The Altaians live beside rivers, lakes, farmland, mountain meadows, and steppelands, where they till the soil, raise livestock, hunt, and gather wood in the nearby forests. Since ancient times, the rivers and lakes have been of importance as means of transport and communication and as economic lifelines for the local peoples of the Altai who rely on them as a source of fish. The Altaians have been involved in trade and political interrelations with surrounding parts of Asia for a long time. They traverse the steppes by both land and water transport.
Houses were chiefly wooden huts; they were clustered to form small villages along the banks of streams. From ancient times, however, Altaians made felt tents with wooden frames, tied down by leather straps. The use of the tents has declined along with the practice of nomadic pastoralism. Today, families in rural districts live in homes with modern conveniences; these dwellings usually contain three or four rooms and a kitchen. In their personal plots near the house stand traditional dwellings—bark-covered conical cabins, felt yurts, or polygonal framework structures. These dwellings are used as kitchens in the summer and as storehouses in the winter. When the herdsman makes seasonal stops, however, he does live with his family in felt yurts, with other traditional structures serving for cattle.