The concept of chucking conventional housing to live in a glorified Mongolian tent – a yurt – has romantic appeal for many, aesthetic appeal for others, and eco-friendly appeal for even more. Throw in those people that eschew modern conveniences in favour of survivalist strategies and we have millions of people across North America that may embrace living in a yurt. But wait a minute! Have we considered all the cons, as well as the pros?
I have devoted the last two years during which I have maintained this blog to exploring the good, the bad and the ugly of yurt living, based on my own experiences. Having built a hybrid solid wall yurt in the backwoods of Manitoba, Canada, where the wind velocities often reach 100 kilometres per hour, temperatures drop to Minus 45 regularly (or climb to Plus 35C, 95F), and snowfall usurps five months of the year, I consider myself an authority on yurt living. My wife and I have loved the experience, but, in truth, there are numerous drawbacks to such a lifestyle.
One of the most recent problems has been the breakdown of the UV-protected, water repellent tarpaulins that make up the skin of the structure.
Sunlight harms every fabric. Commercial yurt makers brag of ten-year UV protection, but, most often, that is the myth rather than the reality. Farmers who “tarp” their haystacks know that most treated tarpaulins begin to show significant wear within three years. Five years is the norm for UV protection and its contingent water repellent qualities.
Yurt manufacturers recommend that pressure points on the tarpaulins be reduced, since the stretching and stress of the fabric breaks the protection down. Doubling of the tarps at specific points does, indeed, extend the usable life of the covering, but does little to extend water resistance.
Our roof tarpaulin, after only four years, requires replacement. There are a few reasons for this. First, the tarp was not properly designed. Because it was too loose in spots, wind caused segments to flutter and flap like an untethered sail. Imagine using an old fashioned wash scrub board on which you rub the tarp for hours on end, and you will have the longer-term effect of this billowing. Quickly, the fabric breaks down. Second, snow load was allowed to remain on the roof, because of its low-slope (33 degrees) design. Standing moisture caused deterioration of the moisture barrier. Lastly, the tarp was shipped with creases in it. These creases formed flaws in the continuity of the weather barrier and, here, threadbare fabric emerged within two years.
This year, we sprayed down much of the walls with water relent spray (the same as we use on shoes, etc.). The roof tarp was treated with brush-on moisture repellent. Those areas that were treated have held, resisting this summer’s rains. But it is only a matter of a couple of years before we will be replacing the entire outer skin of our yurt.