Tell me about your alternative small home dreams

zandraAugust 29, 2006

I know you're here, thinking about what I'm thinking about too. My story very briefly encapsulated: I own a small house on which I still owe about 1/6 of the current value. the value of my home has boomed in the thirteen years I've been here and I've despised the neighborhood, the upkeep; which is of course getting worse, and the memories associated with the place. I've always been interested in alternative housing, the stranger, cheaper and eco-friendly the better (my favorite home of all time is Forestiere's Underground Gardens near Fresno Ca) -but anyway, I've been looking at sheet metal buildings (I really dig the domed top kind) and of course mobile homes. Needless to say I intend to downsize the value of my future home itself but would like a nice quiet lot on high ground away from the ocean, and I have to research zones and codes and whatnot, but I'm planning to sell and move in about 3 years. Anybody have experience or dreams about sheet metal, yurts, cinderblock cabins, converted garages/workshops, really small 1 bdrm cottages, trailers, etc? what's it like to live in one? -it's okay if your opinions about it are negative, I gotta start my research somewhere so I'll be ready. Thanks, -Z

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh yeah, I'm copying this to the manufactured homes forum, but I'm not strictly talking about those, since tiny cottages (there exist some 1-2 bedrooms in my area) are also on my list.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 3:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

When I was about 9 my mother and stepmother built a little house. There was the foundation and cellarhole to an OLD house lost by fire and overgrown for decades on their lot so they decided to use it. They had little money and the semi-good luck to live in a location with no building code, so they purchased plans for a two-car garage of about 400sf and plunked that down on the foundation. Needless to say they didn't put in the big holes for the garage doors! One quarter of it was divided off for a bedroom, and another little piece for the bath (VERY primitive for some years, like no flush toilet primitive). The rest of the space was an open kitchen/living room area. There was a ladder up to the unfinished attic for storage. When my little brother was two or three and getting too big to share his parents' bedroom, they added on a wing of another 400ish square feet to make a bedroom for him and a living room, and the original kitchen/living area became a kitchen and dining room. It was a pretty decent little house.

Several years ago we were planning on building a Deltec round house kit, but found it impossible to get a) financing and b) approval from any town we wanted to live in. :-( It was just too "out there".

My small home dream... a thoroughly modernized, "green" to the absolute hilt, but 100%-authentically-styled and old-looking bungalow using both salvaged old materials and the newest technologies. About 1500 well-designed square feet would be ideal. It would be on a steeply sloped lot in order to have a walkout basement for efficient land usage and the insulation value of earth, ideally finding a teardown so that we can use land that is already in use rather than contributing to either sprawl or destruction of habitat (since the wooded lot next door was cleared the breeding pair of red-shouldered hawks and the fisher-cat have vanished).

Having spent much of my childhood in trailers, I have no sentimentality about them nor any interest in ever going anywhere near another one. *wry grin*

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 4:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lenders and local authorities and such might balk at unfamiliar house types, but one they probably won't balk at is steel, because it's not abnormal at all for businesses, governments, churches, or other organizations. It's also stronger than wood and won't dry-rot, burn, or get moldy, mildewy, or eaten by bugs, and yet it's cheaper and quicker easier to build anyway (including doing it yourself if you want).

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 11:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am extemely interested in alternative building techniques. Because I live in Northern Minnesota, cordwood log homes appeal to me. We are currently tearing off 2/3 of our home leaving us with a tiny cottage. My husband wants to build on to it, but I want to build behind it using cordwood construction. Here is a link that may be useful. This is by far one of the best resources for cordwood construction. You might also want to do a google search on strawbale construction.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cordwood Construction

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 2:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

When we were looking to buy a house, the realtor showed us a metal building that was partially finished to be a house. I wasn't the least bit interested...after all, it LOOKED like an ugly metal building, not a cozy little cottage like I wanted. The "partially finished" interior had been VERY poorly designed and it was upwind from a dairy farm...the stench INSIDE the house was more than I could handle. We ended up finding our little dream home a few months later with proper design and no dairy farm in sight.

I have lived in a mobile home and would never do it again. I don't like the low ceilings and cheap materials...doors that don't fit, etc. I've seen a lot of mobile homes and they are built they way for ease of moving, but I don't like it. Plus, I live in Tornado Alley, so mobile homes are a bad idea all around. ;)

That said, DH and I dream about converting a building into a dwelling, particularly an old church, school, etc. I love the idea of using an existing building that was not intended to be a home for use as a dwelling. There's some show on HGTV about people who have done this very thing and it's a favorite of DH's and mine.

It took us several months of looking to find the perfect small house. When we started, we weren't particularly looking for this size, but it was well within our budget and we fell in love! I would suggest you start scoping out the area you want to live in and see what's available. Check into the building codes, etc. If you're interested in metal buildings, etc. go look at as many as you can to get ideas and input from those who have built them. Price out what it would be for your different options and I'm sure, in the end, you'll find the right home.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 8:56AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If I ever have to build again, this is what I'm building:

Here is a link that might be useful: Rocio Romero LV house

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 9:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Bleah! Mistype! That's supposed to be "mother and stepFATHER". Mother would have a cat. :-)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 1:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There is a long-unused pumping station by a nearby private body of water. It is a pretty little masonry structure of about 300 square feet, built to a very high standard. Over the years, subdivisions of the original estate have reduced the size of the property it stands on to about 1,000 square feet, but it still does have frontage on a public street and room to park one car and it backs up on the water. I have been pestering the owner for years to sell me an option to buy it, subject to my being able to obtain a zoning variance to convert it to a residence. Of course, the chance of my being able to do that is somewhat less than zero. But it's fun to dream.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 2:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh boy, I LOVE that LV house! WOW!!

I have a friend who is considering buying a train car and converting it into a home.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 3:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I've always been drawn to earth-sheltered homes. I have a dream about having an organic farm with a little earth sheltered house (a la Bilbo in Lord of the Rings.) Not likely to happen, but fun to dream about.

I've built about a dozen different treehouses and am making plans for a new one now - not big enough to live in, but enough for two people to sleep out in. (Unfortunately, our only large trees overlook the street - oh well!) The one I'm planning will be single story with a look-out deck, and will be supported by two trees. So it's time to start scavenging lumber!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 5:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well, I'm hoping to build a small, passive-solar cottage with the basement used as a bedroom to take advantage of the earth insulation. I want to use salvaged materials as much as possible, including wood from the old barn that is on the property. And I will build in the "footprint" of my great-aunt's house (which is now falling down from lack of a good roof). It was built into the side of a hill.
Oh, I love the HGTV show that was mentioned - the one where people convert old buildings into homes. One of my favorites, and also a one-time dream, was an old barn in TN converted into a house/treehouse. REALLY wanted to do that for awhile - until I talked with a local contractor who tried not to laugh and said I must have been watching HGTV! My great-aunt's old barn was in such bad shape it would have cost a fortune. Still, there is plenty of wood to be salvaged. Rocks on the property can be also used, old bricks from the fireplaces can be salvaged. And on it goes. . .One day!
Right now, I'm making organic garden beds out there and growing veggies, flowers and herbs. Would love to incoporate some sort of garden business into the picture too. Plenty of room to grow more herbs or flowers, or fruit. . .
Well, the subject is "dreams." :)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 10:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow, I'm really glad there are so many like minds here, I thought I might get laughed out of town. That LV house is unspeakably beautiful and is and example of something I would love to do provided I could get it past code. I need my privacy but I'm a firm believer in hedges and garden rooms so I'm sure I could design around those big windows for privacy. Yes, I would love to convert a commercial building into a home, but that's probably the least likely to happen of my choices. My most realistic notion is to buy the largest lot that makes financial sense with existing driveway, sewage, and whatever else I can get, and tear down the decrepit mobile home that will probably be on it, and replace it with something like the LV house or the steel sheeting shop I mentioned. I need to stay withing a certain area because it's important to me to use alternative transportation to get to work, something I just can't do at the moment because my area is very unfriendly to bicycles and the public tranportation is just lousy. Thanks for the great information. -Z

Here is a link that might be useful: American Steel Span buildings

    Bookmark   September 2, 2006 at 1:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

we'll be building a 1000sq.ft. retirement home in the adirondacks soon. the plan calls for a walk out basementon the side, floor to ceiling masonry wall with fireplace and inglenook(big enough for sleeping or dining) and heating and ac water lines in it. maybe we'll put a wood burning oven at chest height for cooking,if we can fit it all in! based on another thread,maybe even use the masonry wall as a water tank,have to think about that. heat will be passive solar from south east facing window wall and solar roofing,said masonry wall and floors with radiant heat. more heat will come from a three day outside wood furnace with pipes that will run under driveway for ease of snow removal. i'd like to learn more about geo-thermal,but haven't yet.
my house design is for one big span of 28ft,which will comprise the main living area. then a bedroom/bath offset as to take advantage of the view and for interest. patio all around,with shade trees planted to provide shade in summer and sun in winter.
i'd like a tudor cottage look with exposed timbers with masonry or stone siding. the house,garage and barn will be in a u-shape for ease of use and to protect the front yard and barnyard from northern winds and drifts. and this way every stall and the complete barnyard will be seen from every room in the house.
i can't wait!

    Bookmark   September 4, 2006 at 8:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I can think of several old building in my small hometown back in IL, but I currntly live in CA, and as bad as I want to 'get outta town', I *don't* want to go back to that kind of cold. There's an old garment manufacturing building, several churches, a bakery, and lord know what else as the young are all leaving.

My first choice would be a church~saw the HGTV special~how cool! A siloh might be neat, too~there would probably be a lot of land sold with it.

I just love old homes AND old buildings! ;o)


    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 1:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hey patty cakes - my home WAS a church! Not one of the really cool ones though. It was built in the 1940s for a small congregation. Still, we've got the 14 foot ceilings - and three eensy little closets - and a whole lot of bizarre modifications to deal with. The POs tried as hard as possible to make the interior resemble the other cottages and ranch houses in the neighborhood (sigh.)

And hey, Happy birthday to you!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 6:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I, too, love the LV home. I'm also loving the weehouse - I really like the different modules and the general look and feel of the result... someday!

Here is a link that might be useful: weehouse

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 6:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The LV house doesn't much appeal to me style-wise, though the concept does.

My dream is also a tiny house with insulated daylight basement built into rural hillside, with the top structure of earth friendly materials. That would depend on the site conditions, though. I've long had a fascination for hay-bale, which I think is quite doable with a good foundation.

I would like to install a good quality composting toilet. Properly installed, they work great. A lot of the places available to build these days are not suitable for a standard septic system, and composting toilets are waaaay cheaper than a design system, and have a longer lifespan. And are better for the environment.

As much as I love my little Victorian house and the village I live in, I've come to realize I don't want to live out my life here. I need a quieter place with more access to outdoors. So I'm going to finish off what I need to to sell my house, and see if I can find a small plot of land I can afford, and put up a basic little cottage. I also have thought of putting up a 2 car garage to live in, and may do that. Homely is fine, if I have a garden and birds, a quiet road, and good neighbors who aren't married to machines for everything they do. (I have good neighbors here, but too many machines, and too much traffic since the town paved the other end of the road).

Dayle Ann

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 11:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Postum, you lucky son-of-a-pup!! I'm makin' a move outta CA, so never know what could be lurking in my future~maybe an old church??? I sure wouldn't try to make a cottage out of it, but would add a few walls/half walls~privacy is a must in BR's and bathrooms!

Thank you for the happy b-day! I've been blessed with a family that loves me a lot, and that's all I can ask for. ;o)


    Bookmark   September 20, 2006 at 3:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Two churches near me have been "repurposed." One was a large church that was turned into unique condos; the other is a being converted to a single-family residence.

I love to drive by the second one to see the progress. They're using copper flashing/gutters, beautiful windows, etc. It really looks gorgeous.

If I had my "druthers," I'd get the prefab house called the Glidehouse (see link below).

Here is a link that might be useful: The Glidehouse

    Bookmark   September 21, 2006 at 2:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


Those of you interested in the LV House might want to check out the November issue of dwell magazine -- they have a several-page spread on the house and Rocio Romero, its creator.

I really really want one....

    Bookmark   October 12, 2006 at 9:00AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

mcgillicudy beat me to posting Michelle Kaufmann's website, although I like her Solaire myself. We are currently researching the possibility of building a duplex on a relative's property that would be handicap accessible. My MIL is moving in with us and although she is in good health now, as she gets into her 80's there will be the inevitable physical limitations to deal with.

We are not like many here -- we prefer to stay in the city; we do not want a lot of land to care for. We already have a small cottage on a large city lot, and it is time-consuming to take care of. I love to garden, but this is not the kind of place one can keep up in one's old age. In fact we bought this property from two elderly sisters who were unable to take care of it any longer.

Two years ago (age 53) I broke my leg and it was shocking how hard it was to even get in and out of the house. There are only four front steps up and down but for two weeks I couldn't do it without help. A friend built us a ramp which made it a lot easier, but using a walker for two months really changed my outlook. Now I know for sure this is not our forever house, and that if we do build we will design and eventually install an elevator. As wonderful as it would be to do a level-in, one story house, it is impractical and unaffordable to do so for two households with our financial resources, as land is so expensive here.

Our dream home would have 2bd 2-1/2ba, and a big kitchen for us, and a 1bd 1ba for my MIL. Since it's impossible to get anything imaginative or creative through the city permit process, all we can do is insulate as well as possible, get better quality double pane windows (we have the cheapo HDepot kind, okay but not great), pour synthetic concrete between the floors (terrific sound insulation), and a southfacing roof with solar panels and radiant barrier. All hallways and aisles are 4', and doorways are extra-wide with a barrier-free shower in the master bath. The city will require us to put in 3 garage spaces minimum, as well, so that pretty much uses up a 2 story 45x50 footprint.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2006 at 6:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just inheritied a hillside location with a 228ft elevation site. Needless to say I am in the process right now of building an addition to my 1196sq ft home. Darn it..
But if I could I would rather have built me one of thiese earthen roofed & sided homes like those from Davis Caves.
Real protection from tornado's is lacking in a lot of the homes I have seen mentioned here. With what just happened in Florida the week of the Superbowl,no one should ever question the power of Mother Nature. Or the likelihood that they can't be affected. Impact resistant glass (Laminated -stronger & less likely to implode) glass is going on my current addition right now.It coasts 3 times the price of regular glass but, I think its worth it. As I live 125 miles inland from the coast. FEMA /OSHA wind zones charecterize my home as being susceptible to both Hurricanes & Tornadoes. The house would be heated by a Soapstone Masonry Heater and also have 2 Wind powered Windmills and Solar generation for my appliances and Hot Water so I could live OFF THE GRID ! If it were 10 ft in the ground where it is 55 degrees all year long it wouldn't require AC; could get by most humid summers with just a fan. Perhaps no fan at all if I had a lower level. That would be the ticket, a Home paid for & no continuing bills except property tax... perhaps with it being built into the ground, the wouldn't know how to tax it either.. Snap ! I know I am dreaming now..

Here is a link that might be useful: Davis Caves Earthen homes

    Bookmark   February 7, 2007 at 10:12AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My alternative-materials small home dream is different. We wanted it to look like a Southern states French colonial cottage, but without all the maintenance issues. Starting from scratch, we designed and built what we wanted, using a brick, fiber cement, fiberglass, concrete, aluminum, steel, glass, all non-wood exterior. We did NOT want steps, but we wanted the raised front porch with the brick steps, and with columns/railings/ballustrades. And, I wanted the extra-large 3 car garage (for homeshop and for a trailered bassboat that requires 27 ft of depth). SO, I attached the garage in the back of the house, built the house on a sloped lot, such that the side-entrance to the garage doors is on ground level but the front porch is 3 ft off the ground. The first bay of the garage has a door into the kitchen, and we will use this entrance to the house most of the time (no steps, it's all single story except for some storage in the attic).

    Bookmark   February 9, 2007 at 11:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Below is a link to a website that someone pointed me to last year. This gives a list of different types of homes that are being made for the prefab market. I love the LV home and I am considering the garage for my home later this year.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Fabulous PreFabs

    Bookmark   February 13, 2007 at 11:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I love it that my post is still turning up responses. That last alternative home manufacture's site of links-link is the bomb.
Here's what's changed since I put up the post:
the price of my thirteen year old 3 bedroom has fell considerably, but I still want to sell it this summer (when the garden is in flower) and I will probably contact an agent next month. I think it is still worth the effort of finding out. I found out the exact (I think) amount I have to pay back the lender =$91 K, and the value of the home as it stands should be (and I'm being conservative, seeing as I'm impatient and don't want it on the market for six months or more) about 260-280K. I have seen a few stick built itty bitty houses, 1-2 bedrooms or less, in the surrounding areas in the 100-150K range, and I'm determined not to have a mortage. the more I investigate the more I worry about the difficulties of having a home built, but if I can determine that I would get something better for less money obviously I'm going to do it. I can't get any clear answers from the planning department, they are not forthcoming to say the least. Their suggestion in pretty much any instance is I buy a home plan and take it to very highly paid professionals who will determine for me whether it will be approved or not. of course, if I want to live off the grid it would be a lot simpler. I'm considering this, but not sure if it's worth a commute for hours on dirt roads, although in the end I may up being a happier person. I've looked at many alternative home sites, and continue to be most attracted to the really ugly, super economical, really outlandish ones. I've been reading the buying and selling forum a lot lately and my little head hurts. Gosh, what a scary process. -Z

Anyway, my favorite is still shipping crate homes:

Here is a link that might be useful: energistx

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 4:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think I want a Katrina Cottage. You can buy them and Lowes delivers, then your contractor puts them together like tinker toys. I need to find somewhere they will fit code. I just old enough to realize I need to get off a barrier island and plan for post retirement.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 10:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I officially hung up my pipe wrenches and retired on New Years day 2006. At the time my game plan was to go aboard my 36' houseboat for a two to three month cruise then return and build a tiny little one bedroom retirement home that looks like an English gate keepers cottage that I had been designing and dreaming about for the last ten or so years. So much for long term plans...LOL. I have had so much fun on the boat I don't anticipate ever building another house. So far i have cruised the Ohio river from Pittsburg to Cairo, Ill, Un the Mississippi to the Illinois then up to the Chicago sanitary ship canal to Chicago, then back downstream to New Orleans, turning west on the Intercoastal waterway all the way to Brownsville, Texas and back to Ohio, and next summer we plan to circumnavigate the entire east coast of the USA. Mississippi River to chicago,,across the great lakes to New York, Erie canal and Hudson River to NYC then the coastal waters to southern NJ where we will take the Intercoastal waterway around florida to New Orleans and up the Mississippe river and Ohio river back to our starting point.

When we feel in a festive mood we can go down river about 40 miles from our home marina and tie up to a casino boat for a day or two. When solitude is in order we anchor in a quiet cove in a wilderness section of the river where i can quietly sip my coffee and watch deer, bear and other wildlife come to the river for water.

When we are tied up in a marina and must make those obligotory pilgrimages to walmart we have a motor scooter on the stern deck that we can set off. Laugh if you will but it gets 60mpg at 50mph with two ppl so it is fine for us.

The boat is totally self contained with a 20KVA generator, a marine geothermal HVAC system plus we can heat the boat with circulating hot water generated by the engines when we are cruising. (the same method as a car heater). Full size LP gas range and oven in the galley, plus microwave and all the other non-sensical trappings of a full kitchen. Two bedrooms with queen size beds plus the galley can be converted to sleeping berths when we have extra ppl on board. (We can actually sleep 10 ppl comfortably.) The Head (bathroom) is a bit small but it has all the required amenities,tub/shower, toilet, vanity etc.

About the only thing we don't have that we might have in a new house is a mortage and utility bills..LOL.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2007 at 3:20AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My dream cottage is a cob home. Built from material on-site. I've been researching them for years, and have the land on which to situate it and wish I could convince my spouse it would be fun, unique, artistic and cheap. It's like working with clay, and things like fireplaces and seating can be built right into the wall as it goes up. I doubt if I could find a thatcher in this country to put on the roof I want, but wood shakes would also look cool. And a little open loft and windows with tiny leaded panes of glass.

Here is a link that might be useful: cob home interiors

    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 9:31PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Organizing the kitchen
Do you wish your kitchen was better organized? I do!...
So where are you? New house? Still looking?
Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b
Help for me coming soon...
My family and friends have been praying for that all...
Tiny House Forum?
I like this forum- but I sometimes think that we could...
Remodel almost home.
I've had fun the last few days, because I started "shopping...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™