Modern Day Cavemen
People have lived in caves since the beginning of humanity and apparently it hasn’t gone out of style (though the homes themselves have become more stylish). In prehistoric times, it was often easier for people to carve homes into mountainsides than it was to build from scratch. Today, people take inspiration from architects of the past to construct some of the coziest (and strangest) living quarters around.
Purchasing a cave home may, or may not rape your wallet. This Festus, Missouri, home (seen below) was for auction on E-bay for just about $300,000, while a cave home in Bisbee, Arizona (see top) sold for just shy of 2 million.
Living in caves has benefits that typical housing does not provide, such as natural insulation (most cave-livers claim to never need AC or heating to maintain a steady temperature of 65 to 70 F). Dampness can be a concern for cave living, but has also been recycled into something useful. The Sleepers (who own the cave in Missouri), use the water from their dehumidifier to water their garden. They also built the facade of their home using recycled aluminum doors and windows.
In the abandoned Opal mines of Coober Pedy, Australia, it has become a normal practice for empty mines to be recycled into living quarters. About half of the population in this small South Australian town live in cave homes. There are also underground churches, museums and inns.
On the borders of Staffordshire and Worcestershire in England, the remains of early British cave homes can be found carved into the soft sandstone cliffs (see below). These use a combination of cave and cob building methods (see The Cob Home). Many have speculated that these homes inspired the hobbit houses of J.R.R. Tolken’s books (since he grew up in this area).
What is the Hype Over Cave Homes?
There are numerous lessons to be learned from the traditional methods of home construction. Today’s homes are quickly erected, flimsy and wasteful structures that often have little thought put into ergonomics. There remain small groups of people who place great importance on not only building less wasteful and greener homes, but also building homes that are more comfortable and natural.
It is important to natural builders to consider the location, weather, landscape and other natural conditions when constructing a home. Natural building may raise questions such as, “where does the sun burn hottest? What is the coldest side of a home? How can this home take advantage of the landscape?”, or “do the materials to build this home exist locally?”
Building a home with large southward facing windows can give you the benefits of a warm and long lasting sunshine, (while avoiding the intense heat of the afternoon Westward sunset). Knowing that it’s cold on the North side of your home might require thicker, or more insulated walls. Knowing the sun rises in the East might encourage you to put your bedrooms and breakfast nook on the East side to absorb the morning rays. And you may choose to build near a natural spring (the Bisbee Cave home has no need for water, all of theirs is supplied by natural springs in and around the cave).
Cob homes and cave homes are great examples of using materials that are local to their building site, leaving less of a global footprint, and often saving money. Cob homes and cave homes are frequently built by hand, and by the people who plan to live in them. This may take a lot of hard work and dedication, but it saves money and gives you something absolutely unique to your needs.
Cave homes (and other natural building methods) have a certain dignity and careful consideration that modern building methods could never reproduce. They have unmatched sensitivity to their landscape and to the people living in them. To learn how to REALLY build a home, one only needs to look into history and “dig up,” the natural and simple practices that were once commonplace.