How To Build a (Semi) Solid Wall Yurt

The handbook, "How To Build A Yurt (solid wall design) is now available at www.robertflee.com or at www.robertflee.books.php. To purchase this handbook from Amazon or Smashwords, visit www.smashwords.com or www.amazon.com 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, January 31, 2012

Yurt Drawbacks and Advantages


So you have looked at modern yurts, and are convinced that you would love to live in such a structure.  The salesman tells you all of the great things about the yurt (there are many), and you are more enthused than ever.  The price tag is presented, and you learn that yurts cost anywhere from one tenth to one fifth of a similarly sized bungalow. You are told that a yurt can be assembled within a couple of days.  So, knowing that you will be mortgage-free the instant that the home is erected, and you will be living in this space-age creation (that was first constructed several thousand years ago in the Slavic and Mongolian regions), you jump at the chance to go minimal with this unique idea.  But, there’s a lot more to be considered before you buy!

While yurts do hold great appeal, and while yurt living has a lot of advantages, there are myriad drawbacks, impediments and disadvantages to consider, as well as significant design and sizing options, depending on your region and geography.

Before we look at design considerations, reflect on a few of the more obscure issues that become very significant once you have moved in.  In our locale, for instance, we commune with nature in a very intimate way, with black bear, deer, raccoons & skunks, wolves & coyotes, weasel, mice, squirrels, an army of insects, garter snakes, birds and so on.  This interaction with nature is, for the most part, enjoyable. 

However, when the bear gets up close and personal, you don’t want to be cooking inside a flexible wall yurt, with plastic windows.  A solid wall yurt, raised off the ground is a must. 

When the skunks, weasels and squirrels take up residence under the building, there goes the neighbourhood.  Consequently, an effective mesh screen and lattice barrier is vital to keep the predators and vermin away.  Sure, the weasel will eradicate the mice, but that leaves the problem of a noxious weasel!  Skunks are fairly easily relocated, since they do not care to be in close proximity to us.  It is reciprocal.  Squirrels offer greater resistance and, like raccoons, can wreak havoc on the tarpaulins.  Our yurt integrates so well into its surroundings that a raccoon family has torn holes in the roof tarpaulin, merely by climbing onto it.  Squirrels leave only pin-sized holes, but more of them.

Birds are much more difficult to deal with. Their use of the yurt roof tarpaulin for target practice is a mere annoyance, but their clamouring across that same roof scratches the fabric as much as any squirrel.

Wolves are a great experience, while coyotes, after you have been away from the yurt for a week or so, do not hesitate to move in, burrowing little caves under shelters.

Insects, like mice, pose a major problem.  No yurt should have carpeting inside, because of the risk of ant, tick and spider infestations.  As tightly as you seal the walls and flooring, insects find entrances.  With flexible wall yurts, mice are a major issue.  This problem is eliminated with well-built solid wall designs.

Overall, though, the advantage of being in close contact with nature in your yurt outweighs the problems that such contact poses, if you prepare for these intruders and guests.  Because of the tent-like assembly, you are intimate with the outside world, hearing almost every sound.  As well, by using design and colour options (camouflage, etc.) for your tarps, the yurt may blend discretely into its environment.

The basic yurt design lends itself to several drawbacks. 

Flexible wall yurts, for instance, have walls that are less than two inches thick.  Even with the space-age bubble and foil insulation employed, you will experience more rapid heating and cooling variations inside this building.  However, a solid wall yurt can be constructed of conventional studding, and insulated to higher levels using fibreglass matt insulation as well as bubble & foil or Styrofoam foil combinations.  On the other hand, a yurt, because of its circular design and open concept, heats and cools much more effectively than a similarly sized bungalow.  For example, our 600 square-foot yurt can be heated during minus 25 temperatures with a small radiant propane heater (4-6,000 BTUs), and a 20 pound tank will last nearly a week.  A 600 square foot house would require triple that amount of fuel and still have cold and hot zones.

It is impossible to use standard glass windows in a flexible wall yurt.  Consequently, the norm is to install single-sheet heavy plastic windows, which transmit a great deal of the heat or cooling between interior and exterior.  A solid wall yurt, on the other hand, can accommodate standard window units (smaller sizes).  Doors pose similar issues, and, more so, because most yurt vertical walls are 6’6” to 7’ – less than standard door frame height.

Other infrastructure poses challenges, too. All wiring must be routed through conduit, as it is installed on the outside of the walls framing, rather than through it.  An option is to use low voltage wiring and inverters throughout the building.  Plumbing, too, is installed in plain view.  Of course, this method of installation is much easier and quicker. 

Due to the open design of these homes, privacy is impacted, and closet space is at a premium.  Creative layouts can offset these concerns.

Other considerations include safe heating systems.  Open flame is very risky in fabric yurts.  With solid wall designs, flame retarding materials and fire-rated wall boards can be installed.  Yurts may be purchased with mounting for chimney egress, but pay close attention to sparks that may burn through the roof tarpaulin!

Other problems that may arise include condensation issues in cold weather, when warm, moist air rises and contacts the thinly insulated ceiling materials, condensing and falling inside the building.  If tarpaulins (particularly roof tarpaulins) are not skin-tight, wind causes the tarp to billow which, in turn, packs down any matt insulation used and reduces that R-value. While the wind effect against a yurt is minimized because of the round design, this means that there are no leeward sides or areas next to the yurt, where you can huddle against the cool breeze.  That also allows smoke and loose sparks to migrate around the building during the winter.

Yurts, almost always, do not meet zoning demands of any urban jurisdiction, and, therefore, do not qualify for permits.  If you are building in remote locations, this will not be an issue, and some solid-wall designs, indeed, can obtain engineer certification.  Proper design and construction practices should be employed regardless of whether the building meets code.

Most of us choose yurts as our living option because of its simplicity and eco-friendliness.  Simplicity equates to Spartan, and Spartan means less luxury.  The yurt is simple.  That, in turn, should eliminate the expectation of opulence.  If you want opulence, stay in the city!  The yurt offers a wonderful escape and alternative to conventional housing, but be prepared for the drawbacks, as well as the advantages.

8 comments:

  1. Great article! I hope you continue to publish many things about yurts.

    I am a Yurt enthusiast and a (recentl) Yurt entrepeneur, and it fascinates me that people are acutally living in yurts fulltime even in places like Canada!

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  2. Robert, I am a fellow Manitoban. Great article! My husband and I have been considering yurts for the last five years. Do you mind if I ask what area of MB you are in, and what was it like for permits? Did you have to apply for a permit to build your home?

    Thanks!

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  3. ~ Thought I should connect ~ I have been living in Yurts for over 20 years ~ Just started a blog @ lhttp://lifeinayurt.blogspot.com/2013/01/yurt-life-so-this-was-attempt-to.html?m=1 ~ Have traveled & stayed for periods in 3 different locations. The blog will start off with a letter I wrote & email no good now of another Yurt Blogger. Will try in my blog to give what advice I can, but mainly one needs to understand the life changes they are getting into with Yurt Life ~ but needless to say would not trade my years living in Yurts for anyman's square home.

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  4. Great informative article. Many seeking out the yurt lifestyle need to hear what you have pointed out in your article. I have lived in and designed and manufactured
    frame panel code yurts for over 40 years now. See Yurt homes video on you tube
    Yurt Homes video - YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu8IyISLRrU
    I have always identified with the ancient wisdom of the mongols and their nomadic lifestyle. Their ger we call yurt has lasted the test of centuries for being the oldest form of indigenous architecture still in use today. The modern yurt is the current example of a cultural blending of ancient design with modern fabric and wood and green sustainable building materials. Thousands of yurt enthusiast worldwide are experiencing yurt living in the round. Both with the affordable non code portable fabric and lattice and light frame yurts as well as the more expensive code sustainable lifetime wood and steel frame panel yurts which all provide a similar experience for yurt dwellers. I like to call these folks the Yurt people. For those of you who enjoy sitting in front of a bay window and like a panorama view of the outside from within and a home flooded with natural lighting from above ,you are all candidates for the yurt experience. If not for a backyard studio meditation and or bedroom, possibly for your primary home as well. Yurt cluster designs with rectangular and curved interconnects between expansive round rooms are fast becoming the state of the art modern yurt home experience. These modern panel yurt homes often include solar passive heating and cooling, super insulation , energy star rated appliance , efficient and spacious floor plans all built with sustainable earth friendly materials. Visit www.yurtpeople,com to connect with us and links to companies worldwide who provide these wonderful homes in kit form for the owner builder or if you prefer a contractor installed turn key yurt.
    Yurts, David Raitt owner Vital Designs DBA California Yurt inc.

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  5. I'm in Australia, and we suffer 45 degree Centigrade days. How would a yurt cope with that?
    Helen Dale

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  6. So long as you had a roof vent, you should be fine. Because there are no flat exterior surfaces, the radiant heat tends to dissipate fairly well. However, interior heat pools at the high point of the yurt, and windows in the wall do not fully address this issue. The vent, combined with an open window on the shade (cool) side of the yurt create a good airflow. You can increase the heat movement by using a solar powered or 12v fan at the vent location.

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  7. 5 years in my yurt and counting!
    I was online shopping for my second yurt when I found this blog with its words to the wise about the challenges of yurts. So, I wanted to share my perspective about living in a yurt. I am right on the shore of Georgian Bay in Ontario (ie in the woods where we get lots of snow and it gets down to -15 F or so in the winter). I have never had animals bother me altho I find their footprints in the snow right outside my door and hear them rustling around in the compost (aka raccoon feeding station). I have several mini electric sonic devices plugged in around the yurt and have had the grand total of 3 mice in the yurt in 5 years. Even though I am routinely away from home 3-5 days at a time throughout the year and am far from a neat freak in terms of leaving food on the counter, I have never had 4 legged visitors. I have flexible wall yurt (from pacific yurts) with reflective insulation and normal, thermal-pane windows. I stay very comfortably warm (ie 68-70 F) all the time, thx to my propane-heated concrete floor. I use a bit more propane than a similar size “normal” building – approximately $3000 per year for a 30’ diameter yurt for heating the floor (the only source of heat), hot water and cooking. Thanks to windows all around, it rarely gets too hot. I have used a fan to keep cool for sleeping about 1 week per summer for each of the 5 summers I have been here. I have a full bathroom with tub and shower, state of the art septic system, electricity and even high-speed internet. The biggest challenge I have faced is condensation on the single-pane dome in the winter. It took me 3 winters but I finally got smart with about $50 worth of 3/8” thick foam weather stripping, a $14.99 package of plastic window film and a hair dryer. I stuck the weather stripping on the inside of the dome, dividing it into “panels”. I then stuck film plastic to the weather stripping, effectively transforming my dome into a “double-pane” structure for the winter. Problem solved! phew!
    So if you are thinking twice about living in a yurt because you are put off at the idea of freezing, returning to the outhouse era, sharing your space with critters or foregoing Netflix or your bubble baths, think again!! it's great in here!

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  8. hello I'm looking into yurt living on my remote west coast Vancouver Island property very open to southeast storms very informative article as this will be a permanent dwelling

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