Whether you’re looking for the ultimate winter fort or a shelter when camping, an igloo provides the surprising protection and warmth available when the snow flies. Igloos can accommodate a small stove for cooking, can be built with sleeping platforms. Despite common skepticism, some experts report that a well-constructed igloo containing a small oil lamp and the body heat of its occupants can warm up to 40 degrees above the outside temperature, according to HowStuffWorks.com.
Of course, igloos are traditionally built by the Inuit people of Alaska, not in a typical neighborhood in the continental United States. And while families might not have a need for an actual igloo, the basic construction tips for creating these amazing structures can be helpful during snowy weekend activities. Imagine how much your kids would enjoy a sturdy snow fort when battling the neighbors in the ultimate snowball fight!
The biggest requirement for an igloo is snow — lots and lots of snow. And the snow must be hard enough to hold its shape when cut into blocks. You’ll need a saw (preferably a snow saw) and shovel to cut and shape the blocks. If the snow is not packed hard enough, you can certainly pack snow into block molds that are available in various shapes and sizes. If you’re building your snow structure in your neighborhood or near a road, make sure it’s built well clear of the street in case a snow plow drives by driver loses control of the car due to winter weather.
If you’re trying to build an igloo the Inuit way, there should be at least 3 feet of hard-packed, dry snow where you choose to build your igloo. Mark out a circle large enough to accommodate your party. Begin cutting blocks of snow approximately 3 feet long by 15 inches high by 8 inches deep. Of course, in most neighborhoods, you will likely building blocks of smaller sizes; just make sure the sizes and shapes are as consistent and similar as possible. If your snow isn’t deep enough or packed enough, you can pack snow into block molds that are available in various shapes and sizes, assuming it’s moist enough The harder the snow blocks are, the more solid the walls of your igloo will be – you can strengthen them by letting them sit out in the wind, if the weather’s right.
Arrange the blocks around your circle to form the base of your igloo. Larger blocks go on bottom, while smaller blocks taper toward the top. Smooth the edge of each block and angle them inward, overlapping the edge of lower-level blocks as you spiral upward – open cracks between blocks will be filled in later. Don’t forget to make an entrance by placing blocks perpendicular to the rest of the dome and build it up and out as you go.
After you have a couple of rows of blocks placed, you might want to shovel out some of the snow inside the ring – this will help create more headroom in the completed shelter.
Continue to build the igloo’s dome by spiraling upward and inward with your blocks. Remove any snow that accumulates; it’s easier to shovel it out while there are only walls than to try to remove it through the entrance later.
As the dome takes shape, you might need to use a stick or ski poles to help hold blocks in place until they can support each other. As you near the top, you’ll build the last of the dome from the inside – bringing blocks through the entrance. Two or more people working together will make this chore much easier.
Once your dome is complete, it’s time to fill in the cracks between blocks. Use a shovel to pack snow into the crevices – for large holes, you can cut smaller slivers of snow to fill the space. Pack the snow in well to keep out wind and to reduce melting as the igloo warms from the inside. After you’ve packed the cracks with snow from the outside, smooth and pack the inside by hand.
With the crevices filled and the inside smoothed, you’ll need to finish the entrance. Do that by digging into the spot and creating an easy way in and out of the igloo. Don’t make it too large, but just big enough to move any remaining snow out of the structure and to get your gear in. Be sure to dig a deeper spot in front of your sleeping area that will act as a cold-air sink. You can cut the wind and keep the snow from blowing in by placing protecting blocks over the dug-out entrance tunnel.
Cutting ventilation holes in the dome will help keep fresh, clean air circulating through the igloo. This is a must if you plan to use a stove of any sort. Extra blocks of snow inside the igloo can serve as a sleeping platform, if you have enough room. Any snow that has melted from the buildup of body heat or from cooking will tend to freeze overnight, which will strengthen the igloo even more. Candles can be used as a light and heat source.
In the event that you’re caught out in the elements or simply heading outside to enjoy the snow, make sure you prepare for cold weather and be aware of severe weather warnings.
Daytime photo courtesy Steve Hodgson with some rights reserved: creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.