Category Archives: alternative building

our newest crazy adventure

We just bought a school bus!  A turquoise 1968 Chevy Short Bus, to be exact.  What the–?

Here it is at its old home.

It still drives!  Sort of.  But for a few hundred dollars, we get a whole room to add to our compound of tiny buildings.  A room on wheels. It’s so cool!  And hey, it goes right along with the yurt, the recycled tiny house, and the timber-frame, straw/clay wall bedroom.  In other words, our patchwork, by-the-bootstraps, “house” where none of the rooms touch.  It’s weird, I know!

So yeah, a school bus.  The interior is 7.5″ x 12″ which is about 90 square feet (not including the driver’s area or the steps up from the swing door).  Ninety square feet may seem small for a room, but look at this, a 90 square feet house built by the founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Design, Jay Shafer:

He’s got a bathroom, a kitchen, storage, a sleeping loft, the works.  And it’s on wheels, which keeps it out of the jurisdiction of zoning and codes that have minimums for house size.  Wheels like our new bus!

Of course, we don’t have plans to turn the bus into a full house/rv sort of thing.  More a cool, tricked out bedroom for one of the kids, probably.  And, of course, it has to fall in line, priority-wise, behind the timberframe bedroom, so it will be a not-very-tricked-out playroom for the time being.  Either way, the kids are super excited.

Speaking of RVs thought, that reminds me of another branch of the Tiny House Tree, that of the recreational park trailer.  When we were down at the beach last month we went by the old RV parking ground that has been there for thirty years—and some of those rvs have been there about that long, too.  They have grown with skinny screen porches built on, tiny cute yards, decks, etc.  Then we saw some new fancy rvs that had taken this trend of making a vehicle a home a step farther (or maybe it’s more a bridging of the gap between trailers and rvs?) by making rvs that look like tiny, adorable cottages.  The lines are all blurred, aren’t they?

This little thing is ten feet wide and has wheels under that white skirt.  It uses RV hook ups and can be parked in any RV lot.  Ha!

Paul lived in a bus in his twenties, a time for which he has many fond memories that may have colored his view of the bus at hand.  Personally, I was dead set against any expense of this size at this time, no matter how cute it was—what, was he crazy?  Until I saw the powerpoint presentation Paul and Sophie put together after going to see the bus (“Do not buy that bus!” “We’re just going to look at it!”).  That’s right, they made me a powerpoint with graphs, photos highlighting the bus’s many features, and quotes from influential town members extolling the virtues of bus living.  Those may have been made up.  But Paul promised to work faster on the bedroom and Sophie gave me her cute face.  Under pressure like this, it was inevitable that my resolve would crumble.

Paul is talking about putting down bamboo flooring in it—you can get recycled batches of less that 100 square feet for pretty cheap, leftovers from big multi-thousand square foot jobs that otherwise would just be thrown away.  Another advantage of tiny spaces—other builder’s scrap is your bonanza.  The bus came with some cedar paneling the previous owners had put in and then taken out, so that might go back up, depending on its current state.  A futon bed and some shelves have been mentioned….

I absolutely know Paul has the talent, vision, and skills to make it an exquisitely cute, craftsman space.  I just wonder how many years it might be before he has the time. But, as a knitter, I understand having a stash.  While my stash is skeins of merino and silk, his stash is…building projects.  Bathtubs.  Casement windows.  Bundles of flooring.  Cinderblocks.  And now, a school bus.

Yarn is so much more portable!

But it is done, and I’m pretty excited, too, now that I’m on board, I’ll admit it.  The bus comes today.  I’ll post more pictures once it is settled in its new home.

rocket mass stoves

I’ve mentioned that at the thunderbolt pace of a sloth riding a glacier across a lake of molasses, we’re building a bedroom.  Well, actually, Paul is building a bedroom.  I just, you know, take pictures.  Paul says I also stand with my hands on my hips and offer “design consultations.”  He also says I nag.  What can I say, although I completely understand that my primary (and only) builder (Paul) also works a full time job and is a very hands-on father, sometimes the sloth-on-a-glacier pace gets to me.  Sorry for the nagging, sweetie.

But, hey, look, progress is being made because here is my lovely, hardworking husband hammering on the cedar timber frame component of the soon *cough* to be bedroom.

I love the fall leaves in that one!

And here is something more recent.

We broke ground last January, so this is one year in.  The foundation is done, block walls laid for the parts that are built into the hill, lots of drainage in place, and the timber frames up.  Here is the frame the other night….

The sparks are where he is cutting off the end of a metal bolt thingy—looks cool doesn’t it?  The timber is locally milled cedar from a guy Paul knows.  It is soooo pretty and it smells divine.  Here’s a picture S0phie took of one of the beams.

But, hang on, this blog post is not about the bedroom.  It’s about these cool wood burning heating systems called rocket stoves that you can build yourself, use a fraction of the wood of a regular stove, and are super, super efficient.  Because one of the things you’ve got to figure out when building a house—and the bedroom is, in fact, a tiny house—is how you’re going to heat it.

We’ve considered many options, of course. Propane  (expensive, fossil fuel, stinky), under the floor radiant heat (expensive to install, and you still have to solve how to heat the water), tiny wood stove (expensive to buy those tiny woodstoves, although they are terribly cute, but you have to build a fire every time, and then there is wood chopping, dirt and smoke), electric (expensive, nuclear power *shudder*), solar (passive isn’t great when living in a forest, but we do design for as much solar gain as possible, active is too expensive), etc, etc.

We could also, of course, run more pipe from our current waterstove, put a radiator in the bedroom, or maybe some of that radiant floor tubing.  That last one has been Plan A.  But our waterstove is woefully inefficient which means that every year Paul spends a huge amount of time getting a huge amount of wood and, well, he’s getting older.  Getting wood together isn’t the fun exercise it once was.  Our waterstove, too, is also getting older.  We got it used to begin with and time is passing.  It won’t last forever.  What will we heat the yurt with when it rusts out (or whatever it finally dies of)?  Who knows?  But maybe we shouldn’t tie our whole-compound heating needs into an already decrepit system….

Enter the rocket stove, a home built (as low as $20, so they say, !!) wood burning system of various sizes that burns only a tiny amount of wood and puts out almost zero smoke.  The fire burns sideways!  How cool is that?  It’s very exciting to run across something like this, a high-knowledge but low-tech/implementation solution to a building problem.  Here’s a picture of one, but as a DYI item, every one looks different.

Cute, huh?

Here’s a diagram of how they work:

Here is the terrific page of Paul Wheaton’s where I’m getting these images.  Lots of great videos on how it all works on that page, I highly recommend visiting if you’re interested in such things.

I love the vibe of people building their own small spaces, figuring out new ways to solve old problems, jerry rigging and fine tuning and making it their own.  It’s creative to build your own house with your own hands.  You have to reinvent the wheel a bunch of times.  Sometimes you totally fail and have to re-do.  Sometimes you come up with a whole new kind of wheel.  It’s too early to know for sure if this is the heating system we’ll put in the bedroom, but at the moment, I’m thinking, BINGO.

wabi sabi house built out of a shipping container, very cool

I ran across this lovely short video about a single mom who, rather than work full-time-plus to pay rent on a house, built a tiny house out of a shipping container for herself and her daughter for $4000.

Our yurt is positively palatial in comparison! And comparison can be a real problem when you choose to not do the mainstream path—I’ve found I have to be really careful what two items I’m comparing. Setting our tiny, ramshackle wabi sabi complex of homemade buildings up against a big MacMansion with a room for every activity, well, the yurt starts to look kind of lame and crowded, and how dare I not have a pantry, how dare my kids not have their own rooms, this is ridiculous, how can we live like this? But compare our yurt to Lulu’s (in the video) shipping container, we have so much room! She paid about $4000 for her set up and we paid about $40,000 for ours. That was about $20,000 for the yurt kit, about $10,000 to build the bathhouse, about $7000 for installing a kitchen in the yurt, plumbing, and wiring the place for electricity, and $3000 for assorted fees and building permits. (That’s 2003 prices.) Add on several thousand a few years later to move the Noah House onto our property. And now we’re building the bedroom and I think we’re about $2000 in on that one… Anyway, it’s incredibly modest compared to the $300,000 houses in the development down the road, and incredibly RICH compared to Lulu’s $4000, 10 times as rich! Be careful who you compare to! If you must compare at all, pick comparisons that make you feel good, at least. But maybe don’t compare at all! That’s tough, though. We’re human, after all.

But even more important, perhaps, be careful WHAT you compare: my kids see their friends who have entire rooms all to themselves and they think, man, I want my own room. Luc has said many times, “when I grow up, I’m going to live in a mansion!” And I totally get that! (They’ll have their own space as our bootstrap building projects progress, but it’s a slow process.) But the choice isn’t as simple as “live in a tiny house” vs. “live in a big house.” We live in a tiny house, with a tiny mortgage, which means I don’t have to work, which means the kids can stay home and live lovely unschooling lives. So the real choice is “live in a tiny house and unschool” vs “live in a big house and go to school.” About which the kids are very clear which choice they prefer.

Lulu says it in the video, that she would rather live in this tiny, wabi sabi house and be with her daughter while she’s young, than to work full time and lose that. You only have so many hours allotted to you (and you don’t know how many till they’re gone). Do I want to spend them at work, paying for a big house? Or do I want to spend them with my kids? No question there. Kids win, hands down.

As Lulu says, a big house can be nice, but who says you can’t have a great childhood without such a luxury?

For a really nice description of wabi sabi, try this page.

Thanks Lulu, for making this video! It helped me remember some of the reasons we got into this tiny house thing to begin with.

cool thing about living in a yurt # 54

The thing about having a giant memory card in my camera is I can get slack about downloading the pictures.  I think there are about five hundred on there right now!  I really need to get on that.  But anyway, I found this pic on the camera today, left from some mid-summer photos.

The circle of sunlight is coming down from the yurt dome, almost straight down it looks like, so this picture must have been taken near the Solstice.  Luc had set up a ring of dinosaurs around the ring of light—he’s always doing cool things like this—but as he played, the light ring slid away across the floor, leaving his dinos half in, half out of the circle.

The changing location of the sunlight—and moonlight—circle on the floor (and walls) throughout the year is one of the neater bits about living in a yurt.

our alternative building journey

I’ve noticed a bunch of folk find my site looking for information on yurts and cool, funky examples of alternative building on the cheap. I’ve got that, for sure, but it’s buried in with the farming and writing and unschooling. I’ve made this post to help you find what you’re looking for.

We’re bootstrapping this operation, (meaning we build a little, save a little $, build a little more….) so we have an ever changing, if a bit strange, compound of many small structures, scattered through our bit of woods. It’s like a patchwork quilt: yurt here, cordwood there, masonry on this one, stick building on that other one…you get the idea.

We’ve use tons of recycled materials, both purchased and scrounged, in sometimes weird and creative ways, because hey, we can’t afford anything else it’s better for the environment! Basically, we’ve made our home out of other people’s junk, and saved a bunch of stuff from going to the landfill in the process. Go, us!

We’ve put up a yurt, and lived in a yurt for many years now. We’ve built a goat house for almost nothing, a tool shed for even less, and a chicken house out of the box the yurt came in. We’ve also recycled an entire tiny house.

2010 will bring a new building to our compound…we’re in the imagining stages at the moment, so stay tuned.

My blog is a bit like my house—lots of different bits, linked by my life. Sometimes a map helps.

All my alt-building posts from the beginning of time:

[catlist id=3 numberposts=50]

the incredible building mash-up

We’ve been thinking about what to build next. The Noah House has settled into daily usage. The landscaping projects are slowing down as winter approaches. And we seem to have a tradition of starting new buildings in January. Which means we’re in the imagining stages, now, for the next one.

Next one, you say? Well, yes. We seem to be building a house, room by room, where none of the rooms actually touch each other. And while we’re comfortable now, the kids are growing. They’ll need more space before we can blink. Time to get a head start on that.

This summer we visited a friend who has a large, two-story house, of the totally normal variety, and the kids were amazed. “Mom! Look at this! All the rooms are connected to each other!” They thought the indoor staircase was particularly wondrous. I guess whatever you’ve got is the standard upon which everything else is judged, right? It was pretty funny. “Mom, they have a bathroom inside their house! Did you see this?”

So, for our next building, we’re in the question stages. We’re asking ourselves, Where would we like another room? Off in the woods? Or close to the yurt? We’re asking, To what purpose would this room most likely be put, both short-term, and long-term? We’re asking, what materials do we have to build with? And what materials would we like to play with?

Luc has made strong claims on the next room. He says he needs a place for his puzzles where he can leave them all out and no one will walk on them. Sounds good to me. So, if it’s going to be a Luc room, it will probably need to be close to the yurt, because he’s a little guy still. And Paul has a line on some stone and is talking about how he would like to do some more masonry. He enjoyed doing the stonework for his tool shed. Only he’s nervous about doing corners…so I suggested making it round. No corners and a curved wall is stronger anyway, right? Maybe with a living roof…?

Do we want a round, stone, room, close to the yurt, for Luc and his puzzles? Would a room like that still be valuable to him in five years? Ten years, when he’s a teen-ager? What if he grows to be a big six-foot guy?

And what about how such a structure would fit with the flow of the structures that already exist? Or with the structures we might build in the future?

And if Luc doesn’t want that room later, who might use it then? And for what? Can we made allowances for that in the design now? Maybe further into the woods would be better after all…?

I love this part of building, all in the mind, tossing ideas around, the structure effortlessly morphing, this way and that way, before our very eyes. The constraints are (1) available money, (2) size (relating to permitting, cost, length of time to build, etc), (3) materials, (4) our building ability, and (5) sometimes timing (if we’re in a rush, but we aren’t for this one, hooray!). But such constraints are like the rules that shape a sonnet. Sometimes, if you can do anything, you fall back on what you know and, maybe, pick a plan out of a book of plans. On the other hand, embracing a set of constraints can help push creativity, rather than limit it. Within these constraints, how can we get really specific about how this structure might serve us and make our lives more sparkly?

(Of course, it all changes once building actually commences. But the first ideas are the starting place, without which is nothing can commence at all.)

I really believe you can only get this kind of hands-on creativity in building if you are doing it yourself. But if you are doing it yourself, you can make a simple building into Art You Live In.

And it’s fun!

in which we move in to the recycled house, and are pleased

We have completely, and thoroughly, moved in, FINALLY, to the Noah House!

[cue cheering!]

That is to say, we haven’t moved out of the yurt, we’re just…spreading. And in case you don’t know what I am talking about, here is the beginning of the story of recycling a tiny house, the tiny house my cousin Noah built, and, more recently, here is a picture of how it looks from the outside.

But today I offer you pictures from the inside! With all our STUFF! I know you’ve been just aching to see these, come on, admit it.

Okay, without further ado, let’s walk in through the front door. What do we see but….

nh 1.jpg

A sofa! And some kids! On the floor, coloring! And some book shelves! Ooo, ahhh.

For contrast, let’s look at the view the day after the carpentry crew left:

nh 9.jpg

And here it is when Paul was about half-way done:

nh 10.jpg

But now, it’s a real room. With toys and books and computers and all my yoga props…I’m so happy to have a place for my yoga props, I can’t tell you.

nh 2.jpg

This is the view when I am sitting on that green futon sofa (craigslist, we love you). Look, you can see the yurt through the windows! And if you look a bit to the left, you see this:

nh 3.jpg

Lots of pine bead board and recycled cherry wood trim….

…and a little farther to the left, you see this:

nh 4.jpg

(UPDATE: for what happened with the little room to the side, visit here.) It’s an extremely pleasant space. It’s odd that it can be so small, 12′ x 12′, and still feel quite spacious, but it does, probably because of the height of the ceilings.

Because here is what I see if I look up:

nh 5.jpg

It’s fourteen feet high at the top, because Noah wanted to be able to stand up in the loft. In a tiny house, design follows the physical body of the person doing the building.

But Noah, being the thrill seeker he is, used to sleep up there with no rails. Not so great for small kids. So, look at those lovely rails that Paul built so that Sophie could have a loft, and I could NOT have a heart attack every time she went up there. Aren’t they pretty? The wood for the posts was left over from something else, stored for years now under the yurt. Paul says he cleared out a ton of old wood he had been storing, making all the trim. So whoopee for having less junk around, I say, not to mention the attractive price-point.

But really, I didn’t realize trim was such a big deal. (Don’t tell Paul I said that, because he used to be a trim carpenter.) Never the less, I can now say with confidence, trim is not just some wood slapped up in the corners! Trim makes the room. Trim is the trimmings, the details. And attention to the details is what transforms a space from a box to a lovely room you want to hang out in. I swear.

For example, here is the first step in the front door:


It’s a piece of cast off granite, rescued from a dumpster, and framed by Paul in oak. The floor here is recycled walnut. Plus a kitten always helps.

It’s gorgeous. Every time I step in, even if I don’t consciously think about it, I take in that beauty. The more details like that, the more a space feels right.

Build a small square room and it could be a hovel, a dark cave, a boring box. Give it lots of exposed wood, windows on all sides with lots of them in the south, and tons of love in the details, and suddenly you have something else entirely. I really do think the lack of love in the details is the reason speed-built, mass-produced houses so frequently lack soul. When you build things yourself, and when you do it on a tiny scale, the details are all within your power and creativity. And that’s a good thing.

Quick, before we leave, let’s take a peek up in the loft.

nh 6.jpg

Sophie lined up a bunch of teddy bears to live under the windows. Sitting here, reading while it rains outside, is about the most peaceful thing ever.

One last view from the corner. Hey, where did the kids go?

nh 11.jpg

Oh, here they are.


Keep it small, build it yourself, pay little or nothing for recycled materials, and make the details yours. You, too, can have a tiny, beautiful, personal, space.

Thank you, again, Noah.

poof, another room

We are in the process of moving into the Noah House. I don’t mean moving out of the yurt, just adding the Noah House as another room in our weird, Tiny House Compound. As I mentioned here, Paul finished the interior trim last weekend and, although there is still a punch list of thing to do (screens, door stop, improve the ladder up to the loft, just for a few examples), especially in the little side room (which we are conflicted about how to use—a writing office for me? Toy storage for the kids? Tiny loft for Luc?), we did get the electricity hooked up last week and we are now officially using it as an actual space.

Finally, huh? Well, it takes a while when the primary (and only) carpenter on the job works full time elsewhere as well as having a demanding *cough* family life. But here he is, finishing the deck yesterday….

deck 1.jpg

And here is the finished deck this morning…

deck 2.jpg

The deck functions now as a room of it’s own, in a way, another living space. I hadn’t expected that, but I’m delighted.

In keeping with our recycled building modus operandi, the stain Paul used was $5 a gallon cast-offs from the Habitat store. I’m not sure if you can see it in the photo but the horizontal surface is a gray-green and the outer trim is a blue-green that matches nicely with the blue-green on the door and windows. That was a happy accident, as you take what you get when you dip into the $5 bin. But those gallons would have been $30-$40 a gallon new, and it looks great, so win for us. Sometimes making do with what you’ve got can have lovely results.

deck 3.jpg

I especially like the stone stairs that Paul made, fitting together some rocks we had laying around. There is a solar light tucked in the corner that turns on at dusk, another cast-off. Thank goodness people throw out so much good stuff.

And look, the bottom rock has fern fossils!

fossil 1.jpg

Can’t see it? Here, try this close up.

fossil 2.jpg

Isn’t that cool?

Sophie and I shared a chocolate eclair in these chairs this morning while the sun came up over the trees. Our new breakfast nook?


recycled playground

If you’ve been hanging around a bit, you know we are bootstrap builders, putting together our country estate (cough), on very little cash, by building with junk recycled materials. (And if that’s news to you, but sounds fun, look over there in the tag list and you’ll find recycled building has its very own tag. Aren’t I organized?) But houses, tool sheds, and goat barns aren’t all you can build with recycled materials. Today I bring you: a Huge Wooden Playset, assembled from the broken pieces of Other People’s Trash!

Our playset has evolved over the years. At the moment it has a tower, a swing section, a platform with another slide, a sandbox, monkey bars, and a tree climbing section off the back. Do you know how much a set like would cost new? I didn’t, not until just now when I went and googled it. Well, I mean, you CAN’T buy a set like this, but it turns out that the sets that were sort of similar (a tower, a bunch of swings, some monkey bars) were $1000-3000!


In contrast, almost all of our set was FREE. Most of what you see here either came from the dump or from craigslist ads that said “Free if you come and get it!” I think the grand total is somewhere around $50 bucks. And that includes the sand.

It pays to scrounge.

Here’s our set:

Wait, why are we so far away in this picture! Oh yeah, it’s because I’m plunked down on my bum with my twisted ankle propped up, all the way across the yard. Where is that zoom button? Here we go….closer…

There, that’s better. Our set started with the pink slide section and the little platform behind it. Paul actually bought the beam that goes across the top new and installed a selection of cast-off swings from various thrown-out sets on it. The things hanging from the bar have changed as the kids have gotten bigger. For example, we started out with a baby swing for Luc that has since been discarded, and we’ve added a trapeze bar for Sophie, who likes to do tricks.

He also made the sandbox at the foot of the pink slide, fashioned from a thrown away frog sandbox and some sandbags.

Next came the tower section, for which I think we paid $30. Craigslist. You can see it on the right of this photo. And hey, I actually had to get up off my butt to get this shot—ah, how I suffer for my art!

Look at that, a third slide on the back! You can also see the faded remains of a once spiffy play kitchen. Another freebie that has seen a LOT of use. The kids like to cook up sand cakes in the kitchen. They also like to play Hulk and knock the kitchen over with a big crash and climb on it. An advantage to getting stuff for free is that it’s no big deal if the kids delight in destroying it.

Let’s keep going on around it. Here we are, further along the back…

See the monkey bars shooting off the side? Here’s a better pic:

And look! There is a monkey swinging across them!

But my favorite part of the set is the balance bridge tree thingy that Paul rigged up….

That U shape at the end is one tree, grown in a strange shape because of storm damage. You can’t really see it but there is a rope hanging across the top of the U and a bit dangling down, good for Tarzan games.

The log off to the left makes a bridge….

…that leads into the woods, partially cleared out by Paul. A few improvement, like this small plank and platform make a good pirate boat, rocket ship, whatever.

The board is scrap, the platform thingy was made from scrap and used to hold up the barrel that held up the air conditioner, but Paul invented some other solution, and the platform got moved out here…. But the real attraction here is the forest. Shadowy cool, lots of downed trees, criss-crossing the ground in a maze of balance beams, great for playing, say, Jungle Adventure, as the kids call it, as in, “Mom, we’re playing Jungle Adventure—we need backpacks full of snacks!”

Because a playground is better if it leads into the woods, don’t you think?

Bottom line: you don’t have to pay $3000 for an awesome playset!

Trash can be just as fun.

yurts: the downside

We love our yurt. I am really glad we decided to go this route.

But no space is perfect in all ways, and yurts are no exception. After nearly four years in ours, here is the unvarnished truth to living in a gigantic, glorified tent.


If you put up your yurt on a mountaintop, 100 acres from your nearest neighbor, this one will not be a problem. It is lovely to lie in bed at night and hear the owls and frogs and deer doing their nighttime thang in the woods around our yurt. You can hear it all, and when the sounds are good, this is a good thing. However, we can also here the neighbors coming and going, hear the folks down the road giving a party, and rainstorms make shouting a necessity. There is NO sound proofing to the walls of a yurt. When the fan on our waterstove started rattling, it kept me awake at night, even though it is outside and fifty feet from the wall. Yuck.

And don’t forget sounds goes both ways. If you listen to music, fight with your spouse, or, say, have a really good time with your spouse, ahem, the neighbors will hear you. Forget the privacy you may be accustomed to with six-inch thick, standard construction, insulated walls. Sound goes straight through a yurt skin. So give your yurt a lot of space around it to compensate.


Yurts are HOT. At least ours is. They were designed for Mongolia where it’s freaking freezing, so, duh. But if you’re thinking of putting a yurt anywhere where the days get over 80 or 85 degrees, you are going to want an air conditioner or you are NOT going to want to be in your yurt during the afternoons. We have a large window unit, backed up to one of the windows and resting on a 55 gallon steel drum, that does pretty well keeping us cool, until outside temps get over 95—and then it’s just not powerful enough to keep the yurt cooler than 80. Without the air conditioner, if we open all the windows, and there is a good breeze, it’s, well its still totally hot, but the breeze does blow straight through, and that can be nice. For a minute. Until the breeze stops. A friend of mine who got a yurt (that she adored in the winter) had to move out in the summer. She couldn’t draw enough electricity to run an air conditioner and her yurt was unbearably hot three months out of the year. And did I mention the dome casting a huge circle of heat, starting on one side of the yurt and working its way across, like a giant heat lamp, each day? Basically, without the breeze or the air conditioner what we have here is a big solar cooker. And we are the roast chicken.

However, yurts warm up well when it’s cold. We’re toasty during the winter with our heating set up (see waterstove link above). It would be interesting to see an infrared photo of the yurt—I wonder if there is heat just pouring out of the acrylic dome. Probably. One thing to consider is this is a BIG volume of space for the square footage. We have 16 foot peak in the center, and all of that space up there gets heated before the humans down on the floor feel it. Our propane heater is rated for 60,000 BTUs and it can heat the place to hot, if we’re willing to pay for the fuel (which we’re not). Anything less and you’d be cold, I think.

Bottom line: when the temperature outside changes, the temperature inside the yurt changes. It’s pretty easy to adjust it, but yurts do not hold a temperature the way some other building styles do. Our super-insulated bathhouse stays cool all summer, minus the hottest days of August, with no air conditioning at all. And we heat it comfortably with a small space heater for about $10-$20 a month in winter. In comparison, we pump a lot of energy, whether electrical (for cooling), propane or wood (for heating) into changing our inside temperature. Heating and cooling are not the yurt’s strong points.

ETA: Paul wanted me to put in that the walls and ceiling of the yurt meet the minimum R-values for insulation in our state. He couldn’t remember what those are, maybe R-10 for the walls and maybe R-19 for ceilings…? At any rate, the R-value of the foil-covered-bubblewrap insulation that is on our yurt is lowish, but within the range of building norms. However, the vinyl windows and the acrylic dome are big heat loss points.


No, our yurt does not leak. It is tight as a drum. BUT. Having never been in a structure with absolutely no overhang before, I really didn’t get how rain would run down the long expanse of roof and then come right in through the windows. And because the yurt skin is a pliable fabric, the rain curves down, around, and vroom! shoots straight in like someone pointing a hose through screen. I only had to test THAT out once. You HAVE to close the windows when it rains. OR you HAVE to have good awnings. Maybe good gutters would be enough in a light rain. I wish we had gutters! My biggest regret, besides not putting in radiant floor heating, is not getting the gutters.

In addition, the windows open and close, at least on our yurt, on the outside. So, in order to open and close them, you have to be outside, too. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a bit of a pain in the patooty to run out into the rain to unroll and zip.

Our solution to all of this is just to rarely open the windows. We have two doors on opposite sides of the yurt, and these are almost constantly open, unless the heat or air conditioner are on. Both have gutters and awnings. And since the space is small (our 30 foot yurt is about 700 square feet) this usually gives plenty of airflow for a nice spring day like today. We only open windows when we know we’re going to be home and there is no rain on the forecast. But that’s not very often. If you’re thinking of getting a yurt, get the gutters. And get screen doors so you can use the doors as your windows when you don’t want to mess with the whole rolling and zipping routine.


We have none! What I wouldn’t give for a pantry! Paul built an amazing, freestanding, closet/bookshelf (closets on the ‘bedroom’ side and bookshelves on the ‘living room’ side) that divides our yurt into two areas. In addition to that we have a wardrobe for coats (overflowing), and a hutch and some shelves in our kitchen. But, basically, we end up with stuff everywhere and no good place to put it. Of course, we are four people living in our yurt, so if a person was on his or her own, this may be less of a problem. But there is no junk room, no attic, no basement, no spare bedroom, no closets, no pantry, no mudroom, none of those spaces in a more traditional house where you stick your stuff. This is because yurts were designed by nomads. They didn’t have much because whatever they had, they were going to have to hump it somewhere else pretty soon. Depending on one’s propensity to acquire stuff, this lack of storage can be quite a problem. For us, basically, we’re screwed.

But that’s about it. There are some difficulties with privacy/sound at night, particularly when some of us want to sleep and others of us do not, but that is more of an issue of four people in one room, than a problem with yurts per se. We’ve solved some of that with things like wireless headsets for the tv, for example. And just being thoughtful.

But, like I said, we love our yurt. It’s a beautiful, light-filled, affordable, fast, comfortable space. For us, moving onto this land with very little money and a high time-pressure (I was pregnant, our lease was up, tick-tock-tick), it has been perfect.

Check out the ‘yurts’ tag for other posts on our yurt, such a series on how we prepared the site, built a platform and then, finally, put up our yurt in one day, or this one on what it’s like to live inside a sundial.