Sometimes the prospect of the progression from dorm room to apartment to house seems so limiting. Not to mention that it seems so permanent and certainly is expensive. Box to bigger box to a couple of boxes put together. So it’s a comfort to know that some intrepid folks are living outside of the box (I couldn’t resist…) and doing it in style and, sometimes, on the cheap.
Houseboats became well-known in the 1940’s with movies and the like making them extremely popular. I didn’t really know how commonplace they were until I moved to Seattle. Lake Union is home to dozens, if not hundreds, of brightly painted houseboats complete with front porches and window boxes full of flowers. Some houseboats have a motor so they can be pulled across bodies of water to a new location or for recreation, but others are tethered to land so that the houses can be outfitted with utilities.
This one isn’t very uncommon, but it’s certainly a different, and earlier, departure from the traditional house with a backyard and a front lawn. Row houses were common in the early decades of the twentieth century and feature a complete, thin house butting up to the houses next to them. They were built mostly in large cities, especially in New York, and were first built for immigrants and in ethnic neighborhoods. Now, row houses are coming back in style and many, with their unique touches and personal embellishments, are selling for quite a pretty penny. Many row houses in the South were painted in pastel or tropical colors to distinguish them from their neighbors.
Some intrepid environmentalists aren’t letting any part of the train go to waste. Instead, they convert railcars to small, economical living spaces. Cabooses are often a popular choice, but some converters even choose subway or metro cars that are now out of commission. Train cars cost between $8,000 and $45,000 dollars to purchase, plus the money to outfit the house and put it on their property. This is still significantly less money than a conventional house. Some people even put their converted cars onto the tops of buildings.
Again in Seattle, I’ve heard about groups of hippies in old school buses. I didn’t realize that buses were housing options for more conventional people, taking old buses from junkyard dumps and giving them new lives. In one account, a man was tired of his credit card debt and decided to make the 200 to 300 square foot of livable space in a bus work for him. He got his hands on a retired school bus, changed the bus’ fluids and ripped out the seats. For about $12,000, he outfitted the bus to be his living space. Today, he spends around $400 a month for utilities and other housing costs. This particular bus owner says that a benefit for making a bus house is the comfort in knowing that his house is a sustainable way of living.
All of these unusual dwellings illustrate that it is possible to create a unique living space, minimize the need for material things and contribute to an environmentally conscious way of housing yourself and your family. Old shipping crates, forgotten grain elevators, abandoned warehouses…the potential for reusing old spaces hasn’t yet been tapped to its full potential.
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