On some parts of our planet, trees are scarce and shelter must be constructed with other materials. In the absence of modern building materials like concrete, wood is generally the go-to for making stuff out of. If there is no wood around you have to look down at what’s beneath your feet. If it’s stone you will have to figure out how to mine it. If it’s just dirt and grass you can build yourself a house of sod.

Sod (or turf) is essentially the layer of dirt that is held together by the roots of common grass. Grass does all the hard work for us as it holds and traps together soil which in turn can insulate from heat and cold alike. This lattice of roots creates a means for us to be able to keep soil intact and harvest it into blocks, which can be used to build walls and structures out of.

Historically, sod houses were constructed by settlers in the prairie regions of North America. Without access to building materials in scorching summers and some of the coldest winters on earth, these individuals stacked blocks of sod to build homes and other structures in order to survive the elements. The same process can be implemented today for similar reasons (of survival), or simply as a eco-friendly building solution that incorporates us into the environment around us with little to no disruption.

Essentially, if you can build a small house out of popsicle sticks, you can make a bigger house out of sod. If you know how to make walls with bricks and mortar, then you will be really good at making buildings out of sod. Like in all construction, a little bit of planning goes a really long way with time and materials. So figure out the dimensions of what you are building before you build it. Find a suitable spot to construct, and assess some of the logistics including transportation of materials and tools. If you are building far away from where you are harvesting sod, how will you get your sod to the construction site?

Some easy rules of thumb include building on a level, flattened surface. If you want you can dig into the ground (after harvesting the sod on the surface) in order to create part of your walls and floor. Going deeper into the ground will also assist in insulating the structure inside. When “harvesting” sod, we are trying to slice beneath the surface of grass and peel off a strip of sod. Construction of walls is always easier when your building materials are a uniform size (unlike dry stack stone walls), so it will be a help if your blocks of sod are similar in size. You can help ensure this by mowing/cutting the grass to a uniform height (4 inches is recommended). If you don’t want to use a machete, you can buy several kinds of lawnmowers; gas, electric or manual/mechanical.

Once your grass is of uniform height, this will ensure that your blocks of sod will be more or less the same height. Now all you have to do is dig under the grass and cut the top layer off. A good rule of thumb is to dig 4 inches into the earth before stripping it off. You can purchase sod-cutters and sod blades to make this task simple and efficient, though a common field and garden hoe is well suited to peeling off layers of sod from the ground. Try to cut out uniform sections, and then cut these sections into uniform bricks which you will use to stack.

Start by laying out the foundation for the walls, grass-side-down. Then layer sod bricks (grass-side-up) upwards in a staggered manner; using each brick to cover the cross section of two bricks below it, row by row. Build up until you reach the levels of doors or windows, in which case place frames for these on the walls then continue to stack sod and build around them, incorporating them into the structure.

Once your walls are at the height you want them to be, you must determine what form of ceiling you want to make. We can offer you a guide to ceilings here. If you have any wood laying around at all, even branches, this is a good place to use it. Create  Once you have secured a ceiling to the structure, you are good to make finishing touches.

If you installed frames for doors and windows, get your windows and doors into their frames. If you have used sod to cover your roof, make an indoor ceiling with a blanket or some boards to prevent soil and roots from falling down to the floor. You can cover your walls to help preserve them longer with paint, whitewash or stucco. If you built a sturdy roof, this will help preserve the structure for years to come without many problems from the elements outdoors. That’s not to say this kind of structure is invincible. In fact, sod houses are probably on the lower side of the quality and structural integrity spectrum when it comes to buildings; they can only be so tall (before it buckles under it’s own weight) and frankly if you ran into one with a car, the car would probably go right through it. They can be washed away with flooding and destroyed by insects or rodents. So make sure you plan the best possible place to build a sod home (if you need to), and maybe keep a domestic cat around to keep the area clear of critters which will literally dig holes into your walls and roof.