Becky Kemery has lived in four different yurts in three states, through both harsh winters and scorching summers. She founded the North Idaho Public Forum on Sustainability, and her articles on natural building can be found online at alternativesmagazine.com. In her book, YURTS: Living in the Round, Kemery speaks as an insider who knows the pitfalls as well as the sheer joy of living in these beautiful round spaces. This book covers the history, evolution, and contemporary benefits of yurt living. Further information on yurts can be found at Kemery's website YurtInfo.org . She currently lives on a homestead in the mountains of north Idaho.
Q: I live in St.Croix, US Virgin Islands. I have been exploring so many options to build on some land I own here, from conventional poured concrete walls, to concrete and block, to a dome, and now, possibly a yurt. However, before I go any further with the yurt (Pacific Yurts seems to build a quality home), I am most curious as to how well a yurt can hold up in a hurricane, particularly if all possible bracing, stabilization, reinforcing, etc, is utilized. Do you have an idea of what would need to be done to give it the best chance of surviving a hurricane here in the Caribbean, and up to what wind speed a yurt may hold up under the best, and under the worst conditions? The yurt is very economical and goes up quickly, and can be quite nice---this is a relief to other options on the island.
A: There's a two-part answer to the hurricane question:
* You have found a good company in Pacific Yurts and will want to discuss this matter with them. I'm pretty sure they'll recommend some form of wind and snow load kit, which is engineered to withstand both strong winds and heavy snow loads. Pacific Yurts sells to lots of ski resorts, where there are often exceptionally high winds. I'm sure they will give you good advice and can provide some engineering specs, if that is what you want.
I've had some stories come through my website (forum and email) about fabric yurts that were damaged in recent wind storms. Upon reflection, I would suggest not using a fabric yurt if you are concerned about hurricanes; rather, I think a frame panel wooden yurt would provide the aesthetic and perhaps some of the economy that is desired while at the same time creating the necessary stability for a high wind situation. I think a round home is his best bet by far for a hurricane situation...
Q: My dad recently retired and acted on a longtime dream to live in a yurt. He built two 30' diameter yurts in Tulare County, California. One is for living in, one is a shop, connected by a covered walkway. He went to the county permit office before he started on them, and they said they had nothing on yurts. He explained what he wanted to do, and they said there was nothing on the books saying he couldn't. I don't think he asked the right question, as anything over 120 square feet in California requires some kind of permit. Be that as it may, a building inspector happened by today and really dug into him. He's using solar, composting toilets, and a gray water system, and propane. He thought everything through, except what the county would do. He's a recently retired ER doctor, and had built three regular houses singlehandedly before. His plan was to build the yurts, move into them, and sell his house. He built the yurts on my grandparent's property in the middle of a plum orchard, but planned to take them down as soon as my grandparents pass on--they're 92, but doing fine.He has no objection to paying for permits or taxes for school or anything else, but he could sure use any references or people to talk to you might know of that might help him get through the process he's about to go through, if it is possible to get through. He worked everyday for 18 months to complete them, and they're very nice. My mom's friends all thought she wouldn't want to move into yurts, but once they saw them, they've all been impressed.In any case, I know my dad probably could have done a bit more homework before going ahead and building them in terms of the rules in California, but what's done is done, and will be all undone if he can't find a way to get everything in compliance. If you know anyone who has gone through something similar, or may be able to advise, I would deeply appreciate it.
A: Here's what I would advise:
Q: My question pertains to yurt living in Utah. I live in a very small incorporated town - Boulder, Utah that is wrestling with yurt living and building codes. (Yurts that have been around for a number of years previous to the current controversy seem to be allowed as long as they are 100 yds. from a house with septic facilities.) Last year, after a series of town meetings (some rather heated) the planning committee decided that they were not interested in creating ordinances for alternative housing and that as long as yurts could meet the county building codes - based on the UBC - that they would be allowed. No one in the town really knew what that meant and as the newest yurt dwelling resident of Boulder, I volunteered to be the test case. I've recently heard that the new UBC codes may actually have a section on yurts. Is this so and if it is, what does it entail?
A: (Jeff Ruppert) Since the year 2000, the latest versions of the code are the International Building Code (IBC) and related subcodes. I did a text search of the code on a computer and there is no reference to "yurt." Your building department may still be using the Uniform Building Code (UBC) which was ended in 1997. There is a new version of the IBC (as was the case for the UBC) every three years. The latest version is 2006.
Yurts are a type of building that is in the "gray area" for codes. Depending on where you live, they can either be a temporary or permanent structure, per code. The main issues that determine what it is are
Don't expect to be able to put up any structure that is not up to code as being permanent on your land. Many people struggle with this same issue and the fact is, if the building department will let you do it, you are very lucky. I don't have a silver bullet for this issue. I wish I did, but it can be creative working within the system and getting as close as possible to a solution that is acceptable by both sides.
Q: I am wanting to buy a yurt that is fully permitted and with foundation post and beam into the land. It is in Hawaii but I am having trouble getting financed for this unique kind of home? Any referrals? I wanted a home loan for 30 yr term.
A: (Kelly) Interestingly, I just finished reading a marvelous new book ( Yurts: Living in the Round ) about yurts written by Becky Kemery (she also has a website: http://www.yurtinfo.org ), where she discusses the problems of getting conventional financing on yurts. Because they are generally portable structures without a conventional foundation, banks are wary of loaning money on something that might walk away. She suggests approaching the loan officer with the term "non-conforming house" as opposed to yurt, and have lots of nice pictures to show how solid it appears.
Q: We would like to make earth/clay floor for our traditional Mongolian yurt. Any advise on how it can be done will be greatly appreciated.
A: (Janine Bjornson) If you do not have any experience making an earth floor I would suggest purchasing a booklet on the process. Bill and Athena Steen of the Canelo Project have a booklet on earthen floors. Their web address is: www.caneloproject.com .
Some basics tips that I think are important: -Testing, testing, testing!! I always make several different large (1 yard or metre square) tests. I lay them out at the thickness you will pour the floor in. I try a different recipe for each test. When they dry I can see which tests crack, crumble, or are hard and crack-free (how I want them to be). Then I know the recipe I will use when I pour the real floor. Testing, and RECORDING your testing is one of the most important things.
-Find a good clay soil source. The better your clay soil, the more durable your floor will be. If the soil does not have enough clay content, the floor will be crumbly. If the soil is too silty, the floor may be dusty.
- I lay my floors in three stages. A base coat mix (1.5 inches thick), a secondary base coat mix (1.5 inches thick), and then a top coat (.5 inches thick). It doesn't matter too much if the base coats crack, but your really want that top coat perfect (hard, dust-free, crack-free).
Q: What is your opinion of yurts (Americanized version) for living in year round (in NE Minnesota - cold in winter, moderate snowfall, can be humid in summer)? I like the idea but wonder about the practicality (though the manufacturers say it is do-able).
A (Kelly): I like yurts and the feeling of the space inside of them. There are several manufacturers of these, and some of them do claim they can be used in cold climates. It's all a matter of insulation, so that is what you mainly need to pay attention to. I have yet to see a fabric yurt that I would want to spend a cold winter in...but they may exist. You might see if you can get references to former customers who can can ask about their experience.
C: (Howie Oakes) Just wanted to say thanks for posting a link to us at GoYurt Shelters. We are pretty small (my wife and myself) and can use all help we can get! We are focused on getting back to the original intent of the nomadic Ger...to be a truly portable home! I am not sure if you saw it on the site, but we just became the first yurt company to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. All of our wood going forward is going to be local and certified responsibly harvested. We are also 100% pvc free. It was surprising how pervasive pvc is in many of the materials we looked at...
Q: I have bought a 30' diameter yurt from a family run business in Virginia to erect in the woods of the ashram. I know that these portable tents are traditionally laid on the ground but that won't pass muster with the Miss's and it is too wet here. So, I am trying to brainstorm as 'natural' as can be foundation that will allow for drainage and insulation. On site there is medium to large stone and salvaged 10" by 10" barn beams and 2" by 6"'s. I'm hoping that you guys might know of online or 'inmind' resources that I can add to my search.
Q: I am currently in the States and looking to reside out of the country. My little family and I are not rich people but we are looking to live as self-sufficient as possible. We have struggled for years to survive, and like the idea of either earthships or yurts. Based on the limited budget we have, to start with the yurts seem to be our best option. I would greatly appreciate some sound advice on how we should pursue our venture.
A: I think you are right, a fabric yurt is a great starting place. They are relatively inexpensive and fairly portable, so that if you have to move you can take your shelter with you. You can also purchase a yurt while you have an income coming in and then store it until you are ready to move to your new location. The most challenging part will be building the platform, unless you purchase a "camping yurt" that comes with a groundcloth.
Q: I have a yurt and really love it. Unfortunately, the mice do also. They chew on everything in the yurt, including the wooden floor. Any suggestions?
I'm wondering how mice are getting into your yurt. My experience with yurts is that they are much more mouseproof to begin with than conventional homes. The only mice I ever had in my yurts were those that my cat actually brought in.
My husband and I are going to be caretaking property in Montana, at about 6500'. We have been looking at housing options that are quick AND affordable. I have always been intrigued by round houses, and I am fascinated by yurts.
Q: I've been wondering if green houses could be completely self reliant with utilites or not. I've done minor studying on such things as windmills and windows that would allow the sun to heat the house and so forth, but I was wondering if a yurt per say, such as those from the Colorado Yurt Company could be entirely self reliant on all utilites?
A: (Kelly) Yes, it is possible to design a home that is completely independent of outside utilities. This has been the goal of Earthship designs for several decades. Many other passive solar homes also incorporate PV panels for renewable electricity, rainwater catchment systems for water, greywater recycling systems and composting toilets deal with waste materials ...so it is possble. A yurt that was built with insulated passive solar glazing, was well insulated in general, and incorporated some of the above features could also approach this goal.
Q: I am researching fabrics that can be used for yurt wall and roof material, still nonpermeable and able to withstand harsh elements, but pvc-free. I know that Red Sky Shelters offers these fabrics, but I am looking for an actual manufacturer in order to purchase for our company like Red Sky Shelters does. I understand that as a business, it's not in their best interest to share where they do their buying. Do you have any insight?
A: You have obviously done your homework--Peter at Red Sky Shelters is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry re: fabrics, and generously shares his knowledge. You've probably been on his website page dealing with architectural fabrics, where he lists all the alternatives to PVC coatings.
Q: I'm an art student looking for an environmentally positive (and cheap) way to pursue the creative lifestyle. It turns out that living in yurt is something I want to do long term (hopefully for a year, and then I'll see from there), instead of just for vacationing. My problem is- I can't find anywhere that will let me stay. As I am a college student, there isn't exactly spare money left over to buy land, and I'm not too keen on communes because I don't want someone telling me how to live. My original dream was to find an organic farm that would lease a small part of their property in exchange for labor, but nobody seems too into my idea. Is there an alternative that I'm not aware of?
A: You're not alone in your idea of putting a yurt up on someone's land, which is why there's a "Yurt Communities" thread on the yurtinfo.org Forum. The idea is that you can go there and see if anyone's posted land available in places in which you're interested, or you can start a thread with a statement of what you're looking for, and see if you get any responses. I'd try researching and listing on "Craig's List" as well. It's hard to respond with more specifics without knowing the region in which you're looking. If north Idaho is of interest, you might check out Medicine Circle Eco-Retreat as a possibility.
Q: Recently I purchased a used yurt. But it is missing the dome. The cover is a thick vinyl and is yellow and blue. The yurt diameter is 18'. Is there any way to ascertain who manufactured this yurt? However, I may be optimistic here; I may have been scammed. After we purchased it and unrolled everything, it looks more like a yurt-like sales tent. How can I tell?
A: From your description of the yurt and it's diameter, it sounds like you purchased a home-built version rather than one made by an actual yurt manufacturer. 18' is not a standard yurt diameter (they usually run 12', 16', 20 or 21', 24', 27' and 30, depending on the company). It's difficult to tell you more without seeing a picture of it. Most home-built yurts don't use an acrylic dome but rather have a (usually) diamond-shaped covering that can be pulled across the roof hole in case of rain or weather. Whether or not you got "scammed" depends in part on how much you paid for the yurt and what they promised in their advertising. Hopefully everything else (besides the dome) is there and the yurt will provide a useful space for your needs. Good luck!