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One of biggest problems facing the British property market at the moment is that while we have plenty of space, not all of it is where we want it to be. In a city like London, the cost of a studio apartment could fetch you a castle elsewhere, simply because even the tiniest amount of space in the right location is worth its square footage in gold. The situation has gotten so bad that many city based renters are giving up on the idea of ever actually owning their own homes, yet more and more of us continue to flock to the cities, settling for whatever we can get.

Naturally, this has prompted architects and policy makers to search for viable solutions. One that seems to raise both fascination and fear in equal measure is the idea of ‘micro homes’: tiny dwellings which provide everything a person needs, including toilet and cooking facilities, in one small package.

While this idea sounds good on paper, and despite the number of quirky designs out there, it has more than its fair share of drawbacks. Micro homes do not increase in value at anything resembling the rate of a typical property, making them a poor long term investment. Current regulations are also alarmingly lax about how micro homes can be created. Office buildings, for example, can be converted into micro homes without planning permission, allowing less savoury developers to offer dwellings no larger than car parking spaces.

Luckily, micro homes are far from the only alternative housing solution out there. While certain ideas would require you to consider living somewhere other than the big city, others manage to take advantage of under-utilised space to offer high quality homes in highly sought after areas.

It may be that micro homes are the way of the future, so while we can let’s take a moment to consider some of the more preferable alternatives!

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Floating homes

‘Floating homes’ is a blanket term that can refer to houseboats, barges or even stationary floating structures. What connects them all, aside from the name, is one crucial advantage: floating space, even in major cities, is heavily under-utilised.

One of our favourite examples of this is the Urban Rigger project in Copenhagen. Using cheap and sustainable materials, Urban Rigger was able to create affordable student housing in an area that would usually charge over £1,000 a month in rent for a single-bedroom apartment.

You may think that such homes are only fit for those of us willing to give up the comforts of living on the land. While the Urban Rigger project proves otherwise as far as we are concerned, you may also be interested to know that billionaire Richard Branson famously owned his own upmarket houseboat in London’s Little Venice.

Plus, if you ever get bored of where you live, you can always sail away!

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Modular/ prefab housing

Have you ever thought of building your own house? It can be a huge undertaking, so instead of foundations, bricks and mortar why not invest in something factory-fresh?

‘Modular’ or ‘prefab’ homes are pre-designed dwellings which are easy to put together (imagine if IKEA started selling DIY houses).  They are usually made to order, allowing the buyer to customise them however they want. The pieces can then be quickly assembled either at the factory or on site.

Now, installing a micro home is not as simple as just dumping it in a field. Such homes still need to satisfy current Building Regulations and can also require planning permission to put up. A new modular home will also need to be connected to local utilities, so keep this in mind before you buy a plot of land completely off the grid.

If you are interested in a modular home, you should first get a good solid plan and contact your Local Planning Authority (LPA) with details on the layout and design. Should everything check out, your builder should then be able to make any necessary applications on your behalf.

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Shipping containers

'Cargotecture’ takes advantage of one of the most well designed resources on the planet: steel shipping containers!

Standard shipping containers are made of top quality steel, with a design that makes them extremely sturdy and perfect for construction. Cargotecture homes wow observers with their sheer versatility - all you need is an architectural designer able to think outside the box.

A key advantage of cargotecture is that shipping containers are pretty much everywhere; in fact, a huge number are simply left to gather dust after just a few years of use, making them very cheap to get ahold of. Many of the more impressive cargotecture homes utilise containers which have seen heavy usage, allowing the projects to be completed with little impact on the environment.

Finally, as you might have guessed, shipping containers are remarkably easy to transport, either by land or sea. As such, individual pieces can be taken to even the most remote locations for easy assembly.

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‘Earthships’ are an eco-friendly housing concept based on creating self sufficient homes at one with nature. When you think of homes built using recycled materials and earth you may feel a tad apprehensive, but trust us: earthships are far from lacking when it comes to home comforts and modern living.

Earthships are designed with the environment in mind, but rather than reducing residents to the bare necessities most are fitted with ingenious features:

  • Rainwater collection
  • Solar panels
  • Tire and pipe filled walls to provide insulation and air conditioning
  • Incorporated greenhouses to provide food all year round

With cheap, comfortable and environmentally friendly living, earthships allow people to live the green life without having to sacrifice anything, except perhaps their ideal urban location.

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Tiny houses

If you do not know what a ‘tiny house’ is, you might be confused about why we would put it on a list of alternatives to micro homes. The reason is that, while they may technically count as 'micro homes', tiny houses have a number of distinct advantages  that urban examples lack.

The main difference between micro homes and tiny houses is to do with location. Micro homes are most often found packed together in apartment blocks or converted offices. In contrast, tiny houses are usually separate dwellings which just so happen to be small. Many can even be wheeled around on a trailer attached to a car or van! 

Before investing in a tiny house, it is imperative that you know what you are getting yourself in for. While they are cheaper than an average property, they are unlikely to rise in value. The bills may be smaller, but you will have little space to speak of, and so on. However, like modular homes, tiny houses can be customised to suit the owner, giving you more of a chance to enjoy the space you have, small though it may be.

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