This is another blast from the past, so to speak. It is conceivable that at some point and time homesteaders in a survival situation may wish to harvest and store ice from local streams or ponds, and they will of course need a place to store the ice for summertime usage. This farmer’s bulletin from the USDA gives some good instructions for building a small house for the farm use. Click onto the link if you wish to download this bulletin as a PDA, or to get a closer look at the images.

USDA bulletin # 913 prep. by G.H. Parks

To keep perishable products for a considerable time, some farmers may find it convenient and necessary to build a small ice house, which is not unduly expensive and has the advantages of saving perishable products that otherwise would spoil. The following description, plans, and bill of necessary materials will assist in the construction of a small ice house.


Cut four pieces of rough 2 by 6 inch scantling 4 feet 10 inches long and spike them together in pairs to make the girders. (See A, figs. 18, 19, 20, 21, 22.) Cut four pieces of rough 2 by 6 inch scantling 6 feet 5 inches long and set them on edge, spaced as shown in figure 19, on the girders which are to be placed at the extreme ends of the joist. The frame should now be turned over and the first layer of floor boards (marked C, figs. 18, 19, and 21) nailed to the joists. The floor boards should be cut so that they will just come to the outside edge of the joists (see C, figs. 19 and 21).

Over the flooring put on a layer of building paper. Cut the paper long enough to be turned up at least 4 inches on the outside face of the joists. The next layer of boards is now put on over the paper. The boards should be cut long enough to extend the thickness of the board beyond the outside face of the joists (see D, figs. 18, 19, and 21).

In figuring the drawings it is assumed that the 2 by 4’s are dressed four sides, that they will measure 1 ¾ by 3 ¾ inches, and that the flooring is three-fourths inch thick.

The platform is now ready to be turned over and the ends of the girders nailed on posts which are buried in the ground about 2 feet and extend above the ground about 10 inches, so that a bucket can be placed under the dram pipe to catch the water from the melting ice and to form a trap (figs. 18 and 22).

Cut two pieces of boards 8 inches wide and 4 feet 10 inches long and nail across the ends of the joist, placing the top edge of the board flush with the tops of the joists (see D, figs. 18 and 10). Fill the spaces formed by the joists and the end boards with dry mill shavings, using about 100 pounds.

A layer of matched and dressed boards (marked E, figs. 18, 19, 21, and 22) should now be nailed on the joists. The floor should begin and end flush with the ends of the joists and not extend over the boards nailed to the ends of the joists (see E, figs. 18 and 21). On the long side of the platform nail a 2 by 4 laid flat wise the full length of the platform (see F, figs. 19 and 22). Across one end nail flat wise a 2 by 4 cut 4 feet 3 inches long and on the other end nail a 2 by 4 cut 4 feet 6 ¾ inches long, both 2 by 4’s to start from the ends of the 2 by 4 marked F in figures 19 and 22. (See G, figs. 18 and 21.)

Erect a 2 by 4 stud at the end of each 2 by 4 marked G, setting the studs so that the width of the stud will be parallel with the long side of the platform. The face of stud K will be flush with the outside edge of the platform, and the outside edge of stud L will be 3 ¾ inches back from the same face. (See figs. 17, 21, and 22.)

Cut two pieces of 2 by 4 inch 4 feet 10 ½ inches long for plates (plates marked J, figs. 18, 21, and 22). Cut the corner stud marked K, in figures 17 and 21, 5 feet 11 inches long and the stud marked L, in figures 17 and 21, 6 feet 11 inches long.

Now cut a 2 by 4 inch 3 feet 7 ½ inches long (marked H, fig. 21) and nail it along the outside edge, beginning at the outside corner of the platform. At the inside end and resting on the piece erect a 2 by 4 (marked I, figs. 17 and 21) cut to the correct height to fit under the first layer of ceiling. Cut three rafters each 8 feet 7 inches long.

Nail one of the plates on top of the corner stud K, level it, and support it at the other end by a board placed upright, nail to the platform on the end and at the corner. Place the plate on the stud L, letting it project over the stud inches, and support the opposite end by a board erected in the same way as that used to hold up the first plate.

At each end of the building, 3 feet 6 inches from the floor, put in a piece of 2 by 4 (marked M in figs. 18 and 22) set flat wise, and nail to the upright 2 by 4 and to the upright board. Next cut a piece of 2 by 4 6 feet 5 inches long (marked N in figs. 18, 19, and 22) and lay it on the end 2 by 4’s (marked M) and nail them together.

The boards marked O in figures 17 and 18, forming the first layer of the inside lining, should now be put on the ends. The boards are cut just long enough to extend from the floor to the top of the plate. Cut three rafters 2 inches by 6 inches by 8 feet 7 inches and nail to the plates, spaced as shown in figure 18. The frame is now ready to put on the first layer of boards to form the ceiling. The ceiling boards (marked P in figs. 18 and 19) are cut just long enough to reach between the outside faces of the rafters.

A 2 by 4 (marked Q in figs. 19 and “21) is now to be nailed flat wise to the ceiling. The inside edge of the 2 by 4 is set on a line with the 2 by 4’s already in place and is for the purpose of forming a support to which the upper ends of the side boards are nailed. After this scantling is nailed in place put on the first inside layer of boards (marked R in figs. 17 and 19). Next put on the first layer of boards forming the outside. The boards for ends of building should be cut to extend from the top of the rafters to the top of the board nailed across the ends of the floor joists (see S, fig. 18). The boards for the side should be cut flush with the top of the rafter and should follow the slope of the roof. The roof is now ready to have the shavings put in place. Use about 100 pounds and then put on the roof boards in two layers with paper between. The roof boards should project over the ends of the rafter about 2 inches and beyond the sides of the building about 1 foot. The roof boards should be covered without delay with whatever kind of covering it is intended to use, as the shavings must not be allowed to get wet or damp.

The roof may be covered with tin, shingles, or one of the prepared roofings, and should be made thoroughly watertight. When putting up the first layer of the boards on the outside of the frame the corner boards cannot be put on until the shavings have been packed in the walls. The walls will require about 400 pounds of shavings.

Before the shavings are put in the walls the side of the building containing the doors should be framed as shown in figure 21, then the first layers of boards put on the inside and outside of the wall.

After the shavings are in place put on the comer boards and cover all the walls with a waterproof building paper, lapping the paper at the corners and at the horizontal courses.

The building is now ready to receive the outside layer of boards, which should be put on without delay to prevent as far as possible any moisture getting into the insulation.

The doorways are beveled to receive the doors and to assist in making them fit tightly (see drawing. figures. 17 and 18). After the outside boarding is on, the inside of the room can be papered and sheathed. The paper is put on as follows: Cover the floor with two layers of waterproof paper and turn up on the walls 1 foot all around : then, starting at the floor, lay a course of paper on the walls parallel with the floor. Cut the strip 2 feet longer than the length of the wall and start the paper 1 foot from the corner, then carry around the nearest corner, tack to the wall, and carry around the next corner, doubling the paper at the corners. Put on the next course and lap over the lower course about 4 inches. Put on the remaining courses until the ceiling is reached, when the paper should be turned over and nailed to the ceiling so that the paper covers the corner between the ceiling and the wall. Now lay the ceiling and bring down on the walls about 1 foot. Use care in putting on the paper so that no holes will be punched in it. After the paper is on lay the top floor and ceiling before putting on the side and end walls, using care to make as tight a fit as possible between the floor and walls and the ceiling and walls.

After the walls are finished build the ice crib. The floor of the ice crib is made of 2 by 4 dressed longleaf yellow pine, spaced 2| inches apart. The supports for the floor are made by nailing a piece of dressed 2 by 4 inch scantling parallel with the floor to the inside boarding of the house and under each end of the scantling is nailed a 2 by 4 extending from the floor of the house to the underside of the supports. Running across the box nail a piece of 1 by 3 inch flat wise on the ceiling. The strip is so placed that it will be outside of the ice crib and to it are nailed 1 by 3 inch dressed slats spaced about 3 inches apart. The bottoms of the slats are nailed to the outside of the first joist of the ice crib. This joist is located 3 feet from the back of the ice crib.

The joist nearest the back of the ice crib is spaced 2 5 inches from the back wall. On the face of this joist between the joist and the wall, nail a strip 1 by 4 inch dressed, letting the strip project 2 inches above the top of the joists. Five inches from the inside end of the ice crib nail a 1 by 4 inch dressed strip across all the joists to form a stop for the ice cakes.

The drip pan under the ice crib is made of a sheet of galvanized corrugated iron. The corrugations run the long way of the room. The sheet is made 2 feet 7 inches wide and 3 feet 4 inches long, the width being the length of the corrugations. A 3-inch galvanized iron glitter 3 feet 4 inches long is riveted to the edge of the sheet on the underside. The sheet should pitch about 2 inches in the width. The high end of the sheet is nailed to the bottom of the first joist and the low end is supported by three straps soldered to the gutter and nailed to the joist above. The gutter should be closed at each end and should pitch about an inch from the front to the back. At the lowest point of the gutter the drain pipe should be attached by soldering. The drain pipe is a piece of gas or water pipe f-inch inside diameter and should extend from the gutter through the floor of the house and project below about 12 inches. If a bucket is so placed under the pipe that the bottom of the pipe will be about an inch from the bottom of the bucket, the water from the melting ice will form a water seal that will prevent the outside air from entering the house. At least 2 inches of water should be kept in the bucket to form the seal.

If a drain is provided to carry away the water, the bucket can be omitted, provided a trap is made in the pipe.

The meat should not be stacked on the floor of the building, but racks should be provided. The racks are made by nailing 2 by 4’s edgewise against the wall and on the floor. On the face of the 2 by 4’s strips 1 by 3 inches spaced about 3 inches apart are securely nailed.

The racks on the floor should not be nailed to the floor, but should be made removable in order to facilitate cleaning.

The racks against the walls are for the purpose of permitting the air to circulate around the meat.

The doors are made of three thicknesses of boards similar to those used in lining the room, nailed to a frame made of dressed 2 by 3’s. The frame is first made and covered with a thickness of boards. The box thus formed is filled with shavings and covered with boards. Turn the door over, lay a sheet of paper on the boards, and add another thickness of boards. The edges of the door are to be beveled to fit the door opening. The door must be made smaller than the opening to allow for the canvas and felt that are to be nailed all around the edges of the door and around the door opening. The hinges to hang the door should be extra heavy T hinges. The outside of the building should be painted three coats with an oil paint. The efficiency of the house depends upon the tightness with which it is built, and to assist in keeping it tight it is necessary to paint the outside to keep moisture out of the boards, which would cause them to swell and pull away from the inner boards. The paint will also help to keep the boards from the shrinking caused by heat from the sun. The inside of the building should be shellacked or varnished with a waterproof varnish. The varnish will keep the boards from absorbing moisture and causing trouble and will also permit the house to be easily cleaned. The house should be thoroughly cleaned immediately after the meat has been removed.



2 pieces 2 by 6 inches, 10 feet long, for girders, rough.

2 pieces 2 by 6 Inches, 14 feet long, for joists, rough.

3 pieces 2 by 6 inches, 9 feet lonp, for rafters, rough.

2 eednr posts, 6-Inch diameter, 6 feet long.

1 piece 2 by 4 Inches, 6 feet long, stud K. dressed. 1 piece 2 by 4 Inches, 7 feet long, stud L, dressed. 1 piece 2 by 4 Inches, 7 feet long, stud I. dressed.

3 pieces 2 by 4 Inches, 10 feet long, for plates and pieces G and M, dressed.

3 pieces 2 by 4 Inches, 14 feet long, for pieces F, H, M, Q and framing for doors, dressed. 800 feet b. m. tongued and grooved flooring, dressed.

25 linear feet 1 by 3 inches, for door stop, dressed.

1 piece, 2 by 4 inches, 10 feet long, for beveled jamb of doors, dressed.

2 pieces 2 by 3 inches, 14 feet long, for frame of doors, dressed.


1 piece 2 by 4 Inches, 6 feet long, for supports, dressed.
7 pieces 2 by 4 inches, 4 feet long, for floor beams, dressed.

1 piece 1 by 4 inches, 8 feet long, for ice stop, dressed.


3 pieces 2 by 4 inches, 7 feet long, for walls, dressed.

2 pieces 2 by 4 inches, 10 feet long, for floor, dressed.

9 pieces 1 by 3 inches, 14 feet long, slats for ice bunker and wall and floor racks, dressed.


3 extra-heavy T hinges, 18 inches long and screws.

1 pair extra-heavy T hinges, 12 indies long and screws.

1 pair 6-inch handles and screws.

25 pounds 6-peuuy flooring nails, wire.

5 pounds 10-penny wire nails, common.

5 ounces of 3-ouuce tacks.

1 sheet corrugated galvunized iron, 2 foot 6 inches by 4 feet. 1 piece 3-inch galvanized iron gutter, 3 .feet 4 Inches long, with 3 straps |-inch wide by 8 inches long, to fasten gutter to ice floor.

1 piece J-inch gas pipe, galvanized, 4 feet 6 inches long. 24 yards canvas or heavy duck, 9 inches wide.

20 yards felt, 6 inches wide, for padding under canvas.

2 gallons waterproof varnish. 2 gallons lead and oil paint.

400 square feet of insulating paiwr.

70 square feet roofing paper with nails and pitch.

600 pounds dry mill shavings.


  1. Good thinking and good idea. No electricty = no ice if the TSHTF for most people. This would be a good long term solution for people who live in the country (like me).

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