Humans have come up with some incredible ways of building structures to live in. The sod house is one example. These home-building technologies are not just a thing of the past either. Recent technologies have been very effective like earthbag homes and even 3D printed houses!
The American homesteader in the early 1800s would have forged into prairie lands and realized they had to create shelter without trees in these large open fields. The ingenious method of using sod to create a home was born.
What Is Sod?
Have you ever had sod placed on your property? Sod is basically that big role of mature grass that can be laid to create a new lawn. The roots of the grass are deep and strong so the sod can be cut out into large pieces.
Sod is actually sold in rolls. Large rolls of living grass that can be transplanted to create a lawn wherever you need it.
A sod home is created by layering large bricks of sod. If you know when to harvest quality sod then you can stack these bricks up to the roof and they will be strong and durable. This creates a layered and living home. A sod home can be built into the side of a hill or it can be standalone.
I like the sod house because you can take advantage of it when you have limited building materials to create yourself a livable long-term shelter.
How Durable Is a Sod House?
Now that you know what a sod house is, the next question is, ‘how durable is a sod house?’
How durable can a home be that is made out of grass?
The sod house was common amongst American pioneers who were interested put down stakes in the prairies where building materials were sparse. These homes were incredibly insulated thanks to the use of sod. They were much more insulative than just wood homes or cabin homes.
The average sod home could last for around 6 years. By that time you would have to have built a more sturdy home or created a new sod home. These homes are still built in some places today because they work and they are very cheap to build.
When Is the Best Time to Build a Sod House?
The best time to cut sod for your sod house is in September. This is when the roots of the grass are deepest and will hold your sod together. Otherwise, the sod could crumble when you dig it out and that will not hold your sod home together.
The quality of your sod house is entirely dependent on the maturity of the root growth of your grass. Be sure you choose a location with plenty of healthy grass.
Building in September will also give you plenty of time to get the house up and ready to go for the colder months that will be approaching. The insulated sod home would have been a great place to shelter from the howling winter winds of US prairies.
How to Make Sod House Bricks
The sod home is made up of sod bricks. The key to making good sod bricks is consistency. You are going to need a lot of bricks to build a house from sod.
Each sod brick should be about 4 inches thick, 2 feet long, and the width of your spade. Keep it simple. So, you can sink your spade into the ground down to about 4 inches, and mark the spade with a marker to keep consistent depth.
Next, you are going to use the spade to cut out the perimeter of a sod brick from the measurements above. If you are not concerned about being exact with your size you could just sink the spade into the ground, then sink it into the ground at a 90-degree angle to your first cut and make the same cut right next to that one and then another 90 degrees cut to create the outline of the brick.
Then you can finish by cutting the brick out the rest of the way.
This can all be done with a simple shovel. Once you get the process down you are going to just start cranking out sod bricks. It can seem a bit overwhelming but pictures of sod homes show that you are going to need a lot of bricks if you plan on building even a small home.
If there are two or more people building the sod home then you can assign one person to dig bricks and the other to stack them. I would recommend building a nice pile of bricks before you start stacking to create the perimeter of your home.
How to Build a Sod House
1. Choose the Location
The process starts by first choosing a location. To get the most out of your sod home you are going to want to try to give it some windbreaks, make sure that it gets some sunlight, and is easily accessible.
2. Mark the Perimeter
Mark out the perimeter of the home with bricks or just use your shovel to mark it all out. Make sure that you mark a location for a door so you know where you want that to go during the stacking process.
3. Lay the First Layer
Start your first layer of bricks for the perimeter grass side down. That might seem counterintuitive but trust me on this one. That very first layer that separates the home from the ground you are to flip the bricks grass side down.
4. Stagger the Next Layer
Stagger your next layer of bricks to build the second layer. This means place your next sod brick so that the center of the brick lines up exactly where the two bricks beneath it met. Look at a brick wall if you need an example.
This is a building method that everyone uses to create stronger brick and mortar structures. It works and that’s why people do it. You may need to cut some of your sod bricks in order to make it work perfectly.
That can be done with your spade, too.
5. Insert Door/Window Frames
After about 2-3 layers you are going to consider doors and windows. Simple wood frames can make doorways or you can just build a small opening into it to get in.
Simple doorways can be made by leaving a gap in your rows of stacked bricks and stacking the bricks about 3/4 of your height on both sides. You can lay a collection of thin sticks or branches across the top so they touch both sides.
Then stack your bricks on top of the layer of sticks you created and it will create the frame of the door.
6. Lay the Roof
Once the walls are the height that you want them to be, you can move on to creating the roof. You could do a thatched roof with sticks and stack your sod bricks on top, you could use a piece of plywood if you have one or you could use a tarp.
7. Fill the Gaps
At this point, you should head into the sod house and start filling any gaps in your bricks with some grass. Look for areas where light is coming through or wind is coming through and you will be able to plug that all up with torn grass.
The sod house insulates really well if you get rid of all the drafts.
8. Hang a Tarp Inside
The final step is to hang a tarp or a sheet from the roof in a U or W shape. This part is important because as your home settles dirt will fall off the bricks that make up your roof. If you have this tarp or sheet hung then it will collect them.
If not the dirt is going to fall on you, your food, and your bed. No good.
Wrapping Up Everything You Need to Know About a Sod House
The sod house is not typically a survival shelter that is used by bushcrafters in the woods. This home-building technology was created out of necessity in the prairies where trees and wood were sparse. Our pioneering ancestors would have raised families and built homesteads all while calling a sod house HOME.
Having a shelter that would last up to 6 years would have been a very good thing for them. Not to mention the fact that it only cost you a spade and some lower back pain! One could argue it is harder to get a house right now with the current market!
If you’re looking for more shelter ideas, check out these Survival Shelter articles.