What crosses your mind when you hear the phrase “Alternative Living?” It can mean different things for different people. To some, alternative living means safeguarding the environment. To others it’s more about practicality; how much space you want, versus how much space you need. And it’s a financial thing for some people who are looking at saving money by living in a space just right for their current needs.
Some of you reading this are seriously considering such a move, perhaps for one of those aforementioned reasons. Some of you may just be flirting with the idea. Or maybe you’re just curious what the fuss is all about. Whatever your rationale, we’re going to explore the alternative living spaces trend, and discuss some of the popular concepts you’ll come across in the housing genre.
From tiny houses sporting only the most essential accommodations, to eco friendly shipping container homes, to life on the high seas in a houseboat, there are all sorts of alternative housing options out there to choose from. They each come with their varied pros and cons, but with so many choices there’s surely one for everyone willing to give alternative living spaces a try.
Take a moment to imagine a traditional home. What comes to mind? We’re guessing you’re picturing a spacious property with a living room, dining room, kitchen, multiple bedrooms, and multiple bathrooms, right? Now imagine shrinking all of that down to its bare essentials and cramming the whole thing into a space no larger than just one or two of those rooms. That is a tiny home.
Tiny homes have inundated social media in recent years. You’ve likely already seen them, even. These alternative living residences attempt to make the best use of every square centimeter, turning every nook and cranny into livable space.
Tiny homes often consist of as few rooms as possible, and it isn’t uncommon to find some with only one room, or perhaps one main room and a smaller, closet-like space serving as a bathroom. Some imaginative folks have even transformed tree houses into tiny homes. And many have built tiny houses on wheels, using trailers in lieu of traditional foundations which can make their tiny home a mobile one.
If you decide to make your tiny home immobile, you’ll need to check local zoning laws and ensure they’re up to local codes. Alternatively, you might decide to buy a home or build a home in a tiny home community. If you build a tiny mobile home, you might even find an RV park that allows you to rent space there.
Tiny homes can be exceptionally cheap — some crafty DIY home owners have gotten it done for $10k or even less — but the rather obvious tradeoff is often found in comfort. Living in such a cramped space might appeal to some number of people, but would be pretty exhausting and stressful for many others. So if claustrophobia is something you’re concerned with, tiny homes may not be the best solution for you.
If you’re lucky enough to work from home, you may get to enjoy one of its many perks: home can be wherever you want it to be on any given day. And that’s precisely what some people have been doing with their recreational vehicles, or RVs.
Once thought of as a camping or vacationing vehicle, RVs have been slowly growing in popularity as alternative living spaces, with people roaming from location to location and living out of their RV’s long term, if not permanently.
Some take up the nomadic lifestyle indefinitely, while others decide to enjoy a bit of stability by staying long-term in RV parks, which typically work like apartments, with monthly rent and year-long leases.
Whichever option you choose, be prepared for some challenges. Like tiny homes, RVs come up short — no pun intended — in the livable space department. If you’ve ever been inside an RV, you can surely imagine how difficult it would be to call it your permanent residence. There are also a variety of vehicular safety and maintenance issues to take into consideration, too.
What about the base cost? An RV can be purchased on average for anywhere from $10k to $300k. You’ll also need to worry about the standard automotive finances, like fuel, oil changes, tires, etc. Automotive insurance also needs to be taken into consideration. But on the whole, RVs tend to be significantly cheaper to live in than traditional homes.
A less spacious alternative to the RV is to live in a van or bus. It’s actually becoming a somewhat growing trend amongst younger Americans, particularly those who love to travel. And it’s cheaper than the RV alternative, too, since a used van can often be purchased at a fraction of the cost of an RV, and staying in one overnight doesn’t usually require paying an RV unit rental fee.
Living in a van requires you to give up a lot. If you thought life in a tiny home would be cramped, imagine living in a space with no toilet, no shower, no stove … pretty much none of the comforts you’d expect from a proper home. You’d essentially be driving your bedroom around and sleeping in it now and then. Some people, if not most people, would dislike that.
If you already own a van, you could test the waters by staying in it for a week or two to gauge what that lifestyle might be like. And who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself singing the praises of #VanLife.
If all this talk about mobility sounds exciting to you, but life on the road doesn’t, maybe life on the water might better suit you. House boats have been a popular alternative living option for many decades. They’re so popular that many marinas offer yearly slip rentals with water, electric, and sewage hookups similar to what you might find in an RV park.
House boats can definitely be pretty expensive, with some options reaching into six-figure territory and rivaling the costs of traditional homes on dry land. They also come with numerous other expenses, too; leasing slip space, maintenance costs, insurance costs, and more will all add up to the point where a houseboat costs as much or more than living in a traditional home.
If the financial challenges aren’t a total turn-off for you, house boats are pretty eco-friendly, convenient, and even fun. But as is true with any alternative living space, deciding whether you can handle life on a houseboat is as much a personal choice as anything else.
Another quickly-growing trend involves transforming used shipping containers into homes. It may require quite a bit of planning, but this is the most spacious option on the list thus far, and one that really lets you express yourself creatively in ways tiny homes, RVs, vans, and houseboats simply can’t.
The idea here is simple, on paper anyway: the homeowner takes at least one shipping container, empties it out, cleans it, and then adds some finishing touches before moving in. But as with all forms of alternative living homes, the devil is in the details.
A shipping container home requires quite a bit more construction than you might expect at first glance. Adding things like windows or doors, or expanding on the core concept using additional storage containers, requires reinforcement. And shipping containers aren’t really designed or built with residential homes in mind, so they often contain hazardous materials and dangerous paint that need to be carefully, professionally removed before they become livable spaces. And all of this comes before electrical and plumbing are taken into consideration.
Even with all of these added challenges, shipping container homes do typically cost less to build than homes cost to purchase. And their modularity allows for some very creative designs to unfold, making them ideal options for those looking for a home that serves not only as a residence, but as an expression of their personal flair.
The last alternative we’ll look at is to eliminate the concept of owning a home entirely. And while we’re at it, let’s toss out the idea of signing a lease and renting in yearly intervals, too. Instead, we’ll consider a slowly-but-surely growing trend amongst those who genuinely aren’t interested in the idea of being shackled to permanence: living in AirBnBs full-time.
You’ve most likely heard of AirBnB and the service they provide: homeowners can lease out rooms in their homes, or even their entire homes, to travelers looking for a place to stay on the cheap. The homes are owned and maintained by real people, rather than companies or big corporate conglomerates, and many AirBnB hosts will be exceptionally friendly and help you get acquainted with the area you’re visiting.
Some people love the AirBnB service so much they’ve actually decided to live in them full-time, traveling from one AirBnB to the next in perpetuity. There’s no yearly lease to sign, no complicated construction projects to undertake … you simply venture from one place to the next and stay in different places over time.
Results will definitely vary with full-time AirBnB living. Some talk about all of the money they’ve saved, while others share their horror stories from the experience. But it’s a relatively easy way to test the waters of a nomadic lifestyle and see if it’s right for you.
Which Form of Alternative Living is Right for You?
There are so many choices in the alternative living spaces realm that it might be hard to find the one that’s just right for you. Your needs, driving factors, budget, and personal tastes are all going to play their respective roles in guiding your decision when considering a form of alternative living.
While there’s no telling which, if any, of these forms of alternative living spaces strikes your fancy, we can safely say that choosing one and making that leap will drastically reduce your carbon footprint, and will likely save you money long-term over buying a traditional house as well. And that you’ll likely get the opportunity to express yourself creatively in the process? That’s a pretty nice cherry on a very eco-friendly cake.