Cave houses hide value for money, green benefits

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“Cave houses”, “Homes built into hills”, “earth houses”, or “berm houses”. You can refer to them in any number of ways but there is one thing that is clear: it is an ecologically sustainable way of building a house that is becoming more and more popular.

Villa The Rocks - Crete

In a concept that involves building a home into the earth, the idea has been around for as long as humans have been seeking shelter. But it offers a bunch of very modern benefits.

 

The houses provide large cost savings, room for innovative world-class designs and spacious facilities that let in plenty of golden Greek sunlight.  

 

Cave houses, called υπόσκαφα (iposkafa) in Greek, have long been built, with the most known ones being on the island of Santorini. They were often two room houses comprising of a kitchen and bedroom built into cliff edges though a number of churches and storages areas have also been built in the same manner. 

 

Since then, however, this building technique has developed and some of the best-preserved cave houses are in Oia, in the north, and have been turned into chic modern homes and hotels.

 

Perhaps the biggest winner from this process is the environment. Earth sheltered homes present sustainable solutions with lower energy demands, helping people live in harmony with nature.   

 

Rather than digging up the landscape to suit the house, the home seamlessly fits right into the existing environment.  

 

Top architects have been adopting this method in Greece and elsewhere, taking some of the most prestigious global awards in the process.  

An underground house designed on the rocky island of Serifos has earned MOLD architects global recognition as it received various distinctions including a nomination for the Mies Van Der Rohe Award (2016 and 2021) and a finalist position for the IDA interior award 2021.  

  

Athens-based architects A31 have also been recognized for their design of an earth sheltered house on Andros with an Architizer+ awards (2020) in New York 

 

How exactly do cave homes work?  

The basic concept of a cave home involves covering all exterior walls and the roof with the earth, with the exception of the façade.  

 

A cave house is built the same way a regular house is but at a deeper, lower level.  

Just as excavation work clears the way for the foundations of a regular house, a hillside area is dug up to accommodate the structural base of the cave house. Once complete, the earth is replaced around the building, and on top of it, leaving only the front open. 

 

The earth acts as a thermal mass, making it easier to maintain a steady indoor air temperature and therefore reduces energy costs for heating or cooling.  

 

With the right design and materials, these houses also get just as much light and air as conventional houses, while also lowering maintenance costs.  

 

Other key benefits include improved sound insulation and better protection from adverse weather conditions, fire and earthquakes. Finally, a cave home offers maximum privacy to its owners, as it is protected from view from almost every angle.   

 

Government incentives 

In Greece, recent changes to the law introduced extra benefits for earth sheltered homes to buyers, making them a more attractive investment option and support their growth. 

 

Developers can increase the building capacity of cave houses by up to 100 percent in out of city planning districts. 

All this translates into big benefits for home buyers who will ultimately receive a better quality house. The value for money is considerably better when compared to a conventional home.  

 

But the benefits go beyond the individual site. The move by the government to support this sector is aimed at securing the less intrusive construction of coast lines and preventing problems seen in other European countries, such as Spain. This not only provides an eyesore, but also heavily burdens the environment, while also harming property values.  

 

Greece’s incentives are aimed at ensuring that the country maintains its beautiful seaside areas in the best possible condition for many years to come. 

 

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