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Tiny homes by the water

Big houses, tiny houses, mobile houses, houses built into the dirt – there’s an endless variety of what people choose to call “home.”

More Americans every year are turning to alternative housing options for a multitude of reasons. Some may be looking to avoid rising housing costs in big cities, or to live cheaply so they can save their way to financial independence. Others want to lessen their carbon footprint and live a more minimalist lifestyle. Whatever the reason, more people are choosing to live in houseboats, yurts, repurposed school buses, adult tree houses and more.

Not interested in the typical housing options? Here are some of the most popular types of alternative pads for the unconventional, eco-conscious or economical homeowner.


A lot of people wish they could travel the world without ever leaving the comfort of their living rooms, but a growing number of people actually do it.

Make no mistake, living in an RV isn’t for everyone. Constantly moving, living in a tight space, frequent repairs and fluctuating living costs mean that you’ll need to be pretty adventurous and very flexible to turn your RV into a home.

One of the biggest obstacles to this lifestyle is holding a job, as most working people need a permanent place to live that’s close to where they work. That makes this a good option for retirees or people who are able to work remotely.

If you don’t want to do a lot of travelling but like the money-saving aspect of living in an RV, you could always plant down your roots in an extended stay RV park. It varies depending on where you are, but these sites generally cost around $500 a month, which is cheaper than renting an apartment in many places.

The only issue is access. If you’re not already near an RV park, you’re going to have to either move, or find a different place to legally park your vehicle, which can be tricky.

Even if you want the completely nomadic experience of living and travelling in an RV, you’ll still legally need a permanent address. Rules vary from state to state as to what qualifies you to consider a state your domicile, so make sure you’re good to go in the eyes of the law before you start your journey.

Earth House

Earth-sheltered homes (also called earth berms) are built into an area’s natural terrain. Typically, they’re built with part or most of the house underneath a hill and the house’s facade facing out the hillside, although they can vary structurally.

While they can be pricey to build up front (and difficult to finance), earth homes are incredibly durable and will endure extreme temperatures, high winds and bad weather, meaning they can be cheaper to insure. Temperatures tend to remain pretty steady within earth homes, so you’ll likely be able to cut down on heating and cooling costs. They also provide more privacy.

However, you’re likely to experience high humidity levels in an earth house, which can lead to mold. Careful planning to make sure the house has proper ventilation and good water drainage can eliminate this problem.

If you don’t plan on remaining in the home for a long time, an earth house can be a bad investment, as they are difficult to sell and don’t have as much resale value as more traditional homes.

Despite a few downsides, earth houses can be a great choice of dwelling for people who want to honor the earth and go green, as these homes can be quite energy efficient.

Tiny House

Tiny houses have become a trend in recent years, cluttering social media feeds with pictures of impossibly adorable micro homes with coffin-like bedrooms lofted above cramped kitchens and living room/office combos.

Although it might seem like the kind of thing reserved for those living in overcrowded cities with no other options, some people are voluntarily leaving behind roomier homes to live in the tiniest of spaces.

What makes this alternative housing option so attractive? In general, tiny houses are more cost-effective and eco-friendly. The houses themselves are less expensive to build, and you’ll save on utility and decor costs.

One of the difficulties that comes with owning a tiny home is finding a place to put it. Tiny homes are typically built on trailers, rather than foundations, giving you the portability of an RV. In fact, tiny houses on wheels are classified as RVs in many places, but not everywhere. Some RV parks don’t consider tiny homes to be RVs and won’t allow you to stay there.

Tiny house owners can purchase property of their own and build there or park their home in the backyard of a willing friend or relative. However, depending on where you are, zoning laws might not allow this.

This is likely the biggest hurdle to tiny homeownership; there are few municipalities in the United States that are 100% tiny house friendly. However, there are some tiny house communities across the country that allow tiny house owners a space to live where they don’t have to deal with too much red tape.

Shipping Container

If you’re not already familiar with it, the idea of living in a shipping container might sound a little ridiculous. However, building a home using large, industrial crates can actually yield a pretty classy, modern-looking house.

Shipping container houses are fairly easy to design and build, since planning the layout is as simple as deciding how you want the boxes to be arranged. These houses can also be lifesavers in areas where resources are scarce and can help provide immediate shelter during disaster relief.

But while shipping container houses can be cool to look at and helpful in a pinch, they might not be the most practical choice when it comes to alternative housing options.

Shipping containers are sometimes lauded as an eco-friendly alternative to other building materials, since old containers are being recycled for a new use. However, these boxes are coated in chemicals that make them more durable, so they survive transport. To make them habitable, the coatings have to be removed and the container must be completely cleaned, a process which can produce nearly 1,000 pounds of hazardous waste.

The basic structure of these containers also makes for an awkward living space, as they’re longer and narrower than the rooms most people are used to. This can be solved by cutting into the containers and combining them, but any cuts you make in the steel will need to be reinforced, which can be expensive.

Whatever alternative route you take to live in an unconventional home, it’s vital that you familiarize yourself with the local laws regarding these types of homes. While some areas are becoming less stringent when it comes to housing and zoning laws, alternative homeowners may find themselves having to jump through hoops to be allowed to build the adorable tiny house or earth berm they’ve been dreaming of. Knowing what your obstacles will be ahead of time will make the process a lot easier.

Are you an alternative homeowner with tips on how to make unconventional housing work? Share them in the comments!

This Post Has 4 Comments

    1. Hi Lynn:

      We do finance earth berm homes under most loan options if a comparable can be found in the area. Thanks!

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