Alternative Building Materials For Homes

by | Last updated Jul 10, 2020 | Construction Practices, Houses

Modern homes are being built to higher standards and homeowners are now looking to alternative materials when building their houses. Fire and natural disasters have been heavily weighing on the minds of people looking to build new homes. I think this, sustainability, and more modern sensibilities for design are pushing people to think outside the wood frame box.


  • Fiberglass
  • Concrete
  • GFRC
  • Steel Frame
  • Shipping Container Homes
  • Metal Insulated Panels


Fiberglass or Composites

Fiberglass or Composite materials can be used for home exterior sheathing and as structural members. You can used FRP fiberglass reinforced plastic panels for house construction, or cast custom fiberglass forms. As an architect I have been interested in fiberglass as an alternative building material for a long time. You can build almost any form with fiberglass.

Here is an image if a fiberglass house prototype I designed.

Prefab Fiberglass house

Prefab Fiberglass prototype house I designed


Concrete Houses

Concrete House construction is certainly growing in popularity. There are different types of concrete construction techniques that can be used for houses.

  • ICF
  • Precast Concrete
  • Poured In Place Concrete

ICF Insulated Concrete Forms

ICF or insulated concrete forms is a popular construction technique for concrete homes. It is basically concrete forms that are made of rigid insulation. You pour the concrete into the forms and leave them there forever as the formwork becomes the insulation for the house. You still need to put a finish material on the inside and outside of the house.

Precast Concrete

Precast concrete is concrete that is cast in a factory and shipped to the job site. This has the advantage of great control when working in a factory instead of on site. The concrete mix can be accurately monitored and the parts can be more precise. This is more expensive then onsite concrete work and may not be available locally.

Poured In Place concrete

Poured in Place Concrete is obviously concrete that is poured into forms on the job site. Below you will see a picture of a poured in place concrete house we built in the flood zone. Concrete in the United States is becoming a more popular alternative building material for homes due to its durability, strength, and resistance to fire or natural disasters.

Alternative Building Materials Concrete

Alternative Building Materials Poured In Place Concrete House in NY (We built this house in the Flood Zone)


GFRC Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete

If I were to build my own house I might just use GFRC or Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete. This is a precast concrete that uses glass fibers for reinforcing. The components or blocks would be made in a factory and shipped to the site for assembly. GFRC is a cast material and can be made into almost any form you can think of. I would probably say GFRC would be my favorite alternative material for construction.

GFRC Alternative Building Material

Samples of GFRC an Alternative Building Material


Steel Frame Homes

Metal frame homes are a growing trend in alternative home construction. We have built several steel frame houses to replace wood frame homes destroyed by floods and fires.

There are a few different steel frame options. The easiest option is you can frame the house on site the same way wood frame houses are built but with metal framing. The detailing is more complicated then wood frame and the material is more expensive but it is a superior construction. Steel frame homes can also be prefabricated. The houses can be built in modules or penalized. The penalized systems are built like sheets basically sections of walls are framed in a factory and shipped out to the site.

At our architecture firm we tend to use very little wood construction. See the photo below of a house we did with metal framing.

Alternative Material Steel Homes

Alternative Material Steel Frame Home (construction photo of a house we did in NY)


Shipping Container Homes

Shipping container homes have been around for a while now. These are purely a matter of taste some people like them some people hate them. I personally would not live in a shipping container home but they are a somewhat popular alternative construction material.

There are many misconceptions about shipping container homes. First people often think they are cheaper. I am no expert but everything I know about container homes indicates that they are comparable in price to other houses of equal quality. The other misconception is that they are green. I really doubt this. I think they are actually wasteful for the most part. I think if you melted down the container and made metal studs you could build a lot more houses by recycling the metal. The only reason to build a container house is that you like the look of it or maybe you just think its a cool idea.


Metal Insulated Panels

One rarely use alternative material for home construction would be metal insulated panels. These panels are common for commercial construction or larger buildings but not so much for homes. There a basically nonstructural sandwich panels that have an insulated core and metal on the outside and inside face. The panels connect together on a metal frame.

Exterior Facade Metal Insulated Panels

Exterior Facade Metal Insulated Panels


Thank you for reading our architecture blob post on Alternative Materials for Home Construction.

Please feel free to leave questions or comments below. If you want to discuss your project with an architect you can contact us directly.


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Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.