5 Outdoor Houses for Really Hardcore Enthusiasts

Most people live in cookie cutter-like above ground structures that have little or nothing to do with the surrounding environment. Me on the otherhand; I lived in a treehouse for two years. And in doing so, I learned a lot about unconventional houses that work in harmony with their environments. Here’s five of my favorites.

The Tree House
Ok, so I’m biased. But treehouses are extremely versatile and can be superior to a conventional structure in many ways.  By supporting your house with the tree’s trunk or branches the need to lay a conventional foundation no longer exists.  This, along with added height, can be hugely beneficial if building in a wet climate, such as a rainforest, where wet wood quickly rots away.  Setting your supporting beams can be accomplished without hurting the tree, and if you’re building your house in a forest, chances are good that you’ll be able to use self-harvested lumber from the surrounding area for your columns and framing.  If you have access to a basic chainsaw mill you may even be able to build the whole thing without buying any wood.

Treehouses are easy to power using solar panels or a wind turbine mounted to the tree or on the roof. Plus, none can deny the height-induced sense of superiority one experiences when gazing down at the world from the top of a tree.

The Igloo
It’s true that igloos aren’t commonly used as permanent dwellings these days because they don’t often last more than a year, but when it comes to a house that efficiently employs its environment, the igloo is where it’s at.

An igloo is created by first digging out a pit with a connected trench in the snow, then cutting and stacking blocks of snow in a circular or spiral pattern around the central pit, which becomes the sleeping area.  A house big enough to sleep four can be built by two people in less than two hours and can be used for many months with relatively little maintenance.  The blocks are sealed together with more snow, and once occupied your radiating body heat causes the interior of the igloo to melt slightly and then freeze again, sealing your house with an interior sheet of ice.  Of course anyone thinking about spending the night in one of these is going to be concerned about freezing their butt off, but because snow is such a good insulator your body heat and whatever small heat source you have, such as a camp stove, can warm the room to a balmy 60º F and keep you safe from the elements outside.  This house has no carbon footprint and is constructed from the most abundant renewable resource on the planet.

The Cave House
During the last ice age most humans survived because of caves, but we’ve since abandoned our rocky dwellings in favor of sunnier places.  Still, caves provide the most primal of interiors and some have returned to our stone-age roots and live within houses built by the erosive forces of the earth.

Caves, like other underground houses, require very little energy to heat.  They stay warm in the winter, and cool in the summer, and don’t need air conditioning, only proper ventilation.

Caves houses often don’t require nearly as much construction as other underground houses because usually the only exterior wall that has to be built is at the entrance, however they do of course require that you actually have a cave to start off with, meaning that there are only so many places where building one is even a remote possibility.  Building sites may be difficult to come by, but if you do have access to a cave, a stronger, more resource efficient dwelling can’t be found.

The Straw-bale house
These houses are built using bales of straw as their main structural element.  The bales are stacked on a raised platform and arranged in the layout of the house, then plastered over for a modern weatherized finish.  Straw-bale houses are one of the most common types of environmentally friendly houses and are popular all over the country.  Straw is an exceedingly good insulator, so climate-control costs are much lower than in conventional homes, and it’s a readily available, cheap renewable resource.  It’s fire retardant, and cuts down on sound as well, so straw-bale houses are known for being exceptionally quiet.  Of the houses on this list, these are the only ones that can be made to look like a modern home.  They can be multiple stories, don’t require expensive shipped-in materials, and can be built according to any floor plan.

The Underground House
Underground houses can take on many different shapes and sizes, but what sets them apart is the fact that they use the earth for most, if not all of their exterior surface area.  Soil is a great insulator, so these homes are extremely quiet and climate control costs are minimal.  Most don’t even need air conditioning.  Underground houses, unlike caves, can be built according to whatever suits one’s fancy. and are extremely versatile.  There can be multiple levels and floorplans are virtually unlimited.  All that is needed is a way to displace the soil.  No exterior roofing or walls are required, just a thin waterproof membrane to keep the moisture out, which after installation, can last indefinitely underground.   These houses are also supremely protected from the elements and are safe and secure in a heavy storm or a tornado.  They’re less conspicuous on the landscape and the ground above the house can be used for gardening or food cultivation.