How to build an igloo

We have had loads of snow here in the UK. Loads by UK standards anyway (I don’t think a Scandinavian would be very impressed). So I decided to take full advantage of the flexibility my job allows and build an igloo. It was my second attempt and it turned out much better than rather wonky one I did a few days ago. This post is a quick overview of the modest amount I have learnt about igloo building, in case you are inspired to build your own.

how to build an igloo

First of all, building materials. The snow needs to be the sort you can squash together to make a snowball. If it is too powdery to stick together, forget it – you won’t be able to make a worthwhile igloo. Try again tomorrow.

Next you need to mark a circular base for your igloo. If you don’t then it is hard to get a decent overall shape. Two twigs and a bit a string is all you need to draw a circular outline. Don’t be too ambitous though, it takes a surpising amount of snow to build an igloo and the amount goes up fast as you increase the diameter. 1.5 to 2 metres diameter is plenty for a first attempt.

Then you need to have a bucket-shaped receptacles in a range of sizes. I used a household bucket as the largest, 2 different sizes of flower pot and a child’s bucket as the smallest. Start with the largest receptacle. Use it as a mould to create ‘snow bricks’. Pack the snow into the mould tightly to make strong bricks. Lay a circle of these bricks as close together as possible, leaving a gap for the door. Then place the next layer of  bricks on top, interleaving them like standard brickwork. Pack the gaps between the bricks with loose snow like mortar in brickwork.

Every few layers you need to swap to a smaller mould. Each layer needs to curve inward a bit more than the previous one to form the dome. It is quite surprising how easy it is to build an arch out of snow. It is stronger and stickier than you might think.

It took 3 adults a couple of hours to complete the igloo. I don’t think the Inuit will be offering us a job anytime soon, but it was very satisfying. Considerably more satisfying than the several hours I spent this morning failing to work out how to get rid of a maximise icon in Mac OS X.

A YouTube video of a similar approach using stacking boxes

11 thoughts on “How to build an igloo

  1. Joey

    If you pour water all over it (assuming it’s below freezing outside) your igloo will have a coating of ice which will make it last for longer than you’d care for (I did it in Kansas, USA and it lasted well into the spring).

  2. Nathan Spencer

    Great post. I’ve tried to build an igloo myself a few times… I was always afraid to finish the ceiling though – not very confident in my engineering skills! Maybe I’ll give your method a try

  3. Vasudev Ram

    Nice post, Andy! We all need to do stuff like that now and then. Makes me wish I was living in a country that has a lot of snow. Heh :-)

    – Vasudev

  4. ipodgamer

    Doh! I wish I had seen this post a few days ago! I remember making an igloo when I was about 7 years old! That was over 20 years ago now and is evidence of the complete lack of snow that we see here in the UK. Sadly the snow has thawed now, but with plenty of winter still yet to come and forecasters promising a return of the Scandi high later on in Jan/Feb I am hopeful that I may get my chance to build an igloo yet. :)

  5. KSS

    Sorry to nitpick, but as a Canadian, I must comment.

    A true igloo is built with ice blocks.

    What you have built is a snow hut or quinzee.

    A good way to build a snow hut is described here :

    Essentially, you build a mound of snow, let it harden and then carve out a space.

    My friends have used these structures to go winter camping.

    Save this article and maybe you can try it again in 30 years when it snows again in the UK!

  6. Matt Cortigiani

    Reminds me of when I tried a real igloo last year. I live in New Jersey and have been waiting years for the right snow. We finally got about 3-5 centimeters of perfect ice-snow in New Jersey. It needed to be extracted with a saw, regardless of its small size. Picture peeling off the icing from the top of a birthday cake. About 70 blocks and 4 days later, it looked beautiful.

    Anyway, I’ve heard that a makeshift igloo can be made by taking snowball snow and packing it around the base in an upward slope.

    But KSS, we New Jersey-ians have nothing on Canada.

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