This question has been asked a thousand times. What is the better building material? Concrete or wood? While there may be millions of reasons to why a person might decide to use either of the material, there is usually a certain trend regarding housing elements that can be seen in different countries. It might be the cause of mother nature, economical reasons or personal preference.

What really grabs my attention is a comparison between developed countries such as the USA and Canada with developing countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Studies show that an enormous percentage of housing in developing countries use concrete as the ideal form factor to build houses while wood being the more popular material for developed countries. Concrete houses are way more complex and expensive to build. They require more labor thus making them more expensive. Wood houses can be built faster, they are cheaper and the overall cost of production is lower. There must be a reason to why these countries prefer or are forced to use one of the two housing materials.

Economic reasons:

Cost of wood:

Some developed countries, for instance, the USA and Canada have an abundance of trees per capita whereas other developing countries might have fewer trees per capita. That makes wood the more accessible material for these counties. This leads to the concept of supply and demand. If there is an excess supply of a good, prices tend to be lower. Therefore it will automatically be the ideal thing to use.

Besides, Canada and the US have a certain breed of trees that are more suitable for housing. These trees tend to be long, such as pine and redwood which makes wood extraction easier and cheaper. Most developing countries use concrete as the number one form of housing because cement is considered cheaper. Wood extraction methods are not well implemented and most constructors are not trained to build such houses.

Cost of labor:

Brick and mortar houses require more labor than wooden houses. That is one of the reasons why people build big buildings with glass panels on the outside: saves labor. Kenya and Tanzania have cheaper labor, therefore, concrete houses are not that expensive.

Cultural Preference:
When the pioneers and settlers from Europe came to the America, there were far more trees than there is now, and the trees were the only building material available to them. Even in Europe due to similar reasons, common people had wood houses, only the nobles had brick/stone houses. In Kenya cement is produced locally and the people have been using the material before and after the colonial era.

In the US, wooden houses offer insulation. Even if one builds brick and mortar houses, one has to put layers of wood on the inside for insulation. This is why wood is very popular in colder countries.

Kenya and Tanzania are relatively warm countries and don’t need insulation. Even if you build a wooden house here, the humid environment will lead to more degradation over time. On the other hand, brick houses can withstand strong winds, bugs cant affect it and people there like the look and the design.

Does it even matter?
To a certain degree, it all matters. Location, preference, and labor largely impact the choice of building materials in certain countries.

Kenyon Ndezi is a recent graduate, writer, creator of; and the owner of, which is a company focused on building apps for small businesses and individuals. Follow along and get inspired!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *