The 7 most unusual building materials

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From living in caves man graduated to using stones and wood to build houses. While modern construction still makes use of these materials along with brick and concrete, some people have broken with tradition and used a breathtaking variety of materials to construct houses. Shipping containers, plywood, limestone, woodpile, bales of straw and sawdust are a few of the non-traditional materials people have used with success to create living spaces. Even more exotic is the use of tires, barrels, bottles, tin cans and corrugated boards in the construction of shelters. Some have even gone out of the way to use cakes and confectionaries to build houses straight out of Grimms Fairy tales. It only needs imagination to use discards as inputs for buildings that are sustainable as well. Unusual materials have been used to construct houses for the poor and exotic, stand-out buildings. Here are the 7 most unusual building materials used to good effect in construction.

Sawdust concrete

Perhaps the first recorded house made of sawdust concrete can be claimed by Wait Friberg built about 60 years ago in the post WWII era when shortages were the order of the day. The lumber industry generates tons of sawdust and wood shavings that can be used as admixture in concrete or it can be combined with diatomaceous earth. The result is a lightweight structure with good insulating and fire-resistant properties. There are limitations. Sawdust concrete may not be waterproof and, therefore, is better used for indoor purposes such as flooring slabs and walls. Sawdust concrete is experiencing a revival, especially in regions where diatomaceous earth and sawdust are available at low cost and in plenty. Sawdust concrete structures have inherently better insulating properties and reduce energy bills besides possessing other qualities. Environment friendly, this building material also has sound proofing qualities, rot resistance, resistance to fungi and it also controls humidity levels.

Bales of straw

One of our range of outdoor bars homify Rustic style garden
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One of our range of outdoor bars

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Straw has been used since ages as roof thatching. Straw can be compressed in pressed to form very compact bales and some people have used their imagination to make walls inside homes using these bales. Straw has good insulating properties and it is cheap. It is also environmentally friendly. The disadvantages are that straw catches fire all too easily, occupies more space and is not immune to vermin infestation. Interestingly straw houses date back to the Paleolithic era and were popular even as late as the 16th century. Where wood was at a premium, as in some parts of America with vast farmland stretches, the straw generated was used after being compacted into bales. Bales of straw can be stacked together and pinned with bamboo or wood dowels with or without support of wire mesh. It can be left as it is or it can be plastered with adobe, making for an environment-friendly and sustainable structure.

Woodpile

The use of wood for construction is nothing new. From rustic log cabins and barns to entire mansions made of polished wood panels we have the entire gamut of dwellings made of one of nature’s finest building materials. Regular construction of a wooden house starts with the frame to which wood panels or slats are nailed. However, an unusual method could be to use waste pieces from the lumber yard to put together a home using a woodpile. Odd sized pieces are stacked and joined together to form walls with a decidedly rustic touch. Woodpiles, even engineered wood, can be used creatively to make partitions and furniture in eye-catching ways. Wooden piles with their odd-even surfaces add texture and variety to homes. These can be left as they are or painted or varnished to provide a pleasing, natural pattern.  It can be a painstaking process to use small pieces of wood and fit them together but the effort is well worth the look you achieve. Using wood for construction also means reducing the carbon footprint.

Limestone

Limestone is a slightly porous sedimentary rock and its use in architecture dates back to thousands of years. As a solid building material It is easy to work with and can be chipped and carved as can be seen in innumerable temples and forts around the world. Use of limestone blocks to build walls in houses is common, especially in areas where it is quarried and where wood or other materials are relatively expensive. Quarry cut limestone has relatively flat surfaces and can be laid one atop the other with mortar to create walls. Some techniques do away with the use of any mortar to make dry stack limestone walls that will last for hundreds of years. Whether made using machine cut stones or natural shapes, limestone walls and houses made using this natural building material have a rustic charm and timelessness to them. Unlike kiln fired clay bricks, limestone does not crack or deteriorate with age and will last forever.

Plywood walls

Dual purpose audio visual media unit with concealed 9 feet cinema screen and wood panelled walls. Designer Vision and Sound: Bespoke Cabinet Making Modern media room
Designer Vision and Sound: Bespoke Cabinet Making

Dual purpose audio visual media unit with concealed 9 feet cinema screen and wood panelled walls.

Designer Vision and Sound: Bespoke Cabinet Making

Plywood as a building material comes as a bit of surprise but then people have used so many various materials. Plywood does have an even, flat surface and, when covered with natural wood grain veneer, it is also highly decorative. It is easy to work with and can be polished or treated to last for years. Some adventurous and creative people have exploited these qualities to build plywood walls in their homes, more specifically in the bedroom, instead of the usual gypsum based dry walls. Double plywood with a layer of soundproofing insulation inside is easy to put up. It can be painted or varnished. Further, there is a choice in the shades, ranging from the lighter shades of birch and oak to the darker shades of teak and mahogany to help users create just the right type of atmosphere inside. They do catch fire easily and are susceptible to termites and moisture but then nothing is perfect in this world. 

The plywood design shown in the picture above has been designed by Designer Vision and Sound : Bespoke cabinet making

Shipping containers

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Container home front street view

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Shipping containers are discarded by the thousands and have often been used as shelters by the homeless. So, is it any surprise that enterprising people have used these to create architectural marvels by way of homes that are good to look at and good to live in? A 40 ft container measures 40 ft x 8 ft x 8.6 ft height, more than sufficient to be partitioned into two rooms. Put them side by side, make cuts for doors and windows and you have a strong and durable living space. Shipping containers are built of thick gauge steel with corrugated walls and have a 7.8 foot door at one side with secure locking feature. Built to accommodate heavy weight, the containers can be simply placed on concrete or brick pylons and form the basis for a house. It needs only cuts for doors and windows, insulation cladding, suitable flooring and a ceiling to transform a cube into a home you can be proud of. Radical minds have invented radical methods and this is exemplified in the use of everyday articles that are transformed into the most unusual building materials resulting in living spaces with striking looks.

For more information on container homes, you can visit this ideabook - Container home—An eco-friendly approach to living


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