How To Build A Yurt

Thanks to for the prompt to write this up!

I began working with a pagan intentional community, with the intention of creating and living in a sustainable ecovillage, around 2002.  That group was called Sacred Fire Sanctuary, and it formed, dissolved and reformed a couple of times (and spent a lot of time talking about goals and ideals and community) before merging into a new group, La Querencia, which intended to do the same thing in the context of also providing for reserved pagan festival land.  La Q had over 20 members, and it developed a complex structure of bylaws and membership agreements, but it became increasingly clear to those of us in the ecovillage group within La Q that our goals were not entirely compatible with the goals or structure of La Q as a whole.  In the fall of 2006, the ecovillage group splintered away from La Q and formed a new group, Glowing Oak.  That group made an offer on a piece of property outside of Mora, NM: 313 acres of incredibly beautiful high-altitude forest, encompassing a steep canyon with a small off-grid underground house, and a nearby mountain peak.  The offer was negotiated for over 6 months with the seller before it became clear to us that the seller had done nothing to meet the terms of closing.  At the same time, it also became clear to us that our group infrastructure was flawed and our lack of a cohesive unified vision (something that Sacred Fire and La Q both had created, but that Glowing Oak overall never got its act together to create) were causing conflict within the group.  People had doubts.  Some of those doubts were personal, some were financial; the upshot of the whole thing was that we backed out of the real estate contract (free from penalty, since the seller had not acted on the road easement or other terms of closing) and broke up. 

And then what?  by then, my partner of 4 years, Matt, and I had broken up (this was a key ingredient, but by no means the only one, in the dissolution of Glowing Oak), and I was moving in with Alan, .  Alan and I still both wanted very much to manfest our dreams: to create an ecovillage, to live in community.  But what could we do without that community?  Dave and Leslie had opted to focus on their own newly-bought house south of Albuquerque; Kimi had moved to Lama Foundation outside of Taos, other members were each moving in their own directions, and were not strongly drawn to continue working together.  We decided to do one of two things: find land in the mountains we could afford on our own and forge ahead anyway, or find farmland in Albuquerque’s agricultural South Valley that we could afford on our own or with a small —small— group of communitarians, and manifest the ecovillage on a smaller scale.  We invited to continue pursuing the ecovillage goal with us, but she was not drawn to work inside the glow of the city lights from Albuquerque, and had begun to explore other options in her own life, which have now led her to pursue a year of internship on an organic farm in Japan.  Meanwhile, I revived an old conversation with , who had always been interested in the ecovillage, if only it were in or near town, not hours away in the mountains.  Well, that conversation panned out.  Four months later, , , myself and purchased 3.5 acres of long-neglected farmland in the South Valley.  We’re in sight of the city lights, but we have enough stars at night to feel like we’re out of the city (and we’re outside the city limits in a legal/building code sense as well).  Our place has a small house, which we made some rennovations to (we resurfaced a hardwood floor and tiled a bedroom), and then moved into.  Since moving in, we’ve installed a compost toilet, a comprehensive greywater system, and set up my yurt. 

This yurt has been the focus of my life for the last two months, but part of my life for 3 years.  In 2004, when conversation with Sacred Fire was heating up and La Querencia was emerging, I decided that i would need something to live in on the land while i built my cabin.  Since Matt makes yurts, and i’d been helping with that and camping in his yurt for a couple years at that point and had fallen in love with the sturdy circular structure, I decided to join him and in building one for myself.  we were also joined by , and later by .  It took three years of working about two sunday afternoons a month–i’m sure you could build one in much less time if you gave it more steady application than that.  :)  Matt’s most recent yurt, a commissioned 20′ hardwood yurt, took him 4 months from inception to set-up, working mostly 20-30 hour weeks.  The dream changed shape, but i’m still grateful and happy that i decided to build a yurt, as it’s now functioning as my bedroom, auxillary to the house at Sunflower River. 

So here’s how a yurt is put together. 

Quick glossary of yurt-terms used here:

Kana: wall section (4 per yurt, each made of 25-33 individual slats, total of 96 slats/yurt)
Un: roof pole. plural: uni.
Ger: actual Mongolian word for a yurt. The word yurt is some sort of Anglicized interpolation.

What kinds of construction/woodworking knowledge are necessary?

Most of it requires only basic woodworking skills. The answer really depends on how you make your door & hub: that’s the most complex part of the woodworking. For the walls and roof poles, you need to know how to operate (or have access to someone who will operate for you) a table saw, compound mitre saw, drill press, and sanders—and a paint brush and a bucket of polyurethane. We used a belt-sander to rough-sand everything, and palm sanders for the finish sand. You could do all of it with palm-sanders if wanted/needed, though it would take longer. For the poles we also used a draw knife to strip the bark off the pine branches. You need the hand-strength and patience to tie about 300 knots from 1/2″ braided nylon rope to tie the kanas together. I hired Matt to do this for me (it was a month when he needed money and i needed it done), and Matt did the table-sawing to reduce big boards into 1×2″ slats for the kanas, back at the beginning when we were workshopping all the yurt-work for myself, Ezra, Leiah and Matt’s yurts all at once.

The hub and door require more complex skills, possibly including design skills, though there are plenty of designs out there to copy–in which case, you simply need good Google-fu to find them. :) And you could just get an old door and cut it down on a table-saw; you’d still need to build a frame, but that would make the door fast & easy.  Depending on how you did the frame, you’d need at least the above-mentioned tools, plus possibly a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut those little bits out (though for really small stuff, a hand-held hacksaw will do the job fine), and of course a small drill, wood glue, screws and clamps, and the knowledge of how to cut and fit things so they form a cohesive whole and a very exact right-angle; precision matters for doors.

My hub is a 4×6″ chunk of wood cut into 16 wedges which form a circle, each of which has a hole drilled out (on the drill press, before being put together) for the uni to fit into. It’s glued and screwed together, and there’s plywood on top of it (more glue and screws) to hold all the pieces together. When it cracked at the seams, Don added a piece of attractive laminate plywood on the bottom (which faces into the yurt) for the same reason; this was an extremely good idea, and strengthens the hub considerably. There are lots of other hub designs out there, and it is entirely possible that there are better designs than this one. Certainly this isn’t the traditional design, which is wider, lighter-weight, thinner, and uses 3 times as many (small, thin) roof poles. :)  The design of this one is quite pretty, though.  ;)

What tools were essential? Did you already have most of them, or did you buy/borrow/rent?

Between Matt’s tools and ‘s woodshop (in the beginning), followed by ‘s workshop, followed by & ‘s available tools and some borrowing from Ezra, we have had almost everything we needed at every stage of the process.  I’ve bought some small tools along the way, as did Ezra.  I don’t think we’ve rented anything.  Mind you, this has taken 3 years, and the shop moved 3 times.  We borrowed a table saw for a year or so from another friend who had no storage space for his.  More recently, I needed a compound mitre saw (something Matt has that we used a lot in making the kanas & hub, that i no longer have access to, as he is now in Chama) while building the deck, and in the absence of one, finished the job with the more-unwieldy circular saw,and then complained about that.   That’s how it came about that and bought me a compound mitre saw last month. :)

What kinds of sewing knowledge are necessary?

I came into this with a very rudimentary understanding of sewing and i managed okay.  i can operate a sewing machine, but i started this by getting a lesson in sewing-machine threading and bobbin-winding from more experienced friends.  it’s not beautiful, but it will do.  I know a lot more about sewing machines now.  pulled my ass out of the fire a couple times when the canvas was breaking needles every ten inches.  Lesson: use *leather* needles (not “canvas” needles), keep a half-dozen extras on hand, use upholstery thread, a zig-zag stitch, don’t go fast, and don’t tug the canvas (cause it’ll break the needle, what with the roof weighing about 50 lbs).  Tools to cut and sew relatively heavy outdoor canvas are called for, including an awl and grommet kit.  I used an old Kenmore sewing machine we scored on Freecycle, and the machine held up admirably and appears to have forgiven me for sewing 250 square feet of roof together on it, not to mention for hemming plastic with canvas.  Matt had a 40′ square of canvas (which he scored on Freecycle), from which we cut a circle with a wedge out of it for the cone of the roof, and then we cut the walls from the remainder, and used the surplus sq footage to cut walls for a second yurt. :)  The walls are rectangles, and required only hemming and the placement of grommets along their top and side edges.  The roof required one long seam from circumference to center, to make it into a cone, and then the hemming.  That’s 50′ of hem.  :)  Then it required grommets along its circumference as well.  The roof and walls tie together with grommets.  Matt’s windows are sewn in, but I didn’t feel like sewing plastic, so i sewed velcro strips onto the walls and glued matching strips onto the window plastic, and the windows velcro on.  They’re quite strong, and considerably more wind-tight than the ones on Matt’s current yurt, which tie down at the corners and otherwise permit the wind to enter.  His have screens, mine don’t.  I didn’t like the screens; they eliminate a lot of light and wind.  In summer, I’d rather have wind and light, even if i have to deal with bugs.  Screen could be easily attached later, too.   The last step with the canvas was to cut the tip of the cone off the roof—i set the roof up on the ground, put the canvas on it, and cut it to fit the hub.  I folded the canvas into itself at the hub and, in the set-up process, screwed the canvas onto the hub. This arrangement is protected from excess weathering and weight by the installation of the chimney flashing on top of it all–i’ll get to that in the section on the stove.  :)  Grommets up here would have been smart (prevent canvas from tearing or stretching against the screws over time and wind), but didn’t happen.  Instead, the chimney flashing (a large steel plate) is screwed down outside of the row of screws that hold the canvas down, which should help distribute the canvas-weight further, and also help prevent that part of the canvas from moving much in the wind.

I wish i had taken photos in 2004 when Dawn, Matt and i spent an entire night to finish sewing his green & yellow yurt roof the day before a camping event, with all 16 insanely-thick roof seams, each double-seamed, each 8′ long, on the floor of my 11′ livingroom with a sale walmart sewing machine.  :)  that machine hated us, and eventually it gave out entirely, but Dawn coaxed it into finishing the roof and most of the walls (a week or so later) before it died.  my whole job that night was to hold the very thick, army-surplus oiled canvas perfectly flat, so the machine would accept it while Dawn sewed and Matt finished the frame by lamp light in the back yard.  that canvas makes a great roof in some ways, but it gets musty, and it weighs too much–that roof canvas as a whole weighs over 150 lbs.  Mine is more like 50, and has only one seam.  :)  Now that years have gone by and the green and yellow yurt has weathered a lot of camping events in the meantime, those seams have also proven to be a source of small holes that leak when it rains. 

This is Matt’s yurt, set up at a camping event in the Jemez in 2005.  Note not only the complexity of the walls & roof in terms of sewing, but also the complexity (and beauty) of the door.   Also the skylight: my yurt has a chimney right there instead.  This, however, was set up as a camping yurt. Since everyone always asks: it takes Matt and me about one hour to set up, and about 45 minutes to break down.  times do not include time spent lugging it across the entire festival to a remote spot in the trees.  that was bonus. :)   i’ve seen complex dome tents and pavilions take longer to set up.  The yurt takes more than an hour if we have help from people who have never set up a yurt, especially if there are a lot of them. 

Matt's yurt in Jemez Mtns.

What materials did the yurt require, and what were you unable to get used?

The walls are made of 96 full-size kana slats.  These are 72.5 inches long (six feet and one half inch), and the corner has been cut off at the top so that the part pressing against the canvas is flat and smooth.  They’re 1″ thick by 2″ wide.  Then there are the small slats at both corners of each of the kanas, total of 32 various shorter-length sticks.  These vary in size, getting shorter as they approach the corner, so the kana is a rectangle, not a trapezoid. :)  once cut, these are marked and drilled with 1/4″ holes at the points where they will cross each other (we took a slat off of matt’s old yurt for an Example Stick and used it as a stencil).  Then they are sanded, the edges smoothed, and 3 coats of polyurethane applied.  We put a request for long scrap wood out on Freecycle, having built previous yurts from mostly alleyway reclaimed lumber (picture me and matt driving up and down alleys in my VW with piles of the long boards from abandoned mattress box springs sticking out the side window).  Dumpster diving at construction sites, especially rennovations that involved someone taking out a hardwood floor, was particularly rewarding.  However, we got a reply on Freecycle that led us to an entire truckload of *free* really excellent decking lumber, most of it 2×12″ x 12′ long, so that 24 slats could be cut from each board.  Matt put in some long hours on the table saw turning those boards into kana slats.  That truckload (we piled it on) provided wood for walls for me, Dzra & Leiah, for the price of going and getting it. :)  The slats of the walls are tied together at the junctions (there are four rows of junctions, two rows are tied) with 1/4″ braided nylon rope.  Traditionally, they use sinew; that would rot fast in this climate.  The braided rope frays less than woven rope, and is further prevented from fraying because the ends of each knot are warmed with a lighter for a second–just long enough to fuse together.  hence, nylon: the plastic in it actually helps.  The kana sections attach to each other and the door frame with the assistance of 3″, 1/4″ hex bolts with washers and wingnuts.  Six bolts per connection, so 30 altogether.

How the walls connect to the door (bolts & eyebolts), and the tension cable, including details of the door frame, and rope knots that hold the kanas together:

the mystery that holds the yurt together: the tension wire, strung through the kanas

And a detail of the knot pattern, showing also a column of bolts connecting two kanas to each other.  There are five rows of rope knots, of 7 rows of Xs.


The roof poles are 8′ long (or a bit over, but no less for a 16′ yurt).  These we bought new, from a local lumber company that offers sustainably harvested local pine, Groff lumber.  The poles are cedar and ponderosa branches, about 2.5 inches diameter, tapering in slightly towards the hub.  We bought branches with the bark still on, cut them to length, and skinned them with a draw-knife.  Then they were rough-sanded on the belt sander (thank you, Ezra!) and the irregularities smoothed out (not the beetle tracks, those are lovely, but the parts that were not round were made more round), and the ends were shaped to be the same size as the holes they need to fit into.  Then the poles were finish sanded, coated with linseed oil for beauty and moisture-preservation in this dry climate, and then 3 coats of polyurethane were applied.  Everything for this process was bought new: lumber, linseed oil, polyurethane (and, actually, a draw knife; i decided it would be a handy thing to own).

This shows how the walls and roof poles connect to each other, with a loop of rope on the interior of the X that the un rests in:

A few years before I started on my yurt, Matt had run a similar series of workshops in which Ezra & Jessica participated.  Somewhere along the line, Jessica decided not to build her own yurt, and ordered one online instead.  So there were these parts left from her workshops, the hub and the roof poles.  We finally managed to get together and work out a trade for the hub.  The poles had wintered unfinished in the open, and were cracked beyond useability, but the hub had been more protected and was already finished (polyurethaned) and was fuctional.  So i didn’t make my hub; Matt & Jessica made it a few years prior.

However, it is made from a 4 ft 4×6″ of wood cut into 16 wedges which form a circle, each of which has a hole drilled out (on the drill press, before being put together) for the uni to fit into.  It’s glued and screwed together, and there’s plywood on top of it (more glue and screws) to hold all the pieces together.  When it cracked at the seams last month, Don added a piece of attractive laminate plywood on the bottom (which faces into the yurt) for the same reason; this was an extremely good idea, and strengthens the hub considerably, and Matt expressed much relief when he saw it.  He is redesigning his hubs for future yurts. 

This photo illustrates the design of the hub, the way the uni fit into it, and also the way the chimney’s ceiling pass-through box is framed in and insulated.  :)

My door is custom made, by Matt, to fit the yurt.  It’s just under 5′ tall (the walls, when the yurt is set up, are 5′ tall, so that’s the height of the whole frame). The frame is four pieces of wood: the two uprights, the lintel and the threshold.  The threshold is a 2×8, shaped into partial roundness and finished.  The lintel is two pieces of 2×8, cut into a gentle arch and fitted to each other and the uprights with glue & screws.  The uprights are 4″ wide, and about 2″ thick.  The door itself has a plexiglass window (and is already notched for a second pane, for further insulation), which does not open.  His door, on his own yurt, does have a window that opens, and his is a full arch made of many many small pieces of wood.  Because of all the joins, it requires regular attention.  My door is made of reclaimed hardwood flooring.  We had to add bulk to the edge of the frame in order to install the doorknob (a conventional lever knob). I found the plexiglass for the windows, which was cut to size on the table saw.  :)  The roof pole directly above the door is screwed to the frame.  See the photo under Kanas for side detail on the frame. 

Tension Cord:
The walls and roof hold each other together with the vital assistance of a 50′ length of 1/4″ coated steel cable.  The importance of this piece of the frame can’t be overemphasized; it takes the weight of the roof poles and distributes it around the circumference of the kanas while simultaneously holding the kanas upright.  The strength and flexion of the yurt derives as much from this cable as from the walls themselves.  We bought it new.  it’s attached to the door frame with two eyebolts and two caribeaners, shown in the photo under Kanas.

Canvas & Windows:
I used #12 canvas that Matt found on Freecycle.  The 16′ yurt has a bit less than 500 square feet of surface area.  My walls are in four sections–so it goes, door, wall, window, wall, wall, window, wall, door.  For the windows, i bought new clear plastic sheeting at a local hardware store and applied thin canvas folded around the edges and hemmed, to protect the edges and provide some visual consistency (and hide the velcro).  As detailed above, the windows and walls are attached to each other with 2″ wide velcro strips, 5′ long, so the window can be rolled up to any desired height and tied there, or removed altogether.

The apparently-exposed silver is actually protected by the clear plastic window. Now that we’ve had a good rain, the color on that overdyed wall has mellowed out a bit, too, more stucco-colored.  I don’t have photos since the rain yesterday, though. :)

Solar Guard radiant insulation, r-10, purchased new, wrapped around the yurt for the walls, folded, stapled and tucked where it overlaps the first 1′ of roof.  We did the roof with overlapping rectangles of insulation (the stuff comes in a 6′ roll, so you basically have the hugest rectangle ever in starting out, so that was easier and considerably more painless than cutting triangles, and resulted in double-insulation over the top 2/3 of the roof).  All the insulation is taped together with aluminum tape on the exterior, and insulation tape on the interior.  It’s stapled around the door frame and the hub.

I also used aluminum tape to the insulation to the deck so that water can’t come in under the walls when it rains.  Yesterday and today it rained, and i have no ceiling drips, but some seepage under two small areas of the walls where i need to redo that tape and possibly add some plastic sheeting.

In this process photo you can see how we overlapped the roof insulation.  After this, all the seams were taped down. Note the connection between the base of the insulation and the deck, where aluminum tape has been applied.  In this week’s rain (first rain since the yurt went up), the tape performed admirably, failing only in one area where internal hijinks–me getting cloth behind the kanas overzealously–had pried it loose.  water seeped under the wall in that area.  I’ll repair it as soon as everything dries off this week.  There were no ceiling or wall drips/leaks at all, though the canvas was soaked and its dye pattern started to mellow out. 

welcome to the MotherShip

For a long-term installation, you really want to put the yurt on something other than the ground.  For camping, it doesn’t really matter, but this is my bedroom and needs to be more weather-resistant.  You could build just about anything you wanted, though.  We chose to build a 16′ octagonal deck, 1′ above ground.   You’ve seen that process in my LJ. :)   Tristan started with concrete footers, sinking the 4×4″ posts into pre-formed quick-crete in the soil (he made the forms by digging the holes, coating a small 4×4 chunk of wood with duct tape, pouring the quick-crete, tapping the wood into it, and then waiting for the crete to dry.  when it dried, he popped the wood back out of the form using screws, and voila!  holes ready for 4×4 uprights.)  A 6×6″ chunk-of-lumber that has followed me around for close to a decade got used for the center footer, on which all the joists come together.  He attached long joists to the footers (which are around the exterior edge of the deck).  The joists are 2×10″s of douglas fir.  Once these radial joists were in place (think of the long arms of a spider’s web), he attached lateral joists connecting these to each other at the outer edge, then 5′ in, then 2′ in.  These are 2×8″ douglas fir.  Everything is supported by those 4×4″ uprights.  It’s extremely solid.  (Tools used here: table saw, circular saw, drill, level, chalk-line.  Materials: 8 2×10″s, 10 ft long; 10 2×8″s, 10 ft long, lots of giant hex bolts & nuts, and about 8-10 feet of 4×4″, plus concrete.  we had the 4×4 on hand, but bought the joists and hardware new.)

Then we insulated it.  I chose two insulation products in the deck: the same solarguard radiant insulation for the bottom layer, cut to fit into each pocket of the spider’s web of joists, then stapled on, silver-side toward the ground as per the instructions of the people who sold it to me (Selles Insulation Supply on Edith, 843-7255).  You need a one-inch air gap between that and the next layer, so we stapled a layer of screen in above this.  In the screen, we laid batt insulation made from recycled denim, rated R-13.  So the deck is insulated R-23 total.  Once the blue insulation was in, we cut and applied the surface boards.  We chose 1/2″ plywood tongue-in-groove subflooring for the deck surface, partly because it’s cheaper than doing the lots-of-small-boards thing traditional in decks, and involves less custom cuts.  The first thing we learned is that however few cuts it may require, they better be the right ones.  Our paper geometry did not match what the deck itself had in mind, and we had to custom-fit each triangle to the joists.  Having cut them, we screwed them to the joists (both radial and lateral) with 3″ wood screws, and filled any gaps in between them with red oak floor filler, left over from refinishing the hardwood floors in the livingroom.  You could use most any wood filler or caulk for this, but sealing it is important for bug & rodent (and air flow) prevention.  Then we painted the deck to seal it against moisture.

Then we measured it and realized we’d done it wrong.  It was 17′ at the points—but 15.5 at the flats.  The yurt is really 16′.  So.  After variously panicking and freaking out and having a series of difficult interactions with each other, we (in this case, I) added an extension.  To build the extension, i used plywood scraps left over from the surface decking, and chunks of 4×4 left over from building the footers.  The radial joists were still sticking out about a foot from the deck, which came in very handy.  This was the day i spent wishing for that compound mitre saw; i made small, detailed angle cuts to small pieces of wood using a circular saw, which is not really what circular saws are for.  However, it did work.  I cut the small blocks so they fit the angles of the radial joists, and screwed them to those joists.  Then I cut to length and screwed on a strip of plywood vertically, so it enclosed the space between itself and the rest of the deck.  It’s screwed to that block of wood: the block made it so that this piece would go on with screws that went straight in, instead of at 45 degree angles, adding strength to the plywood joist. Then I cut to length and attached a new surface board, screwed to the radial joists and the block and, where i could get it right, the new lateral ply joist.

For deck building photos, please see this photo-essay and these two pages of photos.  

I see that you’ve used some shiny insulation – looks like fancy space-blankets.  Will this come down easily in the summer? Does it cover up all the windows?

I think i’m going to leave it up in the Summer, actually, and cut window-holes into it where the windows are.  I think the roof would be a major pain in the neck to take apart, and leaving it on will prevent the yurt from overheating in our long desert summer.  The wall insulation would come off fairly readily–two long tape seams to undo–but i think will be more useful if left intact for weatherproofing, seeing as how we get most of our rain in the summer, in torrential storms.  The windows (except for the one in the door) are covered right now, since at the moment, *not* letting the cold air in is a high priority. :)  The insulation is R-10 Solarguard Radiant Insulation—a bit thicker than a space-blanket, but very flexible.  It’s 1/4″ fiberglass insulation on the inside, with a white plastic backing (that’s what you see from inside the yurt) and the silvery mylar exterior.  That silver stuff reflects heat from either direction (the sun or the stove).  If the heat is coming from the stove, the insulation reflects it back into the yurt; if it’s coming from the sun, it reflects back into the sky.  It’s quite effective.  With one layer of this over all walls and two layers on the upper 2/3 of the roof, the yurt holds its heat for about 5 hours.

How does one set up the wood stove to avoid fire hazards?

This is one of the places i spent serious money for the right materials. This, and the deck. After buying the stove, i needed (in order) a flue, 5′ of stovepipe, a ceiling pass-through box (this is the premanufactured triple-wall refractory-blanket-insulated box that the stovepipe must connect to 3″ below the ceiling, which prevents heat from communicating outwards to the frame), and then triple-wall insulated exterior chimney and a spark-guard chimney cap, and exterior flashing.  This stuff mostly fits into itself without a fuss–the pieces are engineered to fit to each other with a push and a slight twist.  The exception was installing the ceiling box, which requires framing.  Here’s how i did that, shown from me sitting on top of the hub, looking down to the chimney as i’m installing it:  

Alan was inside on a ladder with more tools and moral support.  :)  I cut the 2x4s the day before, then got up there, and Alan put the chimney together while i attached the 2x4s to the hub.  Then we positioned the ceiling pass-through–that’s what the above photo shows–to the right height, so its base was 3″ below the hub, and nailed it to the 2x4s.  Then i put the flashing on, got it positioned correctly with regard to the stovepipe below, and inserted the exterior chimney, to which we’d attached the spark cap earlier. Alan supported the stovepipe from inside while I did this, and was able to tell when it was in properly.  Then I bolted on the flashing (now that it and the chimney were firmly in position), and installed the storm collar. 

Dad has pointed out that this photo makes it look like those branches are practically on top of me.  Please know that they are significantly behind me, and over 12 feet above.  They don’t directly overhang the yurt.  it’s the angle of the photo foreshortening the air in between. :)  

So, I got as much brand new stuff and spent as much money as if i was installing this woodstove in a regular house.  The payoff for this is a really, really safe chimney.  I decided it mattered enough to not cut any corners with fire safety.  I’ve hung out and watched that chimney with a fire lit inside, and it does not emit sparks.  It’s sleek and professional-looking, too. 

Inside the yurt, the stove is sitting on a brick “hearth”—-that is, i scavenged bricks from around the property and made a square, just sitting on the plywood, centered to the hub and set the stove on it.  The stove has tall feet, and almost no heat at all communicates down those feet to the bricks.  They stay cool to the touch, even with a roaring fire.

That’s the stove’s finial, sitting underneath it to make room for the kettle on top.  :) 

Where did you find a wood stove and how much was it? I know you wrote about this in your journal, but I can’t find it now. I think you said it was an old stove – what did you have to do to make it usable?

I found the stove on Craigslist for $200.  New, similar stoves run about $800, and they’re larger; the small stove is best for the yurt.  It’s 1.5′ diameter, which is perfect.  It was useable as soon as we installed the chimney—the only trick was finding the oval-to-round chimney adaptor.  It has an oval shaped space where you install the chimney, and of course, stovepipe is round.  These adaptors are findable, though, and cost about $14.  :)  The other trick was in installing the stovepipe—most of it went together like clockwork, but then there was the tricky part: getting on top of the yurt to install the exterior parts involves settting up a ladder inside, and going up through the hub, so i am on top of the yurt sitting on the hub.  But then i’m framing in the ceiling box, and then putting a chimney in that hole, and then attaching this crazy huge flashing to the whole thing (which i sat on while installing it, reaching around the chimney to screw it on)—how do i get down? *grin* I got down by carefully crabwalking down two roof poles to a ladder set up outside.  fortunately, we have two ladders.  it worked fine.  The yurt didn’t even flex under me.  I wouldn’t want someone heavier to do that on this particular yurt, though, unless out of dire necessity; i felt that one of the reasons we could get away with this is even though my roof poles are kind of thin and definitely not designed to take weight in the middle like that, i’m little enough that it was okay.  matt’s yurt, the roof poles are 3″ thick and set into the hub deeper, and the hub is a few inches larger and definitely bulkier, and i wouldn’t worry about doing that.  the difference between the two rooves is pretty noticable, though; the benefit to mine is that it overall weighs less and i can set it up myself much more easily.

The stove itself has a couple small cracks, which are not a real problem, but need to be sealed.  The place i bought my stovepipe sold me a pint of “sealant cement” rated for 2000 degree temps.  It’s like wood filler, only designed for metal.  You mix it up and apply it with a putty knife while everything is cold, let it cure, and that’s that.  It was about $5.:)

Where does your wood supply come from?  How much wood does it take to comfortably heat it? Do you just store it in a pile outside?

This piece of land has 7 mature cottonwood trees on it, which had been neglected for a LONG time.  Decades.  Cottonwoods are what i like to call “self-pruning”–major branches fall off periodically.  So our land is littered with chunks of cottonwood of all sizes, from small tripping hazards to “three people and a truck can’t move that” and a wide range of everything in between.  Plus, some enterprising soul attempted to take out a lot of the scrub elms out back a couple decades ago, and that deadwood is lying around all over back there, too.  I have enough wood, just chopping up cottonwood and elm deadwood that’s onsite, to get through this winter and next for sure.  Possibly more.  When that runs out, i’ll get what i can on freecycle (scrap lumber, &c), and probably get a permit for firewood harvesting in the national forest if i can’t find what i need for free closer.  With the forest service thinning deadwood from the drought, sometimes i hear about enormous quantities of firewood available for the taking; my goal would be to capitalize on those opporunities.

I’m storing wood in two places; a two-week supply right outside the yurt, tarped, and the whole stack of wood-we’ve-cut-into-stove length on the north fence.  That’s not tarped at the moment, but will get that way.   It takes 2-3 good-size logs and a bunch of small scrappy stuff to heat the yurt from 6pm-10 or 11pm.  we leave a big log going and the damper about 2/3 shut so it will burn longer into the night when we go to bed, and i don’t wake up cold until sometime between 5 and 6.  my solution to that, since i really don’t like the choice of getting out of my warm bed to light a fire, has been to have a radiant electric heater beside the bed, and switch it on when the cold wakes me, then burrow into the covers.  That works fine.  The heater is on a grounded extension cord run out from the pumphouse, which is itself about 5′ away.  :)

Does your area require special permits for things like yurts?

Nope. it’s a “tent.” No permit required, and no permit was required to build the deck either.  This would not be true in Santa Fe, Land of Every Building Regulation You Can Think Of, And Then Some. In Abq, i would have to obey no-burn days, but we’re in the county, outside city limits, so i’m not required to pay attention to that, either.

Is wind ever a concern?

These things are designed to resist some of the most extreme weather on earth, the Mongolian steppes.  In high wind, it might creak a little bit, and the canvas will flap, but the yurt itself just hunkers into it and remains perfectly still.  It’s one of the most impressive aspects of a yurt, compared to similar structures (benders, tipis, berber tents): they are really, really wind resistant.

I assume that you’re using the house’s bathroom.  Any plans to have something like a lean-to composting toilet near the yurt?  Is it a big hassle to not have a bathroom right there?

So far, i’m using the house bathroom by daylight and peeing in the outdoor compost at night when nobody can see, and that’s fine.  :)  In the long run, i might do a chamber-pot style composter in the yurt or outdoors very nearby it (a lean-to from the wall with the pumphouse would make sense), but for now, going into the house is fine.  Going to the house can always be combined with something else i need or want from the house anyhow, like snacks, or more water, or Alan, or my cat, or a book or something. :)  It does involve either putting on outdoor shoes (if its muddy), or leaping quickly on tiptoe across the cold yard, but it’s only about 20 feet away, and it’s not that big a deal.

What about a kitchen? Can you cook on the woodstove easily? Is food storage a problem, or not having a sink to wash dishes? I know that
you probably cook and eat in the house, but I’m thinking about how you could make a yurt as self-sufficient as possible.

I personally have no wood-stove-cookery skills.  One could acquire them, and this stove has a cooking insert lift-out thingie on top.  I do keep a kettle of water on it to humidify the air.  I’m eating in the house, or at least preparing food in the house and taking it out to the yurt if i want to read over dinner out there, and it’s no different from preparing food in the kitchen and taking it to the bedroom to eat while reading, which i also usually do. :)  People who live solely in yurts do set up kitchens, usually featuring some kind of camp-stove and a dedicated table and food-storage cupboard.  I’m not storing food out there (just a gallon or so of water at any given time), so it hasn’t come up.  I have no clear idea how the washing-up is managed in a permanent yurt—i should ask Jeremy.  I’m suspecting that it involves a 5 gallon water thing with a spigot on it on a table or shelf, and a basin beneath that.  Again, camp-style.

Will insects be a problem in the summer? What about rodents?

Well, the south valley sure has its share of flies, so we’ll find out.  I am hoping that a layer of solarguard plus a layer of screen between the ground and the totally-perfect-for-mouse-nests batt insulation provides a delaying strategy to keep them out.  I’m also hoping that the really excellent job we did of sealing the cover boards down over the joists will mean that mice have no egress from insulation into yurt.  if that changes, i will start keeping the cat in there. :) if *that* fails–and he really is a good mouser–i will hunt down their access and seal it.  bugs, well, i’m sure i will have some flying bugs in the yurt this summer.  you’re living with the earth, co-existing; you put up with some things. ;-) if i’m leaving windows open for weeks at a time (likely), then things that fly will come in.  but i’m not storing food out there, so that should help.

What about lighting or other things that require electricity? I assume you’re using an extension cord from the house.  Any plans for solar batteries or anything like that?

Yep, i ran a grounded heavy-duty extension cord from the pump-house.  It’s plugged in inside, behind the washer, and the cord runs out the drier vent, across 5′ of open space, and into the yurt at the join between wall and door.  It’s got a three-plug grounded splitter on it, so it supports the heater, one lamp (on its own extension cord), the faery lights, and my CD player.  That’s all the electronics i’ve got out there, and they’re never all in use at once: the most would be both lamps and the CD player.  i use that heater only for a couple hours first thing in the morning when the cold gets me, and everything else is off at that time.  i prefer wood heat to electric, so if i’m awake, we’re using wood heat. It would be relatively easy to get the lights on solar, difficult for the heater (heaters suck a lot of power fast when they turn on, like power tools).

What sort of interior comforts were important? For instance, I’m assuming the rugs were, and something to cover the walls.

It’s my bedroom, so the aesthetic of the whole thing is really important to me.  Bright color, cloth, lively and engaging patterns on the walls, being able to see all the woodwork, faery lights, rugs for warmth on the floor, and then of course the furniture. :) The Rainbow Serpent on the ceiling.  Something to cover the walls doesn’t, in fact, cover the kanas, just the insulation; i spent three times as much time getting the cloth *behind* the kanas so that i can see the kanas. I like them, and worked hard on them, and they’re pretty and i want to look at them. :)  But the cloth on the walls has very little insulation value of its own, and is purely aesthetic.  The things that matter in there are mostly the same ones that mattered in every other room i’ve lived in and called my own recently: the rainbow serpent up on the ceiling, bright warm colors,  my altar, enough space to spread my jewelry out (it’s mostly hanging on a kana), overall visual and energetic conformity to my personal aesthetic. :)  it needs to *feel* like a warm and welcoming space, and it does.  color and cloth provides most of that, on the walls and the floor.  in the summer i will probably remove half the floor rugs (all the cotton rugs) and live on the cool bright blue deck. :) right now, the warmth of rugs is nice.

Images of the yurt interior, furnished and decorated.

Any other super-secret yurt knowledge you’d like to share, particularly for beginners?

I was able to do this because I was working with a person who had designed and built several yurts, and had the support of that person and a small group of other people also building yurts and learning about woodwork.  When I realized I would need something to live in while working on the main house in the ecovillage, which was a few years off but an increasingly definite part of my future, I decided that I wanted to build a yurt rather than buying one partially because of that connection–that I was doing it with Matt and had the benefit of his construction skills and expertise (both in construction & woodwork, and in jerry-rigging things effectively when something comes up).  And i had that support all the way through—even as we were breaking up, which was pretty amazing in a slightly crazy way.  I also had assistance from Don, who is formidably knowledgable about wood and powertools, though he solves problems in different ways than Matt does (and, to be honest, Matt knows me far better and has a much better feel for what kind of solution i’ll like, aesthetically), and this caused some weird interactions and solutions sometimes.  I could not have done this without their assistance, because it is *through* this project that I learned the skills necessary to finish this project—and they both did some of the actual hardest work.  Matt built the door and most of the hub and did most of the table-sawing; Don installed teh door and fixed the hub when it cracked.  Mostly I learned skills about wood, about building things, and specific tool skills—the various saws in particular.  Saws are scary and require respect and correct use, and you have to learn that from a person; the user manual is not going to help much.  That said, anybody with a basic understanding of woodwork and enough time could build this yurt.  I learned a lot doing this, but I came into it with relatively few skills—for the first little while, i was most comfortable on the drill press and palm sander, because they are very tame tools whose use i was already skilled in.  I learned how to use the table saw (though i still don’t like them and will do something another way where possible), circular saw, compound mitre saw (also a pretty tame tool, in that the blade can only go one way, a limited distance, and has a great huge guard on it, but a very *useful* tool), router, and the belt sander (noisy but not scary, though if you don’t watch your fingers you can skin them badly).  But more than that, i learned more about how wood behaves, what it can be asked to do and how, and how to connect it to itself in ways that it will stay connected.

I think that about covers it.  If anybody has more questions, please comment!  I’ll answer in comments and edit the entry accordingly. :)