Thinking of Downsizing? Consider these Affordable Alternative Homes

Thinking of Downsizing? Consider these Affordable Alternative Homes

As traditional housing prices continue to rise, it may be time to consider downsizing your belongings and upsizing your peace of mind. From the trendy tiny home on wheels to your own adult treehouse, you have plenty of innovative options before you! So let’s get right into what alternative housing could look like for you.

Tiny House on Wheels (THOW

Having a house with wheels gives you the flexibility to move around on a whim. You can rotate your home to change the view, take it traveling, and relocate to a new spot of land with surprising ease.

Starting with a trailer, you can build your tiny home however you want.

Zoning Laws
The zoning laws around tiny homes are often strict and confusing. Many local governments have a minimum square-footage requirement for full-time living, and many tiny homes are too small to be considered. THOWs are considered RVs in most municipalities, making them illegal to use as year-round housing. RV parking is also very restrictive, and many locations allow parking only in certain areas, such as RV parks and campgrounds.

Your THOW will need to be set up like an RV, using an off-grid water system. The standard method involves three water tanks (freshwater, greywater, and blackwater), a water pump, and a hot water heater. You can include a toilet in this system or opt for a compost toilet that does not require plumbing.

People flock to the tiny home-building community because of the flexibility and creativity in designing and building your own home. Downsizing and simplifying your life to make more space in your tiny house will often transition into a more peaceful state of mind.

Tiny House on Foundation

 A tiny house on a foundation does not give the flexibility of one with wheels, but there are some definite perks. For one, you have design flexibility and are not restricted by size the way you are when building on a trailer. You have more control over your floorplan, not just in length and width but also in height. Trailers can also be quite expensive, and this money can now be used towards your tiny home.

There are two types of stationary tiny homes, those built on a foundation and those built on skids. If you think you may want to relocate at some point, then building on skids will allow you to use a trailer later to transport it.

Zoning Laws
Tiny homes with a foundation face their own issues with zoning. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are structures that exist on a property with a main house. Some cities classify tiny homes as ADUs and allow them; others do not. Some states have further requirements that allow tiny home ADUs, such as a solid foundation or occupancy by a family member only.

Building a tiny home on a foundation will also require local permitting and potential placement restrictions. These will dictate the standard size, placement, and construction rules.

Unlike a THOW, you can use standard plumbing techniques for grid-connected plumbing. This includes full water pressure connections to municipal sources, and your wastewater will go into a sewer or septic system.

Container Home

With over 17 million shipping containers worldwide, there is no shortage of supplies to build your own container home. This eco-friendly option is affordable and allows for immense creativity when designing your home. The steel structure of a shipping container offers incredible strength and safety, able to withstand climates of all types. Because they are so transportable, they are a great solution when building in hard-to-access areas and unique terrain.

Shipping container homes are created by stacking and welding multiple containers together. Because they were built to transport goods worldwide, they are waterproof, fireproof, and crush resistant. They are also incredibly affordable and easy to work with.

Eco Friendly
There are millions of shipping containers abandoned and disposed of each year. Upcycling used containers reduces waste and creates an environmentally friendly home. A well-insulated container home also reduces heat loss and electrical use, contributing to lower monthly bills.

Temperature Regulation
One of the most common questions regarding container homes is temperature regulation. Because shipping containers are made of steel, they will heat up faster in direct sun than a home would.  To combat this, building overhangs to shade the sides of the container helps mitigate heat absorption. You should also consider placing your container home in the shade if you live in a hot climate.

Painting the outside walls with reflective paint will also minimize the heat absorption capabilities of the steel. Utilizing cross ventilation with strategically placed windows will keep the air moving. Of course, insulating the internal walls with traditional insulation or spray foam will do wonders for regulating the inside temperature.

The average lifespan of a container home is 20 years before any significant maintenance. However, if you live in an area with high rainfall, excessive humidity, or salt-laden air, your container home will rust faster than in other locations. You can minimize the potential for rust by reducing exposure to the elements and removing rust immediately to prevent spread. To extend your container home's lifespan, you can also cover the exterior in cladding, This weatherproof siding can be made of wood, masonry, cement, metal, or insulated aluminum and improves the aesthetic while also helping with durability.

Shipping containers are an affordable option for those who want to build an eco-friendly home with unlimited design potential. 


Yurts are the nature-inspired alternative to the traditional home. What started as a glamping go-to has evolved into a year-round home for many people. As the ultimate DIY project, yurts come in many sizes, styles, and iterations.

Yurts are a cheap and comfortable way to live that won’t require a significant investment of time or money, especially compared to traditional homes or even tiny homes. Originally designed in Mongolia, these were used by the people there to survive the long, frigid winters. This is a solid testament to their durability and livability in all climates.

Yurt Building and Transport
Placed on any plot of flat land, yurts offer an accessible option for those less-accessible locations. The best part of yurt living is their transportability. Packing up your yurt and moving elsewhere is not as arduous or costly as moving a tiny house on wheels.

For more permanent yurt structures, such as those made on wooden decks, concrete platforms, or those that incorporate drywall, they offer a sturdy long-term home. Even still, these are often designed and built to be taken apart.

Seasonal and Long-term Living
There are a few options for skin material, support structures, windows, and walls when designing your yurt.

The skin material options are felt, canvas, or synthetic, with synthetics leading the way in durability. Support structures in permanent yurts will include studs and framing, while seasonal yurts may stick with Kana only. Kana is a traditional grid of wood that can accordion, providing strong, lightweight, easily transportable support. Framed structures give better insulation and support but are not portable.

Choosing your peak will determine the overall design and aesthetic of your yurt. While open peaks are more traditional, a closed peak is better for colder climates and winter use but will keep out natural light. A good middle ground would be installing an operable dome window that gives protection from the elements, allows in light, and can be opened for air circulation.

Traditional yurts did not have windows, and if they had any openings other than the door, it was the tent-style flaps of the canvas. These are great for temporary structures, though they do not allow any light when closed. Yurts with framing often have standard glass windows, much like a traditional home, which allow in light and give a more modern aesthetic.

Heating and Cooling
The round shape of a yurt promotes air circulation, which helps keep the inner temperature comfortable. A round building has 12% less exposed surface area than a traditional box home, which helps with the overall efficiency. Much like a container home, there are a few key elements regarding location and insulation.

Adding reflective insulation is very useful in hot climates. This will block radiant heat that would otherwise enter through the fabric walls and keep your yurt cooler during the summer. In modern yurts, air conditioning and heating systems can be installed. Mini-split systems don’t require modifications to the yurt structure and are an affordable cooling option.

Living in a yurt is a unique experience that will help you feel closer to nature. Designing and building your yurt means you can custom fit it to your lifestyle while still holding onto that natural vibe of traditional yurt living.

A-frame Cabin


An A-frame cabin is a sustainable, DIY home that can be purchased in a kit and put together more affordable than a traditional home. One of the key elements of an A-frame home is that there are no vertical external surfaces other than the front and back walls. The inclined ceiling gives the A-frame its distinct feeling and creates large, inviting interior areas.

Eco-Friendly Electricity
With 20% more exterior surface, there is plenty of room to install solar panels. Building your home so that one side is in the path of direct sunlight for as long as possible will provide ample electricity for your home. Because of the severe angle of the roof, snow will not accumulate, and wind will not find much resistance, so the wear and tear will be lessened. Therefore, A-frames are popular in mountain communities.


An affordable option to tiny homes, the repetitive nature of framing makes for quicker construction. There are many kits to choose from, and like yurts, plenty of flexibility when it comes to design options. Comfortable all year long, these timeless architectural delights stand apart from traditional rectangular homes.


These charming structures built into trees are a magical experience for the many adults who live in them. Once relegated to backyard play areas, the modern treehouse home is now a fantasy come true. Offering privacy and creative fluidity, a treehouse home will immerse you in nature and have you living your fairytale life.

The first step is finding a large healthy tree that will be able to support your home for years to come. Once that is completed, the fun starts. Many modern treehouses are designed to stand out, moving far away from the traditional aesthetic, and taking on a creative life of their own. Building around branches and opting for connecting platforms, a treehouse offers immense creative potential.

Depending on where you live and what type of treehouse you want to build, you may need to follow local building ordinances. If you have neighbors nearby, checking the restrictions for building heights pertaining to privacy will be essential. All modern amenities are available for treehouse living, from plumbing, electricity, and heating to internet connection. Although more complicated, tying into the municipal water source and the power grid is possible, though you can also opt for compost toilets and solar panels.

Dome Home

Geodesic domes are lightweight, cost-effective structures that are easy to assemble and withstand all weather conditions. Their spherical shape takes fewer building materials to construct and can brave harsh weather better than traditional homes.

There are two types of dome homes: Monolithic and Geodesic. A monolithic dome is concrete with polyurethane foam sprayed over round forms. A geodesic dome comprises interconnected triangular panels and is easier to assemble and disassemble. The panels of a geodesic dome are visible, while a monolithic dome looks more like a mushroom cap.

Safety and Energy Efficiency
Life inside a geodesic dome is very similar to a traditional home when it comes to features and amenities. The significant differences are in safety, energy efficiency, and assembly. Being round, the dome house has aerodynamic properties that diffuse wind and strong gusts, making it perfect for hurricane-prone locations. The dome structure is robust due to its weight distribution properties, so in the case of heavy snow or a fallen tree, it can withstand more weight to its support shell.

A dome home has more enclosed volume with less surface area, which helps keep temperatures regulated. Coupled with good insulation and well-sealed windows, these homes will keep you comfortable in all climates.


Houseboats are an attractive idea for anyone who loves being on the water. With the ability to add swim platforms and even waterslides from the roof, this is an aqua-enthusiasts dream.

Modern houseboats have all the conveniences of traditional homes with the bonus of floating on the water. Living on a houseboat is significantly cheaper than in a traditional home. The financial advantages are no property taxes, lower maintenance costs, no landscaping costs, and the potential for houseboat tax breaks.

When it comes to plumbing, a non-cruising houseboat can be hooked up to the water system and city sewage line. This allows you to enjoy standard plumbing, which includes a flushable toilet. However, for a cruising houseboat, waste is stored in a sewage tank rather than being connected to the municipal line and will need to be regularly emptied. Another option is to invest in an incinerating toilet, which uses electric heat to burn waste into a small amount of ash. This water-free option is great for conservation and unheated areas susceptible to freezing.

Waking up to a waterfront view every day and enjoying kayaking, jet skiing, and swimming on a whim is impossible to replicate with other small housing options. While you give up a yard and a driveway, you gain the financial advantages of living on water and a more leisurely lifestyle.

Classic Recreational Vehicle (RV)

Ahh, the classic RV. A road trip staple and trendy transport for cross-country family vacations. Not only relegated to intermittent travel, an RV can also be used as a happy long-term home. Over the last few years, RV sales have skyrocketed as more people want a life of luxurious, travel-inspired moments.

Living in an RV offers the benefits of THOW living and traditional homes all in one. With an RV, everything is ready for you, so there is no need to spend time designing and then building your home. RVs are also more aerodynamic than tiny homes and are built using lightweight materials. While a THOW is intended to be moved from place to place, an RV is built for frequent traveling. An RV can better handle the constant moving, the bouncing, the shifting, and all the other aspects of road travel. They can travel at the same speed as other vehicles and usually get better gas mileage.

Living in an RV means you can simply roll up to a campsite, plug in your water, sewer, and power, and carry on with your day. The hookups were made for travel, which simplifies the experience. Likewise, all the appliances and features inside an RV were made for an RV, with years of testing and manufacturing solving all the minor problems you might experience with a THOW. For example, if you want to limit your tanks, one way is by installing an incinerator toilet, which will burn waste and uses no water.

When you decide to turn an RV into your home, you are gaining many of the same conveniences of traditional houses, but on a smaller scale.

Van Life (Sprinter Van Conversions)

Choosing van life is choosing to go as minimalist as possible. It’s not for those who need a full-sized bathroom or want to sprawl out on the sofa watching Netflix, but aside from those creature comforts, van life is full of unique and irreplaceable perks.

The freedom to travel is the most obvious. Unlike a THOW or even an RV, you can fit nearly anywhere with a van. You can park right on the beach and wake up to a sunset over the ocean. You can climb up a mountain and wake up to fresh air and unlimited view. You can also park in a parking lot at the grocery store without taking up four spaces.

While van life would not be considered long-term living for most people, it is an excellent option for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking for extended road trips and adventure. You can have most of the amenities of traditional housing; you just have to be creative with its configuration.

To have a mini-bathroom in your van, you can install a compost toilet on a rolling base situated beneath a countertop. This will make it easier to access and hide when it’s not in use. You can hang a shower bag off the back door and install a removable curtain rod for privacy. You can place solar panels on the roof, which will power the mini-fridge and charge your electronics when the car is off. You can also install a sink with a small freshwater tank for on-the-go handwashing and cooking.

While you won’t have the space for distinct “rooms” if you are traveling with someone else, you have the entire world outside your doors to spend time apart. With folding chairs and a table, you can create multiple “zones” around your van set up for different activities.

While van life might seem compact at first, you will be surprised at how little we need to be happy and feel fulfilled!

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