3 Alternative Housing Ideas


When you hear the phrase ‘alternative housing’, what do you think of? Energy efficient? Solar? Water catchment? Green building and energy saving properties should be mainstream, but what else constitutes ‘alternative’? Out-of-the-box thinkers, rebels, recyclers, frugalistas and those who want to be debt-free get creative when it comes to their abodes.

Pallet house

Shipping pallets are probably one of the most diverse building materials. They are plentiful and most often made of oak, a desirable hardwood. Pallets have been upcycled into garden beds and planters, flooring, furniture, chicken coops, fences, barns and even shelter.

Pallets are everywhere! They pile up behind hardware stores, nurseries, plumbing companies and big box stores. They are usually free for the taking, making them economical as well as durable. Recycling them instead of letting them go to the landfill will send good karma your way and reduce your carbon footprint!

Experimental pallet homes are small, making the pallet a good building material for tiny homes and tiny home communities. Home offices, studios and temporary disaster housing are also good candidates for pallet building.

Design is based on the width of the pallets. They can be propped up on end on a frame to a desired height, and more laid flat for a roof and even a deck. Pallets can be dismantled to be used as siding and flooring, and the inside of each pallet can be insulated and hold wiring and plumbing. It can be as fancy or simple as need be.

I-Beam Architecture has designed a pallet home community for refugees. This is a worthy way of recycling pallets, and I’d like to see more of that at home.

Recycled materials

A friend of mine bought some land outside of town. In hindsight, he realized that his daily commute would use a lot of gas and not be very environmentally friendly. We joked about him building a home completely out of recycled materials to offset his fuel usage. Is that doable? It takes some ingenuity and patience, but you (and he!) can salvage what you need over time.

A good first stop is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Over the last couple of years, I have seen enough decent building materials to make me want to design and build another house. Wooden arched windows, oak flooring planks, tiles, pedestal bathroom sinks, and brand new appliances have inspired this builder! I live in a small community, and our ReStore is a valuable resource. I have heard more urban ReStores have larger selections and high quality stock.

There are also architectural salvage companies that buy overstocked lots and materials from demolitions. You can find trims, stairs, cabinets, lighting and plumbing fixtures, lumber and hardware. Much of this is vintage and unique, too! If you’re creative and flexible, your home can be a recycling showcase.


The yurt has been used by nomads in Central Asia for centuries. They moved their herds of sheep, goats and yak to seasonal grazing, and they needed portable housing that the animals could carry. A traditional yurt has a lightweight lattice type wall that unfurls to be set up in a circle. Rafters lead upward to a central ring. Felted covers of wool from their animals covered the structure. More were added in the harsh winters, and in summer, they could be partially removed for air circulation.

Today the yurt is still an effective and eco-friendly home. It can be portable or permanent, and a foundation built to accommodate the choice. The walls and floor can be insulated and windows added for year round living. Yurts make good studios and second homes, too. I have seen them used as huts on hiking trails, and they make great temporary housing after a natural disaster.

Light on the environment

People interested in alternative housing want to lead simple lives easy on the environment, and these ideas will appeal to them. Recycling, upcycling, small spaces, portability, and less construction save landfill space, conserve natural resources and reduce CO2 emissions. If you’re not afraid of a creative challenge, try reducing your carbon footprint this way!

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