How To Build a (Semi) Solid Wall Yurt

The handbook, "How To Build A Yurt (solid wall design) is now available at or at www.robertflee.books.php. To purchase this handbook from Amazon or Smashwords, visit or and search for the title under the author's name, Robert F. Lee. The semi-rigid walled yurt described in this booklet can be constructed in less than 40 hours and assembled or disassembled on site in under three hours, by one person!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Regulations Stand in Way of Yurt Independence

Attempting to try to live life a little differently from the “norm” is a lot like trying to outrun Usain Bolt while he is running the 100 yard dash and you are doing the hurdles. It is more than a challenge; it is a nightmare.
Lucky for us, when we began to plan the building of our yurt, we were aware of the myriad of building code, zoning and environmental issues that we had to overcome.
First, the building code. Although the universal building code is intended to provide a consistent standard of construction across Canada (and the USA), each jurisdiction is empowered to tinker with its specifics. In cities, of course, there is a need for consistency, to protect neighbours, to ensure fire risks are minimized and to protect future occupants of a home or building. Yet, each geographical area has its own challenges, so supplementary regulations are enacted. To a lesser degree, in rural settings, these standards are upheld.
However, the plethora of farm buildings that are constructed to meet unique needs – hay barns, cattle calving pens, machine sheds, etc. are hardly likely to become homes for families, so standards for outbuildings are less stringent. Many rural authorities turn a blind eye to poorly constructed shelters and outbuildings.
Nonetheless, innovative structures such as straw houses, bermed buildings and alternative design concepts are rejected by community planners. In fact, such a simple variation on a basement such as construction with pressure-treated lumber instead of concrete requires an engineer’s stamp of approval.
Many authorities also require adherence (justifiably so!) to environmental regulations. Waste disposal is just one of these concerns. However, even the height of a wind turbine is regulated. Over a specific height will require an environmental site assessment, a permit, and appropriate lighting to warn off low-flying aircraft. This regulation is enforced, even in extremely remote environments, where many of the trees or geographical features exceed the height requirements for permitting.
We have made several concessions to our local authorities regarding construction standards. However, our design may still violate legal requirements. For instance, our interior walls are not fire-rated to the minimum one hour. It’s hard to fire-rate a tarpaulin structure for that period! We have no holding tank. Not much need when we anaerobically digest our effluent, and use composting toilets. We do not have concrete piles to anchor our structure. It is overkill to anchor a structure that weighs about the same as a half-ton truck. Our bedroom does not have a regulation-sized escape window. On the other hand, our bedroom has no walls, and the rest of the yurt has four windows and a door. We have no electrical network that is inspected. Truth is, we have only a 12-volt power system with an inverter for some minor appliances, but a home does need wiring and plumbing, according to the building code.
So, we do not have a home. Our yurt is a “temporary” structure, like a workshop or barn, not intended to live within. At least, that is how our municipality sees it. I look forward to spending my retirement years living in my barn, thank you!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Yurt Energy Reduction

One of the goals for which we aimed with our decision to move to a yurt was to reduce our energy consumption.
Yurts, being round, offer reduced heating costs per square foot of floor space because the air is able to circulate readily. Conversely, cooling is more effective due to the open design. This element of the yurt layout, of course, helps to cut energy consumption.
Our heating system is an outdoor wood furnace (in contemporary language, a “biomass converter”), which supplies heat to the greenhouses, workshop and yurt. The furnace design has been modified to enable us to do most of our cooking on top of the unit, to eliminate the need for an indoor electric or propane range. Supplementary cooking will be done in a toaster oven.
Rather than use a 240V well pump and pressure system to provide water, we will be using a modified 2-cycle engine-driven water pump to pump water from the well to overhead cistern units above the kitchen sink and bathroom area. Separate 20-liter sprayer tanks will be used to provide water spray necessary for hand washing, compost toilet cleaning and dish spraying. The shower head is a “rain shower” head, fed by gravity-driven water from the overhead cistern. Water is heated by the outdoor wood furnace and solar heat.
We have given away our refrigerator, along with our electric stove. The refrigerator, although energy efficient, was far larger than what two people required. In its place, we have purchased a 90-watt bar fridge (with small freezer compartment), and a half-sized, 60-watt bar fridge. The small unit will be used only when we absolutely require it (less than 25% of the time).
Our major concern was our lighting. Although individual lighting consumes relatively small amounts of energy, a person tends to neglect to turn off lights, to use too much lighting, or to use lighting that is too bright for the task at hand.
To charge my laptop, I plug it into a power inverter plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter.
By laying a white light-duty panelling over the interior walls, we reduce the need for lighting. Four 18’ x 48” mirrors are placed around the perimeter to reflect light, as well. We “traded in our three halogen floor lamps (250 watts each) for three $25 credits on energy efficient lights (thanks to our local electric company!). Now, our entire lighting consists of a 5-arm floor lamp with 13-watt CFLs, 20 solar lights marking our exterior entrance and walkway, one 20-watt Xenon puck light over the entrance inside the yurt, and four plug-in LED light packs, producing as much light, each, as a 150 watt incandescent bulb, but drawing a total of 4 watts of energy for all of them.
Our only other energy costs are costs to charge our cellular telephone (we have eliminated the landline), and our energy-efficient LCD television (used a maximum of 1 hour per day).
Total energy consumption is projected to be the equivalent of $4.00 per month (we use solar power, so there is no grid cost), compared to an average of $60 per month in our former home.