Life in Alaska: Help Insulate Homes Using Snow

Life in Alaska: In this report sisters Julie and Miki Collins share how to insulate homes using snow to save on costs during winter, and how to use snow to build a warm dog house.

| November/December 1982

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    Because we wanted our snow wall to be as wide at the top as it is on the bottom, we packed the natural insulation behind a sheet of plywood. to keep the panel upright, we braced it with a pole and piled snow along its bottom.
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    Here's our contented sled dog Loki in his brand-new and renewable winter "digs".

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Life in Alaska: Sisters Julie and Miki Collins share how to insulate homes using snow and even tips on creating a warm dog house made with snow. 

Life in Alaska: Help Insulate Homes Using Snow

One thing we've got plenty of during our Alaskan winters is snow! And although my sister Miki and I had often heard that trappers in these parts bank drifts up against the outside of their line cabins to keep the buildings warm, we'd never actually considered putting this technique to use on our own house . . . until our furnace broke down for a month and left us with only a small Franklin stove to heat our 3,000-square-foot home. However, as the temperature outside dropped to a mean 30 below—and frost started to form inside the basement walls—we knew we'd better do something quick!

With the old trappers' trick in mind, then, we rushed outside and furiously shoveled up snow, packing it all the way around our house. And what do you know . . . it worked! Within no time the interior warmed up, and the frost just disappeared. And ever since that season, having become true believers in the practical as well as the economical (after all, it's free!) benefits of snow as insulation, we use it every year . . . for both our house in town and our wilderness trapping cabin.

To duplicate our success, you'll need to collect a board that measures about 4 feet by 6 feet (we use a sheet of plywood at home and an old beaverskin-stretching board at our cabin in the woods) . . . a pole that's long enough (and strong enough) to support the plank in a vertical position . . . a good sturdy snow shovel (or two if you've got some help!) . . . and—finally—a couple of heavy-duty snow-toting buckets on a sled.

In order to form your snow wall, you'll need a mold in which to pack the insulating material . . . and this is where the wooden panel comes in. Using a corner of your house as the starting point, stand the board upright—on its long edge—about two feet away from (and parallel to) one wall . . . then brace the plank with the pole, as shown in the accompanying photo.

Now, simply shovel snow into the "canyon" you've created between the plywood and your house. Be sure to pack the new wall down as you go, so that later—even in a strong wind—it won't all blow away.

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