Alternative Living

Alternative Living

The term envisions hippies, communes, homelessness, subcultures and counterculture, or anything from what we conceive as different from the way we are living.

Alternative is defined by the dictionary as

: offering or expressing a choice

: different from the usual or conventional as existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system.


Our choice of living is dictated by economics, culture, climate, material availability, and aesthetics.



Economics have a large impact on our living style. With the economy in the state it is in and traditional housing losing the value it once held many are turning to alternative living to save money.

Alternative housing can certainly do that, especially with the green technology that is available today such as solar, wind and geothermal. It is possible to tap into renewable energy at less cost than depending on utility provided services. It is even been possible to resell the energy produced back to the utility company. Alternative homes are typically smaller than conventional houses. Scaling down to a smaller home also saves an energy and maintenance cost.


Culture influences have been more acceptable of alternative living. The need for change has been an overall aspiration for our culture for the last 4 years. We are looking for new ways to work, live and pay our bills. Being more ecological conscience and aspiring to find new ways of doing things is not only acceptable but encouraged.


Climate influence the type of structures we reside in. After all you wouldn’t live in a grass hut in Alaska or an ice igloo in Hawaii. Climate must be factored into any sustainable design.


Construction material is a significant factor.  Purchasing materials which aren’t locally produced can be prohibitively expensive.  Areas with heavy snow-loads require structures that can withstand the additional weight on the roof, areas with heavy rainfall must accommodate potential flooding issues and areas with long sunny hot dry weather need ventilation and shade.


Aesthetics are a matter of taste but it does factor in to how you live. Mankind has created and purchased items solely for their aesthetic value.  Art and music are enjoyed (or despised) simply because they affect our feelings.  Architecture is no different and no matter how inexpensive a house is to build and maintain, if we don’t enjoy the space, we will find another.


One of the first experiences that Europeans had with alternative living was with the American Indian culture when they began to settle the American continent.


Some of the houses are listed below


Wigwams or birchbark houses:

These houses were made of wooden frames which were covered by woven mats and sheets of birchbarck. Wigwams are good houses for people who stay in the same place for months at a time. Wigwams are not portable, but they are small and easy to build.






These houses were constructed of a cone shaped wooden frame with a covering of buffalo hide. They were designed to set up and break down quickly.





Grass houses:

These houses are made with a wooden frame bent into a beehive shape and thatched with grass. Grass houses are good homes for people in a warm climate.







Wattle and Daub Houses: 

Wattle and daub houses are made by weaving rivercane, wood, and vines into a frame, then coating the frame with plaster. The roof was either thatched with grass or shingled with bark. Wattle and daub houses are permanent structures that take a lot of effort to build. They are good homes for agricultural people who intended to stay in one place. Making wattle and daub houses requires a fairly warm climate to dry the plaster.






Adobe Houses:

Adobe pueblos are modular, multi-story houses made of adobe (clay and straw baked into hard bricks) or of large stones cemented together with adobe. Adobe houses are good homes to build in a warm, dry climate where adobe can be easily mixed and dried. These are homes for farming people who have no need to move their village to a new location.







Earthen houses:

These basement-like living spaces were dug from the earth, with a domed mound built over the top (usually a wooden frame covered with earth or reeds.) Earthen houses are good for people who want permanent homes and live in an area that is not forested. (It’s difficult work to excavate underground homes in areas with many tree roots!) Living partially underground has several benefits; especially in harsh climates, the earth offers natural protection from wind and strong weather.






Plank Houses:

Plank houses are made of long, flat planks of cedar wood lashed to a wooden frame.Plank houses are good houses for people in cold climates with lots of tall trees. However, only people who don’t need to migrate spend the time and effort to build these large permanent homes.






These were snow houses but some were built of sod instead, using whale bones instead of wooden poles for a frame. Like a sod house, the igloo is dome-shaped and slightly excavated, but it is built from the snow, with large blocks of ice set in a spiral pattern and packed with snow to form the dome. Igloos are good houses for the polar region, where the earth is frozen, the snow cover is deep, and there are few trees. Snow is a good insulator, and dense blocks of ice offer good protection against the arctic winds.







Here are some of the modern examples of alternative living that was influenced by structures from the past.


Tepees and yurts:

These haven’t changed much in design from the past. Both structures don’t hold heat well and humidity can be a problem so they should only be considered for warmer climates and they are made of a material that can break down over time.







Grass houses and open air houses:

These should only be considered in warmer climates.They are many companies that supply material and plans for these structures.






Tree houses:

These can be contracted of a variety of materials and don’t need a foundation.But everything needs to be hauled up or hauled down. But think of the view.These structures can be used in cold or warm climates. One of the most interesting designs I have seen are from a company called “free spirit spheres”.







Adobe or earthen houses:

These houses are in wide use today and can be constructed in warm or cold climates they have very good energy efficiency and take advantage of the ready material that is available. They are long lasting structures. Some can be viewed today that have lasted hundreds of years.







The word always envisions Eskimos and ice blocks but take a look at one company that markets the modern structure.






The possibilities are nearly endless in the type living structures that can be used. But thanks to modern technology, economics, and the desire for something different the possibilities are becoming realities.












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