Unconventional Home Building Materials - Quicken Loans Zing BlogA few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I visited Death Valley National Park. We noticed a few ghost towns on the map but could only pick one because they were all at least two hours from each other, and we didn’t have time to see them all.  Ultimately, we decided to visit Rhyolite. This ghost town had a lot of cool stuff, including “The Last Supper” created by Belgian sculptor Albert Szukalaski. However, what really caught my eye was an interesting looking house at the fringe of town.

A prospector built the home, known as Tom Kelly’s Bottle House, in 1906. Using the only materials available to him, the lonely prospector gathered over 30,000 bottles and some scrap wood to build his house. It was pretty amazing to see this home in the middle of nowhere.

The Kelly House got me thinking though about other unconventional home building materials. From manmade to natural materials, you have a lot more options than you realize if you plan to build your next home.

Natural Materials

Straw bale
Straw bale homes date back to the 1800s. Many people who lived on the desolate prairie lands of mid America found that straw-insulated homes from the harsh winds. Plaster or wood exteriors held up well in that area, as well as in the New England and Western Pacific regions of the United States, and protected the straw from moisture.

Straw homes offer tons of great benefits, too. Tightly packed bales of straw insulate extremely well and have some of the highest R-values out there. TLC Home notes that this type of home can save up to 75% on heating and cooling. Contrary to what some may think, straw bale homes have high fire resistance ratings because the bales are packed so tightly. TLC adds, The National Research Council of Canada conducted testing where straw bale walls withstood temperatures up to 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit (1,010 degrees Celsius) for two hours.”

Cordwood homes look a lot like brick homes and are even contracted similar to brick homes. The clear difference is that instead of building up layers of bricks, you build up levels of cut, thoroughly dried wood.

Many people constructed cordwood homes because they’re relatively cheap and eco-friendly. Most builders use scrap wood found in forests or lumberyards. Like straw bale homes, cordwood offers high insulation ratings, which can save you money on energy bills.

Earthbag homes harken back to the adobe-style homes that many Native Americans built in the southwestern United States.  Although labor intensive to build, this type of home is relatively inexpensive to build compared to traditional homes.

Earthbag homes are tougher than nails. Studies done by Nader Khalili, founder of the California Institute of Earth and Architecture, show that these homes can withstand hurricane-force winds, fires, flood and pretty much any other natural or manmade disaster you can throw at them.

Manmade Materials

That’s right! Start saving your glass and plastic bottles because you could build your next home from them. Aside from their functionality, many of the bottle homes I’ve seen, including the one at Rhyolite, have looked like pieces of art rather than homes.

Bottle homes are benefiting people around the world, and villagers in Africa and South America use this building technique to make more efficient and safer homes. Experts note that builders fill bottles with compacted sand making them nearly 20 times stronger than bricks! Aside from energy and building cost savings, bottle-built homes offer more protection than traditional homes. Visual News notes that bottle houses are pretty much bulletproof.

Shipping containers
I’ve seen on a lot of green living and sustainability sites lately with people turning old shipping containers into their new home. The couple of container homes I’ve seen don’t even look like the old, rusty containers that I imagine stacked on cargo ships. More than just looks and function, shipping containers, according to The Daily Green, “are ‘nearly indestructible,’ as well as resistant to mold, fire and termites.”

Boats or ships
I don’t know about you, but recycling a ship and turning it into my home sounds pretty sweet. It’s my dream to live in a Great Lakes freighter. Seriously, those things are huge on the inside.

A few years ago when my family when to Put-In-Bay, Ohio, I heard a few people mention that a person actually bought the Benson Ford after it was scrapped and turned it into their home.

Just like ships, many scrapped airplanes got a new life as a home. In a Huffington Post article from 2012, Bruce Campbell, not the actor by the way, shares why he chose a 727-200 as a home. At first, even I had a little doubt, but the points Campbell shares make some sense.

The emergency features alone make an airplane a contender for a home. Aircraft are designed to withstand high wind speeds and high altitude pressure. Plus, planes have tons of emergency features and exit ways. Campbell also notes the wings make great decks, and I agree. I could see myself sitting on the wing of my airplane home, enjoying a summer evening.

While these unconventional home building materials may seem off the wall, they’re becoming more and more common. As recycling and sustainable living increases in importance, how we view scrap materials changes. All of a sudden a decommissioned airplane or freighter gets a new life as a house – preventing them from rotting away in a graveyard.

Could you see yourself living in a home built with these materials? Share your thoughts with other Zing readers!


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. That would be great, however few loans exist that let you build as YOU desire. Also would be great if green companies gave grants. For some, like myself, building our own home is just a dream. We presently live in a 16×7 travel trailer in someones yard.

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