A dugout might be considered more of an archaeological resource than a building type; however, we are including it as a type because it was a common residential form in early Utah. As the term “dugout” implies, this dwelling type was partially subterranean, dug either into level ground--up to approximately six feet deep--or, more commonly, into a hillside, preferably south-facing, to capture sun in the winter.
Interior floor dimensions varied from dugout to dugout, but 12’x 12’ seems to have been an average size. The builder typically constructed a wall of log, earth, stone, or sometimes brick above ground around the perimeter, high enough to provide adequate head room.
The roof could either be flat, sloped, or a have a shallow-pitched gable. Roofs were constructed of either flat boards or heavy wood poles (and sometimes metal poles) spaced evenly as rafters. The builder placed willows or other saplings between the poles, and covered them with straw or bundles of brush. Over all this went a thick layer of dirt. Needless to say, the roof did little good in heavy rain, but it did an adequate job of protection at other times.
The occupants used the interior space primarily as shelter; it provided little room for domestic work. Furniture was limited to a bed (that could also serve as a bench or table), a couple of chairs, a cupboard, and a sheet-metal stove or small stone fireplace--but not much else.
Early Utah settlers were likely inclined to build dugouts if they lacked knowledge about the viability of the area they had moved to. Probably the most common reason for the construction of dugouts, however, was expediency. When only a few families settled an area, a shortage of manpower required most families to make do with available resources until they could build more permanent dwellings. Most people think of dugouts only as housing for very early settlers; however, historical references reveal that people used this dwelling type well into the 20th century.