If you are reading this article you must already know about a yurt or perhaps the very word ‘yurt’ caught your attention. A yurt quite simply is an alternative form of housing. My wife and I lived in a small yurt for a number of years so we thought we’d share a few thoughts with you about our experiences. At the time we were having minor financial difficulty and didn’t want to move in to town. Knowing that town homes are less expesive than those involving land we thought obtaining property would be out of the question. My in-laws owned eighty acres in the upper Northwest so we worked out a deal to rent twenty acres from them for some time. Moving to town would have created several minor inconveniences with our large family of eight so our dicussions began to become centered similar alternative house styles. Included in our dicussion were straw-bale homes, tipis, and yurts. In the following sections I will elaborate our reasons for choosing our yurt.
We decided the biggest bang for our buck would be a yurt and thus the process began to build our first of two 22′ yurt structures. It became obvious very quickly because hay was expensive and the time it would take to build a large hay-bale house would have taken far longer than we had time for. The tipi also would not have provided the protective feeling that we needed as a large family with the lack of defined walls. The yurt gave us the choice of defined walls, protective feeling, cost effectiveness, and speed of construction. The tipi and the straw-bale did not give us these options with the time and money we had access to. We found we could not only afford a yurt but build it within a month or so.
Our journey began almost entirely by Internet searches. We discovered very quickly that this wasn’t a very informative topic on the open web so our searches amounted to hand drawn pictures and vague explanations. Since our plan A (open web search) almost completely failed we decided to think outside of the box and found the assistance of my father-in-law who has worked in the industrial design industry for several years. He designs and builds food processing lines as an independent contractor for several major manufacturers.
A basic yurt consists of four major components: a wall, a roof, a hub, and the outer shell or covering. We thought that the roof (rafters) and wall were simple in design we could construct those with little trial and error. It was the hub that left us scratching our heads. The hub can be made of different materials but the once source that was inexpensive for us was wood. We wracked our heads trying to consider a circular wood pattern until my father-in-law drew up some very professional blueprints. We knew we had little time and winter was closing in on us. We needed this yurt completed and couldn’t wait to begin.
What my father-in-law did was to create a design for a wooden hub that we could build ourselves. His design allowed us to cut easily and fasten these wood pieces together to form a circle. When the hub (figuratively) hovers over the top of the yurt (during construction) the rafters come to rest on the hub and are fastened with long screws. As the rafters are connected to the hub it creates an intense pressure on the hub allowing the hub to remain suspended without support. With the hub complete we could begin the remaining assembly process.
While we were working on the hub my wife was sewing the inner fabric shell. This fabric is what you and I see when living inside the yurt when it is complete. The construction was a unique experience since none of us had ever erected a yurt before. You and your team need to construct your yurt in layers as we did. Building the outer shell or frame then layering on the inside was fabric, insullation, and exterier covering. All of these items need to be in place to protect you and your family or loved one before occupancy. In completing your yurt (if you decide to do so), I must say you will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment.
I wanted to dedicate a portion of this article to living in a yurt. With all the nuances of yurt living we thought you should know that there is some unique differences living in one as compared to a traditional stick home. Living in a house you have several hidden amenities that you don’t think about. These amenities cover areas such as electicity, plumbing, storage, ventilation, spatial issues, and even common doorways and windows.
We had to think about all these hidden amenities and consider how they would fit in to our new home. Considering we were on the same acreage as my in-laws we could initially use a hose stretched from their well to our yurt. This worked for a time however when it eventually rolled over to winter this wouldn’t work because of the colder temperatures. Before the temperatures became to cold we actually carried our water in to the yurt from this outside source until we were able to dig our own well and even with this well it was still outside the yurt.
We used a generator and solar panels for power. We originally purchased a 5600watt generator which worked fine for our power needs. It was a little loud so we placed it on the opposite side of the small property we occupied. We were able to watch television, have all the lights on and run our dehumidifier without issues. We eventually moved our lighting to solar allowing time for quiter evenings. Using solar also gave us a greater sense of independence from the power grid removing us from the loud gas guzzling generator. We intitially had two 80 watt solar panels and three gel-pack batteries. This accomodated out simple power needs. The following year we added an additional panel and a few more batteries. We were striving for complete power independence because of the monthy cost involved with the gas generator.
Our water consumption was a major concern. We had none. It was fortunate again for us because we could bring in some water from my inlaws but this became teadious rather quickly. We hauled drinking water from their kitchen sink as well and wasn’t a convenient thing to continue so we began the process to determine what our alternatives would be. We eventually ordered in a well drilling machine from DeepRock Manufacturing (http://www.deeprock.com/). It was difficult in the beginning but managed to drill a 100′ well to a small water source in the end. We purchased a hand pump from Bison Pumps (http://www.bisonpumps.com/) which allowed us to pull several hundreds of gallons by hand. Again if you have the ability to hook up to city water this is a better way to go however if you don’t that you could follow in our footsteps with these two companies.
Our lavatory situation was unique and would make us reconsider if we did it all over again. We purchased a composting toilet and for our size of family it wasn’t the right choice of make or model. Composting takes unique individuals in a unique situation and allows them to remain off-the-grid. A composting toilet allows zero connection to any sewage system. The overall concept of a composting toilet is to dehydrate or burn waste (both solid and liquid) by using specifically designed devices. You are strongly urged to take in to consideration the number of people in your family and the duration of time spent in your yurt before you make a decision. This is a category that you don’t want to limit funding. Ultimately your decision will have consequences that determine an additional purchase within the year or sooner if you make an incorrect choice. We purchased from a company named Envirolet (http://www.envirolet.com/). Though the model we purchased was a nice one, it would not cover our family size (at the time two adults and six children). In retrospect we needed two of these composting toilets to accommodate our size of family.
Ventilation is a particularly important topic in our situation because of the number of people in our family. It became obvious the large volume of moisture needed more ventilation than what we were prepared for so we installed two solar vents that ran all day. Even these vents working all day there was additional need for more ventilation. The foil-bubble-bubble-foil insulation that we use it made it difficult to evacuate the moisture buildup from eight people. What would have been a nice addition is a roof ventilation system of some sort, something that could be opened and closed to prevent water or other elements from entering. In the winter moisture buildup forms around the base of your yurt walls, if this isn’t circulated or heated properly you will have a potentially unhealthy mold situation on your hands. In retrospect we should have made accomodations for a ventilation system around the base of the yurt that circulated warm air from our furnace. This would have prevented any mold buildup.
Our storage concerns were only met with an outside container and at the time we had a number of children. We built a loft that allowed some extra space for them and some of their belongings. This loft also provided us a small area for a walled in bedroom for privacy. I remember that while this was a good idea for spatial issues it became frustrating to listen to the scurrying around of little bodies while trying to get some rest below in our small space.
In such a small space you have to consider spatial issues such as always brushing up against everybody and anybody at every turn. On a day to day basis a yurt isn’t so bad and in our situation we had no choice. Our yurt was way too small for us so it made it difficult. Our situation was extreme so remember my considerations on living in a yurt are based on a large family. I can remember our first night in our yurt. My wife and I were a giddy as small school kids. We loved the independence from in-laws, town, and the power grid. This type of living gave us something that we would never have found in a house, living in town.
Perhaps your family is not so big or it may only be a single couple living in a yurt together. In the latter situation it would be so much more enjoyable. Having coffee together at the kitchen table listening to the birds whistling in the trees is very therapudic. The wind blowing and chimes tingling on the porch provides a mental ease that you can’t find in a background filled with horns and sirens. You will benefit from living in a yurt in a clear nature-like spiritual sense as my wife and I did years ago.