Yurt Living - Innovative, Inexpensive & Inviting
By Robert Frederick Lee
The yurt is finding a home in the catalogue of home options for North Americans who
have an inclination for unusual and eco-friendly living options.
Although the modern yurt design is based on the traditional Turkish yurt or Mongolia
ger, the new design offers several essential advantages over the time-honoured Asian
structure. Durable, fire-retardant, UV-resistant fabrics with lifespans of 15 to 20 years,
space-age foil-backed insulation that provide R-values exceeding R10, and creative
ventilation techniques using wind turbine roof vents, directional dome skylights,
customizable opening locations and durable plastic windows with zip-up rough weather
covers are just a few of the innovative improvements.
The yurt's round design, with walls and exo-skeleton held stable by the pressure of the
cone-shaped roof system that rests on wall top plate, provides lightweight structural
stability. A thin cable attached to the inside upper perimeter of the lattice wall & fabric
frame draws the walls inward while the weight of the roof structure pushes outward.
This stasis makes the building very stable in the most extreme winds.
Today's yurts are easy & inexpensive to heat, largely due to the decreased wind
resistance of the circular design and open-room concept. Yet, these homes are able to
incorporate either conventional heating systems or eco-friendly systems. Because many
yurt owners prefer to build in remote locations, the use of green energy, such as solar,
ground source geothermal or wind energy is essential.
Typically, yurt costs run from $11 per square foot to $23. This compares very favourably
to costs for conventional frame houses, with construction prices ranging from $60 to
$120 per square foot.
Yurts and gers were designed to be mobile. The ability to tear down and reassemble
these homes was a critical consideration for the nomadic homeowners who used them
over the centuries in the mountains of Asia. Similarly, modern yurts provide that same
flexibility, with average assembly time seldom exceeding five days. This versatility
means that the yurt is easy to set up in a remote area, but structurally sound enough to
live in year-round in the coldest climates.
Yet, these sophisticated high-tech tents are not without their problems. For the most
part, yurts cannot be built in an urban environment. Uniform building code standards,
albeit somewhat antiquated, generally discount these apparently fragile buildings as not
meeting code requirements. Restrictions on plumbing, electrical, durability, and ability to
withstand weather extremes have set a standard that most yurts do not meet.
To qualify as a structure that varies from standard code requirements, prospective
homeowners are required to hire engineers or architects to provide their stamp of
approval on the design. Not unlike western-trained doctors who resist eastern or
alternative medicines & treatments, many professional building designers are reluctant
to embrace, or even accept the yurt as a safe, well-designed home.
Some smaller centres, though, sometimes turn a blind eye to installation of a yurt home,
preferring to see it as a temporary structure, or define it as a storage building or
Yurts may have limited applicability or acceptance in our current housing environment,
but they do offer a viable alternative for a special niche of homeowner, and may hold
promise for those seeking low-construction, low-operation cost housing.
Bob is a former business consultant, who currently operates a pesticide-free,
herbicide-free market garden in Manitoba, Canada. He and his wife, Janice, have
designed and are building their own yurt, where they will live year-round. He is
recording his progress on his blog, http://movingtoayurt.blogspot.com
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