What Can You Make a House Out Of? 


In this article, we will dive into some common and unconventional building materials for your house. This could relate to a traditional home or alternative home using non-traditional materials. We are not focused on price necessarily but will consider that as we research the building materials and help you decide what you can make a house out of. 

What can you make a house out of? The short answer is really anything that will hold up to the weather. You can make a house out of wood, steel, metal, concrete, bamboo, hemp, cod, adobe, earth, earthbags, recycled materials like tires, and bottles like an Earthship. The options vary as much as the type of house. I’m sure we’ve all seen homes on television worldwide with tin walls and roofs. While these may be the most readily available materials in those areas, they may not be the best for the varied climate across the United States. 

What is the best material to build a house out of?

The traditional stick-built home starts with a concrete foundation with metal rebar embedded throughout the walls and then a wood frame built up in the home’s layout. Wood is the primary building material for traditional homes. However, other alternative homes are built with steel. These homes, such as a barndominium or a shop home, are made entirely of steel. Steel is extremely heavy and durable. It can support a multi-story building, is termite-proof, waterproof, and holds up to fire for an extended period. 

What can you build your house out of besides wood? 

Other alternative building materials are concrete, bamboo, hemp, earthbags, earth berms, recycled materials and sand, fabric, and even used or new shipping containers and silos. Some people are building with hemp blocks, foam forms, earthbags, and cob to frame a home instead of standard wood home construction practices. Roofing materials can be metal, traditional plywood, tar paper, shingles, slate, terra cotta tiles, thatched straw, or even living roofs. The completed walls of the home can be concrete by themselves, lime plaster over an inner wall like cob, hemp, or straw for a stucco look, or the cob or adobe itself as the wall. 

Can a house last forever? 

A well-constructed house can last through many generations. For example, we bought a rental property a few years back that was originally built in 1880. It was in rough shape, and we had a lot of renovation to do, along with some foundation work. However, after completing everything, we rented it for ten years until we sold it. It’s still standing and in better shape than when we bought it years ago. That house is 142 years old. Not every part of the home will outlast the owners or occupants; as I said, we needed to rewire and replaster all of the walls. But a well-built house can last over a century and more with maintenance.

What is a cheap alternative to wood? 


Other than the interior finishings you choose, the building materials themselves are usually the most expensive parts of the build. Unless you are working with cheaper alternatives to wood, by using shipping containers as your main structure and cutting holes for your windows and doors, you have metal walls enabling you to stack containers or have a very sturdy home. Other cheap alternatives to wood are: 

  • Reclaimed Wood– Reclaimed wood is old lumber recycled/repurposed for use in new projects. It’s commonly retrieved from old buildings, barns, or homes and processed through different techniques for reuse. 
  • CobCob is a mix of clay, sand, straw, earth, and water mashed together to make a mud or “cob” loaf used as a brick to build the structural walls of a house. 
  • Engineered Wood– Engineered wood strong enough for home building comes in many forms like plywood, Oriented Strand Board (OBS), or Cross Laminated Timber (CLT). They are perfect for roofing, flooring, walls, and more. Each has different strengths and weaknesses you can find explained here. 
  • Adobe – Adobe is a mix of clay, sand, straw, and water similar to cob that is scooped into rectangular frames to form into bricks and set to dry or cure before using them to build. Once dry, they are placed on the foundation with more adobe in between the brick’s layers as the mortar.
  • Hemp blocksHemp blocks are a mix of the hemp fiber and inner hull to create a mulch-type substance. This is then mixed with limestone powder to stick it all together. The result is a block stronger than concrete but weighing only 25-30 pounds.
  • EarthbagsEarthbags are commonly known in many parts of the U.S. as sandbags. The concept is the same except for a different type of material fill. The earthbag is filled with soil or insulation, stacked like bricks but tamped flat. Barbed wire is used between courses, keeps bags from slipping, and adds strength to the walls. 
  • Insulated Concrete Forms– Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) is a type of wall building material. Instead of framing the walls with studs, the walls are formed by styrofoam blocks, and the concrete is poured into those forms.
  • Earth berms Earth berm homes are cut into the side of a hill or dugout area in the ground deep enough to build and add the framing. 
  • Metal Studs-Metal studs are galvanized steel formed into studs and used in the same way as a traditional wood stud for building. They come in different thicknesses and gauges for different applications. If you’re considering them for a project, choose the correct gauge and thickness to support your build. 
  • Recycled materials– Recycled materials are used in what’s known as an Earthship. The foundation is usually recycled tires filled with earth, sand, or soil to stay stable to build the walls. Then any recycled material like bottles, glass, old wood, cob, adobe, and anything you can find can be used together to build the home. 

When it comes to cheaper alternatives for building, you need to start with your plan. Suppose you consider a larger layout closer to the 1300-1600 square foot average of a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. In that case, you may need to think of concrete forms, hemp blocks, shipping containers, and other materials which will give you a rectangular look of a home. 

Cob, adobe, earthbags are very cheap and will all give you a very artistic-looking house with unique walls that are not square and unique built-ins you can’t find at any store. These alternatives to wood are very labor-intensive and take quite a bit of time to build. Reclaimed and recycled items can save you a lot of money; they go up faster than working with cob or adobe, but you pay more in your time and sweat equity. 

What is the cheapest form of housing? 

The cheapest form is getting paid to housesit or being a live-in caregiver. In both scenarios, you get paid to provide a service, and you get to live there for free. Second, would be crashing at a friend or family member’s house until you can save to pay rent or buy an alternative housing option. When it comes to the cheapest form of housing, you can buy it depends on how permanent a dwelling you want and the lifestyle. 

Permanent housing options have one of two cost categories: 

  1. labor 
  2. labor of love. 

You will pay someone to build a house or take your time to build either a traditional house or an alternative house. Since we are talking about the cheapest forms of housing, we won’t discuss the traditional home costs.

A fixer-upper is a mix of traditional housing and a labor of love. If you’ve missed all of the home renovations shows over the past ten years, a fixer-upper is buying an older, probably run-down house for cheap and fixing it up to either live in or sell. This may not be possible in this crazy real estate market of 2022, but you could search for deals through family and friends to see if something comes available. 

Check out our article on 25 alternative housing ideas to get a feel for plenty of ways you can live very inexpensively and, I dare say, cheaply. And in case you prefer traveling, here are the pros and cons to alternative travel housing. 

We’ve discussed the cost of all types of alternative housing options from the unconventional, more permanent, and travel-focused. You can visit each here to get a more in-depth look at alternative housing costs. 


Eva is a freelance copywriter specializing in all things real estate, B2B, PropTech, ReTech, CRETech. Owning rental property herself, Eva's love of real estate has turned into a passion for alternative housing options and educating people about the different types of housing available.

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