Igloos are temporary snow houses once used by Alaska Native Eskimos. Eskimos, or Esquimaux, are indigenous peoples of Alaska . Eskimos refer to themselves as Inuit, “The People." Igloo is also called aputiak , temporary winter home or hunting-ground dwelling. Igloos are good houses for the polar region, where the earth is frozen, the snow cover is deep, and there are few trees. Snow is a good insulator, and dense blocks of ice offer good protection against the arctic winds. Not all Inuit people used igloos—some built sod houses instead, using whale bones instead of wooden poles for a frame. Like a sod house, the igloo is dome shaped and slightly excavated, but it is built from the snow, with large blocks of ice set in a spiral pattern and packed with snow to form the dome.
The dimensions of igloos vary, but they generally accommodate only one family. An experienced Inuit can build a snow igloo in 1 to 2 hours. Sod, stone, and wood have also been used to construct igloos.
To build an igloo, a builder begins by finding a deep stable snowdrift or snowledge. Once a suitable place is found, the shape of a base of the igloo is cut in the compact snow. From the compact snow, rectangle blocks measuring about 2 feet by 4 feet and 8 inches thick are cut using a tool made of bone or metal. The blocks are set in a spiral pattern, with the top surfaces of the blocks shaved off in a sloping angle to form the first rung of a spiral. Additional blocks are added to the spiral to draw it inward until the dome is completed. Then, a hole is poked in the top, the entrance is cut, and sometimes a window is made from a clear slab of ice or the intestine of a seal. With the completion of the dome a long narrow entrance tunnel leading into the igloo is constructed. Drafts are kept from the igloo by a sealskin flap hung over the exterior entrance. Occupants used seal oil lamps for heat and light. For additional warmth, sealskins and blankets were sometimes used to cover the igloo walls. For storage, shelves were cut into the walls of the tunnel and igloo base. A raised platform covered with willow twigs and caribou furs were used for sleeping and eating on. For cooking, a square hole with hot coals or fire with a rack and net above the vent hole was used. The net is for drying clothes and the rack is for cooking food.