Beautiful Tiny Turf House in Iceland – Full Tour & Interview

Hey everyone, it's Danielle from ExploringAlternatives.

In this video we're going to tour a traditionalIcelandic turf house.

Turf houses are the original green buildingsbecause they source local materials.

Here in Southern Iceland that means they'reusing turf from the local wetlands and lava stones.

Building thick walls like this insulates thehouses against wind and cold weather.

And another really interesting thing aboutthem is that they're built to be recycled and reused so one turf house will last forone generation and then the next generation will tear it down, install new turf but reuseall the old stones.

The stones you'll see in these houses havebeen reused over and over for generations.

Most turf houses in Iceland were torn downafter World War II when people were encouraged to modernize their homes which means there'salmost no turf houses left.

So we're really lucky to be here at this turfhouse museum in Southern Iceland and we're going to meet with Hannes who runs the museumand whose grand parents and great grandparents used to live and run this farm.

This is definitely the last one that was livedin, in this area.

It was lived in and it was a functioning farmup until 1965.

With 10-12 cows and 70-80 sheep and everything wasdone with horses.

There were no tractors used, ever.

So a typical wall like this, you start withthe foundations.

Big stones that you dig in, partly.

And then you build it from there with a layerof turf, another layer of stone, alternating layers of turf and stone and turf strips.

And then you compact the soil behind the stonesand 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 turfand 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 thesetools for cutting the chunks.

You need sturdy and strong and sturdy toolslike this for cutting the chunks.

And are you farming the turf or is it growingnaturally here? No, it comes from the wetland, not from thefield.

This is useless.

It comes from out there in the wetland.

And then you have tools like this for cuttingthe strips and you're on your knee and you cut like this.

And you have tools like this, so differenttype and shape for trimming the turf.

This also, it's kind of a scythe for cuttinggrass, cutting scythe, but still used for cutting turf as well.

You would be cutting kind of diagonal cutslike 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 youwork with stones like this.

And then the lava has these holes, it's airbubbles 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 justtrimming it, you are not shaping it.

You would be using it more or less as it is.

But you might be breaking off.

Perhaps ifthis is in the way, then you break it off.

But usually you would just look for the properstone.

This is the turf.

It's cut in the wetland and it has extremelydense root material.

And then you have tools like this for trimmingit if necessary.

So it's almost like meat.

It's all roots.

This is the most efficient for compactingthe turf like this and then you compact the soil inside the walls and then with stickslike this.

Traditional turf houses and especially turfhouses on farms were built in clusters so you'll see there's many houses all linkedtogether.

Only one of them is actually the living spacewhere you'll find the beds.

And then in the other houses you would findthings like a horse stable or a food processing area and they did this to take advantage ofinsulation from shared walls.

The layout of the typical Icelandic turf farmis a cluster of houses.

It's a complex of many small houses for differentfunctions.

But usually it's only one house which is theliving quarter, living house, that everybody would live in.

Everybody would stay in one house but thenthe other houses were for different functions.

The small house over there is a smithy.

The other house there is a barn and then stablebehind.

A fish drying shed and different small housesfor horses on this farm, a kitchen, pantry, and workshop for making things.

And another house for keeping potatoes anda hen house and different things like that.

So altogether it would be about 20 houseson this farm, which was average.

And then when I was brought up here in thesixties, it was about 8 or 10 houses in the cluster.

In the main cluster.

Inside the main home you can see that allof the beds were in one room and this was where everyone did all of their work, wherethey slept, where they ate, where they gave birth.

Everything in an Icelanders life happenedin 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 thesummertime.

Then if you go further in, this was used forprocessing milk.

And then this room here, this was a typicalkitchen.

These kitchens were in use well into the 20thCentury for boiling things and smoking.

And the smoke from the open fire would beused for preserving food.

Preserving the meat and fish and other things.

And then baking bread, rye bread and flatbread and everything.

Everything was done on a fire like this ina 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 weare in the process of rebuilding now and then from the stable into the barn.

So this room was in constant use, used everyday.

This is the main room.

This is the main living room that was justabout.

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 wouldbe living in.

The beds would be fixed along the walls, 2people 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 or95 years old.

In this house.

This room is where everything was done.

Children would be conceived as well in thisroom.

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 bedand 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 youhave 5 or 6 people living in a space like this then you heat it up with your body.

Each house is joined together with hallwaysso 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 andsaving heat.

Keeping the heat inside.

Also, in maintenance it's easier to have asmall house.

You could rebuild one house, one small housein the cluster, without disturbing the others rather than if you would have one big house.

Then it would be a major project to take downthe big house and rebuild it.

But in a cluster of relatively small housesyou would be able to rebuild each part without tearing everything down.

And that is what was done in the old turffarms.

You would be repairing one house at a time.

In addition to having really thick walls madewith the lava stones and the turf, the houses are also dug and built into the back of ahill 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 sittingon top of it, but dug into it, so the earth is protecting it especially from the Northwind, which is the cold strong wind in the Winter and most of the year.

And so the main living house at the frontis almost completely protected from the elements.

So this is a key factor when it comes to theold Icelandic turf houses.

They are dug into the land.

Hannes completely restored this old farmsteadand while he continued to use the traditional methods using the turf and the lava stonesfor the walls, he did use corrugated iron for some of the front walls and some of thenewer roofs.

This was practically the only shelter we hadwhen 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 enthusiasticabout preserving the farm and so it was a family project to start with.

And then my wife and I we kind of took itover.

My mother passed away a few years ago andthen building the museum and all that we started on that in 2006.

It's really incredible to see how cozy andliveable these small spaces are even though they're built with such basic natural materials.

One of the reasons that Icelanders ended upusing sod layers in their stone houses is because they don't have any lime in the soilthat would allow them to create cement so that they could block the holes in betweenthe 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 forcementing the stones together.

And we have a very limited supply of wood.

There is hardly any local wood so it wouldeither be imported.

It was always imported wood to Iceland ona small scale through the centuries, but most of the wood used in these houses would befrom driftwood and shipwrecks.

That would be the wood that we would be using.

And so it was a limited supply of wood that'sone reason that turf and stone was used on such an extensive scale.

Turf and stone was used in every house, everywherein Iceland.

And no difference between classes.

The upper, so-called upper-class, priestsor officials, they would also live in turf houses and used turf and stone for the walls.

And then the poor people would also use thesame materials so there was not a class difference there because turf and stone was the localmaterial and available almost everywhere in Iceland.

And with proper use, like you see in thesehouses, it is very sturdy, and good material.

When it dries out, it becomes almost likea brick and gives a very good insulation.

And if it's properly done with kind of basicskill or basic knowledge of the craft then it is very sturdy and beautiful at the sametime.

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 wasraining a lot? Yes it would.

Dampness would have been a problem in thesehouses, always.

Especially before the corrugated iron.

But again, if it's properly made with a verythick 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 layerof turf.

It would have to rain for a long time beforethe water would penetrate all the way through.

So there was much less leakage in the housesthan you might think.

I've been talking to a lot of.

Systematicallytalking 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 housesup.

You would use your body heat mostly for heatingthe houses.

Oh, they didn't have fires in them? No, no they never had open fires in thesehouses in Iceland.

So just body heat would heat these houses? Yes.

Originally it would be body heat and thenin the latter part of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century they startedinstalling stoves.

Wood burning or coal stoves.

Either they would extend the main living roomas they would do in the South, and then have the stove there and that would generate someheat.

I think it's not easy to say that I coulddo 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.

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