‘IT geek’ building dream home out of old tyres, bottles and cans


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Mark van Laarhoven (R), pictured with friend Kris Allen, is building a house out of bottles and tyres. Picture: Toby Zerna

A Sydney systems analyst has developed an unusual approach to getting a house on the cheap — he is building a new home out of used tyres and bottles, and getting volunteers to do much of the work.

Many of the cans and bottles woven into the walls were beers and refreshments Mark van Laarhoven served his band of helpers. The tyres, sourced from service stations, insulate the home.

Mr van Laarhoven said he was able to recruit volunteers — a mix of “hippie types”, travellers and architects — thanks to his commitment to sustainable building.

“There have been so many visitors … sometimes we just collect bottles left around the fire from (drinks) the night before and use them for the walls,” he said.

The home at Marulan, when fully completed next year, will require minimal heating or cooling and other features will ensure it draws on few resources from the local municipality.

The home is scheduled to be complete next year.

The bottles go into the walls. Picture: Toby Zerna

The now-Blakehurst resident plans to retire in the home, and said making it sustainable was his way of “changing the world”.

Mr van Laarhoven said he came up with the idea for the home eight years ago when he was 30kg heavier and having a midlife crisis.

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“I was unhappy and realised I needed to do something drastic,” he said. “I got an epiphany … I could build the lifestyle I always wanted.”

He began shopping for a block and in 2013 purchased land in Marulan, 168km southwest of Sydney.

The style of housing is called Earthships.

A lengthy process of consulting architects and council followed and he finally started on the structure three years ago.

Much of the work was done in his spare time. Mr van Laarhoven said he drew inspiration from a mix of childhood memories and research.

Part of the idea for the home came from a stone cottage in the Blue Mountains he had admired as a child.

The rest of the inspiration was from a building concept invented by US architect Mike Reynolds, known as Earthship homes.

The tyres help insulate the home.

The style of housing uses recycled materials and design that insures no power or water resources are drawn from outside sources.

Earthship homes typically recycle water — often with drinking water collected off the roofs and channelled into cisterns. Sewage is sent to septic tanks and later reused to hydrate the nearby landscape.

Mr van Laarhoven said his home incorporated most, but not all, of the Earthship principles — there will be solar panels, rainwater tanks and the grey water from sinks and showers will be used in an orchard.

The home is in Marulan in the Southern Tablelands of NSW.

Earthships were becoming increasingly popular in Australia, Mr van Laarhoven said, pointing to similar projects in South Australia and Western Australia.

The growing interest meant there was a long line of people willing to volunteer, which has helped keep his building costs down to about $150,000.

“There have probably been 300 people helping over the past four years,” he said. “They are a real cross-section of people. Most are in their 20s, but there have also been some in their 50s.

Much of the home is sustainable.

“Most people you talk to are generally impressed. They ask where I got the skills to build like this but I’m just an IT geek.”

The local council had been receptive to his building plans because he spent a lot of time making a “bulletproof” case when submitting approvals, he said.

All of the external work is done and the home is now weatherproof.

Mr van Laarhoven said he was in the process of rendering and fitting out the interior and expects to have an occupational certificate next year.

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