In aboriginal and early historic times, the Northern Paiute lived by hunting, gathering, and fishing in recognized subareas within their broader territory. Given that natural resources were not equally distributed across the landscape, there were some variations in settlement systems and sizes of local groups. The large lake basins (Pyramid Lake, Walker Lake) had extensive fisheries and supported people in most seasons of the year. Major marshes (Stillwater, Humboldt, Surprise Valley, Warner Valley, Malheur) also served as settlement foci. Within these areas, people usually resided in more or less fixed locations, at least during the winter. They established temporary camps away from these locations during spring and fall in order to harvest seeds, roots, and if Present, piñon nuts. Camp sizes in settled seasons varied, but probably fifty persons constituted the norm. During periods of greater mobility two or three families often camped together (ten to fifteen persons). In areas other than those with lakes or marshes, settlements were less fixed, with the exception of winter camps. In the Owens Valley, a unique area for the proximity of a number of resources, settled villages of one hundred to two hundred persons were reported, all located in the valley bottom. With the establishment of reservations and colonies, these patterns were greatly altered. Clustered housing prevails on colonies with a small land base, and allotment of lands on reservations allows for a more dispersed pattern.
In aboriginal times, houses of different types were built according to the season and degree of mobility of the group. The common winter dwelling, especially near wetland areas, was a dome-shaped or conical house made of cattail or tule mats over a framework of willow poles. Cooking was done outside the house in an adjacent semicircular windbreak of brush, which also served as a sleeping area during the Summer. The windbreak was the primary shelter at temporary camps, unless people chose to overwinter in the mountains near cached piñon reserves. In that case, they built a more substantial conical log structure covered with brush and earth. In the 1870s these traditional house types gave way to gabled one- to two-room single-family dwellings of boards on reservations and colonies. Today nearly all these early houses are gone from Indian lands, replaced by modern multiroomed structures with all conveniences.