18 How to Build an Igloo

It can take a novice up to half a day to build an igloo. An expert, however, can do it in just an hour. The igloo, the Inuit word for ‘home’ or ‘shelter’, is a round dome made of snow and ice. It served as temporary shelter for the Inuit hunters in arctic Canada. Although often made to hold a small family, an igloo can be built to house as many as twenty people at one time. The snow and ice serve as insulators by trapping the body heat of those inside the igloo. Although igloos are mainly found in the Arctic regions of Canada, they have become part of the greater Canadian identity. This might inspire you to try to build one on your own. If so, there are three major steps involved in the process.

First, you need to choose the right snow. You might think that this is easy, but it is not. In fact, the Inuit have a variety of terms for different types of snow and ice. According to Steckley (2009), there are as many as 52 terms. In Nunavik, for example, you have the term ‘maujaq’ which refers to the type of snow in which you sink (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2015). Obviously, this is not the type of snow with which you would want to build an igloo. Instead, the type of snow called ‘illusaq’, snow which can become a house, should be used. According to Sijpke, an ice architect and igloo builder (Fecht, 2017), this is dense snow – not  the loose powder from a fresh snowfall. Once you find an area with hard packed snow, make sure you have enough of it. According to Sijpke (Fecht, 2017), the amount of snow needed is often underestimated by novices.

Now that you have your snow and location pinpointed, you need to begin building the structure. To do this, you will need two different kinds of tools: a snow saw and a shovel. Shovel off any light snow on the ground and use the saw to cut blocks out of the dense snow. Traditionally, the Inuit made these 3 feet in length, 15 inches in height, and around 8 inches in width.  (Fecht, 2017), but smaller blocks can also be used. To ensure you have a proper circle, hammer a stick into the ground denoting the igloo’s centre. Attach a string the length of the diameter of your igloo to the stick and walk in a circle, marking the area with your foot as you walk. Now that you have the outline of your igloo, begin cutting your snow/ice blocks. As you place these around the circle, cut them so that they make a continuous ramp-like spiral, leaving a vent at the top (Fecht 2017). Make sure to cut them at a slight incline so they make a dome. Pack snow into any open spaces between the blocks to close the structure.

Your last step is to add your finishing touches. This includes making an entrance for your igloo and hardening the outer shell of the structure. To make a doorway, simply cut a block of ice out of the wall (Fecht, 2017). Then cut that block in half and create an awning to cover the entrance way. Alternatively, you can tunnel under the igloo (about 18 inches in depth) to create a separate entrance to the outside (Rutland, 2020). Once your entrance is done, you need to strengthen your structure. This is best done by hosing down the outside of the igloo with water (Fecht, 2017). As the water freezes, it hardens your shell. Once this is done, your igloo is ready to be occupied.

Although few igloos are now constructed in Canada’s arctic region due to the European-style housing taking their place, they remain culturally significant. In fact, they are still the favourites at snow festivals throughout Canada. The largest ever recorded igloo in the country was built in 2005 at the Puvirnituq’s Snow Festival, featuring a height of 5 meters and a width of 40 meters – holding up to 400 people at one time (Gadacz, 2006). As part of Canada’s identity, the igloo will always be cherished.



Fecht, S. (2017). Want to build an igloo? Here’s how. Retrieved April 27, 2020 from https://www.popsci.com/how-to-build-an-igloo/

Gadacz, R. (2006). Igloo. Retrieved April 27, 2020 from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/igloo

Rutland, M. (2020). How to build an igloo. Retrieved April 27, 2020 from https://boyslife.org/hobbies-projects/projects/6793/how-to-build-an-igloo/

Steckley, J. (2009). White lies about the Inuit. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2015). Inuktitut words for snow and ice. Retrieved April 27,2020 from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/inuktitut-words-for-snow-and-ice


Comprehension Questions

Vocabulary Exercises

Academic Writing Exercises

Contextual Grammar Exercises




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Real Academic Essays: STEM Copyright © by Hilda Freimuth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book