A Quick and Inexpensive Sod Igloo

How the author made an inexpensive sod igloo to dig in for the winter and avoid leaving his new homestead in the woods of Vermont, includes diagrams of front and side views of the sod igloo.

| September/October 1982

  • Handbuilt sod igloo
    I built my quick and inexpensive earth-sheltered home mostly from materials gathered close at hand.
  • 77-160-i3_01a
    Diagrams: Figure 1 and Figure 2 side views of the sod igloo.

  • Handbuilt sod igloo
  • 77-160-i3_01a

How I dug in for the winter by building a quick and inexpensive sod igloo to avoid leaving the woods of Vermont. 

My predicament was starkly simple. With winter just a few months away, I had only a couple of hundred dollars, some basic tools, and my own two hands with which to build myself a temporary shelter for the cold season. To compound the problem, I wanted more than a mere refuge ... I hoped to create a dwelling that was not only warm and comfortable, but also structurally graceful and in harmony with the landscape of the northern Vermont forests where I make my home. After a good bit of research, I became convinced that I could fulfill all my expectations by building a semi-underground house: an inexpensive sod igloo.

I first encountered this uncomplicated design in the classic book Shelter (Shelter Publications, 1973). Ole Wik's description and photos of his sod "iglu", and Keith Jones's article about the building of a similar house in Alaska, convinced me that such a dwelling could combine the elements of efficient design with a simple sort of grace . . . and could do so while remaining unobtrusive.

Of course, these crude earth-insulated structures aren't generally used as permanent homes. Most often, they're intended as quick, comfortable, recyclable shelters that will serve until something more conventional can be built . . . or — on occasion — as auxiliary retreats, hunting cabins, and such. But with winter approaching, I knew the sod igloo would meet my needs and fall within the limits of my financial resources. In fact, in 1978 (the year I built it) the materials for my earthen cabin cost around $150 . . . about the same as had the goods which went into the canvas tipi I'd lived in previously. (And as someone who has experienced cold weather when protected by both, I'll guarantee that soil beats canvas as an insulating material every time!)


It stands to reason that a sod igloo would be inexpensive . . . since many of the raw materials that make up such a structure can be had free. The necessary earth was, of course, stockpiled as I dug out the outline of the house.

4/25/2012 5:35:17 PM

Has anyone else built one of these?

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