A Home, Yome, Yurt, The Several Thousand Year Old House & Our Experience
Living in the round is an ancient form of domicile. We take it on with a modern twist, assembling a yurt during the spring of 2010. What better lifestyle for a modern day nomad?
Lightweight and movable, yet very strong and warm they make the ideal home for the nomadic herdsman of Mongolia. The superior design was noticed and made it’s way to the states in the early 60s. Today they can be found nationwide, housing every demographic of people, with every possible use from disaster shelters to vacation rentals.
Yurts have been used for thousands of years and in dozens of configurations throughout the Asian continent. Great rulers such as Genghis Khan even slept in one as he and his horde of Mongols conquered the land spreading Mongolian culture and genetics through the continent. The reason for the successful propagation of the yurt was due to the simple yet efficient design. Covered in felted wool with a strong lattice wall, round equally spaced rafters and a central roof ring to hold it all together, the yurt was the most efficient way to live. It was highly mobile and could be put up and taken down in a matter of hours. Once up, it provided ideal and strong protection from the fierce elements outside.
Sometime in the early 60s, Bill Coperthwaite, a teacher in New Hampshire saw a National Geographic article about Mongolia and it’s indigenous people’s use of Yurts. The design fascinated him as they could be built cheaply and made great community building tools. After teaching in New Hampshire, he went to California and a group of like-minded individuals and perfected the North American yurt. Today, some of these individuals are the leading producers of commercial yurts in the US. Bill Coperthwaite eventually formed the Yurt foundation and currently lives in Eastern Maine in his own three tiered wooded yurt.
It’s built to Modern Standards?
Yurts today share much in common with the traditional structures in Mongolia. They both have lattice walls, rafters, a central ring, and a flexible covering. The difference is that they are larger and feature modern technology into the design. Modern yurts are covered with a high-tech poly-vinyl covering that is rated for 15 years. They are insulated with a NASA designed foil covered bubble wrap that reflects cold out while reflecting heat back in. They also can be equipped with traditional plumbing and wiring. Also, they feature a 5-foot bubble dome in the middle instead of being left open as is traditional.
Traditional yurts generally rested the roof rafters on the lattice walls to dissipate huge snow load equally. This generally worked well until a rafter or weak part of the wall let go under load. Modern yurts have a strong aircraft cable run along the top of the wall to dissipate any load across the entire structure. The yurts strength is not just limited to snow load but also applies to wind loading. In a traditional square house, the wind has many places to catch and add pressure to. In a severe storm a house can easily blow down. The yurt does not suffer from those problems as it is naturally aerodynamic. The wind has no place to catch and simply swoops around it. Some manufactures say the yurts are rated for at least 140mph. We read in the Yurtco testimonials about a yurt that survived a 180km typhoon. You can read about it here; half way down the page
But it’s a tent? Yeah, it’s a tent by definition, but it’s much stronger and watertight. The roof is only good for about 15 years, but the roof on a house is only good for about 20. Besides, replacing the yurt roof is a two person job that costs about $2000 to do while a house runs about a cool $10K. Even the sides last approximately 10 years and also cost about $2000 to replace. Depending on square footage, siding a house is $15K
Living in a yurt is different. It is small, so anyone wishing to live in one has to lose quite a bit of crap. If you go from a 3000 sqft house to a 500 sq foot yurt like the author, be prepared to lose 95% of your possessions. The benefits are great though. If you love the outdoors, you find yourself living in them full-time. You will hear the wind, the rain will at times be deafening, You will hear a leaf hit the roof and slide off. You will hear birds, animals and generally anything that goes on outside. You will be connected to the natural world in ways you can never imagine. In today’s society we are isolated from our roots. We know little about the natural world around us. A great first step for reconnecting to the natural environment would be to move into a Yurt.
So how much for one of these things?
Yurts are a great way to get your own place for a fraction of the cost of a traditional framed structure. They range in price from a couple thousand for a used small one to around 20k for a nicely equipped new one. You then add in all the extras like wiring, plumbing, flooring and you will have added about another 10K. The biggest issue we can see is that “the man,” the banks and insurance companies, will not lend money or insure a “tent” so you are generally on your own. On the flip side though, the “tent” is not considered a permanent structure so the “Man” also cannot tax it, impose building standards, or ordinance. So you can generally do what you want with it, gratis. Screw you taxman!!
Yurts have gained in popularity over the past few years and are now featured in several state parks nationwide including Oregon, Washington, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, as well as dozens of private campgrounds as well. For the really adventurous, take a trip to Mongolia and take a horse trek out to stay in a real Ger with the nomadic Mongolians. Be sure to have some fermented mares milk while you are there!! That stuff will kick your ass!!
Where do I get one, how do I find out more?:
To find out about yurts, the history, design and so on go to http://www.yurtinfo.org/. We suggest checking out all the different manufactures as they have different features and quality standards. We also suggest going with an established manufacturer as they will probably still be around if and when you need some parts or service. Here are a couple options: Pacific Yurt, Colorado Yurts, Rainier Yurts. We suggest Pacific Yurts as they are the best compromise between price, quality, and longevity. They are also the one we chose and now personally live in a Pacific designed yurt. If you do decide to get one, be sure to mention our name for a referral. No matter who you go with, you will not be disappointed in your decision. It is a life changing move that we highly recommend.
- Yurts: Eco-Conscious Harmony (thegreenists.com)
- 5 Yurt Escapes (apartmenttherapy.com)
- Yurt Living: Solutions to Mold Fears (feelgoodstyle.com)
- Beyond Genghis Khan: exploring Inner Mongolia (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
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