How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

Five Alternative Construction Methods

Today I want to talk about some alternative building methods. These methods can be used for structures of all kinds, from root cellars to animal shelters to full on homes.

I’ve always been fascinated with the different kinds of structures we build, and how we ended up going from efficient structures to stick built houses like we use today in most residential applications.

Earth Sheltered Structures

Earth sheltered structures use a bunch of dirt against the walls to provide external thermal mass. This reduces heat loss and makes it nice and easy to maintain a steady temperature inside the structure.

People have been making earth sheltered homes for centuries, and they are still used on a regular basis with modern technologies. Bill Gates’ home is a 66,000 square foot earth sheltered home.

Water can be an issue with these type of buildings, and air filtration is a huge issue. It can be tough to get good air circulation.

Underground Homes

Underground living can either conjure the image of a hobbit home or a more uncomfortable bunker style home. The benefits and drawbacks of underground homes are similar to earth sheltered homes, but they usually have a completely covered roof.

These buildings can be pretty fascinating. There’s a good book out there by Mike Oehler called ‘The $50 and Up Underground House Book‘ which is quite entertaining. Definitely food for thought.

Similar to an underground home is an ‘umbrella style’ home that is above grade but uses an umbrella type roof that makes it look like it’s underground. This picture is an example of one of those homes … you should check out the site for more information!

One interesting variant is the ‘wofati structure’ which is similar to the structure that Oehler describes. Paul Wheaton has a good description of this type of structure, so go and check it out!

Landscape Timber Construction

I don’t know much about this, but I thought it was interesting. The concept is to use those 8′ landscape timbers that you can buy at the lumber yard and build a structure with them. Instead of going into details here, check out this page that shows a nice home that someone built using this method.

Straw Bale Construction

Straw bale construction uses bales of straw as a structural element. Buildings are constructed by stacking rows of bales on a footing or foundation, tying them together with pins or rebar. You then cover them with a stucco or plaster layer to keep the water out of the bales.

The bales themselves can provide structural support, or you can use them in between the poles of a pole building style structure. This is generally useful for structures in heavy snow areas.

Straw bales provide quite a bit of insulation and thermal mass for a building, which makes them very temperature stable.

Cob Construction

Cob is a building material made from clay, sand, straw, water, and dirt. It’s fireproof, resistant to earthquakes, and it’s cheap. It’s also a bit of a pain in the ass.

Cob has been used since prehistoric times, and is still common in some parts of the world. In some parts of England you can find 500 year old cob buildings that are still going strong.

The walls in a cob home are about two feet thick, providing a huge amount of thermal mass that maintains a steady internal temperature.

One nice thing about cob is that you can actually put artwork into the building itself. Some of this art can be incredibly intricate.

For some reason cob has really had a resurgence in the Pacific Northwest. One of these days I should go see if I can tour one of them…

Wrapping Up

There are certainly plenty of other techniques that you could consider alternative building methods. But I wanted to give you a few that I thought were worth knowing about.  Which one is your favorite?

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4 Responses to Five Alternative Construction Methods

  1. Ferrocement is another type of underground house and water storage. This company has a website: then click on construction. There are three videos on their page showing Structural Steel, Shotcrete, and Waterproofing. It also has two links to You Tube. Showing: Construction Skeletal Steel AND Construction WaterProofing

    This is my next home. It’s underground, insulated, strong, and one of the most inexpensive building techniques.

    The most positive thing regarding this type of structure is that it goes up fast, covered fast, and allows you time to complete the inside.

  2. Used wood pallets make great framing materials. You can put them together with screws and torn apart pallets to build small buildings. I am getting ready to build a shed with used pallets and some used metal roofing I got from a roofing contractor.

  3. These building types lend themselves to a small fortified storage/safe room or outbuilding one could add to a typical urban home, code permitting, (cause I’m sure everyone follows code.) Extra thick fire proof walls and roofs, ability to secure entryway frames better than on a stick house, low cost, and you can do most/all the work yourself so fewer people need to know you’ve even added anything. With some planning, you could even do an aesthetically pleasing fallout shelter.