Updated Nov 4, 2022
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Building a home is a massive undertaking that requires careful consideration and planning. You’ll need to consider several factors about your new home, and while this can seem overwhelming, the result is well worth it.
One of the big decisions you’ll need to make early in the process is what type of material you want to use. This article outlines traditional building materials, energy-efficient options, and primary aspects to consider as you weigh your choices. Of course, you can always consult your contractor or home builder for assistance, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
The best building material for your new home hinges on multiple factors. While wood might be the perfect choice for one person, helping them create their cozy, inviting dream cabin, concrete forms might be the ideal material for another individual. Ultimately, the best home building material comes down to your situation: where you live, your budget, the soil at the site, and several other factors.
Historically, laborers built homes from traditional materials, such as wood, stone, brick, and clay. While most of these materials are still prevalent in home builds today, many don’t serve the same purpose as they once did.
As a go-to material for home builds, wood has been a featured material in shelters and structures for thousands of years. Although numerous synthetic materials and other alternatives are available today, many building projects still use wood as an integral element.
Compared to other materials, wood is relatively affordable, lightweight, and easy to work with. You can easily attach drywall and siding to it. And no matter the type of building, it offers a degree of insulation, aiding in trapping warm air in and cool air out. While cutting down thousands of trees to produce wood for building projects may seem bad for the environment, it doesn’t have to be.
Homeowners can source wood for their new build from responsible timber suppliers dedicated to sustainable forestry. Of course, prices may be slightly higher than wood sourced from other suppliers, but sustainable deforestation is always an option if this is an essential aspect for you.
That said, wood in construction has its drawbacks. For instance, wood only lasts a few hundred years (less than other materials), is susceptible to fires and moisture damage, and may fall prey to destructive pests (such as termites).
Costs associated with wood homes vary based on the type of build. For example, if you’re building a wooden log cabin, you can expect to pay between $125 and $300 per square foot. On the other hand, if you choose a timber-frame house, you can expect to pay $200 to $250 per square foot.
Concrete is a common element in new homes, whether it comprises the foundation or elements of the walls and supports. It’s low-maintenance, strong, and durable, effectively managing the weight of the structure on top of it while managing the moisture in the soil around it.
Workers pour concrete into forms that shape the structure to create a concrete foundation or home. There’s a network of rebar inside the forms, which adds extra strength to the mud. Concrete combines cement and water, which hardens into an exceptionally durable material. Workers remove the forms once the material dries, leaving the newly shaped structure behind.
Generally, using concrete forms to build your home will run you anywhere from $5 to $8 more per square foot than metal or wood-framed homes.
Many historic homes feature bricks as the staple building material, although brick structures date back to 7000 BC in Turkey. In the American colonies, bricks were a go-to material. Laborers made the bricks by hand with clay and molds at the building site. Once the bricks dried, laborers carefully laid the blocks atop the other with mortar to “glue” them together.
Today, brick homes aren’t nearly as typical, despite the durability and longevity of these structures. The process of laying bricks is tedious and takes numerous laborers to complete the task within a short time, so many homeowners opt for alternative materials. In addition, maintaining brick homes is quite the process.
Load-bearing brick homes are rare in modern times, so bricks are now regarded as exterior siding or cladding. To install brick siding on your home, you can expect to pay anywhere from $9 to $28 per square foot.
Another standard building material is steel, which is fire-resistant and offers incredible strength without excessive weight. Given its nature, builders often use steel for large, multi-story buildings, as well as industrial facilities and manufacturing factories.
Steel offers an array of benefits, as it isn’t susceptible to moisture, fire, or termites (like wood). It can last for centuries and easily accommodates large, open floorplans without compromising the structural integrity of the building. In addition, steel is malleable, allowing architects and designers to build unique and unconventional building shapes.
On average, homeowners can expect to pay around $10 to $15 per square foot, a downside compared to wood-framed homes. But, it is so long-lasting that the extra cost may be worth it.
Although stone isn’t regularly used for load-bearing homes anymore, ancient civilizations used it to construct huts’ walls. These huts often featured thatched roofs atop the stone walls. Nowadays, home builders often use the stone to create the illusion of stone walls.
However, it’s simply an illusion, as most modern homes simply feature stone cladding. The material is durable and attractive and comes in varying colors, shapes, and sizes. While natural stone offers a beautiful facade for your home, it requires extra labor during the installation process, as the sheer weight of the stone draws the process out a bit longer.
Stone cladding generally costs anywhere from $5 to $11 per square foot for veneer siding, whereas natural stone siding is pricier, at $30 to $48 per square foot.
Masonry has been a popular building material for centuries. Ancient Egyptians used massive stone blocks to construct towering pyramids, and ancient Greeks used brick and marble to build beautiful temples. Today, masonry remains a popular building material.
It works well as a load-bearing material for several-story buildings and comes in varying shapes, colors, sizes, and materials. This gives homeowners more opportunities to exercise creative ideas in their new homes.
Of course, masonry isn’t without its drawbacks. Installing bricks, stones, and blocks requires extra installation time due to the excess weight. In addition, specialized artisans are often necessary to finish the project.
Masonry can encompass various building materials, including clay bricks, stone, and concrete blocks. Since masonry for your construction project can refer to different materials, costs vary.
Energy efficiency has become a substantial consideration for soon-to-be homeowners. How are you going to cut back on energy costs? How will you reduce building costs? What is your plan to reduce your environmental impact? These are all critical questions to ask yourself in the process. Luckily, modern technological advancements have made answering these questions much more manageable.
Steel holds up well for centuries, so you can recycle it easily. The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) produces materials for building homes, allowing builders to order customized steel beams and panels perfect for the home’s design.
Recycled scrap steel is excellent for the environment, as it minimizes the amount of wasted material. Plus, this renewable method reduces the energy produced by making steel (by 75%), which can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a new home. People recycle about 65 tons of scrap steel every year, which the SRI repurposes for various industries.
Concrete forms aren’t new to the scene, as the technology is about 60 years old. However, these insulated forms are again surging to the forefront of the construction scene as people discover the potential for energy savings using this material.
Instead of removing the shaping forms after the concrete dries, workers leave the insulating forms glued to the concrete. They become a permanent part of the structure and are often used in freestanding walls and building blocks.
These panels, known as structural insulated panels (SIP), consist of foam insulation sandwiched between cement, plywood, or strand board pieces. Some estimates claim SIPs can save homeowners about 50 percent in energy costs compared to homes built from conventional materials.
Builders can use the material for floors, basements, foundations, and load-bearing walls.
When folks recycle lumber, it can end up as composite lumber. Composite lumber is made of wood fibers and waste plastics in a 50-50 mixture. It’s more durable and less toxic than traditionally treated lumber and is more rigid than pure plastic lumber, as the wood fibers add extra strength.
This composite material is more resistant to mold and rot but is considerably more expensive than conventionally treated lumber.
Photovoltaic systems, also known as PV systems or solar panels, are an excellent way to produce energy and cut back on electric bills from the grid. Plus, it reduces emissions. Solar energy systems can sometimes provide 100% of the power you need for your home. This number may drop substantially in the winter as sunny days become fewer and far between, but this depends on where you live.
The United States Department of Energy attributes roughly 25 to 30% of residential heating and cooling energy use to heat gain and loss through windows. So, homeowners looking to build an eco-friendly home might want to consider installing high-performance windows to cut back on these costs.
Although bamboo is a fast-growing type of grass, builders can use it as “wood” for building homes. It proliferates, gaining one millimeter every 90 seconds, making it an excellent alternative to slow-growing trees.
Bamboo plywoods and hardwoods are naturally pest-resistant, easy to source, simple to maintain, and are up to three times firmer than standard hardwoods. It works well in any environment, including humid areas of your home (such as the bathroom).
In the past, homesteaders created dugouts in the earth, which offered excellent thermal mass. The little houses stayed cold in the summer, helping folks beat the sweltering heat. Adobe structures were standard in southern portions of the United States and Mexico.
While this might seem like dated building material, rammed earth is an option for building a new home. China, New Zealand, and Peru outline building codes for homes made of rammed earth, but the United States hasn’t established codes for this material.
Although rammed earth as a natural material is an option, soon-to-be homeowners in the U.S. will likely have a tough time finding skilled craftsmen to handle the project.
The grain industry produces thousands of straw bales as a byproduct, and unless they’re repurposed (many farmers and ranchers use them for bedding for various animals), they’re burned. While building a house of straw bales might be reminiscent of the big, bad wolf tale, straw bale houses are more substantial than you might think.
Home construction companies can use straw bales as insulation behind stucco and plaster walls, as the straw bonds well to these materials. If they’re kept dry, these bales can last thousands of years. Each bale weighs anywhere from 50 to 90 pounds, and to build a 2,000-square-foot house, you’d need about 300 medium-sized bales.
However, straw insulation is not allowed by building codes in many areas since it is flammable.
The concept of cool roofing works the same way as wearing dark or light clothes on hot, sunny days. To stay as cool as possible in the sunshine, you should stick to lighter-colored clothing, which reflects heat from the sun, while darker colors absorb heat.
Historically, cool roofing materials needed to be light in color to make the concept work. The lighter-colored roofing and shingles reflect heat from the sun, redirecting heat back into the atmosphere instead of into the house below. This helps homeowners in hot, sunny climates save money on cooling costs every year.
Recent advancements in cool roofing technology allow homeowners to select darker roofing materials that work the same way as lighter-colored materials. While these materials cost more upfront, they can help save money on your electric bill in the blazing heat of the summer. Talk to your builder or local roofing company for more information.
While it’s crucial to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each building material you could use for your home, these aren’t the only aspects you need to consider. Here are a few essential factors to consider when choosing the perfect building material for your home.
In all the considerations associated with selecting a building material for your home, your climate and the surrounding soil near the site can make or break your selection. In the early stages of the build, your team will measure the soil strength to determine how it will handle the home.
Generally, soil containing more rock and compacted sand or gravel is the most stable. You should discuss this aspect with your contractor, as it may affect which materials are best for your build.
In addition, you need to consider your local climate. Some materials hold up better in specific environments, so this is a crucial consideration. For example, if you live in a mountainous or wooded area, you might want to avoid materials susceptible to pests and damage in these settings. Or, if you live on the beach, you will want to avoid materials that will weaken with regular exposure to water and sand.
Many folks have a specific idea in mind of how they want their home to look far before the architect draws up the plans. So, you need to consider this as you browse for the perfect building material for your home.
You should consider your personal specifications, preferences, aesthetic tastes, and needs. This includes the interior and exterior of the building. What do you want the floors, walls, and windows to look like? What do you want the house to look like when you drive up?
Discuss your thoughts and ideas with your contractor if you’re unsure how to bring your vision to life. They might be able to show you builds similar to your ideas, which can help you formulate ideas for your home.
While it might not seem essential, you must consider the ease of installation for your chosen material. This can significantly impact the cost of your building project, as damage and labor costs can add up quickly.
For example, difficult-to-install materials may get damaged during installation, leading to higher costs as you replace broken materials. Or, materials that take longer to install will drive up labor costs as your construction team requires more time to install the materials.
One of the primary considerations of any building project is the budget. Although some folks have unlimited budgets, many individuals need to work within a specific monetary figure. So, you’ll need to consider various aspects of your build, such as labor, materials, and other significant sectors that contribute to the final cost of your new home.
The building materials you choose can drastically affect the cost of your new home. Choose a material that works within the parameters of your budget. Many soon-to-be homeowners may find it easier to break down their budget into sectors, allocating specific amounts to each sector. This can help you determine what type of material will fit your budget.
Remember that higher quality and foreign materials will likely be considerably more expensive than locally-sourced or substandard options. However, higher-grade materials usually raise your resale value. Talk to your contractor for help determining which building material is most sensible for your budget.
Some construction materials last longer than others, as some weather conditions are harsher than others. It’s essential to select building materials that will maintain longevity and durability in your climate’s environmental conditions.
In addition, it’s vital to do your part to protect the environment. You may want to consider investing in sustainable building materials, which can be reused to reduce the need to produce new materials in the future.
As you weigh the pros and cons of each option, it’s essential to consider the recyclability of each material. Since building materials can be extremely pricey, you may want to consider investing in recyclable or reusable materials. These materials can be less expensive than buying new materials, so discussing reusable materials with your contractor doesn’t hurt if you’re trying to minimize costs.
Of course, if you decide on recyclable materials, you need to work with professionals, as it’s crucial to ensure the materials are installed and used (this can affect their reusability).
Every home requires a degree of care and maintenance, but some demand more than others. The best materials require very little maintenance, as constant maintenance can add up quickly, especially if you hire a professional to handle each project.
So, choose a material that is both durable and requires little maintenance. Of course, you’ll need to maintain any material from time to time, but it’s best to purchase a material that will hold up well for years without requiring constant upkeep.
When considering building materials, it’s essential to consider the availability of each material. You might not have access to specific materials in some areas, so you’ll have to ship them in. This can slow down the building process considerably, as you may need to wait for a while until materials arrive.
Your build will likely go much smoother and faster if you choose readily available materials. Choosing locally sourced or readily available materials also helps minimize costs, as shipping costs on foreign or out-of-state options can add up rapidly.
That said, you can choose to ship materials in from a foreign country or out-of-state location for your build. If you go this route, make sure you plan accordingly. Order the materials before the build step so they’re ready when it’s time to incorporate them. Unless you are doing a DIY build, talk to your home builder about the timing.
Every building material has pros and cons, so while one material might be the ideal pick for one homeowner, it might not work for another individual’s ideas. With the above considerations in mind, you can better understand the benefits and shortcomings you need to keep in mind and how they’ll affect your new home.
Remember, choosing the perfect building material for your home is a significant decision. Since many homeowners don’t understand everything that goes into building a house, it’s essential to consult a professional. Discuss your options with your contractor and architect, as they can help you choose the best option based on your home plans.
In 2022, the most cost-effective material for building a house is concrete sheets. This particular material is easy to install and allows soon-to-be homeowners to save time and money on various aspects of the build, including on-site framing, pouring, labor costs, and avoiding weather delays.
Concrete sheets are affordable, secure, insulating, fireproof, and weatherproof, making them a solid choice for homeowners looking to minimize costs.
Steel offers the best strength pound for pound, making it the most robust construction material available. Of course, exotic materials, like titanium, are stronger than steel, but steel is the strongest, widely available building material that withstands the test of time.
Steel can be an excellent alternative to traditional wooden framing in new builds. Given its strength and lightweight nature, it’s a strong contender for framing materials in residential construction. Steel is a durable building material, so homeowners may want to consider it as an alternative to wooden framing.
The least expensive material to build a home out of usually includes concrete sheets, bamboo, and used materials. Of course, the least expensive material for your building project might vary based on your location due to availability, but these tend to be the cheapest options.
With proper care and maintenance, wood frame homes with concrete foundations can last well over a hundred years. Some materials will last longer than others – concrete, stone, and brick can last centuries due to their composition. So, homes made of these materials can last much longer than 100 years.
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