Sod Houses

The sod house or "soddy" was a corollary to the log cabin during frontier settlement of the United States and Canada. The prairie lacked standard building materials such as wood or stone; however, sod from thickly-rooted prairie grass was abundant. Prairie grass had a much thicker, tougher root structure than modern landscaping grass.


Construction of a sod house involved cutting patches of sod in rectangles, often 2'×1'×6" (600×300×150mm) long, and piling them into walls. Builders employed a variety of roofing methods. Sod houses could accommodate normal doors and windows. The resulting structure was a well-insulated but damp dwelling that was very inexpensive. Sod houses required frequent maintenance and were vulnerable to rain damage. Stucco or wood panels often protected the outer walls. Canvas or plaster often lined the interior walls.

In the United States, the terms of the Homestead Act offered free farmland to settlers who built a dwelling and cultivated the land for five years. Related straw-bale construction developed in Nebraska with early baling machines and has endured as a modern building material. Sod houses achieved none of the nostalgia that log cabins gained, probably because soddies were much more subject to dirt and infestations of insects. Early photographs record some sod houses; otherwise, they have all but disappeared from the landscape.

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