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.