The kids have been outside playing nearly every day this winter, and they’ve been begging you for an igloo. You want to oblige, but the snow that fell last night is very powdery. Can you still build an igloo with this snow?
Yes, you can make an igloo with powdery snow, although you’ll have to mix it with water so the snow can hold together the structure of the igloo. It only takes a couple of hours and some good location scouting to make an igloo the kids will enjoy for a while to come!
If you want to learn more about building your very own igloo for the kids, you’ve come to the right place. Ahead, we’ll present step-by-step guidance for making an igloo. We’ll even have tips on how to maintain the igloo, so make sure you keep reading!
So, Can You Make an Igloo with Powdery Snow?
This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed powdery snow on the blog. If you remember our post on whether you can make a snowman in powdery snow, we had stated that no, you can’t, at least not on its own.
It’s the same story if you want to build an igloo in powdery snow, but with a workaround.
First, let’s talk about why powdery snow isn’t usable for much. The key when building any snow structure–be it a fort for snowball fighting, a snowman, or an igloo–is that the snow must contain moisture.
Yes, moisture is water, and technically, all snow is water, but you’d be surprised by how dry some snow is.
To determine the wetness or dryness of snow, you’d need to measure its free water content or liquid water content. You don’t need any scientific tools for this, just your hands. When snow is only moist, then its free water content is around three percent, maybe as high as eight percent.
Wet snow is that which has free water content of 15 percent. Dry snow is less than three percent liquid water content.
Powdery snow, which is surface snow, is considered dry. When you try to grasp it in your hand, it falls apart. It’s not conducive for much, even rolling it into snowballs. If you’re into snowboarding or snowmobiling, powdery snow works for these activities. It’s also easy to shovel, which is a blessing.
Okay, so if you can’t build anything solid with powdery snow, then how do you use it to make an igloo? It’s simple, you increase its free water content.
This requires you to mix water with snow, something we’ll talk more about in the next section. As the free water content goes up, the snow becomes like a glue that will stick to itself and other structures. Now making an igloo is very much doable!
How to Build an Igloo with Powdery Snow
You’re ready to get started building your igloo for the kids, powdery snow notwithstanding. It will take you about four hours to construct an igloo if you work on it by yourself. If you can, try to have a neighbor, partner, or buddy help, as this way your kids can use the igloo before sundown.
First, gather your supplies. Yes, you need more than just snow. If you can, build the igloo close to a source of water such as a hose or a tap.
You’ll also need a snow shovel and a wheelbarrow. You probably have plenty of shovels, but not necessarily the barrow. If you need to borrow one from a neighbor, then please do.
What you wear when working outside in the snow is very important. You must have waterproof gloves, or your hands will get cold in 10 minutes if that. A waterproof coat and snow pants will also keep you toasty if you accidentally splash water on yourself when wetting the powdery snow.
Once you have everything you need, it’s time to build! Here are the steps.
Scout Your Location
If you haven’t already, the first order of business is to choose a location for your igloo. As we recommended in the paragraphs above, if you can build the igloo close to a source of water, that’s best. This prevents you from having to lug around buckets of cold water that can splash and spill on you.
Make an Outline of the Igloo
With your location selected, it’s time to plan the specs for the igloo. The standard igloo height is 12 to 18 inches, the average thickness is 9 to 12 inches, and the length should be between 18 and 24 inches.
Measure that much space using a measuring tape or even a ruler (or several). Once you know how big you’ll build the igloo, make a crude outline of its structure in the snow using your finger or the ruler. This will serve as your guideline as you start construction.
Wet the Powdery Snow and Begin Building
Now you’ll need your water supply. Combine a good amount of water with the powdery snow until you get a texture like slush. We recommend having more snow than you’ll think you need, as it might take some trial and error before you get the snow texture right.
Although dry snow is unusable for building snow structures, wet snow is equally as useless. It’s too drippy. If the powdery snow is falling apart in your hands when wet, then you need to use less water.
When you’re ready to start building, construct the walls first. You don’t have to make separate bricks for the igloo. The kids won’t care about that level of craftsmanship, and that will make this project take hours longer than what’s necessary.
Here’s how you build the igloo. Take a chunk of wet snow and place it down where you outlined the start of the walls. Then add more snow atop that, packing the two parts tightly together. As you have more of a defined wall to work with, adding to the wall becomes easier.
Build from the Back
By starting with the back of the igloo rather than the right or left sides, you’re ensuring you can reach around and build all parts of the igloo without having to put a hole in the igloo’s top.
Curve the Walls
Remember, an igloo doesn’t have straight walls all the way up. After you get midway to the predetermined height of your igloo, start angling the wet snow so it curves up.
Construct the Entrance Last
When you work from the back to the front, you’ll eventually have to build the entrance for the igloo. You don’t want the entrance to be too wide, but the kids need to be able to crawl in and out.
Let the Floor Come Together on Its Own
There’s no need to build the floor of the igloo. As you construct the rest of it, snow will fall that is soft and fluffy enough to act as the floor. You can compress this snow if you wish or leave it as is. Once the kids are in the igloo, they’ll flatten the snow on their own.
Solidify the Structure with Water
Take a step back and admire your handiwork. Your igloo should be complete by this stage, and it probably looks quite awesome too! To prevent it from falling apart, take cold water and pour it all over the structure. Do this a little bit at a time to prevent the walls or the entrance from caving in.
Then allow the water to freeze over for at least an hour. Take this time to go inside and enjoy a much-needed break from the cold!
Test the Igloo’s Strength
After the hour has elapsed, you can do a quality control check before you let the kids into the igloo. If you put pressure on the igloo’s walls or top, do they buckle, or do they remain secure? If you built your igloo correctly, then it should be practically rock solid.
Some adults will even stand on top of the igloo to test it, which is certainly something you can do if you’re feeling brazen enough!
How Long Do Igloos Last?
The kids loved the igloo you built and thanked you a thousand times for it. They’ve been playing it in for days, which made all the hard work worth it. After checking the forecast and seeing no snow on the horizon, you worry. How long will your igloo survive?
Snow will begin to melt once the air temperature is higher than 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a couple of 35-degree days on the horizon, the igloo’s disintegration will be a drawn-out process. Should the weather do a wild fluctuation and it’s going to be 45 or 50 degrees tomorrow, your igloo could be a puddle of slush by sundown.
How to Preserve Your Igloo for More Winter Fun
Although nothing lasts forever, you’d prefer if your igloo remained standing for more than a day or two. Is there anything you can do to keep it around even if warmer days are in the forecast?
Yes, actually! Here are some tactics that should work quite well.
Keep It Away from the Sun
Even if the air temperature is in the low 30s, the sun’s heat can start melting your igloo. Building it in a shady area is best, but if it’s too late for that, you can always create a perimeter around your igloo to shield it. Maybe you park a truck or car by the snow structure so it blocks the direct path of the sun to your igloo.
Does the igloo feel a bit mushy to the touch? Pour more cold water on it. Do this daily and allow the water at least 30 minutes to freeze. If the days are warmer but the nights are still cold, then coat the igloo in another layer of water just before sundown. The water will freeze as the daylight disappears.
We talked about pykrete in our article on how to prevent a snowman from melting. If you missed that post, pykrete is a combination of ice and wood pulp like sawdust. The wood pulp is 14 percent of the pykrete, and the rest is ice.
A man named Geoffrey Pyke created the stuff around World War II times, and so it’s named after him.
Pykrete melts far more slowly due to its reduced thermal conductivity. If you build your kids’ igloo with this ice and wood mixture, it could last for weeks, maybe even a month. However, shaping pykrete is hard, as it isn’t very malleable.
You might want to set aside a few days for building an igloo with pykrete.
Powdery snow is a godsend to those with achy backs from shoveling, but it’s not great for building snow structures such as igloos or snowmen. It falls apart too easily. By mixing powdery snow with water, you get a slushy consistency that you can then use to build the coolest igloo on the block!