The Igloo - An Arctic Home

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By Scott Cimini on February 27, 2012, 12:00am

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Long before brick or wood houses became common, people had to be creative when building homes to protect them from the weather. Wealthy Europeans built fortified castles and Native Americans built teepees made from animal hides or bark. What about the people who lived in a very cold environment? Living in the frozen tundra made it very hard to find any building materials so they built their homes with the only abundant material they had around them which was snow.

The people who lived in this frozen tundra were the Inuit, better known as the Eskimos. The Eskimos created their homes out of snow and ice and called them igloos. The igloo allowed hunters to survive long brutal winters in some of the harshest areas on earth such as Greenland, Siberia, Alaska, and Canada. The Inuit people are one of the toughest groups of people in the world having survived some of earthís most unpleasant climates for thousands of years. The Inuit rely very heavily on hunting animals for food because plants canít grow where they live. Many times Inuit hunters would have to leave their igloos and travel to even colder areas near sea ice just for the opportunity to catch a seal. Today the Eskimos live mostly in houses but they still make igloos and use them primarily as hunting camps when they go on hunting trips.

igloo

When people think about igloos, they picture a small, dome-shaped house built entirely out of blocks of ice. Also you would imagine a small tunnel leading into the igloo as a way of entry. Those popular perceptions of what an igloo looks like are quite accurate. Many of us have seen the many television shows and cartoons that have featured igloos over the years.

Igloos come in many sizes. Some igloos are very small and can only accommodate one person. These are used for the lone hunter just looking to get some rest before he moves on to his next day of hunting. Some other igloos are large ceremonial structures that join to smaller igloos. Igloo villages are sometimes created where corridors and walls are built to form a multiroom compound capable of housing 20+ people. These larger igloos are also used for special occasions such as dances and feasts also.

A well constructed igloo, coupled with a very small oil lamp and plain old body heat, can warm an igloo up 40 degrees above the outside temperature. There are several features of the igloo that allow this to happen. First, the walls block the wind. Secondly, the snow and ice work as insulators to trap body heat inside the igloo. The person in the igloo actually becomes a furnace of sorts. Finally, the insulation capabilities actually increase a few days after construction.. The body heat and sun exposure cause the ice inside the igloo to melt slightly and then it re-freezes when the occupant goes hunting forming solid ice. Several days of this process of melting and refreezing turns the entire igloo into solid ice making it super strong and very warm inside.

It should be noted that the right type of snow is necessary to build an igloo. The soft, powdery stuff that falls in most backyards is not hard or packed tightly enough to build a reliable igloo.

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Scott Cimini

Town: Wallingford, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since January 2012.

Articles: 156

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