The Turf-Covered Houses of Norway

Norway, like all Scandinavian countries, has always taken pride in trying to live in harmony with nature, instead of conquering it, and its old turf roofs are a perfect example.

Houses with their roofs looking like small meadows may seem a little strange in these modern times, but until the late 19th century, turf roofs were the most common type of roofs in rural Norway. Nowadays, inhabited turf-roof houses are very rare, as the Norwegians have turned most of them into museum exhibits.

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Although it looks like someone just threw some dirt on the house and hoped for rain, the process of creating a proper turf roof was a little more complicated than that. You wouldn’t guess it, judging by its name, but the main element of a turf roof was actually birch bark. It was strong, water resistant, easy to strip off of a tree trunk, and most importantly it was free and abundant throughout the country. The bark would be set on the roof of the house and immediately covered with multiple layers of turf, to keep it in place.

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The thickness of the turf was crucial. If it was thinner than 15 cm, it wouldn’t make it through a dry summer, and if it was over 20 cm thick, it would be superfluous, and its weight could collapse over the house.  The load of a turf roof was about 50kg per square meter, but it reached 80 kg per square meter, after heavy rain.

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The mixture of birch bark and grass covered turf didn’t just provide a nice looking roof, in perfect harmony with the endless sea of green surrounding the house, but also great insulation and protection against winds and frost.

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Feedback (2 Comments)

  • Chris Posted on July 24, 2011

    You’re wrong. We didn’t turn them all in to museums, most of them are still habitable. Only a few buildings are used in the museums to illustrate our heritage.

    We also continue to build new houses with sod roof. Wood is the most common material for building houses in Norway.