Inexpensive Alternatives in House Building


Rising construction and energy costs and a slumping housing market fuel increase interest in economical, eco-friendly do-it-yourself housing alternatives. Echoing house construction methods from centuries past, materials such as straw and earth are being used to build relatively inexpensive, energy-efficient dwellings which can be completed in a short time by homeowners themselves, using basic foundations and frames of post or rebar.

Straw Bale Housing

  • Straw bale houses, first built in the 19th century, offer an affordable alternative to conventional housing. Bales available in various sizes are stacked like bricks on either rebar or posts, and the bales are sealed externally with stucco and on the interior with plaster. Costs depend on the price and availability of straw bales as well as the kind of frame and support desired, but straw bale homes can be built to any plan and size in most areas. Although straw bale housing offers a green alternative to conventional building materials, it can be vulnerable to erosion unless regularly re-plastered. And, unless thoroughly sealed, straw bales inside the walls can become prime nesting sites for a variety of pests.

Cob Housing

  • Cob housing draws from ancient building techniques, using earth and straw to create walls. A mixture of clay, sand and straw is kneaded like dough and compressed into place against posts. For larger structures, a cement mixer may be used. Cob housing can be shaped as the builder desires, and creates unique structures with the potential for additions at any time. With materials easily available in most areas from construction yards or private parties, cob houses can be constructed quickly and with relatively little expense. Cob structures, like straw bale houses, are subject to erosion and must be re-sealed periodically with stucco or plaster to prevent pests and mold.

Recycled Tire (Earthship) Housing

  • Made of earth and old tires, the earthship house offers energy efficiency and flexibility. Earth is packed into stacked tires, creating a thick wall which can be plastered or stuccoed. This type of housing is both energy efficient and eco-friendly, with the potential for recycling not only tires but other materials such as aluminum cans and plastic within the walls. Earthship houses can be built in a variety of shapes and sizes, and costs depend on the source and availability of materials used. According to the Day Creek Journal, some communities may have restrictions on the use of tires and similar materials, and permits may be required to obtain them.

Stackwall Housing

  • Stackwall, also called cordwood or stovewood housing, uses logs, either whole or split, placed into a bed of mortar. Sawdust or other materials fill the spaces between logs, and once completed, the walls can be sealed or finished with plaster or stucco. Due to the thickness of the walls, stackwall housing provides insulation for efficient energy use. Costs vary depending on the availability and amount of logs needed; in certain parts of the country, lumber may have to be shipped in. Constructed on a conventional foundation and frame, stackwall housing withstands erosion and can be built to a variety of sizes and plans.


  • Photo Credit straw house image by dinostock from
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