How to Use Alternative and Unconventional Building Materials in Your Eco-Friendly Home

How to Use Alternative and Unconventional Building Materials in Your Eco-Friendly Home


I have decided to build an eco-friendly home using alternative and unconventional building materials. This allows me to reduce my environmental impact, support sustainability, and create a unique living space. However, working with alternative materials can be challenging if I don’t understand how to properly use and implement them. In this article, I will provide an in-depth guide on using alternative building materials so you can create your own eco-friendly home.

Considerations for Using Alternative Materials

When using alternative and unconventional building materials, there are some important factors I need to consider:

Structural Integrity and Safety

  • I need to choose materials that will be strong, sturdy, and structurally sound for the building application. Some alternative options like straw bale have good compressive strength but may require additional structural support. Consulting an engineer helps ensure safety.

Climate and Weather Resistance

  • I must select materials suitable for the climate and weather conditions where I live. Options like adobe do well in hot, arid environments but may deteriorate in cool, damp climates. Proper maintenance and protective finishes are key.

Availability and Cost

  • Some alternative materials like bamboo may not be available locally and have higher costs. I should analyze availability, supply chains, and budget when selecting options for my home. Using readily available materials saves on transportation costs.

Construction Techniques

  • Alternative materials may require different building techniques than conventional options. Taking time to learn proper installation and construction methods ensures my home goes up smoothly and safely.


  • Many alternative options allow me to create unique, one-of-a-kind aesthetics for my home. However, some materials like cob may not achieve a “clean” modern look. I should choose options that align with my desired style.

Energy Efficiency

  • Using alternative materials provides an opportunity to improve my home’s energy efficiency. Strategies like straw bale walls provide excellent insulation. I can reduce my environmental impact and energy bills.

Overview of Alternative Building Materials

There are many options when it comes to alternative and unconventional building materials. Here is an overview of some of the most popular choices:


  • Rapidly renewable and abundant source grown without pesticides. It can be used for framing, flooring, siding, and more. Requires preservative treatment for exterior applications.

Straw Bales

  • Agricultural waste product providing structure, insulation, and load-bearing walls for energy efficient homes. Must have proper moisture barriers to prevent rot.


  • Ancient material made from sand, clay, water and sometimes fibrous materials. Excellent thermal mass but requires protective plasters in wet climates.

Rammed Earth

  • Compressed earth into structural forms to create walls. Very durable but stabilization may be needed in wet environments. Requires formwork.


  • Mix of clay, sand, straw and water to form pliable material for hand-sculpted, undulating walls. Must be protected from water saturation.


  • Composite of hemp hurds and lime used as a lightweight, breathable insulation and plaster. Naturally resistant to mold but requires proper curing.


  • Polypropylene bags filled with earth used as a flexible, modular construction method. Needs protective plaster coating.especially on exposed sections.

Choosing the Right Alternative Materials

With so many alternative and unconventional options to choose from, deciding what is best for my eco-friendly home can be tricky. Here are some tips:

  • Consider my climate – Select materials that work well in the temperature, humidity, and weather conditions for my area. Adobe thrives in arid climates but not damp ones.

  • Evaluate my goals – Am I prioritizing energy efficiency? Natural aesthetics? Low budget? Choose materials that align with my goals. Straw bale excels for efficiency.

  • Research options thoroughly – Fully understand the benefits, limitations, installation methods, and maintenance needs for each material before making a decision.

  • Consult experts – Talk to architects and builders experienced with alternative materials to get professional recommendations. They can point out potential issues.

  • Review sample projects – Look at other homes that have used the materials I’m considering to better envision the end results. Try visiting some open houses.

  • Weigh availability and costs – Make sure options are accessible and affordable in my location. Local, abundant resources are most economical.

  • Consider combinations – Many projects mix alternative materials to maximize benefits. I may use adobe walls but bamboo for floors and ceilings.

  • Prioritize sustainability – Use natural, non-toxic options that align with my eco-friendly values. Stay away from materials like pressure-treated lumber.

Building With Straw Bales

One unconventional building material I am considering using in my eco-home is straw bale. Here is an in-depth look at constructing with this agricultural waste product:

Benefits of Straw Bale Construction

  • Excellent thermal insulation – R-value of R-30 or more
  • Good acoustic insulation and sound dampening
  • Uses waste straw, reducing landfill waste
  • Cost effective and affordable option
  • Can be used for walls, floors, roofs
  • Creates thick, sculptural wall aesthetics
  • Suitable for passive solar designs

Straw Bale Wall Frame Construction

  • Will use a post and beam frame secured to foundation
  • Posts spaced 4 feet apart around perimeter
  • Top of frame attached with box plate continuous members
  • Interior framed with ladder trusses spaced 4 feet apart
  • Trusses and frame stabilized with diagonal bracing
  • Window and door openings framed with wooden buck system

Installing Straw Bale Walls

  • Bales stacked like bricks and pinned together with rebar
  • Bales staggered to offset vertical seams
  • Walls stacked to at least R-30 insulation value
  • Gaps stuffed with straw to maintain insulation
  • Bales wrapped at top with water barrier membrane
  • Protective wire mesh nailed to posts over bales

Plastering the Straw Bale Walls

  • Will apply three-coat earthen plaster for protection and aesthetics
  • Base coat of sand and clay slip with fiber reinforcing
  • Second coat with more clay content for water-resistance
  • Final finish coat using fine clay slip and sand mix
  • Lime wash over finish coat for additional weather proofing
  • Plaster coats built up 2-3 inches thick over bales

Straw bale construction provides excellent insulation and reduces my home’s environmental impact. With proper installation and protective details, it can create a durable, energy efficient eco-friendly home.

Building an Adobe Home

In addition to straw bale, I am considering using adobe as a natural building material for my eco-friendly home. Here is more on constructing with this ancient technique:

Benefits of Adobe Construction

  • Excellent thermal mass regulates interior temperatures
  • Made from abundant natural materials like clay and sand
  • Can use recycled materials like crushed glass for aggregate
  • Does not require firing reducing embodied energy
  • Thick walls provide thermal insulation and sound dampening
  • Can be molded into organic, sculptural forms
  • Naturally fire resistant and durable with proper maintenance

Creating Adobe Blocks

  • Will create standardized adobe blocks for efficient building
  • Mix measured ratios of clay-rich soil, sand, and chopped straw
  • Clay content of 30% provides good stability and plasticity
  • Soil soak and chopped straw increases tensile strength
  • Pour mix into open-topped wooden block forms
  • Allow blocks to dry for 4-6 weeks before handling

Adobe Home Design Considerations

  • Requires large roof overhangs to protect walls from rain
  • Inner bond beam provides lateral structural reinforcement
  • Buttresses or pilasters added on exterior for stability
  • Wall thickness at least 14 inches for insulation and mass
  • Windows recessed with deep sills and arched tops

Building Adobe Walls

  • Spread thick mud mortar bed on foundation
  • Stack blocks like bricks with mortar between layers
  • Use ladder pattern staggering vertical joints
  • Reinforce with rebar pins every few layers
  • Form bond beam and pilasters as walls rise
  • Plaster interior and exterior with earthen mix

Adobe is time-tested, natural, and beautiful. With careful detailing, it can provide a thermally efficient and environmentally responsible home.

Using Alternative Materials for Roofs

The roof is also a key area where I can integrate alternative and eco-friendly materials into my home’s construction:

Green Roof Systems

  • Installs a layered system of waterproofing, drainage, growing medium and plants on the roof surface
  • Vegetated surface provides insulation, absorbs rainwater, and creates habitat
  • Heavier than standard roofs so may require additional structural support
  • Best integrated during initial building design due to load requirements

Thatch Roofing

  • Uses bundles of straw, reeds, heather or other plant materials for a rustic roof
  • Lightweight and easy to repair by replacing damaged sections
  • Susceptible to mold, fire hazards which requires strict building codes
  • Excellent insulation from thick thatch layering

Metal Roofing

  • Durable, weather-resistant, and long-lasting roofing like zinc, copper, or stainless steel
  • Higher recycled content than other roofing like asphalt shingles
  • Requires careful installation for waterproofing
  • Can collect rainwater efficiently in some climates
  • Increased longevity offsets higher initial cost

Bamboo Shingle Roofing

  • Made from natural, renewable bamboo split into flattened shingles
  • Installed like wood shakes but with better fire resistance
  • Must be treated for exterior durability
  • Lightweight and easier to install than tile or slate

Using eco-friendly roof systems reduces environmental impact while protecting my home for many years to come. They are a key piece of my alternative building plan.


Building a home with alternative and unconventional materials allows me to minimize my environmental footprint while creating a unique, healthy living space. Options like straw bale, adobe, bamboo and green roofs provide excellent sustainability benefits. By researching thoroughly, consulting experts, and learning proper installation techniques I can successfully build an eco-friendly home using these alternative options. While the process may require more time and effort up front, the long-term benefits for my home and the planet make it worthwhile. With good planning and execution, I look forward torealizing my dream of a comfortable, energy efficient home built from the earth using natural and unconventional building materials.