Tag Archives: yurts

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.

it’s a bird! it’s a plane! no, it’s…Tree Guy!

Sometimes, when the wind gives a gusty laugh, I look up through the yurt’s dome and see the tops of the pines heaving around like God is mixing a salad. Pine trees with vinaigrette, coming right up. Yikes. A few were particularly crazy-leaning-over trees, so we decided they had to go. Sorry trees.

Turns out a friend of Paul’s used to do tree work and he agreed to come out and give Paul a hand.

And here he is! Jeff the Tree Guy, cutting out expert notches that cause the tree to hinge and fall exactly where he wants it to i.e. not on the yurt. Or the car. And not the kids either. Or Paul. Or the goats. Basically anything that is mine. I’m selfish that way. Go Jeff! What an interesting skill to have.

It was surprising (though it shouldn’t have been, except all I knew about it was you shout “Timber!” when the tree is about to fall—which Jeff did NOT, much to my disappointment) how technical it all was. Look at this assortment of chisel thingies he hammered in to direct the fall of this small elm.

I felt bad for the elm. It was a pretty little tree, one of the first to turn red each fall, and it had done nothing wrong. It’s just that it was right beside a particularly leaning-over-the-yurt pine, and there was fear that the huge pine would get hung in the elm and fall where we didn’t want it to. So the elm had to go to keep the yurt safe.

Now why is my yurt more important in the cosmos than this little elm that was here long before the yurt? I ask you.

Jeff had another amazing skill, that of super-fast and fearless tree climbing.

I walked over to get a picture of him go up and when I turned back around about ten seconds later, he was way up in the sky. Dude! How’d you do that?

Actually, he went much farther up than this picture reveals. I couldn’t get a good shot of the really high climbing because he was just a dot up there, and the sun was behind him causing all these flares…. so you’ll just have to trust me. He was up in the needles of these huge, old pines.

And this is what he saw:

It’s our place! From where the angels sit to watch over us!

That’s right, in the interests of completeness in my reporting I climbing that tree, too, and took this picture for your entertainment and edification.

Um. Yeah.

The place looks kind of cute from up there, you know? Sort of junky, but overall, quite cute.

Look at this one of the Noah House. Can you see Sophie in the widow?

She’s holding up a picture she drew of Jeff doing his Tree Guy Thang, so he’s taking a picture of her drawing a picture of him.

Can you see Jeff? He’s in the fourth tree from the left.

Turns out being a Tree Guy is the fifth most dangerous profession in the country, following such illustrious careers as mining and commercial crabbing. “Always have two kinds of safety gear in place at all times,” Jeff said, right after the branch he was tried into broke off. He caught himself, high up in the tree, with the spikes on his boots. He was fine, just some scratches on his arms, but holy shit. He stopped being a tree guy as a regular job when he started having kiddos. I can see why.

Here was the first tree down. You can see the Priscilla Tent is still standing, somewhat worse for the wear. I told them they should put their feet up on the tree, like those hunting pictures where the Big Hunter has felled a Mighty Beast by shooting it. They wouldn’t do it though. I wonder why.

Paul will cut the wood up into chunks and we’ll burn it in our waterstove.

Here’s a challenge for you. Can you see Jeff in this picture? Look high.

unexpected benefit of living in a round house #27

Paul and I were having a fight one day, I don’t remember what about, something stupid probably—aren’t most of these fights about something stupid? It’s too bad you only realize that after the fact. Anyway, the fight reached a head and we both stomped off dramatically, as one is wont to do in those moments. Ah, the beauty of an angry exit!

Except we live in a round house. So… although we stomped off in opposite directions, in about 20 seconds we were facing each other again, our expressions mirror images of Pissed Off Spouse. We couldn’t help it—we burst out laughing.

Just goes to show, you can’t run away when you’re walking in circles.

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.

Sound

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.

Temperature

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.

Rain

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.

Storage

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.

calcifer the waterstove

Two years ago, we ran across an old Taylor Waterstove for sale (great heater, really awful website). Heating with propane that first winter in the yurt broke the bank and we were looking for a wood burning option that didn’t put a wood stove in the yurt. (The reasons for that were (1) we didn’t want to cut a hole in the yurt skin for a chimney, (2) we had little kids running around, (3) a wood stove, and the buffer around it, would take a very large portion of our very small amount of floor space.) We had an indoor wood stove at the farm house we lived in before the yurt, and while we liked wood heat, we did not like the smoke or dirt a wood stove brings in. The waterstove was a perfect solution.

So, what the heck is a waterstove? Here’s ours, sitting in the woods near the yurt.

Ugly, ain’t it? Like a furnace for burning bodies or something. To get a sense of the scale, look at the right side of the photo for the Narnia-style lamppost, which is about six feet tall. This heater is BIG.

So how does a giant, ugly, wood burner, sitting out in the trees, heat the yurt?

It’s pretty nifty, actually.

The fire box is in the center of that hulking metal thing and is surrounded by a 100+ gallons of water. You build a fire in it and the fire heats the water. A temperature gauge notices when the water temp is too low and turns on a fan that blows air into the fire, stoking it up and keeping the water around 170 degrees. That’s the first part.

The second part is inside the yurt, where a thermostat reads the room temp. When the air temp drops below whatever we have set it for, the thermostat turns on a water pump on the stove that pumps the hot water through an underground pipe, up through the floor of the yurt, and into this radiator.

It looks a little pitiful doesn’t it? Paul got it off the side of the road somewhere, no kidding. Someone was throwing it away. Let’s hear it for FREE! Paul keeps meaning to paint the poor thing, but honestly, that’s so low on the list of tasks it may never happen. Works great, though, so I’m happy.

Anyway, the radiator gets full of hot water which makes it…um…hot. The fan we’ve got tucked behind it blows the heat into the yurt. We can get about a 30 degree lift off this one, small radiator, which is surprising, given the volume of space in the yurt (16 foot tall ceiling!). The water then passes through the radiator and back to the tank—minus the heat it has left in the yurt—and this, cooler, water lowers the water temp in the tank. Which turns the fan on. Which stokes the fire. All in this endless feedback loop. See? Nifty.

Here’s the best part: when it’s cold and we’re keeping a fire going night and day, Paul loads the fire box once in the morning and once in the evening, and that’s it. The heater does the rest. Anyone who has lived with a wood stove knows the endless rounds of tending and feeding the fire, night and day. TIn comparison, twice in 24 hours is like a miracle.

One of the properties of water is that it takes a long time to change temperature, which is both good and bad for a waterstove. On one hand, it means that it takes a long time, several hours, for the radiator to start feeling warm if we’re starting from cold water. So heating takes a little planning. On the other hand, it also means that once you have heated all that water, you can save wood by letting the fire go out during the day (unless it’s really cold) and the radiator will continue putting out heat all day long, and even into the next day, because it takes so long for the water to cool back down. Which is really, really nice.

Honestly, we’re under using the stove—with another radiator we could get a lot more heat out of that water and into the yurt. A 30 degree lift is usually plenty for our mild climate, and we have the propane back-up to kick in if we need it, say on really cold nights. But, if we were to do it again, I would have scraped harder to find the money to put in the tubing under the floor that would have given us radiant floor heating, which we could have heated with the waterstove. With the whole floor as a heat transfer point, instead of one little radiator, we could get a lot more than a 30 degree lift when we wanted it. The stove could totally handle it. But at the time we had no idea we would get a waterstove, so I try to be easy on myself about it. House building is full of regrets. Oh well.

As it is, though, we can run pipes to the bathhouse, and to the new Noah House, and to any other buildings we put up that need heat, putting a small radiator in each, and heat all three structures with one fire. That’s cool. I mean, warm. In theory, we could heat our water with it, too. A waterstove-heated hot tub would be awesome.

Of course, entropy and the list of tasks being what it is, the heater might rust out by the time we get to any of that.

Although, we could always get another (used) stove when this one kicks it, and use the piping we’ve already laid, so we’re probably good either way. Given how happy we are with it, I’d be surprised if we didn’t replace this one. We call it Calcifer. What? You haven’t seen Miazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle? Go see it! It’s great. Or read Diana Wynn Jone’s book of the same title. It’s great, too!

In the interests of fair reporting, here’s one more downside to the heater: it uses a small amount of electricity to power the fan and the pump, so when the power goes out, without a generator or a battery set up, there’s no way to get the heat from the stove to the yurt. Which is one reason we keep our propane heater. (It’s also better for instant shots of heat, say when the mornings are chilly, but the day is going to be warm and we don’t need to fire up the whole heater.) So if the power comes and goes where you are, this may not be the best option, unless you hook it up to a solar panel or something, which we would love to do. So many projects, so little time.

But on the whole, we love it. Paul loads it up and we’re good for twelve hours. I don’t have to tend a wood stove during the day (or night, which we had to do at the farm house or the fire went out—that sucked), and we have no smoke, dirt, or wood in the house, just clean, radiant heat, bringing our propane bill down to very small, manageable amount. Highly recommended as an alternative to an in-house wood stove.

yurt in the snow

Six thirty this morning the kids are jumping all over me, “It snowed! It snowed!” A few minutes later I hear Sophie saying, “No Luc, you can’t go out into the snow in your underwear.” And I think, Okay, time to get up!

But their excitement is so infectious. If I walked outside and saw a fleet of hot air balloons go by, followed by a total solar eclipse, maybe my sense of wonder could match theirs. And the world is like that to them every day!

I know that for much of the country, a little snow is no big deal, but around here, there are winters we don’t get any snow at all. A snow that actually sticks for a couple of days is a huge event. Snow party!

Here, look at this. And understand that the reason these photos are so blue is that they were taken before the sun came up, because these kiddos were not waiting for anything! I was lucky just to get coats on them.

There he goes, running out into his first real snow, “Mama! Mama! Snow!”

Here is Sophie, so happy that she is just squealing.

Here is Fancy, mincing her way over to the hay, indignant at the whole thing.

Here is Paul, heading off to work.

Here is the yurt as I head back up the path.

We’re snug and happy today, drinking our hot cocoa. And it’s still falling!

Snow is what yurts were made for.

how to build a yurt (10 of 10)

I just realized I never finished posting the yurt raising pictures. Here is the last page, plus a bonus page of yurt interior shots, from that day.

This picture shows the last part, installing the walls. The interior panels have canvas on one side and insulation (the silver stuff) on the other side–you can see those going up on the upper left. Over that layer goes the super tough exterior fabric, that’s the brown/green panels. The windows are clear vinyl. In the bottom center shot you can see that when we started putting up the walls, we were putting them on inside out! Ooops. Re-do. We were the blind leading the blind.

But at the end of the day, it was accomplished.

Look at everyone, collapsed and drinking beer. Good work! I can’t believe Sophie was ever that small. You can see me, the preggo lady with the camera, in the center, looking out of the door that hasn’t had the fabric tucked in and screwed down yet. At the beginning of the day, there had been a platform, and at the end of the day there was a 700 square foot structure, ready for the next phase of turning it into a home.

And what was the next phase? Electrical, plumbing, cabinets and appliances for the kitchen, the giant bookcase/room divider and closets, the chimney for the propane heater. Etc. Despite Paul busting his bum to get it ready to move in to before Luc was born, we didn’t quite make it, by about three weeks. He was born in late October, and we got our certificate of occupancy mid-November. Whew. By Thanksgiving, we were living in our yurt, heads spinning from all the change in our lives.

But on this day in late May, the yurt was up. Pow. An old fashioned barn raising. I can never thank our family and friends enough for coming out that day!

And that’s how you build a yurt.

how to build a yurt (9 of 10)

The top photos show the roof going on. This huge, cone-shaped piece of heavy-duty vinyl stuff weighed a ton. The first pic on the top left shows the crew raising it up, one grueling inch at a time, to get it through the skylight. The picture on the middle right shows three strong guys popping their muscles to pull half of it into place. Aside from following the scant instruction manual, getting the roof fabric on was probably the hardest part.

The lower left pictures show Paul installing the five foot wide acrylic dome. We were getting on the afternoon by now and people were getting tired. But only the walls were left at this point….

how to build a yurt (8 of 10)

After lunch it was time to put up the the fabric layers, or the yurt skin. First came a layer of cotton canvas, which is what you see on the inside, the wall covering that shows behind the lattice. Next came the roof insulation–you can see that being lifted up to the top of the scaffolding in the lower left photo. It was put into place through the dome. The insulation is basically a heavy-duty, double-layer of bubble wrap, with foil on both sides. Basically, we live in a giant tin-foil hat, which keeps us safe, of course, from the government’s zombie rays.

I love the picture at the bottom of little Sophie, barely a year old, directing traffic. Next up, the roof and walls skins.