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Building a Home on a Budget: the Most Affordable Materials

Building a Home on a Budget: the Most Affordable Materials
4 min. read

Image: sculpies / Shutterstock.com

Building a home from scratch is a dream that many strive towards. The benefits can be amazing; a home that is designed specifically for your needs and desires, packed full of all the features you value most.

But building a home can be a costly endeavor. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep costs down. Check out these affordable building materials that can help you realize your dream.

Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are becoming increasingly popular as a building material. Strong and durable, they don’t need foundations or a roof, two of the most expensive elements of any home. They’re also extremely easy to put up — simply drop them in place and you’re done!

They will need insulating, however this is a relatively simple job and not very expensive. Shipping containers are popular for tiny homes, but it’s becoming more and more common to use several to create a larger home. Indeed, it’s possible to build a multi-story home by stacking them.

By adding wooden cladding on the outside, you can improve the aesthetics considerably, creating a home that is affordable, attractive, and easy to construct. Besides the savings on materials, you’ll also save on labor costs.

Prefabricated Sheets

Prefabricated, or prefab, homes once had a bad reputation for looking cheap and being of poor quality. However, times have changed and prefabricated sheets have adapted to suit the modern world, offering an extremely durable, easy-to-install building material. They’re still extremely affordable, but gone are the days of poor quality panels breaking down within a few months.

Modern prefabricated panel systems guarantee tight-fitting sections that will last for years. Offering full flexibility, you can create an entirely custom home that can be built in advance to prevent waste and speed up installation. Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) are filled with air-tight expanded polystyrene insulation, sandwiched between a waterproof exterior membrane and a gypsum inner layer. Made from recycled materials, they are both termite and fire-resistant, and also lower your carbon footprint.

Straw Bales

Straw has been used for millennia as an insulating material and while it had fallen out of favor in the western world for a time, it’s coming back with a vengeance. With natural insulating and heat retaining properties, they’re the ideal material for creating the walls of your home. They will be thicker than typical walls, but can easily be carved to allow for decorative window and door openings.

Easily covered to protect the exterior and make the interior more attractive, they’re extremely flexible and can create homes of all shapes and sizes. You might think straw bales would present a fire-risk, however their thickness makes them more or less fire resistant.

It’s worth bearing in mind that straw bales are best used in drier climates.

Reclaimed Timber

Reclaimed timber is bountiful and affordable, and increasingly popular as a building material. It has several benefits over fresh timber as well. Since they’re older, reclaimed planks have normally fully dried out, ensuring they’re less likely to warp or split, making them more durable. They can be used for a multitude of tasks, including countertops, hardwood floors, exterior cladding, and even roofs.

They also offer various environmental benefits, reducing your carbon footprint. A key characteristic is that each piece is unique, offering a mosaic of textures, grain patterns and colors. This can present a challenge during construction however, as it can be difficult to match pieces and fit them together tightly. But, on the whole reclaimed timber is affordable, environmentally friendly, extremely versatile and attractive.

Traditional Bricks

Traditional red bricks are also becoming increasingly popular. Once a standard in industrial times, nowadays lighter cinder blocks have become a more common building material. However, traditional bricks are far more durable, fire-proof, weather resistant, and also offer fantastic soundproofing.

Bricks are fairly affordable when they’re new, but to reduce costs further, while giving your home more character, you can also seek out reclaimed bricks. Brick laying is a skill, and it’s normally necessary to hire an expert to do the work, which can lead to increased labor costs.


Cultures around the world have long used the insulating properties of the earth, from the beer cellars of Bavaria, to the buried wine vats of the Republic of Georgia. Perhaps inspired by the hobbit houses of the Lord of the Rings, homeowners and construction experts are now using the earth to create a home that requires very few additional materials.

By digging into the earth, you can create natural walls that offer unbeatable insulating properties. Alternatively, packed earth, clay and sand bricks called pisé can be formed to create an affordable alternative to more expensive wall materials. In some cases, it’s possible to use the earth that is removed for the foundations for this.

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