Introduction: Make an Ice Block Igloo

Picture of Make an Ice Block Igloo

We live in upstate NY, which means we're accustomed to cold and snowy winters. This winter, however, has been unlike any in recent memory. We've had over a month where nearly every day brought sub-zero temperatures. It's enough to make you start to lose your mind!

A few weeks ago, I took a look at the extended forecast and saw no end in sight. This got me thinking about an internet picture of an ice block igloo that someone had made using empty milk cartons for molds . They had colored the water of each block, resulting in a perfect little domed ice-house which was especially beautiful when lit up at night. From the moment I saw that picture I knew we had to make one, and we now had the weather to make it possible.

After about a week of ice-block production and igloo construction, we accomplished our goal. The process was remarkably easy - albeit a bit tedious and time consuming. The end result, however, exceeded all of our expectations.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Picture of Gather Your Materials

Materials:

* Water

* Food coloring

* 25 plastic shoe box containers from Walmart. These run about ~$1 and work perfect. (I considered milk cartons, but it would take us months to drink that milk and orange juice).

Tools:

* Garden pump sprayer and/or sprinkler can

* Plastic tub (for mixing show and water)

* Trowel

* Hatchet

Conditions:

* Sustained temperatures of below 10 degrees. This allows for about 2 batches of ice blocks per day.

Step 2: Making the Ice Blocks

Picture of Making the Ice Blocks

This is by far the most time consuming step. I had purchased 25 of the plastic 'shoe box' containers at Walmart. If I had more then it would have taken less time, but I didn't feel like spending any more money until I saw how this was going to work.

Unfortunately my exterior faucet freezes each winter. This necessitated hauling 5 gallon pails of water from my kitchen sink out to the plastic containers in my back yard. It takes about 15 gallons to fill all 25 containers. Food coloring was added with the water and mixed well. I used 4 colors along with about 20% uncolored blocks. About 150 blocks were made in total, and we used nearly all of them.

On my first batch, I filled the containers all the way to the top. The water, of course, expanded when it froze and grew up out of the container. With the ice extending over the top, it became difficult to separate the ice from the container and I ended up losing some containers to breakage.

I filled the subsequent batches about 2/3 full. This allowed the ice to grow, but not completely come up to the top. I was able to push each sidewall slightly away from the ice. Upon flipping it over, the ice then slipped right out.

Step 3: Laying the First Row

Picture of Laying the First Row

If your igloo is to have even and straight rows, it needs to be built on a level surface. My back yard is not quite level, so I built a small 8" high by 1' tall 'footer' out of wet snow. This footer was made to a diameter of about 6'. To achieve a reasonably round circle, I first scribed a guide line in the snow with a crude compass made from a broom stick. I held the stick at one end and had my daughter rotate the other end around me, scraping a line in the snow at the end of the stick as she moved.

After building up the footer, I took an 8' 2x4 and laid it across the circle at various points. Using a 3' level on top of the 2x4, I was able to see where the high spots were and scrape them down.

I then started laying the first row, one block at a time. I wet the snow under each block to help it freeze together to form a quick and strong bond. The blocks sidewalls are tapered to match the plastic shoe box molds. This works to our advantage as when subsequent blocks are placed on top, they will start to form the dome shape on their own.

Snow was jammed between each block and sprayed with the garden sprayer to seal the gaps.

Step 4: Making the Mortar

Picture of Making the Mortar

Since the temperature was below 10 degrees when we made the igloo, naturally wet snow was unavailable. As a result, water had to be mixed with the dry, powdery snow. We used two methods to do this:

Method 1: Garden Sprayer

This is the method I started with. I would place the dry snow along the already laid blocks and then spray it with water. This worked well for the horizontal surfaces, but it was difficult to use on the vertical seams between each block.

Method 2: Sprinkling Can and Mixing Container

I soon moved on to making my own 'slush' in a plastic bin. I simply filled the bin with snow, watered it down, and mixed it up with a trowel. The slush could then be applied like mortar, both on the horizontal and vertical surfaces, and on the inside and outside surfaces to fill in any gaps.

Step 5: Add the Remaining Rows

Picture of Add the Remaining Rows

As previously mentioned, the tapered edges of the shoe box containers work very well to facilitate the curvature of the dome. After adding each row, I would step back from the igloo to see if it was still level and true. I ended up removing and relaying a few sections to correct some anomalies that couldn't be seen without perspective.

As the blocks transition to a vertical orientation in the top three or four rows, we found it important to have two people. One person would place the mortar and then position the block. The second person would then fill the gaps on the outer surface with mortar. These gaps get bigger as you get closer to the top so it is important to fill them. Since the temperatures were so cold, the slush froze up almost immediately - which worked to our advantage at this stage of the build.

To reduce the size of some gaps, and to fill some of the irregular openings near the top, we used a hatchet the shape the blocks. This worked extremely well. I feared that the blocks would just crack apart, but they the remained intact and were very easy to shape.

Step 6: Making the Entry Tunnel

Picture of Making the Entry Tunnel

We started with one column on each side of the opening. These were placed about a block's distance away from the igloo. I tested the width between the columns to make sure it would easily fit an adult.

The columns started to get unstable when they reached five blocks in height. At this point, we added the second column to connect them to the igloo. This stabilized the columns and allowed for the adding of the upper rows where were almost horizontal.

Step 7: Turning on the Lights!

Picture of Turning on the Lights!

With the igloo complete, we eagerly ran an extension cord to power the flood lights. A hole was poked through the footer for the cord so we didn't have to run it through the entry tunnel (I didn't want it visible in the pictures).

We were not disappointed when the lights were turned on. The igloo glowed colorfully just as we had intended.

In total, we spent about 30 hours on this project. The only thing left to do was spend the night in our little domed house. For some reason, my wife and children said they would disown me if I did - however, I'm not giving up! There are still a few more weeks until the spring thaw!

Comments

HLightning11 (author)2016-02-03

Awesome!

chriswangmu (author)2015-04-02

what an extraordinary project! the kids must've love this igloo so much!

jeanniel1 (author)2015-03-03

Wow, I wish it'd snow in California like this, but it might be easier to visit and get stuck in the NE USA instead... ha ha! What a great job of doing this, and documenting it. How long will it last? Will you tell us when it melts?

fixfireleo (author)jeanniel12015-03-03

uughh. only someone from a warm climate could wish it would snow like that! :)

60965 (author)fixfireleo2015-03-12

I know right.... me to

jeanniel1 (author)fixfireleo2015-03-03

heh heh heh ... yeah, like folks also think San Francisco is a hop skip and a jump away from LA...

60965 (author)2015-03-12

This looks really fun i might try it......

Coldfire1215 (author)2015-03-11

Epic!

eruger (author)2015-03-08

Good Intructable! You can use an old bow saw very effectively too, though it will need sharpening after.

Chateepatee (author)2015-03-08

Great idea 2 use t/ shoe boxes. Love this! Thks ?

clewis21 (author)2015-03-05

OMG, this is so awesome!!!!!

ratwrf (author)2015-03-04

great looking craft.. wet cold hands build a real Igloo withe the colors just spray them in with warm water to close your block gaps.. looks good untill I build a fire on the inside.. ?? mmm?

Lakes57 (author)2015-03-03

A small USB powered model one with leds (colour cycle to taste using arduino etc) and clear cast resin for the blocks would make a nice desktop toy.

Mooch07 (author)2015-03-03

This is awesome! I remember making igloos as a kid just be making a big mound of snow and hollowing it out. I'll have to try this method sometime. Fun idea with the food coloring!

melody.reed.37 (author)2015-03-03

Good things come to those who wait. I started saving the milk & juice cartons last winter and probably will have enough just as this winter is ending. Which means I'll certainly have enough by NEXT winter. hee hee. Looking forward to making an igloo for winter carnival 2016. :-)

bpark1000 (author)2015-03-03

You can speed up the block-making process by mixing your "mortar slush" and filling the block molds with it. (For the colors, you will need the dye concentration higher in the liquid). There will be a lot less expansion, as most of the water in the mold is already frozen. You mention having problems with the upper blocks staying in place. The trick to making them stay is having the block shaped so it makes contact at the 3 corners (you can "mortar on bumps at 3 of the corners beforehand" . This requires you spiral the ground row. Then each added block contacts the one just laid on one side, and locks into place. The last block is shaved into a "cork" shape, and "plugs in" from the outside.

dimmaz88 (author)2015-03-02

Awesome, wish it was cold enough here in the UK

spark master (author)dimmaz882015-03-03

No you don't trust me , you do not want this! As my muscles still ache from the last small fall of the white death and cleaning up 3 house worth!

pretty to look at though when some one else does the shoveling!!!

chcukle

fixfireleo (author)spark master2015-03-03

amen! take it from a mailman...snow is E-VILE!

spark master (author)2015-03-03

This is quitr wonderful to look at , but it is not a safe thing to sleep in, This is like being on ice , in a freer, with no wind.

Igloo's and Quinzhee's need packed snow, but not solid water. They will both insulate you, and the maintenance in use is every morning you need to pick/scrape/pick off the ice layer your breath makes on the inside. That is because while packed snow has less air spaces then the fluffy stuff, it does have i and it insulates.

Any Scout who has gone cold weather camping will attest to this. When you take the training to do this trip, they teach you to make a quinzhee, as making a true igloo is much harder. Properly made a full grown adult can stand on top.

see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinzhee

You have great practice though for making a PIZZA oven (use firebrick if you can afford to)

And your "brick work" really is nice enough to make an oven.

But again while I would not sleep in that unless I had to, sorry to be a sad sack, but as people might try to make one and sleep in it, (like scouts), this is not how it is done, nor is it particularly safe. If your in it as it defrosts a falling block is like a rock. In an igloo or a quinzhee, the snow is much much softer, and quinzhee's have vent holes around the structure.

It is quite pretty though, I think you should lite it up while it lasts.

fixfireleo (author)spark master2015-03-03

how about making it and using it as a lawn decoration? who would sleep outside in the winter anyway? unless they are nuts!

fixfireleo (author)2015-03-03

totally cool. wonder if you could use sugar free kool-aide though so you could lick the walls? :)

dorybob (author)2015-03-03

nice work. with a warm enough sleeping bag and insulated pad, you'll be quite comfortable. enjoy your backyard adventure.

loony1 (author)2015-03-01

I wish that I was staying that this was of my own doing, alas, it was not. Snapped this pic at a local park last year. We had planned to mirror this this winter, but just never really got into the mood because our snow didn't pile up like yours out East.
You've now forced me to plan this next year for sure. The pic's blocks are pretty small by comparison, I definitely like your larger block approach.
Thanks for posting and hope you get to have your sleep-over.

tisaconundrum (author)loony12015-03-03

I wanna eat it

48jill (author)2015-03-02

Total genius. Very impressive: thank you!

ashleyjlong (author)2015-03-02

Wonderful family project! I'm glad it turned out as you'd hoped. My hands feel frozen just thinking about applying that mortar!

Wow, this is magical! Awesome job!

CorgiCritter (author)2015-03-01

Great job, I voted for you. :)

The idea of the colored ice blocks was nice, I have never heard (or thought, for that matter) about that.

NathanSellers (author)2015-03-01

Wow! What a really cool [pun intended] way to harness the cold with your kids. It turned out super cool.

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Bio: A mechanical engineer by training, but often seek out fun projects at home to satisfy my need to create stuff. I love halloween, cardboard projects ... More »
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