REAL LIFE

I Heat My House With Wine Bottles

Clever single mum Sophia even makes money from her house
  • Clever single mum Sophia MacRae, 51, from Camperdown, Vic, built an energy efficient house.
  • She heated it with wine bottles and saved herself a bomb.
  • Now she’s not just saving money, she’s making it from her house.

Here Sophia tells her story in her own words

Looking round my small rental flat, I sighed. As a single mother, some days I felt like I’d never own my own home.

With the cost of living being so expensive, sometimes it got me down. 

I’d been a musician, but when I fell pregnant, and was desperate to provide for my son, Derek, I went back to uni and retrained to be a town planner.

On graduating, I was determined to get a job somewhere rural where I had a hope of buying a home for me and Derek.

Luckily in 2017, I found a job in Camperdown, Victoria. Although I didn’t know anybody and it was far out of the city, it was on a train line, meaning I didn’t need a car.

So I bravely took the plunge and moved with Derek, then 11.

I’d never worked in an office before, so life was totally different. But when I had a spare minute after work, I started playing flute, clarinet and saxophone again, and soon made friends. 

Still I never gave up on my dream of owning my own home. 

So when I spotted a vacant 500 square metre block for $55,000 in January 2018, it was way cheaper than anything I could ever have bought in a city.

Thrilled to get a mortgage from the bank, I bought the land.

‘With the cost of living being so expensive, sometimes it got me down. ‘

Me and my son Derek
Me and my son Derek (Credit: Supplied)

Determined to build a house that was cheap, energy efficient and sustainable, I started researching online.

I discovered a wonderful website, yourhome.gov.au, which had a wealth of tips on building environment-friendly houses. I also joined the Facebook group My Efficient Electric Home. There was so much info on YouTube as well – and it was all free!

I began designing the house myself and found a builder who made modular and transportable homes.

The Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) rates new homes from 0-10 for energy performance.

‘I want to build an 8-star energy efficiency home,’ I said, and my builder jumped at the challenge. .

The modular prefabricated houses made of weatherboard, with timber frames and built on stumps were incredibly affordable. 

I designed a three-bed, single level tiny home with the living areas facing north to get the most natural heat and light.

Incredibly, I discovered if I had eaves long enough to block out the really hot summer sun and short enough to let in the winter sun stream, it’d naturally heat and cool the house.

Instead of having my house parallel to the street, I designed it at a 30 degree angle to catch the best sun. 

As the builders began work, I watched my blue house taking shape.

Supplied
Me installing wine bottles with Craig (Credit: Supplied)

‘I need the best insulation you can get,’ I told them.

I added double glazing and got my builder to do blower air tests with a powerful fan – checking all the windows and doors were tightly sealed. 

When we moved into our new digs in August 2020, Derek, then 14, and I were thrilled. ‘It’s terrific, Mum,’ Derek said. 

Six weeks later, I found a bright idea online – using wine bottles filled with water to act as a thermal mass to heat the house. The bottles soak up winter sun and hold the heat, slowly dispersing it.  

It was such a novel idea and I knew just the man to help – my dad Ian, who’s a winemaker.

‘Have you got any spare wine bottles? I want to use them to heat the house,’ I explained.

‘You want them for what?’ Dad laughed. ‘As it happens, I do.’

So he delivered 1300 bottles full of wine which had gone off. 

A good friend made wooden mounts for the bottles. Then with Derek and two friends, we mounted them on both sides of the lounge wall. 

As the wine bottles clinked, I stood back and admired our handiwork.

‘They look great, Mum,’ Derek said. 

Within days, when I came out with bare feet in the morning, a gentle warmth hit me as heat radiated from the bottles. Even better, at night heat was still warming the room. 

‘With research, thinking outside the box and small changes, you can have a home that saves you money.’

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In my cosy wine bottle lounge with my friend Jess (Credit: Supplied)

To top off my energy-saving design, I added honeycomb window blinds with an air pocket that helped heat and cool the house, a heating and cooling reverse cycle air system, and solar panels. 

In total the house cost me $265,000, including the concrete driveway.

But now it makes me money.

With a heat pump electric hot water system and energy-efficient induction cooktop, the money I put back into the grid means my power bills are practically zero.

A friend who’s a carpenter, added a deck and Derek helped him. 

‘I’m going to study to be a builder,’ my boy said.

When I heard about an online web series, The New Joneses – Electrify Everything, featuring videos on saving the planet and money, I sent in my details. I was delighted when producer Tamara filmed me. 

Friends tell me my house is so cosy and warm.

‘It’s saving me money every day,’ I tell them. 

Energy efficient houses don’t have to be expensive.

I’m passionate about single women like me saving money and living affordably.

But you don’t have to build your own house. With research, thinking outside the box and small changes, you can have a home that saves you money.

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I make cash from my house (Credit: Supplied)

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