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For other uses, see Igloo (disambiguation).
Community of igloos (Illustration from Charles Francis Hall's Arctic Researches and Life Among the Esquimaux, 1865)
Building an igloo in Cape Dorset

An igloo (Inuit language: iglu,[1] Inuktitut syllabics ᐃᒡᓗ [iɣˈlu] (plural: igluit ᐃᒡᓗᐃᑦ [iɣluˈit])) known as snow house or snow hut is a type of shelter built of snow, originally built by the Inuit.

Although igloos are usually associated with all Inuit, they were[when?] predominantly constructed by people of Canada's Central Arctic and Greenland's Thule area. Igloos are normally built when the snow can be easily compacted. Other Inuit people tended to use snow to insulate their houses, which were constructed from whalebone and hides. Snow is used because the air pockets trapped in it make it an insulator. On the outside, temperatures may be as low as −45 °C (−49 °F), but on the inside the temperature may range from −7 °C (19 °F) to 16 °C (61 °F) when warmed by body heat alone.[2]


The Inuit word iglu (plural igluit) can be used for a house or home built of any material,[1] and is not restricted exclusively to snowhouses (called specifically igluvijaq, plural igluvijait), but includes traditional tents, sod houses, homes constructed of driftwood and modern buildings.[3][4] Several dialects throughout the Canadian Arctic (Siglitun, Inuinnaqtun, Natsilingmiutut, Kivalliq, North Baffin) use iglu for all buildings, including snowhouses, and it is the term used by the Government of Nunavut.[1][5][6] An exception to this is the dialect used in the Igloolik region. Iglu is used for other buildings, while igluvijaq,[7] (plural igluvijait, Inuktitut syllabics: ᐃᒡᓗᕕᔭᖅ) is specifically used for a snowhouse. Outside Inuit society, however, igloo refers exclusively to shelters constructed from blocks of compacted snow, generally in the form of a dome.


There are three traditional types of igloos, all of different sizes and all used for different purposes.

  • The smallest was constructed as a temporary shelter, usually only used for one or two nights. These were built and used during hunting trips, often on open sea ice.
  • Intermediate-sized igloos were for semi-permanent, family dwelling. This was usually a single room dwelling that housed one or two families. Often there were several of these in a small area, which formed an Inuit village.
  • The largest igloos were normally built in groups of two. One of the buildings was a temporary structure built for special occasions, the other built nearby for living. These might have had up to five rooms and housed up to 20 people. A large igloo might have been constructed from several smaller igloos attached by their tunnels, giving common access to the outside. These were used to hold community feasts and traditional dances.


An igloo side view diagram; opening to the right, optional window may be composed of an ice block
An igloo's snowbrick laying method

The snow used to build an igloo must have enough structural strength to be cut and stacked appropriately. The best snow to use for this purpose is snow which has been blown by wind, which can serve to compact and interlock the ice crystals. The hole left in the snow where the blocks are cut is usually used as the lower half of the shelter. Sometimes, a short tunnel is constructed at the entrance to reduce wind and heat loss when the door is opened. Because of snow's excellent insulating properties, inhabited igloos are surprisingly comfortable and warm inside. In some cases, a single block of clear ice is inserted to allow light into the igloo. Animal skins were used as door flaps to keep warm air in. Igloos used as winter shelters had beds made of ice and caribou furs. These 'ice beds' are unique to the region and Inuit culture.

Architecturally, the igloo is unique in that it is a dome that can be raised out of independent blocks leaning on each other and polished to fit without an additional supporting structure during construction. An igloo that is built correctly will support the weight of a person standing on the roof. Also, in the traditional Inuit igloo the heat from the kudlik (qulliq, stone lamp) causes the interior to melt slightly. This melting and refreezing builds up a layer of ice that contributes to the strength of the igloo.[8]

The sleeping platform is a raised area. Because warmer air rises and cooler air settles, the entrance area acts as a cold trap whereas the sleeping area will hold whatever heat is generated by a stove, lamp, body heat, or other device.

The Central Inuit, especially those around the Davis Strait, lined the living area with skin, which could increase the temperature within from around 2 °C (36 °F) to 10–20 °C (50–68 °F).

Nanook of the North[edit]

The 1922 documentary Nanook of the North contains the oldest surviving movie footage of an Inuit constructing an igloo. In the film, Nanook, whose real name was Allakariallak, builds a large family igloo as well as a smaller igloo for sled pups. Nanook demonstrates the use of an ivory snow knife to cut and trim snow block, as well as the use of clear ice for a window. His igloo was built in about one hour, and was large enough for five people. The igloo was cross-sectioned for filmmaking, so interior shots could be made.

Cold weather survival[edit]

People caught in very cold, snowy conditions where there is danger of death from exposure can save their lives by building an igloo or snow cave to shelter.[9][10]

See also[edit]

An Inuk inside of an igloo (upper-right corner of image), circa 1900–1923. Photograph by Canadian Geological Survey.


  1. ^ a b c "Iglu". Asuilaak Living Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  2. ^ "How Warm is an Igloo?, BEE453 Spring 2003 (PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  3. ^ "The Mackenzie Inuit Winter House" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  4. ^ "Reconstructing traditional Inuit house forms using three-dimensional interactive computer modelling" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  5. ^ "About the Flag and Coat of Arms". Gov.nu.ca. 1999-04-01. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  6. ^ Inuinnaqtun English Dictionary. Cambridge Bay, Nunavut: Nunavut Arctic College, 1996.
  7. ^ "Igluvijaq". Asuilaak Living Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  8. ^ "What house-builders can learn from igloos, 2008, Dan Cruickshank, BBC". BBC News. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  9. ^ How to build an Igloo, survive a blizzard, finish your mission on time This web page gives basic instructions for westerners.
  10. ^ Cold Weather Survival, Shelters


External links[edit]