Unusual Homes Part 1: Style & Affordability

Ever considered living in an unconventional house? 

There are a huge range of unconventional building styles to choose from (check out our list at the bottom of this article). Unconventional houses can be more affordable, unique and easier to build than the “typical” suburban house.


Mortgage-free home ownership is possible when you live where you can afford. This may seem obvious but “affordability” is about more than just land price. If you aren’t intending to live off the land and/or be completely self-sustainable, consider how far your property is from work and supplies – fuel price and ease of access should be factored into decision making.

Affordable land often, but not always, means buying outside of large city centres (although sometimes places like old fire stations, churches and buildings in old industrial estates etc. become available and can be more affordable than traditional homes because not everyone thinks outside the box when it comes to buying, building or renovating a house). You will also need to consider zoning and council regulations for the area.

House size is also an important factor. A smaller house typically reduces cost of construction and energy consumption. The tiny house movement has become popular because of the minimalist way of life. For people attracted to this lifestyle, less “stuff” equals less baggage and often fewer things to worry about. Fewer physical possessions can also mean that quality products are more affordable.

What should you look for in a design?

What do you find attractive? Not all house styles will appeal. Importantly, consider the area’s environment. Is it hot, cold or does it range significantly between the two throughout the year? Is it tropical or maybe arid? What about other environmental factors – is it subject to earthquakes, flooding or bush fires? All of these questions can help narrow down your choice of building materials. For example, in Australia, cheaper land is often available in the bush but with the bush comes considerations like heat, termites and risk of bush fire. This may automatically rule out some building materials. Straw bale and pallet houses are cheap and relatively easy to construct but nobody wants to be the little pig in the house of straw or sticks in this environment.

Some non-conventional homes (click on the links below to get an idea of what they look like):

  • Berm – earth covering one or more walls
  • Cob – natural building material made from subsoil, water and fibrous organic material (usually straw)
  • Cordwood – short pieces of tree laid crosswise with stone or cob to build the walls
  • Earthbag – uses soil in bags to create structures
  • Earthship – made of natural and up-cycled materials, such as tyres packed with earth
  • Earth-sheltered – uses earth against building walls for insulation. Can be underground
  • Geodesic domes – typically spacious and airy. Can withstand a range of natural disasters
  • Off-grid kit – covers a broad range of styles designed for self-sufficiency in terms of energy, etc.
  • Pallet – made of wooden pallets
  • Rammed earth – a technique that literally rams earth together to form structures
  • Shed – sheds used for housing, typically better insulated than the average garden shed
  • Shipping container – made of one or more shipping containers. Allows for modular building
  • Sod roofed – turf roofed houses typically sloped and covered with sod on top of birch bark and roof boards. Usually found on log houses
  • Straw bale – constructed using bales of straw, usually with a wooden frame
  • Tiny – a downsized house, often on wheels
  • Tree – a house built in a tree or using the structure of a tree in its design
  • Yurt – portable, round tent usually covered with felt or canvas

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