An Igloo, also spelled Iglu, or a snow house is a kind of shelter built out of snow. It is also called "aputiak" and is a temporary winter home or a hunting underground dwelling used by the Canadian and Greenland Inuit (Eskimos). The word Igloo comes from the Eskimo "Igdlu" which means house or home. It is also related to a town named Iglulik and Inuit people known as Iglulirmiut both belonging to the Iglulirmuit island. For an Inuit, Igloo is not restricted to only homes made out of snow, but can also be a cloth tent, sod houses, houses constructed of driftwood and even modern buildings. Inuits who live between the Mackenzie river delta and the Labrador live in snow houses in winter and in sealskin or cloth tents in summer. But for general purposes, an igloo is a shelter built out of blocks of snow and is dome shaped.
What are the different types of Igloo?
Traditionally there are three types of igloo, each one of a different size and used for different purposes:
The small size Igloos were built only as a temporary shelter and that too during hunting expeditions on the open sea. These were mostly used for only a night or two.
The intermediate-sized igloos were for family dwelling. These usually had a single large room and could accommodate two families quite easily. Generally, there used to be many such igloos in an area thus forming an Inuit village there.
The large sized igloos were usually built in pairs, with one structure being a temporary one meant for special occasions and the other one for living. The large sized igloos could also denote several small igloos connected by tunnels thus having up to five rooms and providing shelter to almost 20 people. These were used to host community feasts and traditional dances of the Inuit people.
How does an Igloo help?
Igloo is made of snow blocks. Living in a snow house does not seem a very sensible idea as snow does not sound like a good building material. But scientists differ saying that snow is a very good insulator. In Physics, an insulator is defined as any material that does not conduct heat. Snow traps our body heat, thus slowing the heating up of the space within the igloo and makes it warm. Also being airtight, an Igloo protects you from the cold wind and if you are not careful to make some holes on the surface you could well suffocate within.
How Warm is an Igloo?
The igloo is an ingenious invention and is very effective in keeping people warm. Human body loses heat in many ways like radiation, conduction, convection, evaporation and even by respiration. An igloo is a means by which there is less heat loss by wind convection and moisture by precipitation. By using just a lamp for heat inside the igloo can raise the temperature to 41 degree Fahrenheit when the air outside could be minus 40 degrees. With winds recorded up to several hundreds of miles per hour, convection becomes a major source of heat loss. The shape of the igloo constructed with a small tunnel to pass through actually helps keep the wind and excessive snow at bay. Thus an Igloo does not generate heat but preserves the heat generated by the human body.
How to build an Igloo?
Building an Igloo is easy and it is also fun. It is the ideal shelter to spend the night on an expedition in the snow. While an Inuit will build the Igloo within 1 or 2 hours, it may take a little longer for someone who does not have the experience of making one. The tools that you require apart from snow is a snow spade and a saw. Though a special snow saw is recommended, even a carpenter's saw should do the job. Here is a guide on how to build an igloo:
Finding the right spot to build the Igloo is important. The surface should be hard in order to cut chunks of snow blocks to make the Igloo. Even if the surface is soft, the snow beneath should be hard enough to be cut into blocks.
Mark the area with a circle to determine the size of the dome. The depth of the snow should at least be 1m where the igloo is placed. Ideally make a small one to house 2-3 people as making a bigger one may land you in trouble.
Prepare the snow blocks with the help of the saw. The blocks should be solid enough so that they can be carried horizontally without breaking. Use bigger blocks at the bottom and smaller ones at the top. You can leave them to harden in the wind. A thickness of 15-30cm is a good length to have.
Start building the igloo by smoothing the edges of the snow blocks and angling them correctly so that they form a strong bond with the adjacent blocks. If there are cracks between the locks these can be fixed later. It is important that the blocks in the bottom are placed in a slanting position or else it will look like a tower.
Place the blocks in a spiral manner so as to make the building of the Igloo easier. The door has to be made by placing two vertical blocks placed pointing outside with a small horizontal block on top to make a small roof. At this stage lower the floor inside to a good 10-30cm to get more head room.
When the dome starts to be formed, shovel out all the extra snow in order to avoid inconvenience later. Use a stick to support the top most blocks till the dome is completely done. If the blocks have been placed properly this is not required as the blocks will support each other.
The last few blocks are shifted inside the igloo through the entrance and then lifted up. At least 2 people are required to do this job if you want a perfect structure to be done.
Once the igloo is closed, close all the cracks with small blocks of snow and then smoothen the inside of the igloo. Once the inside is done, finish the entrance. To prevent the wind from blowing inside it is a good idea to make the entrance in an L-shape. Once the entrance is done, your Igloo is ready for use.