PHOTOGRAPH BY SHARON MATTHESON-MCCUTCHEON/FLICKR
It was good enough for Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes, so why shouldn’t it be good enough for you? Are you suddenly better than Genghis Khan? The traditional home of nomadic peoples across the steppes of Asia for the past 3,000 years, the classic yurt consists of a circular wooden lattice frame with a thick wool-felt cover held together with rope. Modern versions built here in the West are typically covered with waterproof fabric and can feature amenities like electricity, plumbing, and actual doors.
Pros: Yurts are semi-portable, low-cost, easy to build, comfortable in a variety of climates, and just plain eco-friendly in general. They’re a tiny house Genghis Khan would approve!
Cons: Having to explain to your highly skeptical parents, siblings, neighbors, friends, and local code inspectors what a yurt is and why you’ve chosen to live in one, over and over and over again.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROMAIN CLOFF/FLICKR
The igloo is the traditional but temporary home of the native peoples along the Canadian Arctic coast and parts of Greenland—but most closely identified with the Inuit (and cartoon penguins). The classic igloo is a domed structure made of stacked blocks of compacted, wind-driven snow and ice, and it makes a surprisingly warm and often life-saving shelter from the bitter cold.
Pros: Igloos are quick and cheap (free, actually) tiny houses to build and expand as needed, provided you have enough wind-driven and compacted snow on hand.
Cons: Uh, yeah, well, about all that Arctic snow: Don’t expect much of it to be around much longer, the way global warming’s going.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROLAND TANGLAO/FLICKR
The archetypal shelter of the native tribes that live across the Great Plains of the U.S. and southern Canada, the tipi is now mostly used only for ceremonial purposes. Portable, durable, and comfortable year-round, these cone-shaped tiny houses were originally made of buffalo hides (modern versions typically use canvas) stretched over poles (typically lodgepole pine or red cedar) and lashed together with rawhide ropes. The sides can roll up to catch breezes in the summer, and there’s usually room inside for a small fire, which is controlled by opening or closing a flap at the crown of the tipi.
Pros: It’s a conversation starter.
Cons: Cultural-appropriation issues aside, if you thought your parents weren’t fans of the yurt, then just wait until they get a load of your new tipi!
PHOTOGRAPH BY KRIS DUDA/FLICKR
The refuge both of medieval hermits and Batman, caves have provided shelter and safety to just about every kind of creature that has ever walked or crawled at some point in the Earth’s history. But modern cave living is somewhat more civilized than it was in the rough-edged Flintstonian past. In fact, caves (which generally maintain the same temperature year-round) can be downright luxurious as well as energy-efficient and eco-friendly.
Pros: Perfect for people with a morbid fear of tornadoes.
Cons: Less than perfect for people with a morbid fear of earthquakes or mole people.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AJ/FLICKR
The mobile home of choice for vacationing suburbanites, Hollywood A-listers, wandering hippies, and the kind of people you see dangling perilously off cliffs in Patagonia catalogs. The Airstream trailer provides pretty much everything your average modern minimalist needs to live comfortably packed in an shiny, aerodynamic aluminum shell. All that’s required is a vehicle to pull it, some land with a flat spot and a view, access to utility hookups, enough carpentry know-how to build a deck, a fridge full of beer, some tiki torches and a wide-open social calendar to handle your sudden surge in popularity.
Pros: Unless you went to school with a porn star or Buckaroo Banzai or something, you’ll probably be the most interesting person at your high-school reunion.
Cons: Cost of a new Airstream large enough for two people to live comfortably in + cost of land with a postcard view and utility hookups + cost of a vehicle to tow it around = the cost of a nice home with a big back yard in a location much more convenient to your office. So just how bad do you want this lifestyle?
PHOTOGRAPH BY ONE COOL HABITAT/FLICKR
Think of these as the traditional home of a big chunk of the world’s economic output. They’re like giant steel Legos: You can weld them together, stack them up, move them around, and basically build whatever you want out of them, provided of course that you designed your home exclusively in 20- and 40-foot segments.
Pros: They’re relatively cheap to buy, versatile, usually transportable and, given that you’re repurposing an existing object and not cutting down another forest to build a home, actually quite environmentally friendly, if done right.
Cons: A steel shipping container home can become a kiln in the summertime, so be prepared to spring for lots more insulation than you would ever need in a conventional home, as well as a way to cool it down. You’ll also want to sandblast and repaint this modern tiny house, because there’s no telling what was in there before you bought it. Also, though the walls of shipping containers are strong, the roofs are surprisingly weak, so you can’t really hang much from the ceilings without reinforcing them. Oh, and don’t forget the crane you’ll need to move it into place. But other than that, they’re a breeze. Except for the floors. Did I mention the floors? Because if your shipping container came with wood floors then you’re probably gonna want to rip them out, considering the health and environmental issues they entail.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY GUYTON/FLICKR
The shelter of choice for fifth graders, cookie elves, Ewoks, and assorted families from Switzerland, treehouses are ideal for people who literally like hugging trees and want their homes to do the same. On the other hand, in the words of the late, great Mitch Hedberg, “I think a treehouse is really insensitive. That’s like killing something and then making one of its friends hold it.”
Pros: Being able to say you live in a treehouse? C’mon, that’s awesome! High five!
Cons: Hope you’re okay with squirrels, because you’re gonna get squirrels.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NATIONAL PARKS SERVICES/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The preferred traditional home of World War III. Following the end of the Cold War, most of the nation’s nuclear missile silos were taken out of service. Many of those facilities were destroyed, but a number of them (minus the missiles and assorted military technology, of course) went on the auction block, meaning that you could get yourself a spacious, if spartan, underground bunker designed specifically to survive a nuclear attack, often including backup power generator and water supplies.
Pros: If you’re looking for zombie-proof, off-the-grid survivalist construction, this is about as good as it gets.
Cons: Nothing says “Home Sweet Home” quite as warmly as the rusty creak of a 40-ton blast door.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BECK GUSLER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The preferred traditional home of big feet and the fairy-tale counterpart to reality TV’s Duggar family. There are, for whatever reason, footwear-inspired homes all over the globe, but the most famous one in the U.S. is probably the Haines Shoe House in Hallam, Pennsylvania. The 25-foot high boot was built as a marketing tool by a shoe salesman named Mahlon Haines back in 1948, and contains a living room in the toe, two bedrooms in the ankle, a kitchen in the heel, and an ice-cream parlor in the instep (of course). There’s also a shoe-shaped doghouse out in the yard, but who knows where its ice-cream parlor is located?
Pros: You’ll be famous as the people who live in the big shoe.
Cons: You’ll be famous as the people who live in the big shoe.