Editor's note: A few weeks ago we featured an article on commercial ice houses. Today's article is about ice houses for family home and farm use.. The following text was originally published in September 1849 in the publication "The Genesee Farmer". Thanks to volunteer researcher George A. Thompson for finding, cataloging and transcribing this article. The language, spelling and grammar of the article reflects the time period when it was written.
Construction of Ice-Houses
Ice is a cheap luxury in this country, and the Ice House very justly begins to be reckoned one of the necessary buildings on every complete farming establishment. Indeed it is indispensable to the proper preservation of the products of the Dairy and the Garden, as well as of meats, pastry, & c. It would be a gain to many a family, in one year, of what one that would answer every purpose would cost. We recommend the matter, at once, to the attention of our readers.
The following excellent suggestions on Ice Houses are extracted from the "Horticulturist":
To build an ice house in sandy or gravelly soils, is one of the easiest things in the world. The drainage there is perfect, the dry porous soil is of itself a sufficiently good non-conductor. All that it is necessary to do, is to dig a pit, twelve feet square, and as many deep, line it with logs or joists faced with boards, cover it with a simple roof on a level with the ground, and fill it with ice. Such ice houses built with a trifling cost, and entirely answering the purpose of affording ample supply for a large family, are common in various parts of the country.
But it often happens that one's residence is upon a strong loamy or clayey soil, based upon clay or slate, or, at least, rocky in its substratum. Such a soil is retentive of moisture, and even though it be well drained, the common ice house just described will not preserve ice half through the summer in a locality of that kind. The clayey or rocky soil is always damp – it is always an excellent conductor, and the ice melts in it in spite of the usual precautions.
Something more than the common ice house is therefore needed in all such soils. "How shall it be built?" is the question which has frequently been put to us lately.
We desired Mr. Wyeth's hints for building an ice house for family use, both above ground and below ground.
In the beginning, we should remark that the great ice houses of our ice companies are usually built above ground; and Mr. Wyeth in his letter to us remarks, "we now never build or use an ice house underground; it never preserves ice as well as those built above ground, and costs much more. I, however, send you directions for the construction of both kinds, with slight sketches in explanation." The following are Mr. Wyeth's directions for building:
"1st. An Ice House above ground. An ice house above ground should be built upon the plan of having a double partition, with the hollow space between filled with some non-conducting substance.
In the first place, the frame of the sides should be formed of two ranges of upright joists, 6 x 4 inches; the lower ends of the joists should be put into the ground without sill, which is apt to let air pass through. These two ranges of joists should be about two feet and one-half apart at the bottom, and two feet at the top. At the top these joists should be morticed into the cross-beams, which are to support the upper floor. The joists in the two ranges should be placed each opposite another. They should then be lined or faced on one side with rough boarding, which need not be very tight. This boarding should be nailed to those edges of the joists nearest each other, so that one range of joists shall be outside the building, and the other inside the ice room or vault.
The space between these boardings or partitions should be filled with wet tan, or sawdust, whichever is cheapest or most easily obtained. The reason for using wet material for filling this space is, that during winter it freezes, and until it is again thawed, little or no ice will melt at the sides of the vault.
The bottom of the ice vault should be filled about a foot deep with small blocks of wood; these are levelled and covered with wood shavings, over which a strong plank floor should be laid to receive the ice.
Upon the beams above the vault, a pretty tight floor should also be laid, and this floor should be covered several inches deep with dry tan or sawdust. The roof of the ice house should have considerable pitch, and the space between the upper floor and the roof should be ventilated by a lattice window at each gable end, or something equivalent, to pass out the warm air which will accumulate beneath the roof. A door must be provided in the side of the vault to fill and discharge it; but it should always be closed up higher than the ice, and when not in use should be kept closed altogether.
2d. An Ice House below ground. This his only thoroughly made by building up the sides of the it with a good brick or stone wall, laid in mortar. Inside of this wall set joists, and build a light wooden partition against which to place the ice. A good floor should be laid over the vault as just described, and this should also be covered with dry tan or sawdust. In this floor the door must be cut to give access to the ice.
As regards the bottom of the vault, the floor, the lattice windows in the gables for ventilation, etc., the same remarks will apply that have just been given for the ice house above ground, with the addition that in one of the gables, in this case, must be the door for filling the house with ice.
If the ground where ice houses of either kind are built, is not porous enough to let the melted ice drain away, then there should be a waste pipe to carry it off, which should be slightly ben, so as always to retain enough water in it to prevent the passage of air upwards into the ice house."
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