30+ Creative and Doable Alternative Housing Ideas
As gardeners, we're connected to the earth in ways that other people simply aren't. Naturally, we're interested in other types of sustainable and Earth-friendly pursuits...I know I am!
I've been reading about alternative housing ideas for a while now and decided to put together a list of the coolest alternative housing options that I could find.
I hope you enjoy these, and please let me know in the comments if you (or someone you know) lives in a home like one in this list!
Hunker Down in an Earthship
Earthships have been around for a long time now and are one of the most popular types of alternative housing options out there. The goal of an Earthship is to be as sustainable as possible, according to these 6 principles:
- Solar heating and cooling
- Electricity from solar and wind
- Sewage is treated on the property
- Water is harvested
- Food is produced (my favorite principle)
- Building is constructed with recycled and natural materials
To learn more about Earthships, check out their website.
Fulfill a Childhood Dream and Live in a Treehouse
I grew up in an area without many trees, and certainly not trees big enough to build a treehouse in. But some people have made this lifestyle work, even taking it as far as renting their treehouses out on Airbnb for other people to test drive the treehouse lifestyle.
If you've always wanted to build a tree house and fulfill your childhood dream, there are a lot of resources to get you started. Here's a good link to put you on the right path.
The FutureShack is an idea conceived by Sean Godsell. The idea is to have a mass-produced house that can be relocated on a moment's notice.
The structure is composed of a shipping container and then a roof shade on top to reduce heat absorption by the container. It's an incredibly creative quick-shelter option for emergencies or simply for those looking for a simpler life.
Buy a Fixer-Upper
Although this isn't the most glamorous option, it's simply a fact of life that buying a fixer-upper is a great alternative housing option. For those of you who are do-it-yourselfers, you can save a lot of money by buying an "ugly" house and doing a lot of the cleanup work yourself.
In fact, when I purchase my first home, I will likely be either building it from scratch (and documenting it here for you all), or buying a fixer-upper and modifying it heavily!
Enter the Future in an Ecocapsule
Talk about a futuristic (but simple) way to live. The Ecocapsule is a super-sustainable and super small off-grid living option. It has the capacity to be off-grid for 1-2 people for up to a year or so.
While the project is only just launching with 50 capsules to start, if this model proves popular I bet we'll see more Ecocapsules as well as other companies joining in on the small-scale off-grid model.
Live on a Boat
While the boat pictured above is an extreme example of the lifestyle, boat living is nevertheless a popular way to live for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Most opt for a simpler setup on a sailboat that's moored in a harbor, paying only harbor fees as their "rent."
If you're interested in boat living, check out this in-depth FAQ from Living Aboard.
Spruce Up Your Walls
OK, so this doesn't quite qualify for "alternative housing", but it's still an alternative way to approach how a home looks! Green walls are becoming more and more popular, with companies popping up all over the country to help you install living walls in your home.
I personally have a few walls in my own home covered in houseplants, succulents, and even some edible herbs, so I'm 100% on board with the green wall life. It's a great way to add some sustainability to a home if you can't quite move to another housing option.
Grow Plants On Your Roof
In my hometown of San Diego, green roofs are becoming big business. While most of the roofing projects in my area are more about xeriscaping and using little water, in other areas of the country there are water-capturing green roofs installed on rooftops across the city.
Green roofs not only look amazing, but reduce the "urban heat island" phenomenon that urban environments suffer from. The more you know...
Earth berms, or Earth-sheltered homes, are better recognized as "hobbit holes" for some of you who are fans of Lord of the Rings. In essence, this type of housing involves using nature as one (or more) of the walls of your home.
In the picture above, these farm homes in Keldur, Iceland are built into a natural hill and used as a way to shelter their owners from the elements.
Use Earth Bags
Earthbags is just a fancy word for sandbags, a staple of flood-prevention and emergency situations. But they can be put to even better use as a raw ingredient in homebuilding.
It's possible to use earthbags to construct an entire home due to their flexibility and durability in the building process.
To learn more about building with earthbags, check out this fantastic resource.
Cob houses have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. It's an old-school building method that has experienced a resurgence in popularity as alternative housing ideas are becoming mainstream once again.
It's a simple process that doesn't require a lot of equipment. Cob homes are often small, minimalistic, natural, and local, satisfying a deep craving in some of us who wish for a return to simpler times.
If you're interested in Cob housing, check out Alexander's This Cob House website.
Live in an RV
Sure, living in an RV isn't as glamorous or as whimsical as some of the other options on this list, but it's quite practical and affordable for most people. Sometimes it's not about living in tune with nature and it's more about simply having somewhere practical to sleep every night.
RVs offer a lot of location independence. As long as you can stand living in a small space with few amenities, RV living may be the perfect alternative housing option for you.
Live in a Converted Bus
One step up from the RV lifestyle is to buy an old bus, rehabilitate it, and plunk it down on a lot and live there. There's a lot you can do with an old bus — there's a lot of real estate on the sides of it! In the picture above, they've installed an actual door as well as some window box planters to add a truly homey feel.
For a look into the life of someone actually living on a bus, check out this fantastic article on Inhabitat.
Repurpose a Box Car
And for the final upgrade of converted vehicle living: repurposing the caboose of an old boxcar. In a lifestyle that harkens back to The Boxcar Children series (one of my favorites growing up), boxcar living is super-appealing to me.
You have more real estate than a bus or RV, and a bit more permanence as well — odds are you won't want to move this home too often. It's kind of like living in a shipping container, but it has much more character!
Make a House Out of Glass Bottles
If recycling used materials is more your thing, you can always consider making your entire house out of glass bottles. No, I'm not kidding — people have done this!
Glass bottle housing is surprisingly stable and resilient, so if you can put up with the drudgery of actually constructing the house, you can have a home that is extremely cheap and highly functional.
Join the Tiny House Revolution
The tiny house movement is sweeping the country. You know it's jumping the shark when there's an HGTV show! That being said, there's a lot of value in considering living in a tiny house.
You can often construct them for pennies compared to a normal home, and most can be made portable to give you the ability to take your home on the road. If I build a home, you better believe that it'll be a tiny home.
Live in a Converted Silo
The inner farmer in me desperately wants to live in one of these homes. Not only do they look beautiful, they repurpose one of the oldest farming structures we have — the silo.
Most homes don't have a circular layout, simply because it's annoying to build and can be slightly impractical. But by reusing a silo and working it into your home's design, you get a unique look while also making use of something that would have been torn down.
Create a Shipping Container Home
If silo homes are a farming example of repurposed buildings, shipping containers are the everyman example. Shipping container construction is probably one of the biggest growing sectors of alternative housing in the United States today.
In fact, commercial business owners are getting on board as well. There are shipping container bars, clothing stores, and exhibits popping up all over the place.
Shelter Carts for the Homeless
Now for a look at a very practical type of alternative housing. For many homeless people, their 'home' are the streets. That's not much of a home, which is where shelter carts come into play.
These are ultra-portable moving homes that can be pushed around the city for those that are homeless. Because many homeless people are already pushing around shopping cars or other movable storage systems, the shelter cart is a natural next step.
Stylish and Simple Prefab Homes
Now we get to a more basic and obvious example: prefabricated homes. The market is exploding with different types of prefab housing, filling niches like green, minimalist, luxury, and more.
Most of us are interested in unique housing options but don't have the chops to build them out ourselves. This is where prefab homes are the most valuable. You can often get them for much cheaper than a standard track home.
Make a House Out of Plastic Bottles
The cousin to the glass bottle home is the plastic bottle home. It's considerably easier to collect plastic bottles than it is to collect glass, making this a more accessible build.
Plastic bottles will require more support and insulation when compared to glass, but thankfully there are a ton of pioneers that have created plastic bottle homes to lead the way.
Build a House From Old Pallets
I've talked about building a pallet garden before, but this takes pallets to the next level. Pallets are just wood, so if you collect enough of them it makes sense that you would be able to construct a home.
It might take ages to actually get the pallets, but if you can find a good source and have a DIY mindset, it's completely possible to create a home strictly out of pallets.
Live in an Outbuilding
Outbuildings used to be more popular than they are now, mostly because lot sizes were larger back in the olden days. If you're stuck for a place to live, consider scoping out properties for old outbuildings that aren't being used at all.
You can talk to the landowner and pitch them on you living in the outbuilding, perhaps in exchange for some landscaping work or handiwork around the property.
When I first heard about this, I pictured a snowy climate. But modular igloos are actually a "thing" that exist outside of the snow! It's just a hyper-compact living space, usually intended for shorter-term camping.
But I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to live in a modular igloo for longer periods of time, so long as you have a stable piece of property to place it on.
Live in a Trailer
I don't think I'm alone in wishing that I could sell most of my things, hitch a trailer to my car, and just drive off into the sunset. Well, turns out there are people who have done this and are loving life.
Trailer living is a huge change from home living, but it's clearly working for some people who are OK trading stability for flexibility.
Use Hempcrete to Make a House
Before you raise your eyebrows, hempcrete is a real thing and it is a useful building material. Hemp contains a lot of silica which makes it blend with lime well.
You might say, "Who cares, just use concrete!" But hemp is a fantastic industrial crop, with hundreds of uses. If hempcrete gained popularity as a building material, that may be enough to get hemp more widely grown in the United States.
Well, there you have it. A ton of alternative housing ideas — some more doable than others. I made this list to serve as inspiration, so feel free to let me know in the comments if you've tried any of these ideas yourself or have any to add that I've missed!