Containers, Earthships, and Domes, Oh My! 10 Cool and Quirky House Alternatives

These alternative homes provide innovative solutions for those would-be homeowners looking beyond the traditional house.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
A young woman wearing autumn / winter clothes, inside a wooden dome with a geometric design in a forest.
Photo: Getty Images

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Can you imagine living in a home that sits high in the trees? What about one that floats in the water, or one that is built beneath the surface of the earth? While these may all sound like something out of a futuristic movie, they’re not. Some people have said goodbye to traditional homes and opted for one of these quirky alternative homes. Beyond the intrigue and excitement they hold, given today’s housing market, many of these alternatives are also more affordable than a single-family home, a condo, or even renting an apartment.

Domes

A dome house with triangular windows and a wraparound wood deck stands on a green hill.

Photo: iStock

Beyond their entrancing domed appearance, dome homes are actually an eco-friendly option. They offer excellent airflow, retain heat and conserve energy, and offer several opportunities to add natural lighting through windows and skylights on any wall. There are two types of dome homes — geodesic domes which are made by connecting various polygon-shaped pieces together and monolithic domes which are formed using a single piece of material. Dome homes can be found all around the world and may be constructed using a range of materials, giving each home a unique look ranging from futuristic to rustic charm.

Earthships

A row of three earthship homes sit side-by-side in the New Mexico desert landscape.

Photo: Getty Images

While the name may get you thinking about space travel or the future, Earthships are a very real type of structure that you can find today. These homes are a top choice for those who prioritize sustainability and autonomy. They are constructed using recycled and eco-friendly materials, including old tires, bottles, cans, and stucco or cement. The construction of an Earthship yields a structure that offers excellent temperature regulation and energy independence.

3D Homes

A 3D-printed with large glass windows and a sliding door leading to a backyard patio.

Photo: Depositphotos

Zachary Mannheimer, the Founder and Chair of Alquist 3D, a 3D printing construction company, explains why 3D printing homes are growing in popularity and how they may be able to help combat the housing crisis in the coming years. “Alquist partnered with Habitat for Humanity to create the first owner-occupied 3D-printed home located in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2021,” Mannheimer shares. He explains that the 3D printing technology creates durable and resilient structures. “The wall systems used are fortified to stand up to the strongest storms and hottest fires and do not require repair after flooding or water damage.” More advancements in the industry are also offering more sustainable options with 3D-printed homes made from recycled plastics.

Shipping Containers

A small, trapezoidal container house has large windows overlooking a small, fully furnished patio with a hot tub.

Photo: Getty Images

A shipping container’s “modular design allows for endless possibilities,” shares Crystal Olenbush, a real estate agent with AustinRealEstate.com. These steel containers are durable, designed to hold up to various weather conditions and climates, and are affordable. If you’re handy, you can convert one into a home yourself, or you can hire a professional company to convert one — or even weld several together — to create a new living space.

Barndominiums

The long interior of a home converted from a European barn is finished with hardwood and furnished with red sofas.

Photo: Getty Images

As you may guess based on their name, barndominiums are designed in the style of a barn. They may have mood or metal sides and typically feature a more open-concept interior. Some individuals or builders convert an existing barn into a barndo, while other structures are built new. If you’re looking to build a new barndominium, expect to spend between $62 and $132 per square foot, which is less than the $100 to $150 per square foot that you’d spend to build a traditional home.

Airstreams

An Airstream travel trailer is located in front of trees turning orange.

Photo: Depositphotos

If you’re looking for a mobile home, they don’t get more mobile than an Airstream. Airstreams are trailers — complete with furniture, sleeping areas, plumbing, and more — that you can hook up to a pickup truck or SUV for traveling or camping. However, some people choose to live in their Airstream trailer full-time, saving money and enjoying the benefits of not being tied down to any single location. Airstreams are available in several sizes, allowing you to choose the right fit for your budget, needs, and family (if applicable).

Floating Homes

Four floating homes are lined along the Vancouver, Canada skyline.

Photo: Getty Images

When you hear the term floating home, you may think it is synonymous with “houseboat.” However, these two types of homes are actually not the same. While houseboats are vessels designed to move around a body of water, floating homes are permanently anchored. Their utilities are connected to outlets on the land. Floating homes also do not have an engine and are not as easily movable. While many alternative homes are appealing because of their more budget-friendly price, the same is not necessarily true for floating homes. While some can cost less than $100,000, others can be several hundred thousand or more. Floating home owners are often also responsible for paying HOA or moorage fees that cover dock maintenance, utilities, and other services.

Treehouses

A large wooden house is supported by a large tree.

Photo: Depositphotos

When you were younger, you may have dreamed of one day living in a treehouse. Well, treehouses can actually serve as a real home, not just a thing of childhood fantasies. With advanced designs and engineering, modern treehouses can even be equipped with electricity and indoor plumbing. Some treehouses are even large enough to offer several rooms to meet the needs of a larger family. Though, for such designs to be feasible, you’ll likely need to find a location that has more than one sturdy tree to build around.

Log Cabins

The interior of a luxury log cabin living room includes hardwood flooring, a leather couch, and a small wood stove.

Photo: Depositphotos

If you’re attracted to the lower price point of tiny homes, then you may be interested in considering a log cabin. Log cabins have been a popular structure in the United States, dating back before the frontier days. Today, they still offer a viable solution for those who want to reconnect with nature, live off the grid, or even just save money. There are even modular home manufacturers that can help you build this structure type or log cabin kit home options if you want to build one yourself.

Caves

A wine cellar with a wooden door, stone tile flooring, a rug, and a wooden table and bench is located within cave walls.

Photo: Getty Images

“Living in a cave also sounds like such a primal, back-to-nature experience,” say Austin, Texas real estate agent Crystal Olenbush. While this type of home doesn’t lend itself well to a tiny house community, there are cave homes located across the world. Many of these are luxurious and spacious retreats. Some are built inside existing caves, while other builders construct man-made caves for the home. When thinking about the logistics of building a home in a cave, Olenbush says, “I’d imagine working with a builder experienced in modifying natural structures would be key if someone wanted to pursue the cave life. Of course, the natural insulation would be amazing for our hot summers!”