October 11, 2018
The best alternative to wood is concrete. At least when it comes to new home construction. Why would you need an alternative to wood? Well lumber might grow on trees but it sure isn't getting any cheaper! Many factors are driving the cost of lumber way up. Some studies have shown that these factors can add up to $6000 in extra costs to a new home. And that is a lot of "green".
While a lot of our designs are based around 2x6 wood construction, we also have many house plans that are based on concrete blocks. Some of our plans even offer an option to get the plan converted from wood to concrete block.
In the "industry", when we talk about concrete blocks, we refer to them as CMU. This stands for concrete masonry unit. The term CMU is used because they can come in many sizes and shapes. They can be solid or hollow. They can come with two or three cores or voids in them. So it is easy to use a generic term like CMU. Generally speaking a standard CMU block is 8 inches wide, by 8 inches high, and 16" long. They are lightweight (relatively speaking), fireproof, and durable, making them excellent for home-building.
Building a CMU based home has many benefits. Concrete is very strong so it can stand up to extreme weather events. But it's not just limited to high winds and driving rain. Concrete is very good at insulating against extreme heat and cold. And as of this writing, there aren't any known bugs that like to snack on concrete the way they do on wood.
So you have decided to build a CMU based house to cut down on the amount of lumber needed. What you need to know is that CMU's are used only on the exterior walls. What about the rest of the walls in your house? Are you stuck using wood there? That is not a simple answer. There is an alternative to using wood studs to build interior walls - they are called structural steel studs.
Building interior walls with metal studs has many advantages over wood. Steel studs will never warp or rot. They are not subject to termites or fire. Metal studs weigh less than wood, which can be helpful in multi-story homes. And metal studs are more affordable than wood. Yes, they are cheaper.
However there are a few drawbacks to metal studs. The main one being, they can not be used on load bearing walls. For any wall that is designed to carry a load you still need to build with wood. Yes, you could use steel beams and posts to carry the loads, but generally speaking load bearing interior walls will be made from wood.
Considering the rising cost of lumber, it is wise to use alternatives where they are available. A concrete block house with metal stud interior walls will go a long way towards saving money and making your new home a little bit more sustainable. It is important to look into new building materials and construction methods when you are hunting for a new home plan. A little bit of knowledge might be a dangerous thing, but it also might save you a lot of money and help build you a strong, safe, comfortable home.
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