Yurt Building Update
Yurts are easy and cheap to build. They can be owner-built for a few hundred dollars and provide four-season homes that are simple to construct in about six weeks. That said, they only work when the fundamental principles of architecture and construction are strictly followed.
Those principles are structurally safe, built to last for decades, livable without fossil fuels, always dry, warm in winter, cool in summer, won’t burn and doesn’t annoy the neighbours. Then there are the essential intrinsic requirements – sunshine, fresh air ventilation and a pleasing view.
The design only works when the site works. When choosing the site evaluate – slope, groundwater flow, surface water flow, water table level, soil composition, vehicular access, solar orientation, sunshine and wind.
The reason you should build or supervise the construction of your yurt is that details matter - or you listen to the whispers of intuition, so you don’t hear howls of remorse. There is a plethora of micro homes and yurt kits available in the marketplace. These are convenient and expensive consumer products. Consumerism is a polite word for profit and envy. Buyer beware.
To date, I have built three yurts and with the third one I really think that I got everything right (full construction details are available in my ebook and on this blog). They are all in central Ontario where winter temperature can drop to – 20c. In a damp or cold climate full exposure to winter sunshine is essential.
The basic specifications remain the same. Twenty foot inside diameter (floor space 315 sq.ft.), door faces east, the south facing window is a full-size recycled patio door set on its side. The other four windows are equally spaced around the wall and all can be opened. The twelve-inch diameter center post is set upside down to maximize the surface area to support the roof beams. The roof has an eighteen-inch overhang, this is a simple way to protect the wall from the weather. The yurt must be built above the surrounding ground, this is further enhanced by setting the lattice wall poles on a stem wall made of 25 kg ‘poly’ animal feed bags filled with crushed stone and tamped rigid. This wall is two bags or ten inches high. A drainage channel is dug around the outside to direct surface runoff away from the building. The site is carefully chosen or modified to prevent ground and surface water becoming an issue. I used R20 six-inch fiberglass insulation, there are more expensive, but environmentally more friendly alternatives, like hemp. The waterproof membrane for the roof is an industrial quality 40 ft by 60 ft tarp. I cut it in half so that the roof has two layers and the remainder covered the walls. Because all four windows open, I am not concerned with having breathable walls. The inside wall is covered with used lumber tarps which are available free if you ask nicely. I will cover both the inside and outside with cow manure. A herd of cattle graze my land, in spring the area where they have been fed round hay bales is a sloppy mix of cow poo, mud and strands of hay. This mixture is free, comes ready made, spreads like peanut butter and sets as hard as tree bark. Within a few weeks of applying it is hard, a grey brown colour and has no smell. It is applied in two thin layers and the final one on the inside is whitewashed. To get more heat from the wood stove, I position the stove four feet laterally from where the pipe goes through the wall so that more heat radiates inside rather than into the great outdoors.
On a personal note, I do get a certain about of criticism from friends who say, “You can’t tell people that they can build their own home in six weeks for $500, other people are just not like you.” Well, maybe I am too enthusiastic at times, however, with a little help from your friends you might be surprised just what you can achieve. To help you saddle your dreams, I am happy to respond to questions and comments either by email, email@example.com or through Facebook.