Beautiful Tiny Turf House in Iceland – Full Tour & Interview
Articles Blog

Beautiful Tiny Turf House in Iceland – Full Tour & Interview


Hey everyone, it’s Danielle from Exploring
Alternatives. In this video we’re going to tour a traditional
Icelandic turf house. Turf houses are the original green buildings
because they source local materials. Here in Southern Iceland that means they’re
using turf from the local wetlands and lava stones. Building thick walls like this insulates the
houses against wind and cold weather. And another really interesting thing about
them is that they’re built to be recycled and reused so one turf house will last for
one generation and then the next generation will tear it down, install new turf but reuse
all the old stones. The stones you’ll see in these houses have
been reused over and over for generations. Most turf houses in Iceland were torn down
after World War II when people were encouraged to modernize their homes which means there’s
almost no turf houses left. So we’re really lucky to be here at this turf
house museum in Southern Iceland and we’re going to meet with Hannes who runs the museum
and whose grand parents and great grandparents used to live and run this farm. This is definitely the last one that was lived
in, in this area. It was lived in and it was a functioning farm
up until 1965. With 10-12 cows and 70-80 sheep and everything was
done with horses. There were no tractors used, ever. So a typical wall like this, you start with
the foundations. Big stones that you dig in, partly. And then you build it from there with a layer
of turf, another layer of stone, alternating layers of turf and stone and turf strips. And then you compact the soil behind the stones
and turf and then you just continue that way until you’re finished. And if it’s properly done with good materials,
like in this case, then it’s very sturdy. This is gonna last for, we would say one generation,
30 years, 40 years. You would reuse the stones, replace the turf
and you either use turf chunks like this but this is not used in this area. Too rainy for that in the South of Iceland. Here you cut turf strips and you use these
tools for cutting the chunks. You need sturdy and strong and sturdy tools
like this for cutting the chunks. And are you farming the turf or is it growing
naturally here? No, it comes from the wetland, not from the
field. This is useless. It comes from out there in the wetland. And then you have tools like this for cutting
the strips and you’re on your knee and you cut like this. And you have tools like this, so different
type and shape for trimming the turf. This also, it’s kind of a scythe for cutting
grass, cutting scythe, but still used for cutting turf as well. You would be cutting kind of diagonal cuts
like this and then you are kind of trimming it with knives like this. See, a stone like this would be ideal. Ideal for wall building. You have a flat top, and then a flat face. So it’s very easy to build a house if you
work with stones like this. And then the lava has these holes, it’s air
bubbles in it. So it’s much lighter than it looks. Oh okay, yeah they look pretty heavy. Yeah, look heavy but they are light. With small pieces like this, you are just
trimming it, you are not shaping it. You would be using it more or less as it is. But you might be breaking off…perhaps if
this is in the way, then you break it off. But usually you would just look for the proper
stone. This is the turf. It’s cut in the wetland and it has extremely
dense root material. And then you have tools like this for trimming
it if necessary. So it’s almost like meat…it’s all roots. This is the most efficient for compacting
the turf like this and then you compact the soil inside the walls and then with sticks
like this. Traditional turf houses and especially turf
houses on farms were built in clusters so you’ll see there’s many houses all linked
together. Only one of them is actually the living space
where you’ll find the beds. And then in the other houses you would find
things like a horse stable or a food processing area and they did this to take advantage of
insulation from shared walls. The layout of the typical Icelandic turf farm
is a cluster of houses. It’s a complex of many small houses for different
functions. But usually it’s only one house which is the
living quarter, living house, that everybody would live in. Everybody would stay in one house but then
the other houses were for different functions. The small house over there is a smithy. The other house there is a barn and then stable
behind. A fish drying shed and different small houses
for horses on this farm, a kitchen, pantry, and workshop for making things. And another house for keeping potatoes and
a hen house and different things like that. So altogether it would be about 20 houses
on this farm, which was average. And then when I was brought up here in the
sixties, it was about 8 or 10 houses in the cluster. In the main cluster. Inside the main home you can see that all
of the beds were in one room and this was where everyone did all of their work, where
they slept, where they ate, where they gave birth. Everything in an Icelanders life happened
in this main living space and it really was communal living. This is…this was called the blue room. It was not used much. Only for receiving guests and used in the
summertime. Then if you go further in, this was used for
processing milk. And then this room here, this was a typical
kitchen. These kitchens were in use well into the 20th
Century for boiling things and smoking. And the smoke from the open fire would be
used for preserving food. Preserving the meat and fish and other things. And then baking bread, rye bread and flat
bread and everything. Everything was done on a fire like this in
a separate room like this called hearth kitchen. And then this was the way into the stables,
which we have not been rebuilding yet. I didn’t realize they were all connected. All connected with passages. So you didn’t have to go outside? No. You would go into the stable there which we
are in the process of rebuilding now and then from the stable into the barn. So this room was in constant use, used every
day. This is the main room. This is the main living room that was just
about…well it would be the same type of room, in the same proportions, same width,
same height, everywhere in Iceland, on every farm. And this is the room that everybody would
be living in. The beds would be fixed along the walls, 2
people sleeping in each bed. My great grandmother, which is over there,
she had nine children in that bed over there and then she died there when she was 94 or
95 years old. In this house. This room is where everything was done. Children would be conceived as well in this
room. And then giving birth, and working, and eating,
and sleeping, and then dying. Everything was done in the same room. And everybody would be sleeping and sharing the same space. Only privacy basically would be your own bed
and what you keep under the pillow or something like that. It was a kind of communal type of living. And if there are people moving around and you
have 5 or 6 people living in a space like this then you heat it up with your body. Each house is joined together with hallways
so that people could go from one area of the house to the other without having to go outside. It’s more economic to do it that way. But the main reason is for insulation and
saving heat. Keeping the heat inside. Also, in maintenance it’s easier to have a
small house. You could rebuild one house, one small house
in the cluster, without disturbing the others rather than if you would have one big house. Then it would be a major project to take down
the big house and rebuild it. But in a cluster of relatively small houses
you would be able to rebuild each part without tearing everything down. And that is what was done in the old turf
farms. You would be repairing one house at a time. In addition to having really thick walls made
with the lava stones and the turf, the houses are also dug and built into the back of a
hill so that they’re protected from the cold Northerly winds. If you look at these houses from the back,
like from this angle, then we see that they are dug into the hill. They are dug into the hillside, not sitting
on top of it, but dug into it, so the earth is protecting it especially from the North
wind, which is the cold strong wind in the Winter and most of the year. And so the main living house at the front
is almost completely protected from the elements. So this is a key factor when it comes to the
old Icelandic turf houses. They are dug into the land. Hannes completely restored this old farmstead
and while he continued to use the traditional methods using the turf and the lava stones
for the walls, he did use corrugated iron for some of the front walls and some of the
newer roofs. This was practically the only shelter we had
when we started rebuilding this because this was all in ruins. And was it you and your wife doing this? Yes, and my mother. She was born here and she was very enthusiastic
about preserving the farm and so it was a family project to start with. And then my wife and I we kind of took it
over. My mother passed away a few years ago and
then building the museum and all that we started on that in 2006. It’s really incredible to see how cozy and
liveable these small spaces are even though they’re built with such basic natural materials. One of the reasons that Icelanders ended up
using sod layers in their stone houses is because they don’t have any lime in the soil
that would allow them to create cement so that they could block the holes in between
the stones, kind of like what you would see in Scotland or Ireland. There is no lime in Iceland. It’s too young for that. So we have no natural or local cement for
cementing the stones together. And we have a very limited supply of wood. There is hardly any local wood so it would
either be imported. It was always imported wood to Iceland on
a small scale through the centuries, but most of the wood used in these houses would be
from driftwood and shipwrecks. That would be the wood that we would be using. And so it was a limited supply of wood that’s
one reason that turf and stone was used on such an extensive scale. Turf and stone was used in every house, everywhere
in Iceland. And no difference between classes. The upper, so-called upper-class, priests
or officials, they would also live in turf houses and used turf and stone for the walls. And then the poor people would also use the
same materials so there was not a class difference there because turf and stone was the local
material and available almost everywhere in Iceland. And with proper use, like you see in these
houses, it is very sturdy, and good material. When it dries out, it becomes almost like
a brick and gives a very good insulation. And if it’s properly done with kind of basic
skill or basic knowledge of the craft then it is very sturdy and beautiful at the same
time. I mean this is beautiful walls. It blends right into the landscape. Yes. And what about dampness? So would this hold a lot of damp if it was
raining a lot? Yes it would. Dampness would have been a problem in these
houses, always. Especially before the corrugated iron. But again, if it’s properly made with a very
thick layer of turf on the roof and the roof would be steep, as you see. These roofs are very steep. And you see over there is a typical turf house. It’s a very steep roof and a very thick layer
of turf. It would have to rain for a long time before
the water would penetrate all the way through. So there was much less leakage in the houses
than you might think. I’ve been talking to a lot of…systematically
talking to old people that lived in these houses, which are disappearing now, very quickly,
and very few of the people remember that these houses were leaking. It’s relatively easy to heat these houses
up. You would use your body heat mostly for heating
the houses. Oh, they didn’t have fires in them? No, no they never had open fires in these
houses in Iceland. So just body heat would heat these houses? Yes. Originally it would be body heat and then
in the latter part of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century they started
installing stoves. Wood burning or coal stoves. Either they would extend the main living room
as they would do in the South, and then have the stove there and that would generate some
heat. I think it’s not easy to say that I could
do a better house, or a more beautiful house if I would rebuild it. I think it might be difficult. I mean, should it be higher or lower or wider? I think it’s pretty good as it is. Difficult to improve. I would say it’s worth preserving as it is. And it blends almost completely into the site. We didn’t even see it where we first got here! Thanks for watching! We hope you enjoyed this video. Give it a thumbs up if you liked it, and subscribe
for more videos like it.

13 thoughts on “Beautiful Tiny Turf House in Iceland – Full Tour & Interview

  1. In western Kansas of the USA many original settlers built sod houses. Very warm and cozy in the winter and cool in the summer. My grandfather was born in a sod house in Hutchison, Kansas in 1895.

  2. Heartwarming low impact and made for the climate and local natural resources. The internal connections between housesholds reminds me of the stone age village found buried at Skara Brae on Orkney which is far north with similar climate etc., I've spent time in real homes made from wood, clay and stone and they feel so different. I would love to live in such a home.

  3. could you imagine how much natural earth we would have left if this is how people still lived all over.? construction debris, remodeling debris ect, everyone wants new tech everything. i'm afraid of what kind of planet will be left for grandkids. i use to work by a land fill not a pretty site of feeling, people dont think about all our trash once its leaves the driveway

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top