take part in a contest for one of the greatest blogs on the net. I’m going to recommend this website!

  20. greenbridge Says:

    Thank you for the recommendation!!

  21. Stacie Says:

    This is very cool. I found this page because I moved into a house two years ago with an outdoor cabana, which has a glass bottle wall. Whoever built it did not cut the bottle or even clean them it seems (labels and everything still on them) and it looks like they used some kind of mortar mixed with sand and shells. I am currently converting the cabana into an art studio. The bottle wall is chipping and crumbling, and I would really love to save it. I wanted to put a layer over it around the bottle to clean it up and cover all of the cracks. The guys working on the space said that mortar would not work because it is not sticky enough. The only think they could think of to put on the surface around the bottles is thin set. I am wondering if you have any other solutions? Thanks!

  22. greenbridge Says:

    Wow, it sounds like you have an interesting cabana! I’ve seen a few bottle walls where the bottles were installed horizontally and not cleaned either. As for repair, I wonder if a mason could help. if the mortar/shells they used is crumbling drastically, it may not be salvageable. If it is surface only, maybe a mason could help find a good mortar match that could be used for patching. Best wishes for your project. Send pictures if you get a chance – I’d love to see it. You might want to visit the longwayhome site to see more bottle walls.

  23. […] Posted on April 6, 2012 by muy marcottage A Michael Reynold’s design and built home ….The construction methods are not new; this type of construction is closely […]

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