The traditional Balkar settlement was in the mountains and could comprise one or several kinship groups. Since the end of the nineteenth century settlements in the foothills and, in part, in the plains have been increasing. Traditional Balkar settlements are terraced and compact, located on the slopes of mountains. At the end of the nineteenth century there were eighteen hamlets (Russian: otsyolki ) in Cherek, seven in Khulamo-Bezengi, twenty-two in Chegem, and twenty-three in Baksan. Such settlements are either single- or multiclan units. In the multiclan villages there is evidence of territorial organization according to individual clans (tukhum), which together constitute a neighborhood ( tiyre). Settlements are found in places that are not suitable for agricultural use. For safety reasons, residential and farm buildings of the family commons constitute a complex with a closed-off courtyard, the jabïlghan arbaz.
On mountain slopes and amid dwellings, medieval stone towers and fortresses ( qala ) were preserved: both square (in Chegem) and narrowing toward the top (Kyunlyum and elsewhere). The towers are ascribed to individual families (Abaev, Balkarukov, Zhaboev, etc.), whereas fortresses (e.g., at Torturkala) were intended for the defense of the entire canyon from attack from both the mountains and the plains. Towers and fortresses were built with three to five stories, depending on the period. The Balkars were also situated according to seasonal settlements: winter or summer nomad "tents" (stone or wattle-and-daub structures with open hearths). Dwellings were daubed with clay on the inside and the outside. The one-meter-thick earthen roof of the house called for a massive crisscross structure of wooden beams and vertical supports.
The older types of Balkar dwellings were semisubterranean, stone, one-room houses. Next to the main one-room dwelling, a row of dwellings for young couples ( otoú ) would be built. The construction work was carried on through collective help ( ziuyu), and even today the laying of the foundation takes place with a ceremony—an evening of sacrifices and oblations, the salutation ( alghïsh), and a special dance, the tepana. The interior of the dwelling was reminiscent of the ancient culture of the nomads. The living room was divided into two parts, one for men and one for women, that is, an "honored part" and a "nonhonored part." On the honored side, beside the sacred hearth, the guests and older men were seated, whereas the women and children were in the nonhonored part. Food for the extended family was prepared in the main quarters but special places were set aside for the preparation of ritual food. Food was taken on low stools, in a strict order starting with the children.
Every communal group (rarely, every settlement) had a place for its mosque and a small square, the nïghïsh, where the men assembled. Since the end of the nineteenth century the structure of the new settlements in the plains has been undergoing modernization; two-storied, multiroom houses with porches have been appearing. The roofs of the houses were covered with iron or planks, later with tile and slate. The interior of the contemporary dwelling is in the urban style. Buildings are being constructed of stone (particularly the first floor), brick, and, rarely, wood. The plan of the house must include rooms for the guest (s) ( qonaq yuy)y for the large table ( ullu yuy), and for the small table ( khant yuy).