An alternative to the concrete block house in the Philippines – a radically different approach

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Philippine concrete block houses, the good the bad and the ugly.  The typical Philippine house is a metal-roofed concrete box exposed to the blistering tropical sun.  The heat absorbed by the thermal mass of the building ensures that the house is uncomfortable all night.  These houses are not too different from the hot boxes prisoners are put in for punishment in movies such as “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.   Indoor air temperatures typically reach 90F or more and rarely drop significantly at night.

So why do people build and live in such houses?  There are good reasons. They are affordable.  Local workers know how to build them.  Concrete block house resist most of the many environmental hazards in the Philippines.  They can be cleaned up and re-inhabited after being flooded, they resist typhoons, insects don’t eat them, they are fire resistant and keep out intruders.   Basically these buildings are sand and gravel reinforced with a little (sometimes too little) cement and steel.

Of course air conditioning can help make life in the concrete house tolerable, but energy costs in the Philippines are very high.  There are ways to help keep concrete houses cooler.  Light colored roofs reflect rather than transmit the heat.  Insulation and reflective foil also can help.  Shading the building so that it is not exposed to direct sunlight is very important.  This can be done with trees and other plantings and/or can be done with architectural details such as louvers and awnings.  We will outline some of those measures in another article.

How about a radically different approach?  Friends of ours who live in Baja California in Mexico saw a house going up which used a concrete foundation a steel framework insulated with thick Styrofoam panels.  This part of Mexico is similar in many respects to the Philippines.  Below we present a series of photos of the construction of the house.  We don’t have many details but we know that many persons building in the Philippines want to avoid the typical concrete block construction and are willing to investigate alternatives.  Hopefully these photos will provide some inspiration.  Unfortunately, we can’t provide more detail except to say that the house was finished, inside and out with parge or stucco, perhaps a sprayed concrete material.

Baja overview

Steel framework bolted to concrete floor

Baja overview floor

styro truss 3

baja anchor

Are these Hilti anchors?

This house was a kit.  It could be easily and inexpensively welded-up in the Philippines

This house was a kit. It could be easily and inexpensively welded-up in the Philippines







Comments (16) Write a comment

  1. Very interesting, and it provides for an open floor plan. It will need a strong wind rating material on the outside for typhoons.

    Also, I notice they have all of the diagonal supports slanted in the same direction, it’s better to have them high on all outside corners and then keep repeating that same parallel angle for each support until the left and right side of the wall’s supports meet in the middle of the wall to form a V. |\\\\\/////|
    this method best secures the corner posts in the strongest way possible, if the corners fail, the whole wall fails.


    • This house was built in Mexico, next to a friend’s house. He was kind enough to send the photos. So, of course, we can’t supply any information on the builders. Sorry.


  2. The styro foam board can be installed in on the walls of the concrete block . In between furring strips. Then covered up with plaster board. Which would be be costly though . How about covering with the nipa weave?
    The foam board can be installed on the out side as well . But from what I have seen, It is then covered with first a primer than a coat of silicone, Then some mesh . And lastly stucco type covering . Also costly
    A Japanese man in leyte built a false wall in front of the concrete wall to shade it .
    With a space at the bottom and in between for air to flow .
    Sounds like a great idea . He said it kept the wall from heating up .
    I would like to do that and insulate the wall . Maybe the interior .
    Having a steel frame with foam board inserts would work good. But . Come a hurricane ? A piece of wood flying at 100 plus miles per hour ? Ouch .
    The Japanese guy also installed a false roof over the main roof . Sort of after the fact though . If the roof is insulated and built as posted by Bob and Carol. I think that would not be needed .


    • Paul,

      I am not sure what the answer is except that uninsulated walls in a tropical climate don’t make sense. Here is one product which makes sense but there are many questions to ask since in the Philippines we have to deal with typhoons, flooding and earthquakes. The alternative has to deal with these environmental hazards and not cost too much more than hollow block. Of course there are the simple solutions; various types of screens, louvers, plantings which keep the sun off the hollow block. We can use double and/or tinted glass and we can insulate our attics. Whole house attic fans also seem like a worthwhile idea. As soon as it cools off in the evening, suck the hot air out of the house and get rid of some of the heat stored in our hollow blocks. Just a few thoughts.


    • Those blocks you have the link to look great . But they are not for load beating walls. They have 500 pounds psi compaction . I think cement block has 1500 psi . Maybe if a post and pillar type frame could be used with them . Are they available in the philipines ?
      Maybe a affordable system would be foam board insulation on the out side or inside glued on . Then covered with the nipa weave for looks . Or even the fiberglass Matt.
      The Japanese guy used only a false wall . With a space in between , The the block wall and a space at the bottom and top .
      So it would ventilate like a chimney
      He said the wall was cooler due to the shading effect and ventilation .
      Insulation should help even more . I would think .


      • Hi Paul,

        I use liteblocks in our construction sites and i notice them being used in more and more projects around Cebu – even high rises. Typical cement blocks (CHB) are 300psi and the load bearing ones are 750-1000psi so liteblocks are good enough for non-loadbearing walls. I like that they have steel reinforcements. Costs about the same as hollow blocks per sqm when installed. They produce in Cebu only so they charge for shipping if outside Cebu.


  3. I am interested in this kind of house.
    May I know your direct contact number please.


    • Sorry, no information to share on cost of this type of house. You will have to consult local contractors. Good luck.


  4. Hi Bob, I also saw this in my quest for cooling down my abode. I was thinking I could do something similar for my west facing wall as that is the only wall which gets direct contact from the sun. Since the wall is already there I thought maybe put styrofoam slabs and then pin them down with a cover such as the metal roofing. the other idea was to put the radiant barrier foil and then put the roofing material over it for the south wall… got this idea when I saw a huge building with roofing on the side – I didnt see any form of insulation though – my guess that it was to keep rain from going through the cement. Building is being used as a massage parlor – the legit type. Let me know what you think about the wall ideas. ~ thanks!


    • Noel,

      I am really not sure. Making sure the wall reflects as much heat as possible is good. Can you plant vegetation to shade the wall. This could be trees or a trellis with vines.



  5. Was interested in the alternative building methods as the one shown in mexico.I actually built a house in panama using a similar method except the foam panels called M2 where in 4×8 panels enclosed with wire mesh that was covered in cement sand mix and then plastered ,when dry it makes a very strong concrete wall with insulation properties and does not retain the heat.I believe the product is made by corning,if possible I will use the product to build my home in the Philippines.


    • Thanks for your reply. If you have or acquire photos or other info, please share it with us!


  6. “An alternative to the concrete block house in the Philippines – a radically different approach | My Philippine Life” was indeed a superb post.
    In case it owned a lot more pics this would most likely
    be even better. Regards ,Sheryl


    • Sheryl,

      Thanks for taking the time to post a comment on We agree that more photos of the house in Mexico would be helpful, especially ones of the finished house. Unfortunately, we don’y have a way to obtain them.

      Bob and Carol


  7. I’ve seen numerous constructions with this technique in Florida in the last 15 years. Lease sites for commercial purpose use are the most common. It’s being used for Clinics, retirement homes, public works buildings and even shopping centers. Styrofoam is a very strong material but has to be installed correctly and needs to be encased for protection. Stucco/concrete spray proved to be ineffective, Our company’s drive through service entrance had been “ding” & repaired too many times. Hope they can keep the price low in the Philippines.


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