Building a home – no matter what size—is increasingly more expensive, not just because of real estate prices but due to the cost of building materials. When it comes time to build, most people think about traditional construction materials such as wood, concrete, and bricks.
By getting creative with the types of materials you use, it’s possible to choose the cheapest materials that will help lower the cost of your new home.
When you seek out how to build a cheap house, take a look at alternative materials for the construction of the entire home or for various parts.
Some of these materials may be good options for your new home, while others will fall flat. It depends on your location, climate, and local building codes. In addition to being cheaper, many of these choices are also more environmentally friendly.
Summary of Affordable Building Materials and Key Characteristics
|Prefabricated Panels||- Quick and cost-effective construction|
- Customizable design with a tighter fit
- Saves on labor costs, time, and on-site waste removal
|Concrete Sheets||- Quick installation, secure, and stable|
- Durable, weatherproof, and fireproof
- Offers sound suppression and insulation properties
|Stone Cladding||- Provides the look of stone at a lower cost|
- Lighter than traditional stone exteriors
- Can be applied to the entire façade or specific areas
|Used Shipping Containers||- Environmentally friendly|
- Can be used to create larger structures
- Consideration needed for rust and damage on used containers
- Requires insulation and transportation costs to the building site
|Reclaimed Timber||- Stylish choice, durable, and less likely to warp|
- Environmentally friendly
- Potential upfront time investment in locating supplies
|Corrugated Metal Sheets||- Cost-effective and durable|
- Stands up to harsh weather conditions
- Requires low maintenance
|Bamboo||- Strong, renewable, and sustainable|
- Requires experienced builders in bamboo construction
- May not be suitable for dry climates
|Industrial Steel and Iron||- Cold-formed steel for residential construction|
- Does not rot, warp, split, crack, or creep
- Sturdy and cost-efficient for framing and roofing
|Eco-friendly Straw||- Natural material with thermal and insulating properties|
- Well-insulated and environmentally friendly
- Fire-resistant due to thickness
- Climate-dependent viability (not recommended in rainy, humid weather)
|Fresh Concrete||- Water- and fire-proof|
- Healthier building choice, low maintenance
- Can be left in its natural state or painted
|Plastic||- Plentiful supply of building material|
- Commonly used in roofing, insulation, and plumbing fixtures
- Potential for creative uses in construction
|Glass||- Makes indoor space light and bright|
- Desirable for creating dramatic structures
- Lightweight with a wide range of options
|Earth||- Can be used for home foundations, walls, or as a natural confinement|
- Rammed earth is a mixture compacted using a rammer
- Rammed earth homes use less energy and building materials
|Waste Materials||- Utilizes recycled and free items like cigarette butts and plastic bottles|
- Creative repurposing of old doors and windows
- Potential for innovative uses of waste materials in construction
- A sustainable option with minimal environmental impact
Popular Construction Materials
We’ve rounded up the most common types of materials that can be used when looking for cheap homes to build.
1. Prefabricated panels
One of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to build a house is to use prefabricated panels. These panels come as part of a system, allowing you to build a custom home for less.
According to Davis Frame Company, prefabricated panels save on labor costs and time. They also significantly reduce on-site waste removal costs and eliminate material cost overruns and delays due to weather or shortages of materials.
Homes constructed with these panels have speedier construction and a tighter fit since they’re factory-manufactured. Today’s premade panels can look high-end, and manufacturers can develop them based on your specific design needs.
2. Concrete sheets
Concrete is a popular material for the exterior finish of residential homes. And concrete sheets – or panels – are an easy way to achieve the concrete look for less.
Among cheap building materials, concrete sheets are quick to install, super secure, and stable. These panels are popular around the world and are gaining attention in the United States as well.
Concrete panels have lots of advantages, such as durability, weatherproof qualities, sound suppression, and insulation properties. Because they are prefabricated, they also carry the benefits of general prefabricated panels.
Moreover, these panels are fireproof. These benefits help save money on utilities and insurance, making concrete panel houses one of the cheap homes to build.
3. Stone cladding
Stone homes are gorgeous but expensive. You can get the look for less with stone cladding.
Cladding is a veneer you can apply to the exterior of the home. It is lighter than a standard stone exterior and costs much less due to the savings on labor and materials.
Stone cladding can be used for the entire façade of the house or for just a portion, such as the base of the home or the chimney. It can be rustic or modern and mimic different types of stone finishes.
Stone cladding comes in different thicknesses. It offers a way to change the look and style of a home without building anew. This makes it one of the cheap building materials when you’re on a budget.
4. Used shipping containers
The tiny home movement created a surge of interest in shipping containers as one of the cheap homes to build. Of course, using shipping containers as a cheap building material doesn’t mean you need to have a tiny house. To create a larger structure for a roomier home, use multiple containers.
Used shipping containers are one of the more environmentally friendly ways how to build a cheap house. Still, there are things to keep in mind if you choose to use them for home building. Because they have been on long sea voyages, rust, dents, and other damage can be a concern. This is why people often opt for “one-trip” containers.
Although they are slightly more expensive, one-trip containers are generally in much better condition. Shipping container homes still need insulation. Also, they have costs associated with shipping them to your home building site. Regardless, with good planning, used shipping containers are a very desirable cheap building material.
5. Reclaimed timber
Reclaimed timber is not only one of the most common cheap building materials, but one of the trendiest. Whether it’s shiplap or rough-hewn timber, it’s a stylish choice for building a new home. According to YR Architecture, Old timbers are durable and dry. In turn, this means they are less likely to warp or split.
In addition to increased visual appeal, environmental friendliness is a big reason to use reclaimed timbers.
While you can save money using reclaimed wood over traditional lumber, there can be a greater up-front time investment in locating supplies.
6. Corrugated metal sheets
If you really want to know how to build a cheap house, take a look at corrugated metal sheets. Once used for purely industrial purposes, they have gained popularity with the growth in industrial style.
Corrugated metal sheets have plenty of advantages besides cost. Steel is durable and stands up to harsh weather conditions, fire, and rot. It’s one of the easiest types of materials to maintain because all it needs is a fresh coat of paint or zinc coating to prevent rust. It’s also recyclable.
That said, corrugated metal might be difficult to work with because it is heavy and is not the best insulator, which can affect utility costs.
If you live in an area that is conducive to using bamboo, it can be a cheap building material that comes with other benefits, such as sustainability. Bamboo is strong and renewable. Asian cultures have used it for centuries.
That said, if you are going to use bamboo in building your home, it is important to find a builder who knows how to use it without traditional joinery techniques. In addition, it may not be suitable for dry climates because it can shrink or crack if there is not enough humidity in the air.
8. Industrial steel and iron
The popularity of the industrial style is also making cheap building materials like industrial steel and iron equally popular. Steel Sustainability reports that cold-formed steel is great for residential construction because it doesn’t rot, warp, split, crack, or creep. It lasts a long time and is completely recyclable. Steel framing is sturdier and more cost-efficient. It’s also a good choice for roofing because of its long lifespan.
9. Eco-friendly straw
Straw is a natural material with thermal and insulating properties. It’s also on the list of cheap building materials that can save you money. According to Building with Awareness, you can use straw bales to build the walls of a home, creating a structure that is well-insulated and environmentally friendly.
It may seem counterintuitive, but straw bales are fire-resistant, thanks to their thickness. Again, climate can determine the viability of using straw for your home. Experts don’t recommend using straw bale home construction in rainy, humid weather.
10. Fresh concrete
If you’re looking for how to build a cheap home, raw concrete may be the building material for you. Concrete walls are water- and fire-proof, in addition to being a healthier building choice. Because concrete doesn’t contain any organic materials, it won’t sprout mold or mildew.
Among the cheap building materials, raw concrete is low maintenance – you can leave it in its natural state or simply paint it.
We already reuse and recycle plastics for other consumer uses, why not for construction? It’s one of the cheap building materials in plentiful supply. Today, plastics in roofing, insulation, window elements, and plumbing fixtures are common.
Creative architects and designers can also come up with novel ways to use this material in home construction. This also helps develop plans for cheap homes to build. In certain areas of the world, people are building homes with empty plastic bottles as construction materials.
Yes, every house has elements of glass in the windows. But often, architects use glass as a building material. It’s highly desirable because it makes the indoor space light and bright. Moreover, if it’s a major part of the structure, it creates a dramatic home.
Glass might not rank highly among cheap building materials, but it does have advantages for home construction. It’s more lightweight than other choices, and there’s a wide range of glass available, from shatterproof to tempered glass and glass blocks.
It’s everywhere and easy to obtain: Earth. We dig into the earth to make the foundation for our homes, but increasingly, home builders are either creating homes inside the earth or using rammed earth for the walls of a home.
Perhaps fueled by the hobbit houses of movie lore, some are opting to dig, using the natural walls the ground forms as the confines of the home. Rammed earth homes are great because they use less energy and don’t need as many building materials.
Another option is using rammed earth, also called pisé, to build a home. For this, builders mix a combination of earth, sand, and clay and compact it using a rammer.
These sections, along with insulation, make the walls of the home. Some new companies, such as Watershed Materials, are using the very dirt they excavate from the home site to create the rammed earth walls.
14. Waste materials
You can find cheap building materials among the wastes of modern society. Creative builders are using all kinds of free and cheap items – everything from cigarette butts to plastic bottles and rubble from previous buildings.
Also, some are building new homes with recycled materials from old houses. For example, builders can use old doors and windows to create walls for a new home. As creativity and technology continue to develop, builders will use more types of waste as cheap materials for homes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What Is the Average Cost for Building a House?
While the average cost of building a house is $298,500, the majority of homeowners pay between $150,000 and $445,000. While you can obtain an estimate of what you might pay, keep in mind that there are several variables that affect the cost of construction. Of course, you can lower this cost through different methods, like opting for cheap building materials.
What Permissions Do You Need to Build a House?
If you want to build a house, you are going to need a land title, land clearance, zonal clearance, building approval, a completion certificate, an occupancy certificate, and services plus utility installation.
What Is a Design-Build?
This is a delivery method for construction projects. The organization of the team and the flow of information among project stakeholders is what distinguishes design-build.
Unlike other delivery techniques, design-build unites everyone around a common goal: wanting the project to succeed as a whole, not just their assigned component. Design-build encourages a collaborative environment for sharing knowledge and skills. This is because each firm’s success is contingent upon the success of the other firms.
What is the cheapest type of house to build?
In general, the cheapest type of house to build is a tiny home. If you’re looking at more traditional types of homes, then stick to a rectangle. That said, the specific location of the home and what materials you are using are among the factors in the cost. In the US, the average cost of building a home is $285,239
How long does it take to build a house?
In general, the average time it takes to build a house is seven months, according to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau report. However, these days, high demand, supply chain problems and problems getting enough labor can push that out to more than 10 months.
Other factors that can affect your construction timeframe are various approvals, weather and the specific homesite you have.
What kind of house can I build for $250,000?
For $250,000 you can get a house with about 2,000 square feet. In fact, this is just about $30,000 under the average US home construction cost.
That said, the location where you live will greatly affect what kind of house you can get for this amount. For example, suburbs around major metropolitan areas like New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles, are far more expensive. In New York City, $250,000 will get you a 900-square foot apartment. By contrast, a $250,000 house in Wichita, Kansas is about 3,500 square feet.
How much does it cost to build a 2,000-square-foot house?
It costs about $200,000 to $310,000 to build a new, a 2,000-square-foot home. That may sound like a big range, but other choices can run up or hold down the cost. Material choices like exterior cladding and interior finishes are big ones. As we already noted, your geographic location also has an effect on how much home construction costs.
How much does it cost to build a small house?
Small homes are traditional houses that are generally not bigger than 1,000 square feet.
(Keep in mind that a tiny house is anywhere from 100 to 500 square feet.) The national average construction cost for a small house is about $125,000. Of course, there’s a great deal of regional variation, so you’ll have to adjust the cost for your specific region.