sod house

sod house

sod house, house with walls made of strips of sod laid horizontally in courses like bricks. Sod houses were common in the frontier days on the western plains of the United States, where wood and stone were scarce. The sod, turned by the plow and held together by roots, was lifted in strips and usually cut in 3-ft (1-m) lengths (sods). The walls were hewed smooth with a spade and were often plastered with clay and ashes. Sometimes roofs were of frame construction; usually they were thatched or covered with sods, which had to be replaced after heavy rains. Sod walls were fire- and windproof and good insulators, but they permitted only small window openings. For other earth houses, see rammed earth.

See E. Dick, The Sod-House Frontier (1937).

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 and pottys 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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