in Cave Construction
strongly recommend using a professional builder for any cave creation or
renovation. Finding a cave builder is not always easy, though in areas
with large concentrations of cave dwellings it is not hard. Anyone considering
building an earthen cave dwelling themselves should spend some time in
Granada or elsewhere studying cave construction. Cave hotels, apartment
rentals, and flamenco night clubs (tablaos) are common in most areas.
problem encountered in cave construction in an urban environment is disposal
of the excess earth created during excavation. Such cases require hiring
a container and dump truck company to haul away up to hundreds of loads
of clay, which can be expensive. This problem is compounded by the fact
that naturally-compacted clay expands in volume by three to four times
earth disposal problem, cave construction is not for the indecisive.
Unlike conventional construction techniques, you cannot go back and fix
something. Holes, even doorways, can be filled in, but the basic size and
shape of a room cannot be easily changed, and can never be put back or
shrunk. Rooms can usually be made bigger; ceilings can be made higher;
but not visa versa. Don't be afraid to have high ceilings in a cave--it
costs almost nothing and makes rooms more livable and interesting. (Remember
that once flooring is added, you will loose three to four inches of ceiling
be a minimum of three meters of untouched compacted earth above the "ceiling"
to prevent water intrusion and keep structural stability. Do not plant
trees above your cave home! Grass and small shrubs are fine, but any plants
with long roots will lead water down through the ceiling. Ideally, there
should be a meter of wall thickness between cave rooms or adjacent caves.
These walls can be penetrated by doorways and windows without negative
consequences. All ceilings and doorways should be arched or domed, also
for structural reasons. Doors should be constructed to allow ventilation
and the free flow of air throughout the cave. Fresh air ducts to the more
interior of cave rooms is advisable. Some choose to build reinforcing ceiling
arches out of masonry for complete peace of mind. We have seen huge, two-story
cave projects where the cave itself is dug out with large machinery, such
as a backhoe. Today, in California wine country, they do the same to create
cost-efficient wine storage for major wineries. Most cave houses, however,
were in the past hand dug and these days are created using hydraulic or
pneumatic hammers (like small jackhammers) backed up by shovel,
pick, wheelbarrow and back-breaking work.
of building codes and municipal planning, cave homes or other structures
do not exist. They fail to meet code requirements written around brick
& mortar or wood frame construction, and even in Granada, bureaucrats
will tell you that "officially" no one should be sleeping in a cave
dwelling. This is despite the fact that thousands of people do so every
day. In France and Italy, the governments in the 20th century forced cave
dwellers to move out, though now these areas are being repopulated. In
Spain, the government continued to allow cave living, and both cave neighborhoods
of Granada are protected historic areas. The failure to officially recognize
the existence of cave houses and businesses does not prevent the municipality
from issuing permits for cave "rehabilitation," though in Granada
City, no completely new cave dwellings are supposed to be built.
of one "rehabilitation" permit that turned what was a single primary room
with two much smaller adjacent rooms into a two-bedroom, one full-bath
house with a large living room and two entry doors. What was a cave
closet became a very spacious kitchen pantry with counter space and wine
storage built into the cave wall. In other words, major cave expansion
can be done using the permit as a cover. This is common practice in the
Albaycin and Sacromonte. Many houses in the upper part of the Albaycin
district have cave dwellings attached, and when gentrification occurs,
new owners usually want larger and nicer caves. In other parts of Granada
Province such as Baza, Galera, and Guadix, cave building is much less restricted,
and even new construction is officially condoned.
houses have a small outer part of the house built with conventional construction.
This protects the cave entrance and provides extra space. Services such
as electricity and water can also enter here. Alternatively, there can
simply be a doorway into the earth, usually with a brick frame and a door
of decorative wrought iron, to allow as much light as possible into the
that cave homes have been continually occupied in Granada for at least
500 years, and almost certainly for 1,200 years or longer, is reassuring
to those who worry about safety. Caves survive earthquakes and fires.
They can also be reinforced. Caves do need to be cared for in order to
endure. A closed-up cave, or one where the walls and other surfaces are
covered with impermeable materials will result in problems: falling earth,
crumbling walls, and possible collapse. This is due to the accumulation
of excess moisture, which causes instability in the soil structure. A cave
that can breathe is a healthy and safe cave.
We do not
recommend placing gas appliances or piping inside caves, for obvious reasons.
Plumbing must be laid carefully and tested thoroughly. Bathroom can be
put at the most interior part of a cave house without incident, but always
bear in mind that water is an earth cave's worst enemy. We recommend installing
floor drains to draw away any leaking or excess water (think of a plugged
toilet) and perhaps even double piping supply lines--i.e. putting one
water tight line inside another in case of leaks or breakage.
wires run inside conduit that is placed inside channels carved into cave
walls or floors. These channels are then covered with a thin coat of
the same stucco used to coat the walls, and become invisible. Junction
and breaker boxes can likewise be placed in carved out spaces in the cave
In all, the
practical requirements of cave construction are simple, efficient, and
straightforward, while the creative possibilities are near limitless.
artist is Pepe "Cuevas" Ruiz, who lives in a cave in Benalua, and is the
preeminent cave builder in Granada province. Pepe is crazy for caves.
He loves them, and will regale you for hours with the advantages and spiritual
significance of cave living. He will smell the earth, analyze the lay of
the land, and investigate old caves with enthusiasm. He is a true sculptor,
and has probably built and remodeled more caves than anyone else in Spain.
In his home town, cave living is the norm, with some caves literally lying
on top of one another. Pepe has been on Spanish television and interviewed
by major newspapers. A bit eccentric, his well-founded, almost feverish
passion for cave dwellings is contagious... and spreading fast.
now cave home developments near Almeria, selling turn-key cave homes for
around 90,000 euros a piece, and in Granada City, cave homes are becoming
something sought after by the numerous wealthy Spaniards and foreigners
moving into the historic district. Within the past years, several major
British newspapers have published articles on cave living in Spain. In
Baza, an entrepreneurial venture has turned caves into a hotel with bath
house and spa--it's like having a swimming pool inside your cave (remember
our advice about water and earth caves)! Sacromonte now hosts a cave
museum that demonstrates traditional methods of cave living followed by
the gypsies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If you venture
out for a flamenco show in Granada, it will most likely be in a cave, and
cave hotels and vacation rentals are easy to locate.
houses in the Granada countryside can still be found for a relatively small
investment. Last year, old cave houses in need of renovation were on
the market in Granada's pricey Albaycin district for 30,000 to 50,000 euros
on small lots with no conventional buildings and no Alhambra views. For
finished cave houses, expect to pay eighty to two-hundred thousand euros,
depending on the adjoining land that goes with the cave, the views, etc.
There are currently cave houses with land advertised for as high as 900,000
euros, with Alhambra views, though we regard this price as extraordinary.
Given the real estate market in Spain, prices will continue to go up. You
can also explore areas such as Guadix and either buy existing cave homes
or buy land and build, with the latter option probably presenting the best
value if you discover a good site.
a cave builder, search for someone who lives in a cave him or herself.
Look at their previous work--Pepe, for one, will be glad to tour you around
Guadix looking at cave homes he has built or renovated to get ideas. He
or she should have advice on finishes, ideas about room numbers and size,
soil type, layout, and ease of excavation, and be able to give a definite
price range and timetable for your project. Ask for references, and talk
with other experienced cave dwellers.
one cave house for about 36,000 to 40,000 euros This price did not include
purchasing the land. About 18,000 euros went to Pepe, the cave builder,
who worked with a crew of 5 men for about three weeks. The rest went into
hauling away the excess soil (something that those outside of an urban
setting can avoid), electrical, plumbing, ventilation, bathroom finishes,
and a handmade terra cotta tile floor. Given its advantages, cave construction
is cost effective--think of the tiny or non-existent heating and air conditioning
bills alone. In an area with lower land prices than Granada City, cave
dwellings can be purchased at very affordable prices and rehabilitated
inexpensively, especially if the owner is willing to do some of the work.
& Rentals, Spain