With Old Man Winter bearing down hard on the East Coast right now and snow becoming a real threat to numerous locations, it is easy to get caught up in the hysteria of keeping your own tiny house warm and efficient. Too seldom though we forget the rich history of the ice house and how it has impacted the greater tiny house movement. After thinking about the subject and having a few “what if” conversations around the boardroom, we reasoned that because they are little more than one open room comprised of seasonal snow and ice they wouldn’t really constitute a house capable of supporting year-round living or any sort of even semi-permanent structure. Yet we dug a little deeper. A new world came into focus that involved the Intuit culture and Greenland in general.
It’s important to first get some definitions out of the way. First and foremost, what is an Inuit? Often confused with Eskimos or small cartoon figures holding a string of fish and covering their face with furry hoods, a person of direct Inuit descent is of a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and the United States. The Greenlandic Inuit are specifically the descendants of migrations from Canada and are citizens of Denmark, although not of the European Union. The Wikipedia entry for Inuits is quite robust and can offer a lot more information on this people group.
What is even more fascinating regarding the Inuits is that they lived in and from their natural surroundings and in order to do so had to become versatile in their dwellings which – by necessity – had to be easy to construct and located close to good hunting and fishing. While we think only of Igloos the Inuit also had a more stable and permanent structure called a turf hut that they lived in for extensive amounts time. They also utilized mobile tents made from animal hide to protect them from the elements. Their homes during the coldest months and on temporary hunting outings was, of course, the igloo, which is absolutely a temporary shelter made of snow and ice.
Up until the mid-1950s there were still areas in Greenland where the Inuits lived rather primitively. However, the structures were adequate and rather advanced in regards to technologies like passive temperature control.
THE TURF HUT
While turf huts are still visible parts of the Greenland landscape, the design and actual structures have almost completely been resigned to local museum fair. The turf hut – a low, square, stone structure supported by wooden beams of driftwood – was robust, sturdy, and well insulated. They could, in fact, be more or less, permanent structures. Turf huts were also located close to the sea so that Inuits could travel easily by kayak and canoe and so seal hunting was more accessible.
The word ‘igloo’ is actually a mid-19th century Inuit word (iglu) which means ‘house’. And while an igloo is a bit of a primitive (read: sparse) house, it can provide shelter from temperature and conditions most closely thought about in regards to hypothermia and death. The igloo is actually a one-room “tent” made of large blocks of snow that are cut out in different sizes with a special snow knife. The blocks are then placed on top of each other in a gradual spiral creating a bit of a dome shape. The key is that they are not made of packed snow that ultimately freezes. Igloos were found almost entirely in an area very north of Greenland where the sea was frozen through in winter.
What do you think? Do Turf Houses and Igloos have a place in the tiny house movement? Is their inspiration obvious? Let us know in the comment section below.