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!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Romance Of Yurt Life, Wildlife Included

When you choose to live with nature in a yurt, it is a marriage: you accept the good with the bad. But even the bad can be great in the springtime! We have only been back in the yurt for a few weeks now, but our encounters with the wildlife have been nothing short of enthralling and amusing.
Last autumn, we closed out our season in the backwoods with a visit from a family of four raccoons, who systematically destroyed every bird feeder we had put up while they scavenged for the last meals of the season. A couple of squirrels determinedly decided to winter in the insulation under the platform deck of the yurt, as well, but we were willing to tolerate them for the four bitter months that we were away from our home.
As spring broke this year, though, we found just what damage a couple of active nut-eaters can do to insulation! Our raccoons have returned, as well. What is unusual is that the family of four remains together, with no new litter of kits in evidence. They announced their return by using their can-opener teeth to puncture a Coleman cooler that I had left outside. For dessert, they gnawed their way into a plastic gas canister, filled with mixed fuel for my chainsaw, and dragged the leaking container across the grass. Given their “finger” dexterity, I am glad I did not leave a barbeque lighter around!
Thirty miles north of us, Hecla Island, in Lake Winnipeg, is the summer home of turkey vultures and a few bald eagles. Rarely has either been spotted away from that area, yet, just as the snow melted from our meadow, a bald eagle pursued a mouse, and landed in the field to finish his lunch. It is just one example of the changing patterns of wildlife in the area. We have two mallard couples nesting in the creek bed not fifty yards from the yurt, sand hill cranes that have relocated their annual nesting area from the adjacent farmland to our small meadow, a grouse sitting on eggs under a three-foot high spruce in a clearing only paces from our home and coyotes that have decided that it is safe to howl, nightly, thirty feet away from where we sleep.
Late in the winter, I encountered a lone black wolf (probably from the Hecla pack) that obviously had strayed form its traditional range twenty-five miles north of us.
My wife is less happy with our annual migrant bear, who has, each spring and fall, travelled along our old riverbed with her latest cub. Two weeks ago, she came up to our doorstep with her cub, demolished a sealed garbage container and dragged one of the bags two hundred yards through our garden before tearing into it. As bold as that action was, she showed that she is less wary of human contact than ever, when she returned, during a rainstorm, to the yurt and rooted around the deck. In the morning, her huge paw prints in the wet clay where I had been excavating provided more than ample evidence of her visit.
Fortunately, our resident skunks and badger have not opted to become emboldened, and move in under the yurt platform!
More humorous that dangerous are the romantic interjections of local wildlife. Our ducks and Canada geese have almost finished their courting, calling, dancing and preening, while the frogs continue to be in great serenading voice. There is nothing quite so mood-destroying, though, as the cooing, gurgling and raucous clucking of crows in love. Their grating calls have all the appeal of a screaming baby. On the other hand, who can turn a deaf ear to the Buddy Rich drumming of a male ruffed grouse at 3:00 a.m?
The best of the strutting males though, has to be one of the many sapsuckers in the woods. For six years, he has chosen to drum his mating song not in nearby trees, but on any metal that he can find. Six years ago, it was my old Cockshutt tractor. Then, he found a better sound with an empty 45-gallon steel drum. Last year, it was the tin bonnet on my old camper. This morning, though, he reached the apex of quality music when he found that the roof of our new Prius provided the melody that he wanted.
It is there that I draw the line at passive interaction with nature. Tomorrow morning, I expect to join him with a few well-directed tennis balls to divert his attention from his new $30,000 toy! I expect, however, that, with the abundance of empty containers and old iron in the yard, it will be only moments before our rock-star drummer finds a new beat with which to lure his mate.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Inexpensive Yurt Flooring Solution

In keeping with the minimal philosophy of living in a yurt, the ideal design will employ a minimum of materials, be as “green” as possible and will be both sustainable and durable.
In our yurt, we have chosen a very inexpensive, basic design and material for our flooring. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, cost is a factor in the decision as to the type of flooring to use. We opted for materials with a cost of less than $0.45 per square foot, plus $0.10 per square foot for finishes.
Secondly, we wanted to ensure that the frequent traffic directly from outdoors to indoors did not track in excess dirt. Carpeting would have trapped that dirt.
Thirdly, the location of the yurt in a wooded area would have attracted insects such as ants. By constructing flooring with a hard surface, we eliminated nesting sites for those insects.
Fourthly, we wanted a floor that would remain cool in the summer and able to adapt to winter conditions. With the hard surface, we were able to lay down area carpets that we already owned in strategic locations, while keeping bare floor at entrances and frequently used work areas, such as the kitchen areas and washroom.
Lastly, we wanted to minimize weight of the flooring, since we built the yurt on pads and posts, rasther than embedding pillars into the ground.
To accomplish all four goals, we used ¾ inch oriented strand board as sub floor material, with 1/8 inch good one side plywood laid at a ninety degree angles to the subfloor as the main floor. The plywood was screwed to the underlay using three quarter inch wood screws with threads the full length of the screw. The use of full-length threads is essential, so that the screws can be countersunk into the thin plywood.
Lastly, we used a clear varnish to coat the surface of the flooring, making sure to pay special attention to the high traffic areas.
Since installing this flooring, we have found that it works remarkably well, and shows a sheen and grain similar to good-quality hardwood or laminate flooring, at one quarter of the cost.
However, some problems have arisen. On occasion, we stored 20 pound propane tanks on the floor, and, with changing temperatures, the tanks attracted condensation. This condensation accumulated in a ring on the floor. To remove it, we lightly scoured the area with a Javex and water mix, with modest success. The only other problem has been a slight separation, due to the thinness of the material, in spots where insufficient screws were used.
This flooring has answered all five of our criteria for the design, and is recommended for anyone contemplating an inexpensive flooring alternative, whether in a yurt or cabin.

Yurt Perimeter Drainage Solves Humidity Problems

Perimeter drainage
Spring has proven to be a real test for our yurt. To close out the late fall and early winter, we experienced exceptionally unusual rainfall and early snowfall. Because we have built our yurt on the slope of a hill, the deck on which the yurt rests is at ground level at the rear, and fifty-four inches off the ground in the front. This permits good air flow, but demanded that we hoard the perimeter to block cold air infiltration. Unfortunately, the hoarding also trapped humidity, and we experienced numerous condensation issues throughout November and the first week of December.
The interior of the yurt is lined with foil-backed bubble insulation, with all joints taped. This makes for a very air-tight unit, but any moisture inside is trapped, as well. Cooking, showering and even everyday living contributes to the high humidity. We experimented with a number of options to reduce this wet air, with limited success.
The major problem was that, because it was winter, we needed to seal and insulate our rooftop vent. This creates a dome where the heat rises and remains somewhat trapped at the apex. Although the yurt is quite warm and well insulated, there are many partial thermal bridges, at the headers, the window framing and even at the roof ring and rafters. As soon as we reduced interior temperature, the cooler outside air would condense humidity on the foil, which would accrue and run down the walls or drip from points of the roof.
Using a fan at the peak of the dome ameliorated the problem, to a degree. Similarly, by adding insulation between the tarp and the exterior wall framing, we were able to reduce the temperature differential. Lastly, we reduced our interior temperature by a couple of degrees and maintained that temperature day and night.
The major problem that remained was the moisture in the soil under the yurt. This spring, moisture levels have been exacerbated by heavy rainfall and a slow thaw that releases the moisture in the ice slowly.
This week, we believe we resolved that issue. By trenching around the perimeter of the yurt profile to a depth of six inches and six inches wide, we have created a mini-drainage ditch. This U-shaped trench catches the rainfall as it falls from the walls, and directs it along the perimeter of the yurt, then away. There is no opportunity for the water to pool under the yurt and contribute to the humidity issue.
Although it is early in the experiment, it seems to be working. We have experienced no condensation issues in the first three days. Yesterday, the spring rains hit again, but there is no water under the yurt, and our humidity inside the yurt is no higher than the outside.
As we move through each of the initial seasons in our yurt, we have discovered new challenges and issues that would be uncommon in conventional housing. However, in spite of the spate of concerns, both of us are thrilled with this innovative living accommodation and its two overwhelming benefits: a miniscule cost (with no mortgage to pay) and its roomy in-touch-with-nature atmosphere.