comparing types of houses for your rural land

Comparing Types of Houses for your Rural Land

Posted by Kristen Boye on June 4, 2021

Wondering what type of house to build on your rural land? We compare 13 different housing styles to consider for your homestead/hobby farm/ranch/recreational property, etc.

There are few things as thrilling (and potentially overwhelming) to prospective land buyers as the opportunity to design and build your own home from the ground up.

For some people, the chance to build their own home and choose every single detail is a lifelong dream come true. For others, it can seem more like a necessary chore or a means to an end.

But regardless of which camp you’re in, there are a lot of perks to building your home on your own rural land, including: fewer (if any) limitations on the type or design of home you can build, adding value to the land, choosing your home’s location, customizing the home to suit your needs, adding green elements not found in typical track homes like solar, a root cellar, or geothermal heating, and even the option to build some (or all of it) yourself.

All this freedom of design can create a lot of excitement...and a lot of questions about what type of house to build.

Throughout the years, we’ve profiled several different types of homes that lend themselves to the independent rural lifestyle. In this article, we’ve summarized these home options plus include tips from professional builders, agents, and landowners who have built their own homes about what to expect during the process.

Custom or Semi-Custom Homes


If you’re the type of person who loves customization, design, and detail work, then a custom or semi-custom home is for you. 

The most important thing for a custom build is to find a reputable builder and/or architect to help you create the home of your dreams. 

For a semi-custom build, you can work with a builder or an established home building company to choose a basic model then design it to suit your needs from there. Keep in mind, these days even modular homes can be highly customized to suit the most discerning homeowner.

*Landowner/home builder tip: if you desire a unique home design, make sure you find an architect and builder who are up to the challenge. Featured land owner, Sarah Orodoyne of Louisiana, shared her experience: “We ended up finding an architect who was ready to listen to our out-of-the-box ideas for our house design and it fell into place. Everybody down the road built their typical southern-style home, but our architect was willing to listen and willing to step outside the typical design. We call it the space ship!”

Check out the Orodoyne’s “Spaceship” home, plus other tips on lessons learned in custom building in: On a (Butterfly) Wing and Prayer: Finding the Perfect Land in Rural Louisiana.

For more details on what’s involved in the custom home building process (which will vary based on your unique situation and location) plus helpful tips from the experts, check out: How to Build a Home on Your Bradford County, FL, Land and 18 Steps to Build a Home in Nassau County, FL.

Modular Homes


Modular homes have evolved from choppy, standardized, second-rate homes to luxurious, open-concept, eco-friendly living spaces indistinguishable from their site-built cousins.

In addition, because they’re built in a manufacturing facility they typically cost less (but not always!), take less time to build, and produce far less construction waste than a site-built home. Some experts even consider them to be better built than site-built homes due to the standardized construction and lack of time spent in the open elements.

Unlike manufactured homes (aka: mobile homes), they are titled as real property, which means you have the same benefits and rights as if you were building a site-built home, including financing options, the same legal rights and protections and taxes. And their value typically mirrors that of a site-built home.

Some things to keep in mind with modulars are:

  • They may be delivered fully built or in sections which may require a crane to put into place.
  • They’ll be delivered on a large truck, so access is essential.
  • They cannot be placed on a slab, so a basement or crawl space is necessary for electrical, plumbing, etc.
  • They don’t always cost less. This depends greatly on the type of modular you choose, customization options, transportation costs, and other factors. So be sure to do your research.
  • Design, building, and installation times vary. So check with the modular company before you schedule your move-in date.

Dreaming of something different? An outside-the-box home could be for you!

Earthen Home 1

If you really want to do something different with your rural land, and take advantage of no HOA restrictions, an outside-the-box home may be the right fit for you. Here are some we’ve featured with links to the full articles:

Earth-sheltered homes

The ultimate in eco-friendly, off-grid, eclectic homes, earth-sheltered dwellings are either built completely below the ground or tucked into a berm or hillside. The earth surrounding them keeps the mat a comfortable 50-60 degrees year-round, making them extremely energy-efficient and disaster-friendly. They’re also easy to build (just like a walk-out basement), super-customizable, and economical to maintain. The only kicker is you need the right type of land for proper placement, or you have to truck in a bunch of dirt. However, for the eco-conscious, trend-setting, off-grid enthusiast they’re pretty near perfect.

Learn all about them in: “The Rural Land Owner’s Guide to Earth Sheltered Homes”.

Barndominiums aka: Barn Homes


Made famous by Fixer Upper, these homes are either renovated barns turned into homes or consist of an apartment home above a barn or workshop. They make a great option for singles, couples, or small families, are highly customizable, and make desirable vacation rentals. Barndominiums can be custom built or bought as a kit, and come as steel buildings, modulars, or timber-framed.

Learn more in: “Barndominiums --- Reinventing the Rural Live-Work Space”.

A Grownup Tree house

Though not exactly practical or economical, treehouses can be built as primary residences if you hire the right builder and team of experts. Of course, you also need the right type of tree which would have to be large and stable enough to support a small home, and the right location for septic, well, etc. But, if you’ve always dreamed of (literally) living in the trees, it may be an option worth exploring.

We touch on this in: “How to Build Your First Treehouse”.

Cob and Strawbale Homes


These fairy tale-like homes are made from materials found in nature, and can even be DIYed with a little time, training and practice. 

Cob homes are classic English-style frameless homes built up with earthen elements like clay, sand, hay and crushed stone. Think of the dreamy centuries old stucco-looking homes with thatched roofs in the English countryside.

The downside? They’re nearly impossible to get permitted in this country due to the lack of framing.

Strawbale homes are framed homes insulated with straw bales instead of factory-made insulation. They’re energy efficient and typically cheap to build.

In, “Could a Cob or Straw Bale Home Be Right for Your Rural Land?”, North Carolina-based earthen home builder and educator Greg Allen of Mud Dauber School of Natural Building, recommends combining the two types of construction to create a unique Cob/Strawbale hybrid. This method gives you all the eco-friendly, DIY, fairy tale-style benefits of an earthen home without the permitting or CO issues of a frameless structure. Click the link for details and pictures of his own Cob/Strawbale creation.

Tiny Homes

While not for everyone, these affordable little living spaces can be ideal for retirees, singles/couples, minimalists, or as vacation rentals. Plus, they come pre-built, can be custom-built or you can even build your own using plans or a kit. Since they are technically classified as RVs, you’ll want to research any restrictions on tiny homes in your area (though this is unlikely on acreage). We’ve covered Tiny Homes extensively in: “The Beginner’s Guide to Build-it-Yourself Home Kits”, “How Much Does a Tiny Home Cost to Build” and “8 Charming Tiny House Rentals in the South”.

Thinking of building your own home?


If you want to go deep into the self-sufficient lifestyle, then building your own home can be an incredible exercise (and give you serious bragging rights!).

Fortunately, building your own home has been made a lot more accessible thanks to Kit Homes.

Also known as “mail order” homes in the earlier part of the 20th century, Kit Homes are essentially precut and numbered building materials that come with instructions you use to build your own home. Kind of like a huge Lego project.

They come in a wide variety of designs, from basic cabins or tiny homes to beautiful bungalows, colonials, farmhouses, and more, and are designed to be built by the novice without any heavy equipment, machinery or power tools.

You can build the entire structure yourself, or hire out some or all of it depending on your skill level, time frame, goals, etc. We cover it all, including stories from real people who built their homes using a Kit Home in: “The Beginner’s Guide to Build-it-Yourself Home Kits”.

Housing Styles for Recreational Properties or Weekend Homes

If you’re looking for a more primitive option or second home for a recreational property, consider the following:

  • Glamping-style tents
  • Geometric domes
  • Simple Tree house
  • Or Bubble Huts

Get the details in: 7 Shelter Options for your Recreational Land.

Want more tips on how to transform raw land into a home?

We've written a variety of articles and eGuides on the topic. Visit the Making a Homesite section of this blog for more articles and visit Raydient Places + Properties for general eGuides and county-specific eGuides.

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is the editor of Rethink:Rural and the owner of Holistic Writing Concepts---a copy and content writing company specializing in the natural health and green living markets. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in beautiful rural Western North Carolina. Visit her online at:

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