Word on the street is that the energy code is causing problems for yurt dwellers.
Some states in the US use the Uniform Building Code (UBC) but many states, provinces, and some countries use the ICC (International Code Council) rule books. The two ICC rulebooks are the IRC (International Residential Code) and IBC (International Building Code).
While the IBC establishes the basic requirements for exterior walls from a general building construction sense, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) updates in 2012 went further to address energy use in buildings. (Please note that since this post was published in 2014, codes have been updated again, however, those updates did not affect yurts. Future updates may change the information in this post!)
The beauty of the family of codes prepared by the International Code Council (ICC) is the two codes have been painstakingly reviewed to complement and not contradict each other. The IECC uses a similar format and language to the IBC, but also acknowledges the need to coordinate requirements.
The IECC addresses energy efficiency on several fronts including cost savings, reduced energy usage, conservation of natural resources, and the impact of energy usage on the environment.
The building code terminology for the yurt is “membrane-covered frame structure.” In order to be permitted, a yurt must meet requirements in the areas of snow load, seismic rating, wind speed, and fires safety, dependent on location. Other requirements like egress (emergency exit) and occupancy are dependent on the use of the yurt (residential, rental, or commercial).
Building code officials have no problem with the above provisions, but they do have a problem with insulation. They are being pushed to comply more strictly than ever before with the energy code, which regulates building design for adequate thermal resistance and low air leakage.
For yurt dwellers, it all boils down to the insulation.
They want the insulation to be R-38 in the roof and R-25 to R-35 in the side walls (depending on location it could be substantially higher or lower.) The reflective foil we offer is R-9 for a single layer and R-10 for double layer.
However, there is a provision in our favor: “it is intended that these provisions provide flexibility to permit the use of innovative approaches and techniques to achieve effective utilization of energy.”
If building officials see your yurt as a permanent residential dwelling, chances are they will want to regulate the energy code.
The good news is the code is not intended to restrict the use of materials, construction, design, or insulation system. But the construction, design, or insulation has to be approved by the code official.
I am hearing about building officials who are willing to work with yurt dwellers using alternative energy sources like solar power and hydro-radiant floor coils. They can be flexible … so getting on their good side form the start is essential!
Yurt dweller Steven Hatch experienced this when he attempted to get a building permit for his yurt in rural Utah. He went to the local county building inspection department and asked what he needed to do to get a building permit for his new yurt. They gave him a checklist of the requirements he would need to satisfy in order to comply.
From there he went to the Planning and Zoning Committee. This was the key to Steven’s success! He claims in his book, Practical Yurts: Building and Living in a Low Cost Alternative Structure: “working with the Planning and Zoning Committee in a small, rural area was helpful to me getting my permit. I think one might have more difficulty in a larger urban area. I don’t know that for sure, but that is my feeling.”
Steven used Rainier Yurt’s engineer to get site specific engineered drawings, showing that the yurt exceeded wind speed requirements, met the seismic requirements, and exceeded the snow load requirements. After much back-and-forth with the permit office, he worked through the perc testing and sewer permit with the Health Department.
Steven wrote: “The only issue remaining was how I was going to insulate the yurt. The building inspection people were thinking it needed R30 and R45 and it wasn’t going to meet that requirement.. I printed out a copy of Dana’s “Yurt Insulation” blog post that discussed the Radiant Barrier Insulation and gave them a copy of Becky Kemery’s book, Living in the Round, to study. I also directed them to the portion of the code dealing with membrane covered frame structures and let them work at their pace to study and approve the permit. It took them about a week and they gave me a call and told me to permit was ready to pick up.”
$1800 later, Steven was free to start construction of his Rainier Yurt.
My take away is don’t give up! If you are told there is no way you can get a permit for a yurt, ask what you NEED to do to get a permit and ask for their help.
For example: explore the skylight and French doors options to get more natural light into the yurt during daylight hours, requiring less electricity. Discuss limited demand options for hot water, electricity, and lighting. It’s a yurt we are talking about, not grandma’s rambler!
Ask questions – lots of questions! Start with mobile homes in the area – what R value to they have? Why are they calculated differently from stick built houses, but yurts have to comply with the R-value of a permanent residence? Is a yurt less permanent than a doublewide? Be persistent, share, teach, listen, learn, discuss. Repeat!
A mutually beneficial outcome just might happen when you educate the permit official about yurts and radiant barrier insulation and empower their help to assist you with complying with an alternative energy code using site-recovered energy and on-site renewable energy. Use your enthusiasm to explain to the official that alternative, sustainable, off-the-grid options will benefit the planet far more than your low R-value yurt will hurt the planet.
Give me a call if you need encouragement as you head to City Hall.
Enjoy the journey!
Yurts, Living in the Round by Becky Kemery
Practical Yurts by Steven Hatch
Architectural Record Continuing Education Center Article on IBC and IECC
2012 International Energy Conservation Code Requirements and Definitions: https://www.energycodes.gov/sites/default/files/becu/2012iecc_residential_BECU.pdf