When one thinks of an Eskimo, chances are those thoughts are immediately followed by thoughts involving round, ice houses known as "igloos." According to the online New World Encyclopedia, in the Arctic climates of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, native Inuit people traditionally made homes from the materials available--frozen snow. While the thought of staying warm in a house made of frozen material seems a bit counterintuitive, snow and ice have properties that can keep an igloo's occupants comfortable even when temperatures dip to -50 degrees F.

The term igloo is commonly associated with domes made of ice.

Building Process

In order to fully understand how an igloo can keep a person warm, it is important to understand how ice igloos are constructed. According to the Farm website, igloos are built using large blocks of dry, hard snow surrounding a hole dug in the snow-packed ground. Blocks are stacked so they lean inward as the structure is built upward. At the top, a final block is fitted in to place while the builders stand inside the igloos. Air holes are then poked in the walls of igloo using an ice axe.

Wind Break

One way that an igloo helps protect its inhabitants from the harsh winter temperatures, is by forming a man-made wind break. According to the Ask a Scientist website, wind chill and negative temperatures are commonly associated with freezing in the arctic winters. Igloos are built of tightly packed snow blocks which prevents the freezing winds from reaching the people living inside.

Fire and Body Heat

Fire and body heat play a large role in protecting those who live inside of an igloo. As a campfire, stove or a person's body heat gives off warmth it rises and melts the ice on the insides of the igloo, according to the Farm website. The ice then refreezes and forms a barrier inside the igloo, making it airtight. This helps keep the heat from the fire and body heat inside.

Heat Conductivity

Another principle of ice helps keep the people inside nice and warm. Ice does not conduct heat well, according to the Ask a Scientist website. As a result, any heat generated inside of the igloo typically stays there, with the snow blocks serving as an insulator. This principle is why fire and body heat act as a furnace for an igloo.


The word igloo brings about a common misconception, according to the Social Studies for Kids website. The term igloo is not restricted entirely to the domed structure made of ice. Igloo is an Inuit word meaning house. Not all Inuits live in an ice igloo; other types of traditional homes are made from sod, wood, cement and stone. According to New World Encyclopedia, modern Inuits still construct igloos, though usually only as temporary hunting shelters.