Spray foam insulation may be a recent invention, but insulation itself is as old school as it comes. Humans have been applying insulation to their homes since ancient times — I mean, everyone wants a comfortable home!
In ancient Egypt, early civilizations created thick mud stones that blocked the desert heat and kept houses cool in the day and warm at night when temperatures dropped. Nearby, the ancient Greeks started using air gaps between two walls to provide insulation against the elements, and the Romans started wrapping pipes with cork to insulate the hot water that would flow through them.
Later, during the boom of families heading west to settle and develop new areas in response to the Homestead Act, American pioneers started introducing insulation innovations of their own. Here are some of the clever ways these pioneers used to insulate their cabins on the western prairies
Insulating with Straw
Long before central heating was invented, farming pioneer families would drive 6-foot posts into the ground approximately three feet away from the sides of the house. They would then pile straw between the house and the posts, pack early snowfall over the straw, and create what amounts to an igloo through the cold winter months. Crazy, right?
Insulating with Sod
It wasn't uncommon in the 1800s to wake up and find the water in your wash basin frozen solid. During the homesteading era, people slept under piles of down comforters and quilts, and usually several people shared their beds to stay warm.
As such, many of the homes built by settlers were made of sod — thickly rooted prairie grass and mud cut in rectangles and piled onto walls. The resulting structure was a damp, but well-insulated dwelling that was extremely inexpensive to build. To keep rain from infiltrating the sod houses, builders would apply stucco or wood paneling to the outer walls, then canvas or plaster along the interior. Now that's clever!