6 Surprisingly Comfortable Cave Homes
By Brian Clark Howard, The Daily Green.
By Brian Clark Howard, The Daily Green.
People have been hollowing out caves to make their homes for many thousands of years. We all need shelter from the elements, and it didn't take long for our ancestors to run out of available real estate in natural caves. In certain parts of the world, it was easier for prehistoric people to carve out warm, dry spaces than to use other building methods. Houses were cut into soft sandstone cliffs in China and the Middle East, and into volcanic ash and lava flows on Pacific islands. Indigenous peoples of North America built elaborate cities under cliffs.
While many of these ancient structures are still standing, and a few are still inhabited by contemporary residents, there are also people experimenting with the benefits of modern cave living. And what may surprise you is that many of these homes are well appointed, with modern conveniences, good ventilation and even spectacular views. Most of them cost less than conventional housing.
As anyone who has ever visited a natural cave knows, underground spaces are naturally quiet and maintain a constant temperature, cool in summer and warm in winter. Plus, their primary structure is all-natural material, and it is as locally sourced as it could possibly be. Cave homes certainly aren't available everywhere and may not be for everyone, but they are a good reminder of what's possible when we think outside of the ticky-tacky box.
1. The Sleeper Cave House
Tucked into a 17,000-square-foot hole left by a sandstone mine in Festus, Missouri [USA] is the spacious, beautiful home of William "Curt" Sleeper, his wife Deborah and their three kids. The Sleepers almost lost their unique three-bedroom house to foreclosure, but they recently received backing from a private investor after media exposure.
"We feel that our home is eco-friendly," Curt told The Daily Green. He explained that he needs to run no heating or cooling, since the natural insulation of the cave walls keep the inside air 65 to 70 degrees year round. The Sleepers constructed the façade of their dwelling out of 300 sliding glass doors purchased from a local resale shop. "I stripped the aluminium and resold it to the local recycle centre," Curt adds. "We pull more than 100 gallons of water per day from the air with our dehumidifiers and then pump that outside to water our gardens and feed chickens."
The Sleepers' home is lit with fluorescent bulbs and boasts gorgeous recycled oak flooring. Inside it appears loft-like and spacious, maximizing natural light with the large windows. It even features a serene goldfish pool fed by a natural spring. The innermost chamber used to be a roller rink in the 1950s, and is now a playroom for the kids.
The Sleepers decorated their unique space with antique furniture, giving it a lost-in-time feel, although they also have modern conveniences like a laundry room. They even have a cat, Garfield.
In addition to windows, cave homes can be fitted with light ducts that direct sunlight deeper into the dwelling. Although cave homes tend to do very well through earthquakes and are fire resistant, they can have trouble with moisture (hence the Sleepers' dehumidifiers).
2. Coober Pedy
Set in the scorching South Australia desert, the small town of Coober Pedy is often called the Opal Capital of the World, since the region is the source of 80% of those glittering precious stones. The name Coober Pedy is often interpreted as a mangling of the Aboriginal words for "white men in holes," since Australians have been mining there since 1916. About half of the population of Coober Pedy still lives in cave houses. There are also underground churches, inns and a museum.
Many of the subterranean spaces take advantage of existing mines, while others are made fresh with local mining equipment. The "dugout" homes are cheaper to build than conventional units and require little air conditioning, a boon in an area where average daily temperatures approach 100 degrees in the summer.
Coober Pedy and the surrounding Outback landscapes have served as a backdrop in numerous films, from Pitch Black to Mad Max movies and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
3. "The Cave House"
Photo credit: thecavehouse.com
Want your own luxury cave? In the eclectic town of Bisbee, Arizona, USA (near the historic Tombstone) you'll find The Cave House, which is currently on the market for just under $2 million. The Cave House has no water bills, thanks to a natural spring, or heating or cooling bills. It does have an efficient pellet fireplace, as well as a guesthouse, workshop, shed, carport, hot tub, barbeque area and separate office and library.
The truly unique Cave House sits on a spectacular 37 acres, at 5,300 feet above sea level and with a rise of 2,000 feet. There are sweeping views of the Mule Mountains and canyon, as well as a refreshing natural creek, with natural swimming pools and gorgeous rock patios.
Photo credit: thecavehouse.com
The area surrounding The Cave House is popular with birders and wildlife viewers, supporting 79 species of birds, 113 species of butterflies, ringtail cats, foxes, skunks, deer, squirrels, lizards, frogs, snakes, and coatimundi.
The Cave House boasts a sunroom, two bathrooms, and attractive tile flooring. It was built in 1985 and is 2,980 square feet.
4. British Rock Houses
Photo credit: Ilona Bryan/Flickr
For centuries people lived in homes carved into the soft sandstone of the Kinver Edge escarpment, on the border of Staffordshire and Worcestershire in England. The most famous cluster was under Holy Austin Rock, which at one time served as a hermitage. The last cave dwellers moved out in the 1950s, but the site is preserved by the National Trust, which has restored some of the cave houses to the Victorian period.
Some observers have wondered if the cave homes and their small cottage gardens had inspired J.R.R. Tolkien in his imaginings of Hobbits, since he grew up nearby.
5. Mediterranean Cave Homes
Photo credit: Steve & Jemma Copley/Flickr
Cave homes have long been popular in parts of the Mediterranean region, from Turkey to Spain, Greece and Morocco. In Spain's Andalucía, one can find numerous listings for comfortable cave houses for sale and rent, typically at prices that beat above-ground offerings.
6. Forestiere Underground Gardens
Photo credit: Matthew E. Cohen/Flickr
Now a tourist attraction in Fresno, California, the Forestiere Underground Gardens were designed and hand-built by Sicilian immigrant Baldasare Forestiere, a vineyardist and horticulturalist. Starting in 1906, Forestiere spent forty years carving a mysterious underground escape from the San Joaquin Valley's powerful heat. Fashioned after the "visions stored in my mind," his caverns are a network of gardens illuminated with skylights, as well as comfortable living spaces for himself, including a kitchen, bedroom and fish pond.
The complex sprawls across ten acres, and is now listed as a California Historic Landmark. It goes to show that not only can one live well in the earth, but one can even grow fruit trees (Forestiere had citrus, dates, olives and much more, as well as a bounty of other vegetation).
Top image: The Sleeper Cave House
[Source: The Daily Green. Edited. Some links updated and added.]