Snow Insulation and the Igloo

If you were going to insulate a home, would snow be a consideration?

Believe it or not, snow is a great insulator. Snow has a low density with pockets of air between the flakes, which helps prevent heat from passing through. A recent Architect Magazine illustrated that while the average winter temperature north of the Arctic Circle is -30.5 degrees F (-1 C), the average interior temperature of an inhabited igloo is +60.5 F (+16 C).

Cook Expedition Igloo

1909 Frederick Cook Expedition igloo near North Pole (Library of Congress photo)

So how does this all relate to a mountain home? A negative perception by many people is to keep snow off your roof. It can leak and cause structural failures. Looking at it in a positive light, the negatives can easily be corrected in design, and keeping snow on a roof adds an additional insulation layer to your home. The snow helps keep warm air from escaping. In this aspect, flat roofs are actually more energy efficient that sloped roofs, though not as popular. The flat roof holds more snow, and thus, extra snow insulation. See our article Managing Snow On Roofs for more information.

Snow On Mountain Cabin Roof

Please note that while snow adds insulation value, no building department will allow the use of a roof that is insulated solely by snow. Otherwise, if it’s a low snow year, you’re out of luck.

John Hendricks, AIA Architect, NCARB

Hendricks Architecture, mountain architects in Sandpoint, Idaho. Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog

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