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Icelandic Turf Houses

Our current culture today is all about finding ways to make our homes more "green", or environmentally friendly. While this cultural buzzword seems to be something new, Iceland has been perfecting the model for energy efficient homes for centuries. Icelandic turf houses have been around for a very long time, and it seems their eco-friendly construction may play a pivotal role on how homes are built in the future.

Icelandic Turf House

In most ancient cultures, turf houses were looked at as being for the poor who couldn't afford better housing. This wasn't the case in Iceland, where owning a turf house was commonplace among both the poor, as well as the powerful chiefs. Around the 9th century, grass was used to build longhouses used by the Nordic people of the region, as both living quarters and for work purposes. Many of these homes were built at least partially underground (or bermed with earth) as well.

Turf Wars

As time progressed, so did the design of the turf houses. Instead of sticking with the one, large community home for people in the village, they began building separate houses that were connected to each other through one central passageway. This helped the Nordics to continue having a strong sense of community, while having a place to call their own.

Iceland's Turf Houses

You might be curious to know just what type of materials were used in the construction of a turf house. The frame for each house was made from timber gathered from trades or driftwood, and grass turf was used to make the walls and roofs. Wood was a rare commodity in Iceland, so villagers were forced to barter or trade in order to get a ready supply to build their homes with. The wealthier villages were able to procure enough timber to have their walls and floors made from wood, but the poor were forced to just use the turf.

It Takes a Village

When villagers needed grass to build a home, they would venture off into the marshlands. The Nordics used a lot of different tools to cut the turf in the marsh to fit their specifications. The grass used to build their homes would often need to be changed as the years went on. How long a piece of turf would last, depended on several factors including the craftsmanship of the individual who cut it, the composition of the soil, and the environment. Sooner or later, the grass would need to be changed.

More Turf Homes in Iceland

One of the reasons the Nordics used this type of material was because it was free and in large quantities. The winter months were always very cool, and turf makes a great insulator for keeping in the warm, and keeping out the cold Turf was also great at minimizing drafts, which kept air from getting in or leaking out. This was extremely important, as at this time, there was no way to centrally heat or cool a home.


With our modern culture looking for ways to become more energy efficient, it is highly possible that turf houses may make a comeback in popularity, especially since they can save a fortune on one's heating and cooling bills.