Home sweet alternative home

Want to live sustainably – and mortgage free? Check out these increasingly fashionable and fully functional homes for a fraction of the cost of bricks and mortar.

With skyrocketing house prices an inescapable issue in big cities, many people in Australia and abroad are seeking alternative solutions.


Pic Cap: Welcome to the family yurt - this traditional Mongolian dwelling offers open living and also feels expansive thanks to its high, conical roof


Take the tiny house movement, for example. In the United States, the rising popularity of tiny houses has spawned TV shows such as Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House, Big Living. Interest is growing in Australia, too.

A Griffith University study found that tiny houses appeal to a wide demographic. But they’re not just small versions of the average family home. From modified shipping containers to exotic yurts, we consider the trend through five of the most affordable and sustainable alternative housing options.


Tiny houses

Buying a home for less than a $100,000 would be a dream come true for many. “It’s the main reason people buy our tiny homes, to be able to live mortgage-free,” says Paul Hangan, co-founder of Tiny Homes Australia. As a general rule, a tiny house measures 400 square feet (37 square metres) or less – about the size of a small studio apartment. It can be made from any material and many resemble small versions of big houses when fully kitted out. A huge advantage is portability, with many owners opting to place them on specially designed trailers.


Earth-brick houses

The Earth Building Association of Australia estimates that one-third to one-half of the world’s population lives in earth-brick houses. These dwellings can be made from different types of earth bricks, with some also utilising rammed-earth walls that can include quarried aggregate. Studies have also shown that rammed-earth walls perform better than traditional clay-brick walls in earthquakes. Although some people view the earth construction as perhaps primitive, there is almost no discernible aesthetic difference in the finished product. “And don’t worry about the rain,” says Sheree-Anna Ramada, who has lived in an earth-brick house for 30 years. “The bricks are highly durable and won’t just melt away.”


Shipping container homes

These are just what the name implies – houses made from shipping containers – but those containers have undergone major modifications to become attractive modular homes. Designed to last the harsh conditions at sea, containers make strong and weather-resistant abodes. Since they are already enclosed spaces, house construction can take a matter of days. Spacious and affordable, some suppliers even offer a two-bedroom container home for $55,000. They can also be stacked to add extra storeys to your dwelling.



Co-housing communities support residents with similar values to live together for their mutual benefit. In most co-housing setups, residents have their own self-contained units but also share a communal space for shared activities. Some co-housing communities also adopt green approaches to living and, while people often equate co-housing with communes, there can be considerable benefits, especially for older people.



A yurt provides affordable, open-plan living. Measuring between 3 metres and 20 metres in diameter, a yurt’s circular shape allows ample room for a bed, lounge and even a fireplace. This traditional Mongolian dwelling also feels expansive thanks to its high, conical roof. Prefabricated steel and canvas units can be built in as little as a day, with inexpensive yurts sold for around $7000.

While going small – and sometimes strange – isn’t the housing solution for everyone, downsizing into a tiny home is starting to become a real option. And just remember: a tiny house means only a tiny space to keep clean.

26 March 2018