Guest Post: It Takes A Village To Build A Yurt

Today’s post comes from my new friend and new yurt dweller, Steven, who shares his story about how to build a yurt. His was the first yurt in his county with a building permit! Steven found out that he couldn’t get his yurt off the ground alone – he had a great support team. Here’s his story.

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I am sitting in my Rainier Yurt, a fire blazing in the stove. It is clear and cold out tonight, and the stars are shining brightly through the dome. My yurt is not completely finished, but I am enjoying a bit of rest now.

My journey to get here involved many twists and turns, but it was worth it. My yurt is the first yurt in Box Elder County, Utah to be built with a building permit. It seemed impossible to get a building permit, but the key is patience, willingness to learn the requirements, and “pleasant perseverance.”

The key to my success was to build a relationship with the building inspection department that allowed them to see my situation and desires, while I understood their situation and needs, too. I wanted the building inspection department involved at every step of the way and made sure they were comfortable with the direction I was going.

In the county where I live, a stick built home requires R30 insulation in the walls and R45 in the ceilings. I originally planned to build a log cabin. To meet these requirements, there had to be dual log walls. This put the cost out of reach for me. I started looking into a modular home, but they only had R30 ceilings and walls. I asked them about R45 in the ceilings, and they said they could engineer it for me, for a fee and additional cost at the factory.

I went back to the county building inspection department and said that the modular homes only have R30 ceilings and asked how they were meeting the requirement. The answer was the key that unlocked the door for me.

He said, “modular homes are controlled by the Federal Government, not us.”

pic1-e1387402068210Meaning that different types of structures have different code requirements. This led me to the yurt and the membrane covered frame construction building and the code requirements that govern them.

I gave the building inspectors a copy of Becky Kemery’s book Yurts, Living in the Round. I think this helped the building inspectors see that this is something happening all over the world. People love living in their yurts. They are a practical way to live economically. For slightly over $40,000, I am living in a new house, with new appliances, and all that anyone could really need.

Dana “The Yurt Girl” was another member of my team. She became my confidante and I could share with her my frustrations and setbacks. She was always positive and encouraged me to seek solutions and made helpful suggestions. This customer/suppler relationship is something that enabled my yurt to come into being. When you are searching for a supplier, look for that relationship.

Another member of my team was David Kirkhhof. He is a brilliant person who helps others build their yurts. When you need advice or help, his experience and knowledge is there for you. He even came and helped me erect my yurt in three days. It could have been done in two days if I had brought in some additional help. I had a crew of four, including me. I had poured the concrete piers and built the beams that attached to the platform before the yurt arrived.

pic2The first day of construction, we installed the SIPS (Structural Insulated Panel) floor system, which I bought from Rainier. We assembled it to the beams and put in the perimeter blocking, a 2×6 that we bent around the perimeter of the platform (when you know what you are doing, like David and the folks at Rainier, it is not as difficult as it sounds!).

The second day we put up the lattice walls, the rafters, and the compression ring. This went quite smoothly, once again, with the help of David. Rainier makes a “story strip,” which is really cool and makes putting up your yurt so straightforward. It is basically a label that your wrap around the perimeter of your platform that tells you exactly where everything should go. It’s as easy as putting together Legos!

pic3-e1387402089129The third day, we put on the liner, the insulation and the outer coverings. Once again the story strip, the organization, and the excellent design made this easy to do. It helps to have many hands to grapple with the cover and hope you have a calm day. The insulation is easily blown around in a breeze, particularly when you have a swirling breeze like we had!

As we finished up, the sun broke through the clouds and gave us a sign of approval with a bright sunset that lasted about a minute. Here the yurt from the street at the end of day 3.

pic4Working in the round is challenging sometimes, but there’s always a way around problems. For example, according to the plan, the walls and everything would be parallel with the beams. It was great on paper until we laid out the story strip and saw that the back door lined up perfectly with the clean-out for the septic system. Ooops! I rotated the whole design 55 inches and everything went as planned. The total delay was only 15-20 minutes.

For the interior, I put all the plumbing for the kitchen and bathroom in one 12 foot long wall. I built it out of 2×6’s so all the plumbing and electrical could get around each other. On the outside of the other wall of the bathroom, I put the washer/dryer and hot water heater, along with the electrical panel.

Another challenge was the cold winters here in northern Utah. I didn’t want the drain P-trap for the tub to freeze, so I built the tub on a 10 inch platform and kept the P-trap above the floor. Now I have a nice step up to get into the tub.

I have survived a week of below zero cold now (-20 degrees F), and I’ve learned many things already. One is that the temperature varies more in a yurt than a stick built home. You are closer to the natural cycle of cooler nights and warmer days. In the below zero weather, the temperature in the yurt gets down into the 50’s at night. I leave a load of wood burning in the woodstove and add a log or two during the night. In the morning, I build a fire in the stove again and it heats right up. During the days, the temperature inside is in the mid-70’s while the outside temperature is in the high teens or low twenties — I am working in my T-shirt!

I am totally comfortable. The feeling of spaciousness and the light from the dome make yurt living very pleasant. I love being self-reliant and living a more simple life.

Thank you, Rainier!