Wall Materials

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There are many alternatives to bricks & cement for walls. Each one has its own set of properties.

More popular wall types

Concrete Blocks

  • Dense concrete block
  • Medium density block
  • Aerated or AAC block, less accurately known as breeze blocks.
    • fast & easy to work with
    • less sound absorption
    • must be rendered when otuside to protect against frost damage
  • Hollow concrete block
  • Patterned & decorative blocks used for garden walls
  • Making Concrete Blocks

Reconstituted Stone Blocks

  • Stone dust, cement & pigment.

Partition Wall

Wood or steel frame, plus walling sheets, any of:



  • Lime & sand mortar with various building blocks
  • standard mortar on historic buildings
  • Sometimes used on new builds
  • white appearance
  • lower embodied energy than cement
  • disposed of lime mortar becomes a normal part of the soil (chalk), thus eliminating the waste issue of cement mortars
  • lower compressive strength makes it unsuitable for high rise buildings
  • Non-hydraulic lime is very slow setting, and can be stored unset indefinitely if air is excluded
  • This slows down the build rate a fair bit, hence its unpopularity
  • Hydraulic lime is quick to set


  • Steel mesh cage filled with stone
  • Useful for retaining slopes that don't support a house
  • Widely used to retain river banks
  • Not fireproof, so not usable for habitable accommodation (it can be fireproofed, but is then subject to hidden rusting)


Types of stone wall:

  • Sawn (smooth faced blocks)
  • Coursed, blocks of mixed sizes a multiple of a unit of height
  • Hammer dressed (rough faced blocks)
  • Rubble walls (random sized uncut stone)
  • Dry stone walling (no mortar used)

Poured concrete

  • Poured into wooden forms in situ
  • Shuttering ply is mostly used
  • Diesel is an effective release agent
  • Polystyrene moulds are sometimes used, the polystyrene staying in place as insulation

Glass brick

  • Transmits light
  • Insulation not as good as double glazing
  • White cement mortar usually used for joints
  • Glass blocks require steel reinforcement in some of the joints, and an expansion strip round the outside


  • A one piece sandwich of plaster, card, straw, card, plaster
  • Low cost
  • Good sound insulation
  • Very poor strength, which can make fixing things to the wall problematic
  • Poor strength makes it possible to fall through one of these walls
  • Used between bedrooms in some cut price modern builds
  • Brand name Stramit

Less popular wall types

Dry Block Walls

  • Concrete blocks are stacked with no mortar
  • Wall is then covered with glass fibre reinforced render (fibreglass must be ASR resistant)
  • The render is a structural element
  • Quicker & weaker than a mortar laid block wall


  • Clay suboil, sand, straw or dung etc
  • Blocks


  • Subsoil, sand, straw, lime
  • Continuous construction, no blocks involved.

Cast Earth

Sprayed Concrete

  • Concrete is sprayed onto a form
  • Tyrolean sprayer usually used, though it can be done by hand
  • Very fast construction method, used for emergency housing after natural disasters
  • Curvy artistic shapes are readily achieved with sprayed concrete
  • Wet cellulose insulation can be similarly sprayed


  • Mixture of pulped paper, cement, sand, subsoil, plus assorted optional additives
  • Many mix variations, some optimised for insulation, some for strength, some for minimal cost
  • A wide range of waste materials can be incorporated into papercrete
  • Main article

There are 3 main ways to build walls with it:

  • Papercrete blocks stacked with papercrete mortar and papercrete render
  • Papercrete poured into plywood shuttering
  • Lath rendered with papercrete is another way to build papercrete walls. A tyrolean sprayer is often used


  • Subsoil & cement
  • Good for paths
  • Good under gravel drives to prevent muddy sinks


  • Bags filled with stabilised earth used as building blocks
  • Barbed wire included in wall joints for earthquake resistance.
  • http://www.calearth.org/

Rammed Earth

  • Aka pise de terre
  • Earth, sand, gravel, clay
  • A stabiliser is also needed in our wet climate, such as cement, lime or animal blood.
  • Continous build, no blocks
  • Poor strength requires thick walls

Roman concrete

  • Lime, pozzolan, sand & stone.
  • Cooked rice has also been found in exceptionally long lasting mortars of this type


  • Turf strips are stacked.
  • Contains topsoil, grass and roots.
  • The plant fibres stabilise & reinforce the soil
  • Rendered, often with mud plaster.
  • A low material cost walling option if enough grassed ground is available
  • Earth constructions require large roof overhang to keep them sufficiently dry

Straw Bale

  • Bales are stacked & the wall plastered
  • Bales may be load bearing, or a separate timber frame is used with bale infill.
  • Very low cost
  • Very fast construction method
  • Good thermal insulation
  • Excellent sound absorption.
  • Leaks must be repaired immediately to avoid rot
  • Can be built by children
  • Makes very thick walls
  • Render & plaster cover prevents combustion

Rice hull bag walls

  • Steel mesh forms each side of the wall
  • Space filled with polypropylene bags of rice husks
  • Barbed wire included in courses
  • Good insulation
  • Quick construction


  • Unfired clay bricks
  • Short life expectancy, around 30 years


  • Stacked tyres are filled with rammed earth, wall then mud rendered
  • No material cost
  • Ugly
  • Bulky

Drinks can walls

  • Interior non loadbearing wall
  • Drink cans are stacked with wet concrete between them, forming a concrete lattice wall
  • Wall is plastered, the plaster attaches to the ring pulls

Hollow Ceramic Blocks

  • Lightweight lattice-like fired clay blocks are stacked, with or without thin bed mortar
  • Wall then rendered

Ceramic Pots

  • Plant-pot like ceramic pots are stacked
  • Wall then rendered
  • Popular in Spain

Half Timbered

  • Vertical wood studs with close spacing
  • Mud plaster infill
  • Historic construction method for external walls

Wattle & Daub

  • Timber stud framework
  • Woven twig fencing panels (wattle)
  • Plastered with mud plaster (daub)
  • Historic construction method for internal & external walls


  • Fence posts infilled with 8"x2" T&G boards
  • Primarily used to retain earth
  • When not nailed to the posts, they require force on one side to keep them in place
  • Fast to build
  • Rot prone, unpopular in Britain

See Also