How Igloos Work

How to Build an Igloo

Although some Inuit still use igloos for temporary shelter, they are far less common than they were just a few decades ago. However, many skiers and outdoor enthusiasts construct them to avoid the elements during camping and ski trips. The Inuit designed the igloo to be warm, sturdy and easy to construct. All it takes is a few simple tools, an abundance of snow and a little patience. The experienced igloo builder can put one together in as little as one hour. Novice igloo builders can expect it to take an average of three to six hours.

Constructing an igloo usually requires at least two people. Please note that this is a very basic description of how an igloo can be constructed and shouldn't take the place of instruction from an experienced builder. Don't head to the top of a mountain with nothing but a printout of these instructions!

Recommended tools:

  • Snow saw or large knife
  • Snow shovel or snow spade
  • A couple pairs of waterproof gloves
  1. Find an area with a lot of dry, hard-packed snow. Use the snow saw or knife to cut large blocks -- the harder the snow is, the more solid the snow blocks will be. Your snow blocks should be about 3 feet long, 15 inches high and 8 inches deep, according to "The Complete Wilderness Training Guide."

    cutting igloo blocks

  2. Smooth the edges of the blocks. Place them in a circle, working your way up. Blocks should decrease in size as you work upwards. Using your shovel or saw, cut a hole under the wall to create the igloo's entrance.

    building an igloo

  3. Overlap the blocks and shape them to lean inward, creating the dome. The blocks should support each other in order to prevent the dome from collapsing. If necessary, use a stick or other support in the interior to support the blocks at the top until the dome is finished.

    building an igloo

  4. Once all the blocks except the last one have been placed, find a block that is slightly too large for the last opening on top. Place it on top of the igloo and wiggle it into place, shaping as needed. It should be shaped to fit exactly in the opening.

    building an igloo

  5. Shovel loose snow onto the igloo. Pack it into all of the crevices. Smooth the inside of the igloo by hand and shovel out any extra snow.

    building an igloo

  6. Finish the entrance by digging a hole in the shape of the desired entrance (some igloo aficionados prefer L-shaped entrances because they keep the wind out better). Then cover the hole with snow blocks.

    building an igloo

  7. You must cut ventilation holes in the walls and roof to prevent suffocation. Air holes also prevent body heat from causing dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.

    building an igloo

If you want to upgrade your igloo, consider adding these amenities:

  • A small stove: Yes, you can cook inside an igloo. Excessive use of a stove can build up carbon monoxide to dangerous levels, but your air holes should guard against that.
  • Extra head room: Some igloo builders recommend digging the floor down a little to allow for more space.
  • A sleeping platform: You can loft your bed with some extra blocks of snow. Since warm air rises, you'll enjoy a little extra heat that way.

Today, the Inuit have more housing options than just the igloo. But if you want to learn more about this humble abode, follow the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Canada's Aboriginal Population in 2017." Statistics Canada. 28 June 2005.
  • Cardinal, Florence. "Native Canadian Housing." Canadian History. 3 December 2006.
  • "Seven Wonders of Canada: The Igloo." CBC.CA. 7 January 2008.
  • Hata, Kimi. "Inuit/Eskimo Society." 7 January 2008.
  • Kaplan, Lawrence. "Inuit or Eskimo: Which Names to Use?" Alaska Native Language Center. 7 January 2008.
  • Labiste, Susan. "How to Build an Igloo." Primitive Ways. 7 January 2008.
  • McManners, Hugh. "The Complete Wilderness Training Guide."
  • Park, Robert W. "Archaeology in Arctic North America." University of Waterloo. 7 January 2008.
  • Steel, Patrick. "Chilly Reception: Staying in an Igloo Village in the Swiss Alps." The Guardian. 2 April 2007.