Years ago, most people lived in what fit their lifestyle. They lived in sod houses built from the Earth, wattle and daub, portable tipis or hand-built cabins. Some have even found home in natural formations of the world. We typically build box-shaped, wood-built homes these days, but there are many benefits to considering an alternative form of living.
Nearly 7 million homes were built in the last decade. It takes, on average, 7.7 months to complete a new-house build, given there are no issues with permits and paperwork(source.) On average, it costs $285,239 to build a traditional home. This puts a mortgage payment around $1,200 a month(if you're lucky enough to get a 3% interest rate.)
These figures are causing many to seek out alternative living. Alternative living lifestyles can provide a better suited type of life, whether it be for travelers or those looking to connect to the Earth. These living situations can also provide a more affordable, and unique, chance to own a home.
Nomadic Plains Indian tribes, such as the Comanche, needed a type of shelter that provided for their lifestyle. Tipis were easily, and quickly, set up and taken down, but provided a warm environment for sleeping, cooking and living.
History fact: Tipis belonged to the women of the tribe, meaning they were the ones that primarily set them up and decorated the outside.
Tipis were very efficient, wind-proof, waterproof and (somewhat) fire proof. Wood poles were covered with buffalo hides, providing (some) insulation and a barrier against the elements. I doubt much insulation was needed, as an open fire was made in the center, for heat and cooking. Smoke was vented out of the flaps from the top. They could be set up and taken down in thirty minutes.
Modern day tipis are typically built on a wood deck, with a waterproof canvas covering bamboo poles. They're usually heated with wood-fired heaters and set up with kitchens and indoor bathrooms, much like traditional homes.
They can be built as portable structures, or built as a permanent home. There are kits available(non-promoted) but many choose to DIY their own tipi. Bamboo is a renewable resource and available naturally in most of the Southeast U.S. There are patterns available for how to DIY the covering from a rectangular canvas tarp, with some careful cutting and sewing.
I can assure you tipis are very fun and experience to stay in, at least a few nights. One of my earliest(and best) memories from childhood is a tipi my grandfather and I built, from bamboo and a painter's tarp. We also constructed one on our homestead from some (small) oak trees that needed thinning and a tarp. It was much, much fun!
Wattle and Daub
Woodland Native American tribes didn't live the nomadic lifestyle like the Comanche, instead they lived in (mostly) stationary villages. The Cherokee(shoutout to my Woodland ancestors) used many different construction methods to build with, but one type of home they were known for was the wattle and daub.
To build these circular homes, they used what resources were available. This meant that different villages would have had slightly different construction methods. Some even had two homes, one for summer and one for winter. A summer home frame would have been formed from poles. Walls would have been created by weaving bark and wood, then by coating with clay. These would have been larger homes. The roof was made from thatch, with a small hole to allow smoke to escape.
In winter months, some lived in a second, partially sunken home called an asi. As time went on, many of the Cherokee lived in the same style of homes as the European settlers, such as log cabins.
I think most modern-day wattle and daub construction has been exchanged for Earthship and Earthbag construction, which I'll touch on below. Otherwise, here's a tutorial if you're interested in build a Wattle and Daub home!
The modern yurt is a portable structure, also called Gers in Mongolia. They're still widely used in Mongolia, but have made their way around the world as a permanent, efficient, sustainable living accommodation.
Early Mongolian nomads typically moved their camp about four times per year, using pack animals to do so. Differing from the tipi, their yurts took around two hours to disassemble and reassemble.
History Fact: Mongolian Huns Warriors mainly lived in yurts from 4-6 A.D.
The basic yurt is a creative, round structure with a lattice-side wall, covered with waterproof canvas. They're typically heated by a wood-fired heater and remain dry and toasty thanks to this. Kits can be purchased in sizes 16' to 30', but I've also seen yurts with lofts. Permanent yurts are usually build on raised decks, and can be insulated. Many who have chose yurt living build permanent outside walls and roofing.
Yurt kits can be expensive, but compared to the price of traditional homes, they are very affordable. In addition, should you ever decide(or need to) relocate, a basic yurt is completely portable.
With an understanding of the architecture of a yurt, the lattice wall frame can be constructed fairly cheaply and easily. This video below is from a man who has been living in a yurt for 14 years. He's sharing his experiences on my favorite Youtube channel- Exploring Alternative.
If you're lucky enough to acquire a piece of property with a cave, then you're in luck. Some caves can provide a temperature-regulated home in the same was underground homes do. Many have converted caves of all sizes to everything from hangouts to large homes with indoor pools.
Caution: Bats and other animals also enjoy caves. Not all caves are stable. I do recommend having a professional assess the cave you wish to visit before entering.
History fact: Tennessee is home to more than 10,000 known caves, more than any other state in the U.S.
The downside to caves is obviously, well, it's a cave. Even with built in skylights, most caves will receive little, if any, natural lighting. They are similar to built underground homes, except caves exist naturally underground.
The upside is that a cave is beautiful home already pre-built for you, and often cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It will need renovations based on how luxurious you want your home, but otherwise an existing, secure cave can provide (literal) rock-solid walls for building from.
There are many different ways of building Earthbag homes, but I'm just going to cover one method in this article.
History Fact: Earthbags have been proposed as a method of building on the moon, since all that is needed to build a structure is bags and basic tools.
Earthbag homes are constructed from packed Earth (usually a clay or clay mixture) inside of a polypropylene bag. Many use feed bags or sand bags, but bags made from polypropylene can be highly rot resistant, meaning they hold together longer. It can also be sealed to prevent UV deterioration.
After the damp clay is packed into bags, after some time it typically hardens into a clay brick, similar to the adobe method I'm going to talk about later in this article.
Earthbag homes are fairly inexpensive to build, especially if materials are substituted or bought second hand, but they're very labor intensive. They are usually round in shape, but not always, and are considered by many to be pest, earthquake and bulletproof.
Depending on the builder, a flat, level area is lined with gravel, then the bags are laid in the first layer in the desired shape. Most earthbag structures are round, but not all.
After the first layer, the bags are tamped to create a hard layer, then two stands of barbwire are added before the next layer of bags, until a wall is constructed. A roof can also be constructed from earthbags, but most I've seen are made from wood structures.
Many people mix their soil with concrete, add rebars or use a combination of other building techniques.
We've learned so much from these forms of shelter that were primary for people of their culture and time. I do believe we have much more to learn from those lost to time, such as the Cherokee Indians. They had methods of healing and living far more advanced than the knowledge of their time, and even today.
That's it for today! Have you considered an alternate living situation? Please share with us! Otherwise, have a great day and happy homesteading!