If you look at it from a high level, there is no obvious difference between chattel houses and concrete houses apart from aesthetics. Both of them provide shelter, they can be built economically, they both afford people the opportunity to experience home ownership and they are unique representations of Caribbean architecture.
Difference Between Chattel Houses and Concrete Houses
But if you want to get detailed and analyse this from a low level, then you will be able to hone in on more than one difference between chattel houses and concrete houses. Some differences that come to mind in addition to aesthetics are building costs, efficiency, maintenance costs, environmental impact and philosophy and of course, the materials used for construction.
Aesthetics is the only visual difference between chattel houses and concrete houses. People are attracted to beautiful homes. But as the popular saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Chattel house designs are traditionally simpler with more focus on functionality of the home. The wow factor comes from this simplicity and the use of materials that make up the style of the home. Shingles, fretwork, shutters and window hoods are some of the things that can be added to beautify a chattel house.
On the other hand, the style of a concrete house is usually incorporated into the design of the home. Concrete homes can be built in any shape or style from the very small to the very large. The use of concrete blocks, cement and steel along for elaborate designs that might not be possible with chattel houses. In recent times, some of the chattel house features are being added to concrete homes.
The cost per square foot of a chattel house is considerably less than the building cost per square foot of a concrete house. A recent conversation with a contractor revealed that to build a modern chattel house in Barbados, it would cost about USD $75 per square feet. This quote includes labour; building materials including lumber; blocks, steel and cement for the foundation; plumbing and electrical fittings; and cosmetic finishes. If there are no problems during construction, small chattel houses can be constructed in under three months.
In comparison, the cost to build a concrete house averages USD $125 per square foot. Similarly to chattel houses, this cost includes labour; building materials including blocks, steel and cement; plumbing and electrical fittings and cosmetic and interior finishes. Depending on the size of the house, construction can be completed in as little as six months.
The original chattel houses were designed with efficiency in mind. Because the plantation workers moved around from plantation to plantation, their homes were designed to be mobile. However, modern chattel houses do not have this type of mobility. Instead efficiency of today’s chattel houses can be looked at in terms on the utilisation of land space. Typical chattel houses are small and require home owners to employ smart solutions in their homes.
Concrete houses can be built to any desired specification in relation to the land space. One of the reasons that they are so popular is because they are believed to be sturdy and can withstand bad weather. There is no clear rationale about whether people who build concrete houses are interested in efficiency. Just by looking around, one can see that most concrete houses are over 1,000 square feet.
Because chattel houses are made from wood, they will require more upkeep than concrete houses. Boards will eventually rot and decay due to rain, wind and sun exposure. The house may need to be repainted every few years where paint has peeled off from the walls. Additionally, just like any other house, the roof has a lifespan and will need to be replaced. Chattel houses must be treated for termites and other wood loving bugs.
Concrete houses may cost more to construct, but their upkeep costs may be lower. Because walls are made from concrete blocks and cement, they will not rot (unless in extreme cases of deterioration due to neglect). However, roofs will need to be replaced after some time. Just like chattel houses, concrete houses must be treated against termites. This is mainly to protect the wood on the roof.
Wooden houses like chattel houses are said to be environmentally friendly because they use natural materials. Recycled wood and timber can be used to build and they are free from harsh chemicals. Chattel houses also require less materials and can be built using re-purposed materials.
Today’s concrete is believed to be useful in the construction of energy efficient homes. But concrete is not an environmentally friendly material simply because of the processes used to manufacture it. To construct a concrete house, may require more materials which will inflate the cost to build.
Another difference between chattel houses and concrete houses is the philosophy. Chattel houses were seen as houses for the poor. But because so many architects are incorporating chattel houses into their designs, this perception is changing. Chattel houses are seen as a bit of the past and more and more people are embracing them.
In some Caribbean neighbourhoods, concrete houses are seen as a symbol of status. But this is not a widespread view. In some areas, homeowners have rebuilt their chattel homes with concrete using the same design. Newer construction is mostly concrete based and some developments restrict construction to concrete homes only.
Should I Build a Chattel House or a Concrete House?
This is a decision that you have to make solely based on your needs for shelter. Bear in mind that your budget and the stipulations of your building lot, will have great influence on your decision.
We are a small home community, and I’d love to hear from you. Do you struggle with deciding which home is right for you and your family? Check out our Chattel House Plans and our Chattel House Gallery for small home inspiration.