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Alternative Housing Ideas To Fit Your Lifestyle

Lauren Nowacki10 minute read
UPDATED: March 04, 2024


The human race is diverse and filled with different personalities and ways of life. And because we’re all so different, there are several kinds of homes available for every lifestyle.

Why try to pigeonhole yourself into being the owner of a standard-issue, ranch- or colonial-style home. Many people love conventionally styled homes, but what if that’s not who you are?

You don’t have to mold yourself to fit the “ideal” home. Instead, work with a real estate agent to choose an alternative home that fits your unique personality and way of life.

The Who, What And Why Of Alternative Housing

Alternative housing is the category for homes that don’t fit into the standard single-family housing structures we’re all so used to.

There are several reasons people seek out the experience of living in a unique home.

A love of and concern for the environment may compel them to search for housing options that reduce their carbon footprint or bring them closer to nature, like building a house into a mountain.

Social butterflies may have a desire to live life with a community of like-minded people, sharing their lives and talents for the greater good.

Travelers and thrill-seekers may want to move their homes around the country or make the space they live in part of the adventure.

Others may be looking to live more financially responsible lives and reduce household costs along with other costs of living.

Whatever your reason for exploring alternative living, we have a few ideas to make your space completely yours, whether converting your current home or finding your next abode.

Alternative Housing Ideas For Your Current Home

If you wish to stay in your current home, there are some ways you can incorporate alternative living arrangements. Your home may keep its standard structure on the outside, but the features you add and the habits you change can totally transform its functionality, purpose and all-around vibe. 

Make Some Green Renovations

If you’re looking for ways to connect with nature, increase efficiency and live a greener life, consider making a few renovations and additions to the home.

To increase efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint, start with a home energy audit, which is the first step to understanding your home’s energy use and how you can reduce it. Some suggestions for improving your energy use include installing solar panels, re-insulating your home, switching your light bulbs to LEDs or setting up a compost bin.

To surround yourself in nature, incorporate more natural elements into your home with houseplants, bamboo fixtures, stones, photographs of nature and organic scents like pine, lavender and citrus. You could also install more windows in the home to get more natural views or add solar tubes to allow more sunlight in.

Open Your Home To Your Community

To create a living space that connects you to your community, try aligning your home with communal living practices, such as:

  • Renting out space in your home
  • Opening your yard to a community garden or beekeeping project
  • Working to transform your neighborhood into more of a cohousing community, with shared spaces, activities and meals

Redecorate With Your Wild Side

To fulfill the need to travel, purchase at least one decorative piece from each country you visit and fill your home with worldly possessions that remind you of places you’ve been. Take pictures as you travel the world, have them framed and hang them on your walls.

Find scenic pictures of places you want to go and use them as decoration and inspiration. If you’re always itching to escape, decorate your spaces to look like and serve as various destinations. Transform your kitchen into a French cafe, your backyard into a tropical oasis or your bathroom into a lavish Turkish spa.

If you love adventure, you can create thrills in your own home by adding nontraditional features like a climbing wall in the hallway, hammock or swing from the ceiling or slide from the second story. For fun outside of the home, build a treehouse in your yard or install a pool.

Unconventional Home Ideas For The Upcycler

When you’re looking for a new home that’s eco-conscious, remember the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. Across the country, abandoned structures and materials exist that could be used as the actual home or incorporated into the building of a new home. By using these structures or materials, you can reduce waste and create something unique.

Barn And Other Structure Conversions

The best part about converting old structures, like barns, firehouses, silos or abandoned churches, is that they’re already built. By repurposing existing structures, you’re saving on energy and materials that would be used to build something new.

You’re also keeping the old structure’s materials from winding up in a landfill. An added benefit is the unique stories and decorations baked into the structure itself. For example, if you convert an old church into a home, you may inherit its interesting history and impact within the community along with its ornate woodwork, gothic arches and stained glass.

Materials From The Landfill

If you decide to build a home, consider reusing building materials from another project. Not only will doing so reduce waste, but it will also cut your expenses. Having several different materials also provides a unique look to the home that isn’t so cookie-cutter. You can find recycled materials at Habitat for Humanity ReStores, on Craigslist, other community marketplaces, at building or tear-down sites, in residential construction dumpsters or at the local landfill or salvage yard.

Shipping Containers

When you see a shipping container attached to a semi, you probably don’t think about what a great home it could make. However, shipping container homes are easy to create, have a modern look and allow you to reuse a structure, keeping it out of the landfill. If one container’s too small, you can join multiple to create a home that’s as large and extravagant as your budget allows.

However, it’s important to look into the specific container you’re planning to buy. To make containers more resilient in their travels, they’re often coated with chemicals that must be stripped before the containers can be deemed livable spaces. If you choose to live in a shipping container home, consider one that has already been through the process to keep it from going to the landfill. This will save you money and prevent additional tons of hazardous chemical waste.

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Alternative Housing Ideas For The Traveler

If you’re an avid traveler, a home with roots may not be the best option. It’s simple to make your home as mobile as you – just get one you can take with you wherever you go. Here are a few options.

Tiny Homes

Many young adults want to live simply, have more financial freedom and gain the ability to pick up and go if they want. That’s why some are drawn to tiny homes. This alternative housing option has gained popularity in recent years due to their lower costs, eco-friendly features and mobility.

A tiny house is 400 square feet or less and offers many of the same amenities as a regular home – just on a much smaller level. Because they’re so small, many tiny homes can be hitched to a vehicle and moved with ease. They’re also an option for low-income communities. 


If you enjoy traveling by sea, a sailboat could make the perfect alternative living structure. Unlike a houseboat, which we’ll touch on later, a sailboat isn’t made to stay in one spot on the water. Sailboats are made for the open water, and are easier to navigate.

When you live in one, all you have to do is pull up the anchor and you’re ready to move to a new location. Of course, your next destination will need to be somewhere on the water. 

Vehicle Homes

If you prefer to journey by land, a camper or recreational vehicle (RV) will allow you to drive your home to your next destination. With this mobility, you can park your home in almost every state in the U.S. and even Canada or Mexico.

Like tiny homes, RVs and the like feature many of the comforts of a full-scale home, just on a much smaller scale. You can either drive the actual “home” as one unit or attach and detach it from your everyday vehicle. For a more custom, sometimes less-expensive option, you could convert a school bus or van into livable spaces – or buy a used one from someone who’s done all the work for you.

You can join a camping or RV club to get free or discounted rates at campgrounds and parks, which often have sites that include electrical and water hookups. Aside from gas, which will most likely be your biggest expense, your other living expenses will be much lower or nonexistent. You won’t pay a monthly mortgage or monthly rent, nor utilities like electricity, water or cable.

Alternative Housing Ideas For The Eccentric

Maybe it isn’t the desire to live simply, reduce your carbon footprint or be free to pick up your home and go. Maybe you just want to escape the norm. There are several alternative housing options for you, too. 

Alternative Building Materials

Sometimes, a structure’s uniqueness comes from its makeup. Straying from normal building materials – like concrete, metal, lumber or brick – may help you save money and save the earth. Here are a few natural, durable houses you can build instead of the traditional homes you’re used to.

Earthbag: As their name suggests, earthbag homes are built by stacking bags filled with soil and other materials from the earth. You can literally fill the bags with materials found on-site. This building technique is new to housing but is a tried-and-true method in the military for building bunker and flood walls.

Usually covered with plaster, this type of home has a structure that can withstand extreme weather and other natural events. Interior walls are also strong enough to hold up cabinets, lighting and other appliances.

Cob: Another house built with earthen materials is the cob house. Made from lumps of cob, a mixture of clay, straw and sandy subsoil, these houses are basically sculpted into their shape. Because of the porous properties of cob and because the walls are so thick, these homes can withstand large amounts of rain and provide thermal benefits.

Cob houses are more affordable since you can find much of the materials on-site and they can last hundreds of years. On top of that, all that’s required to fix any exterior weathering is a new layer.

Straw bale: If you’re thinking of the three little pigs, stop right there. Straw bale homes, made with tight bales of straw and covered with plaster, actually provide a very solid structure that can last well over 100 years, while also providing insulation and versatility. And since the material is more breathable, it helps prevent moisture from building up in the home.

Earth berm: In an earth berm house, the earth literally becomes part of your home, with the ground becoming one or more walls and occasionally even acting as the roof. Sometimes referred to as “hobbit houses,” these earth-sheltered homes are built at or below ground level – either built into the earth or by bringing the earth up and around it. These homes are energy-efficient, soundproof, protected from the elements and low maintenance. However, they do cost more to construct.

Earthship house: You’d never know by looking at them, but discarded tires are a key ingredient in building an Earthship home. These passive solar homes use not only tires, but other natural materials to insulate the interior. In many cases, Earthship homes are clustered in communities, many of them in the southwest U.S. The design also uses wind to control the temperature and collects rainwater. In many cases, Earthship houses are built by the homeowner.

Alternatives To Land

If you don’t want to feel rooted, opt for a non-land-based living space instead. Whether floating on the water or suspended in a tree, you can feel a little freer in a house that’s not planted on the ground.

Houseboat: A houseboat is a larger boat, built with the amenities of a traditional house. They can come with stainless steel appliances, hot tubs and multiple bedrooms.

These floating houses are built to be used as primary residences. As such, they’re usually moored, or fixed, to a dock and not suitable for travel. These boats are made for calmer waters, like lakes, rivers and the bayou – not the ocean.

Treehouse: The treehouse has evolved from the mini playhouses parents built for their kids in the backyard. They now serve as modern, even luxury, permanent homes for adventure seekers. Built above the ground in the trees, these houses use trunks and branches as supports and may incorporate them into the design.

Treehouses provide privacy and the peace that comes with being surrounded by nature and the soft, subtle swaying of the trees around you. However, configuring basic utilities like electricity and water can be a bit of a struggle.

Alternatives To Four Walls

Homeownership doesn’t always have to be so “square.” Instead of making you feel boxed in, these alternative housing options provide a different vibe and additional benefits.

Yurt: Built with a circular structure and covered in durable, high-tech fabrics, yurts are traditionally one-room, one-floor homes, though modern models have layouts with many rooms and, sometimes, two floors. A thousands-year-old home design in Central Asia, yurts are slowly becoming more prevalent – and modernized – in the United States.

This housing style was first popular in the glamping industry, but now people are considering them permanent living spaces, due to their economical benefits. They are less expensive to build and relatively cheaper to heat and cool and maintain. Developed for nomadic living, yurts are also moveable. You can easily take them down and rebuild them within a few hours.

Geodesic dome houseThe geodesic dome house has a spherical shape made from triangular parts that make the structure extremely sturdy. Because of their unique shape, they provide efficient insulation and air circulation and keep temperatures consistent throughout the home’s interior.

On the outside, its shape allows wind to move around it with ease and prevents snow from piling on top of it. The spherical shape can present some problems, like finding the right fit for appliances, room divisions and other home features.

The Bottom Line: Make Your Home As Individual As You Are

Alternative housing can break you away from a conventional lifestyle in a traditional home. While it can be a unique, exciting experience, there are some things to consider.

When choosing to build an alternative home, it’s important to review local zoning laws and building codes to make sure the idea is even feasible. If you’re looking to buy a home that’s unique to the area, you may have a hard time finding – or financing – just what you’re looking for. Many lenders do not offer mortgages for these types of homes, so you may have to find other means, like paying cash or taking out a personal loan.

Keep in mind, too, that it can be hard to sell these types of homes. You’ll have to find a buyer who prefers alternative living and unique homes.

Whatever type of home you decide to live in, you can always find ways to make it yours.

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Lauren Nowacki

Lauren is a Content Editor specializing in personal finance and the mortgage industry. Her writing focuses on reporting the best places to live in the U.S. based on certain interests and lifestyles. She has a B.A. in Communications from Alma College and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.