Building? Consider these technologies and tips to cut construction cost

Stone cladding plates on the wall.

Stone cladding plates on the wall.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Building a home, whatever the size, is becoming increasingly expensive, not just because real estate prices have shot up, but also due to the increasing cost of construction materials.

With this in mind, just the idea of building a house from scratch can be daunting, especially when you consider these costs will influence your budget, layout and design.

When building, most people have a tendency to lean towards traditional materials. A house built using natural stone, for instance, has been the go-to standard in Kenya, yet is not the cheapest option.

From the production costs right from the quarry, to the labour intensive process of building with the material, a house made of stone is definitely going to wring your pockets to the last cent.

However, with the advent of new building technologies, you can comfortably build the home of your dreams. Alternative materials for construction of your entire home, or just part of it, will help you reduce the overall costs significantly.

Some of these materials are easy to use, therefore you can install them yourself in a DIY mini project, a factor that eliminates labour costs.

Besides being locally available and cheaper than traditional building materials, these products are also environmental friendly and sustainable. Here is a look at some of these alternative materials you can easily access within the Kenyan market:

Prefabricated panels

One of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to build a house is to use panels that have been prefabricated. Most of these panels come as part of a system that allows you to build a custom home for a lot less. Although an entirely prefabricated house is cheaper to put up, the panels offer a lot more flexibility.

Prefab panels save on cost of labour and time. They also significantly reduce on-site waste removal costs and eliminate material cost overruns and delays due to weather or shortage of construction materials.

Contrary to popular belief that houses made of such panels are plain and boxy, therefore unappealing to prospective home owners with an eye for good design, with the right experts, you can build the home you desire.

Panels made of expanded polystyrene (which is a common production material for pre-fab panels), come filled with air-tight expanded insulation and all necessary mechanical and electrical components. This helps reduce heat loss and gain, resulting in a home that has a lower carbon footprint.

Concrete sheets

Concrete is popular in exterior design of residential homes, and concrete sheets or panels are an easy way to achieve a stylish concrete look for less.

They are quick to install and are secure and stable. Other advantages include durability, weatherproof qualities, sound suppression and insulation properties. Since they are prefabricated, they also carry the benefits of general prefabricated panels. Moreover, these panels are fireproof.

Stone cladding

If you are not feeling enticed by the aesthetics of alternatives to stone and you still want that natural earthy look, then stone cladding is the way to go, and will cost you way less. Cladding is like a veneer that is applied to the exterior of a home.

It is lighter than a standard stone exterior and consequently costs much less because it saves on labour as well as materials. It can be used for the entire façade of the house or for just a portion, such as the base of the home or the chimney. It can be rustic or modern and can mimic different types of stone finishes, and comes with different thicknesses.

Cladding is also a great way to change the look and style of a home without building anew. This makes it one of the best affordable building materials when you are on a budget.

Used shipping containers

Used shipping containers are one of the more environmental friendly ways to build an affordable house. Containers as an alternative housing option were made popular globally by the tiny home movement. However, if you choose to use them, you are not limited to a tiny living space since you can get a roomier structure by using multiple containers.

With some bold styling and clever placement of the containers, which can be achieved by soliciting an expert’s help if you are short of ideas yourself, and incorporating other materials such as glass and wood, you can give your home the ultimate look of elegance and class.

However, there are things to keep in mind should you choose to use containers to build. First is rust, dents and other damages that may accumulate over long voyages at sea. It is better to go for newer containers which might be a little bit more expensive, but which will ultimately give you a more durable home.

You also need to be aware of insulation costs. Options for this include spray foam insulation, insulation panels, blanket insulation or more eco-friendly but more expensive wool or cotton insulation. Rusting can be mitigated through treatment of the container on site. Sandblasting any rust off and getting down to the bare metal is advisable. After it is clear, the container is ready for priming, sealing, and painting.

If the container develops rust areas over time, clearing the rust with a wire brush and sandpaper works best. Once the area is clear of rust, apply vinegar and let it dry. Applying a layer of appropriate paint, either ceramic paint or a direct-to-metal paint will protect the container from further corrosion.

Reclaimed timber

Reclaimed timber is not only one of the most common and cheapest building materials, it is also one of the trendiest. Whether it is shiplap or rough-hewn timber, this type of timber can be a stylish choice for building a new home. It creates a home that has instant character and history that you cannot get from modern, new materials. Old timber is usually more durable and dried out, which means it is less likely to warp or split.

However, timber may come in different and unique shapes and sizes, which makes it challenging to use for construction. It may also be challenging to find and therefore requires a greater up-front time investment in sourcing.


While the idea of building with bamboo might sound a little unconventional, the material has been in use for centuries. It has evolved from being regarded as a poor man’s housing material to a contemporary and unique alternative to traditional materials. It is one of the most renewable types of building materials as well as one of the strongest.

Compared to wood, bamboo grows much faster, is pest resistant unlike wood, and therefore requires less maintenance. It also has a longer lifespan than wood.

That said, if you are going to use bamboo to build your home, it is important to find a builder who knows how to use it. This is because one cannot use traditional joinery techniques. In addition, it may not be suitable for dry climates because it can shrink or crack if there isn’t enough humidity in the air.

Typically, a house made of bamboo will require repairs or replacement after a decade, however, with proper maintenance, bamboo structures can last for centuries. For instance, in Japan, there are structures believed to be over 200 years old.

Traditional bricks

Brick houses are very popular because they tend to last a long time, as long as you do not live in an earthquake-prone area. It is fireproof, stands up to inclement weather and creates a very quiet home interior. While it costs more than some other options such vinyl siding, it is more durable and sturdier.

Exposed brick walls can serve as interior decoration and reduce the cost of painting and plastering. Costs can vary with the type of bricks, but traditional red ones are affordable.

When budgeting for bricks, make sure that you include installation costs as a professional is critical. Improper installation can make the brick susceptible to damage, or the weight can affect the stability of the foundation.


Plastic is recycled every day, hence it is easily available and cheap. Most people use plastic for roofing, windows and insulation as well as plumbing fixtures.

Creative architects and designers can, however, come up with novel ways to use this material in home construction, such as using as vinyl sidings.

Interlocking blocks

Interlocking blocks cuts the cost of construction by between 30 and 37 percent, thereby improving the affordability of building a home. They are made by mixing crusher powder, cement and sand. They are an effective and proven earthquake resistant construction materials, as the self-locking pattern of the bricks enables the seismic forces to travel across the whole structure equivalently.


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