Home is …Where (or What) You Make It

In the story of the three little pigs, sent out into the world to make their way, each pig chooses a different style of house to build.  Now the moral of that story is to build a big sturdy, solid house to protect you and your family.  But in real life the big bad wolf can just as easily dismantle a home of brick and mortar as a home built of sticks or straw.  And these days there are other considerations – such as cost, energy efficiency and just how adventurous you are willing to be!

As part of our upcoming (less than 3 months!) move we will be selling our ‘house’ and looking for a new residence.  I’ve had fun this past week looking at all the different sorts of housing that people have come up with.  As you know we’ve lived in trailers now for over 2 years, first a small (27-ft) travel trailer that was never meant to be a year-round residence and had challenging structural issues (also known a rotting floor), and currently in a larger “Park Model” trailer that is considerably more house-like.  We also spent 2 months living in tents at campgrounds before I received my severance pay and was able to purchase the trailer.   We are aiming higher than any of these in our next residence!

In the United States, the typical housing choices consist of single family homes, condominiums and apartments but people have come up with a surprising variety of variations on these choices. Remember the ‘Hobbit House’?   Here are a few of the more unusual residences:

Geodesic Dome Homes.  My first experience with a geodesic dome home was a nearby homeless village.  Ben moved into this village after his wife Trisha died and the kids and I went to visit him for his birthday in January.  It is a small settlement – constructed by the city after problems developed at a homeless encampment in the river bottom – of about a dozen individual residences and a larger common building.  The homes are all geodesic domes placed on platforms.  Made of a translucent material with a locking door and single window, they are very light and airy inside.  But they are more rooms than homes – just a round room with no real kitchen or bathroom (both available in or near the common building).  They are the simplest of structures, but geodesic domes have been made into much more complex and somewhat conventional homes.  Geodesic domes offer some advantages to the traditional home – they tend to be much more energy efficient for example.  And with extensions and multiple floors (see this home with 3 levels, including a garage and cupola) they are much more than a one-room house.   There are a number of companies that offer plans and even kits for the adventurous home owner.

Yurts.  Similar to dome homes in shape, the yurt is a modern take on a traditional portable home of nomads of the Asian steppes.  These days the yurt has become a common fixture at camps throughout America.   The website, Yurt Rentals Across the United States and Canada, lists over 50 resorts and campgrounds that offer yurt accommodations.  Not surprisingly, yurts have caught on as vacation residences and in some cases, as year round housing.  Yurts are low impact housing, and like geodesic homes can be purchased as build-it-yourself kits.

Straw Bale Homes.  This is a modern take on an old building method.  Walls are built of stacked straw bales and covered with plaster.  Windows and doors are framed in wood.  The thick walls provide excellent insulation, keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  These houses do not come in kits, but can be very much a do-it-yourself project.  If you think you can’t undertake this yourself, watch this inspiring video of a middle aged single mom who built a beautiful straw bale home in Arizona for around $50,000.

Shipping Container homes: This is taking recycling to an entirely new level!  Shipping containers are used, well, to ship things across oceans.  They are filled with items, stacked on freighters and sent across the sea where they can be put directly onto trains or tractor-trailers and moved inland.  They are made of metal and naturally are water and air-tight.  They are strong and stackable, although they tend not to be insulated and can get quite hot in the summer and cold in the winter if insulation is not added.  They have been used for modular offices (think construction sites) and extra classrooms and now some architects are designing more sophisticated office and residential buildings that utilize multiple shipping containers.

Renovated Farm Buildings. Another type of recycling, converting barns into houses became popular in the late 20th century, but a new twist on this involves converting other types of farm buildings such as grain bins.  Yep, those round metal silo-like structures!  Since grain silos make me think of that scene in the Harrison Ford film, Witness, which made me short of breath just thinking about it, I had to read up on this idea.  Naturally it involves cutting doors and windows into the corrugated metal skin, but in addition, several of the home builders have raised the roof to install a second floor (with windows) and even balconies.  I was surprised at how livable a space could be constructed from a grain bin!

And then there are the “Totally Adventurous” homes:  These are the way out there ideas – the sort of place you wouldn’t live if you had any concerns about becoming a roadside attraction!  For instance,  treehouses you have to see to believe, underground homes that are surprisingly light and warm, houseboats (not feasible where we will be settling), and some insanely crazy one of a kind homes (including one that is zombie-proof)!

It’s interesting to me how many round buildings are made into homes – I keep picturing pie shaped rooms.  Of course many of these round buildings tend to be made into homes for a single person or a couple without children and as such are mostly open spaces with minimal walls (or privacy).  And I, for one, am looking forward to both walls and privacy so it seems unlikely that we will end up in a yurt or a dome home!  I daresay our next home will be much more ordinary than most of these and I will be satisfied with ordinary if it means a few more amenities and more space, both inside and out!

How adventurous are you?  If you could build it what would your dream house look like?

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3 Responses to Home is …Where (or What) You Make It

  1. Jynet says:

    I’ve been looking at Yurts for YEARS now. I love them to death. When I was in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada (15 years ago?) they ran an article in the local paper about a family who spent the winter (-40C average temps) in a prospector’s tent, and I thought even then that a yurt would have been much easier/warmer/larger/etc.

    I live in Northern Alberta now, about 18-24 driving hours south of Whitehorse, and still wonder if I’d have the nerve to try it. If I lived further south – where winters were more in the 0 to -10C range I probably would!

  2. Merinda says:

    I used to live in a dome home my parents were building when I was a kid. They built it specifically to deal with Minnesota winters. It was my parents dream home and they were sorry to leave it. Also it allowed us to have 20ft+ christmas trees. I think they used contractors to build most of it, then my mom and dad were slowly finishing the inside as we lived there. http://www.flickr.com/photos/reliantfc3/2075514949/ that’s the backside.

  3. Michelle says:

    IKEA now offers a Pre-fabricated house, completely furnished for something like $86K. I know $86,000 isn’t exactly a ‘bargain’ but it isn’t bad compared to traditional housing, especially when you factor in that it is completely furnished including appliances.

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