How Much Does Alternative Housing Cost? 


You may have noticed there are not as many houses for sale in today’s real estate market. Unfortunately, this trend is likely to continue causing traditional housing prices to continue their uphill climb. Those considering a move may have sticker shock regarding current housing prices. Unfortunately, if you have a house to sell, any profits are likely to go into the new house when you buy due to rising prices. If you are considering a move and don’t have a house to sell, renting and downsizing are great options. 

How much does alternative housing cost? Many alternative housing options range between $2,000–50,000. An alternative house like a barndominium can range from $50,000 to $100,000, depending on custom features, while you can purchase a shipping container for $2,000-4,000, and you can customize it to your liking. Alternative housing ideas vary as much as the type of house.

Which alternative housing ideas are similar to traditional housing? 

The alternative housing options below all come with one thing to remember, the more customized your build-out of alternative housing, the more they will likely cost in time or money. These options are similar to a traditional house but have alternative building processes and materials, which may be better for your budget. 


The cost of building a barndominium

A barndominium is an attractive housing option. It is a barn, either new or existing, that has been fully or partially converted into a living space.

Building cost for a new barndominium runs about $10,000 for a 900 square foot kit. According to Barndominium Life, the kit typically includes:

  • A concrete slab
  • Stained interior concrete floors
  • Exterior doors
  • Energy-efficient windows (some even let you choose the number and quality of windows)
  • Spray foam insulation
  • A continuous roof

Pros – A barndominium can cost less than a traditional stick-built house, running around at around $70–$95 per square foot. This type of home takes about half the time of a traditional build. 

Cons– When you start to customize the kit, your costs end up creeping up into the traditional build range of $115–$145 per square foot. 

Pre-existing– Barndominiums can cost the same as a traditional house. Unfortunately, most of the savings happen during the build. 

The cost of building a prefabricated (prefab) house


A prefab house is another housing alternative similar to a traditional house. They are not as expensive as a traditional home, but they are not cheap either. They are typically built off-site in ready-to-assemble parts and transported to the home site. Because the structure has been built into each piece, they don’t take as long to put together as a traditional house. The cost to build a prefab home is $80–160 per square foot or between $120,000–270,000 installed. Setting up a prefab house includes site prep, foundation, delivery, assembly, and utility construction. Modular home prices are $50–100 per square foot for the base unit only, according to

Pros– They are more affordable than a traditional home at $150-200 per square foot to build. Builders can construct a prefab home quickly with no weather delays. They do not require inspections since it’s all done in the factory. They can be customized and are built with sustainable materials.

Cons– Once completed, the financing process can be complicated, from a construction loan and refinancing to a standard mortgage. You need to purchase land before the building, which may require financing. Not many subdivisions allow prefab homes. The foundation needs to be built out ahead of time with electrical, plumbing, and sewage hookups on-site.

Pre-existing– A pre-existing prefab home is around the same price as any stick-built traditional house between $150–200 per square foot or a 1500 square foot home between $225,000–300,000. 

The cost of building a shop house (shouse or shome)

wooden white log cabin on home garden meadow

A shop house is an excellent alternative to building a traditional home with a large shop home. The houses are often post-frame construction with steel posts, metal siding, and metal roofs. They come in a wide range of styles, designs, and sizes to suit different budgets. The average cost of constructing a metal building is $10 to $25 per square foot. This estimate is with no furnishings. With finished interior areas, such as the kitchen and bathroom, bringing the price to $80–140 per square foot for 1000 square feet of living space. However, at $180 per square foot, you would have a workshop portion as well. The total could be as low as $80,000 or up to $140,000, $180,000 with a workshop. 

Pros– A house is a great option for welders, construction workers, mechanics, auto enthusiasts, RV owners, woodworkers, and hobbyists. Large and typically do not need a basement. They are durable since most buildings are made of steel. They only take 2-3 weeks to build. They are eco-friendly.

Cons– You need to buy the land and set the foundation with all of the hookups before the house can be built. There is no basement. May need regular treatment to prevent rusting. The loan may come with a higher downpayment or interest rate. It can get more expensive when you customize. Some lenders are more cautious about approving loans for shop homes and other non-traditional structures.

Pre-existing– A pre-existing shouse or shome might be the exact cost as a traditional house or more if you have the right buyer. To save money, your best bet would be to renovate a vacant barn or large shed into a home or shouse. 

The cost of building a tiny house


Tiny houses have been all the rage for those looking to downsize, travel, or live an alternative housing lifestyle. This is the only reasonable option for many due to the small footprint and effect on the environment. No matter your reason, tiny houses are popular for more than their eco-friendliness; they are very reasonable to build. The cost to build a tiny home can range anywhere between $20,000 – 60,000 on materials, building permits, and foundations. But you could be all-in for that price, or even less if you can finish the interior yourself as a DIY project.

Pros– Much cheaper than a traditional house. You can customize many of the features in the home for the perfect functionality. You only need a small plot of land or lease land from a friend or family member. 

Cons– If you’re looking for a permanent foundation, you need to have one poured. They are small and may not suit those who often feel claustrophobic. You will need to buy the land first. Lenders are not very flexible on financing; you may need to find alternative financing options. 

Pre-existing– A pre-existing tiny house on the luxury side could be $75,000 or more, but you could pay a previous owner $30,000 and own your home on the budget end. 

The cost of building a container house


Shipping containers are trending as alternative housing options. You can find a built-out shipping container online for $10,000–35,000 for a basic model. If you’re considering a home with stacked or side-by-side containers, you are looking at $100,000–175,000 for several shipping containers. Shipping containers can be built-out and customized in a factory and moved to the installation site. They take a couple of weeks to complete. If you’re handy, you could find containers for $2,000-4,000 and customize them yourself. 

Pros– They are durable and weather resistant. You can customize the size with larger or more containers. They are sustainable, and you are reusing and recycling a large steel object. They are sealed to prevent water or pest, so you have instant energy efficiency. Shipping containers are very secure. 

Cons– A shipping container is small, between 160 or 320 square feet. It would be best to clean them well before building as you don’t know what they shipped when they were being used. Insulation and soundproofing can be issues. To weather all elements, you’ll need to insulate well. 

Pre-existing– Buying a pre-existing storage container home is an option. Again, you may have a challenge with financing if you’re getting a loan from a bank. 

The cost of building a straw bale home


When completed, a straw home looks like any other stucco structure. You’d never know the walls were constructed and insulated with straw. They are highly customizable and require a concrete foundation for building upon. A straw bale house can cost $20–75 per square foot, depending on your DIY skills. If you are taking care of some interior finishing work, you could get by with less. 

Pros– Straw bales are made from a low-cost product. These types of houses can last for 100+ years if properly maintained. 

Cons– Moisture, mold, and fire are significant risks. The interior and exterior plaster can crack over time with the settling of ground or foundation. 

Pre-existing– Like traditional homes, straw bale homes resell for market price, so finding one for cheap may not be an option. They can cost anywhere from $300,000–1,300,000 for a luxury house in California

There are many alternative housing ideas. As with any of them, if you are handy and are willing, you could create exactly what you want for less than buying a home. Watch for our next article about the cost of alternative housing using non-traditional construction materials

There are many options with it comes to building alternative housing. As with any of them, if you are handy and are willing, you could create exactly what you want for less than buying a home. Watch for our next article about the cost of alternative housing using non-traditional construction materials. 


Eva is a freelance copywriter specializing in all things real estate, B2B, PropTech, ReTech, CRETech. Owning rental property herself, Eva's love of real estate has turned into a passion for alternative housing options and educating people about the different types of housing available.

Which alternative housing options are similar to traditional housing?