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Alternative Homes to Build for Affordable Housing

I’ve had a number of people ask lately about building with alternative materials. It’s a question that’s on my mind as well, this idea of building with greener materials and finding a lower-cost way of creating a home. I’m no expert—I’ve yet to actually build—but I’m an avid explorer.

I thought I’d share with you some of the unique building ideas that have caught my eye.

Affordable housing can be hard to come by. Upcycling materials to create analternative homes is one way to cut costs and save cash.

1. Earthbag Buildings

This method requires on-site soil and heavy duty bags for construction. I particularly like the looks of this one.

This video is a time lapse of an earthbag construction in Alaska.

It was built by two people in two months. It’s not complete, but it gives you a good idea of the process. (You might want to turn your speakers down.)


2. Tent Cabins

A simple wooden frame covered with a Tyvek-like material.

This video features residents of Northern California (where it gets chilly) and their three cabins.

3. Earthships

These structures built from old tires, cans, and bottles.

These alternative homes are amazingly self-contained and feature water catchment built right into the structure, passive solar, and an indoor growing area.


4. Straw Bale Homes

If you live in a region where straw is readily available, these homes make perfect sense.


  • Read — The Straw Bale House
  • Visit — Real Goods in Ukiah, California is a retail store offering a multitude of products for green and self-reliant living. It’s housed in a gorgeous straw bale building.

5. Recycled Houses

So much raw material ends up in our landfills. These two videos show two very different ways to incorporate salvaged materials to create a stunning home.


6. Tiny Houses

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses is one company that sells plans for tiny homes built on wheels or on flat ground.

I’m sharing this particular video because the home in question was built by a 23-year-old young woman. Here are some more fun tiny homes to check out. 


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5 comments… add one
  • Shari Taylor Mar 22, 2014 @ 14:41

    I am obsessed with the tiny house movement but have yet been able to build one of my own. I have recently become a part of a group here in Denver that is working towards building tiny houses to help house the homeless so I’m pretty excited about what is going to happen in the near future. I just want to thank everybody for all the wonderful ideas as without them others might have never believed that they to could one day have a home of their very own!

    • Sally Hirsh Jan 21, 2017 @ 2:18

      Shari Taylor – I in CO too. It seems like tiny homes for the homeless is a great idea. What is the name of your group? Do you have a Facebook page or website yet.

  • [email protected] Talk Jan 17, 2014 @ 17:03

    I love the ones that are built into hill since it helps to keep the temperatures constant.  I am also a fan of recycled content house since the use of many of the materials is ingenious.

    Green Building is one of my loves.

  • Shannon Donnelly Jan 17, 2014 @ 16:04

    Don’t forget adobe–mud is easy to find and great for buildings. There’s also a lot that can be done by using different techniques in one house. We have an adobe/straw bale passive solar house that we love. It’s all about experimenting and doing what works for your area and your life.

  • ANNEE Jan 16, 2014 @ 23:54

    You forgot to mention cob – a mix of clay soil, sand and straw, which can usually be sourced locally (eg dug from your own garden). Really cheap and quick to build with, and also means you can sculpt a beautiful curved house, or any shape you want.

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