Most questions about yurts have to do with the practical aspects of setting up a fabric yurt and designing systems for heat, wastewater, etc. The wooden yurt dweller may have questions about space, privacy and interior design in a circular shelter, but otherwise wooden yurts are enough like conventional housing that fabric yurt questions don't apply.
Where did the name "yurt"
Yurt is a Turkish word meaning tent-site or camping space. The Central Asian nomads do not use this term but rather refer to their dwellings as "home". The Mongolian word for home is ger (rhymes with air); in Turkic languages it is some version of oy. Yurt was a term adopted by the Russians, and therefore is not appreciated by the Central Asian nomads who live in them.
The term yurt has, however, come into common usage in the Western world. It has become the norm to refer to the traditional structures as gers and call the modern versions yurts, which is one way of resolving the terminology issue. Scholar Peter Alford Andrews uses the descriptive term "trellis-walled tent", which is a lovely description of the fabric ger/yurt but does not apply to the hard-shelled (e.g. wooden) versions.
The solution of using ger to refer to the traditional shelter and yurt for modern versions is less than perfect (the Turkic term oy is left out altogether), but it seems the best alternative at this time.
What's so special about yurts?
Yurts are special because they are round and therefore make better use of space, are more efficient to heat, and provide less wind resistance. The roof structure, with its compression ring and tension band, is an amazing architectural design requiring no internal support system, thereby leaving the yurt open and spacious inside.
Yurts are special because they are portable. Central Asian nomads put their gers up in an hour or less. Modern canvas yurts can be set up in a day. To have a shelter that can be put up quickly and then taken down and moved as one's situation changes is a distinct advantage in our transient culture.
There is a specialness to yurts that is intangible and experiential, like the feeling that happens when stepping inside a yurt for the first time, or the magical moment in yurt building when the roof ring is set and the building shudders into place. There are probably reasons for this "magic" of yurts in the very physics of the shapes (of circle and triangle, cylinder and cone), but this remains to be explored.
Finally, yurts seem especially suited to certain pursuits. Yurts are often used in retreat centers and for the healing arts, meditation, spiritual practices, dancing and community gatherings. People say they sleep better in yurts, and often dream more. The healing, creative, communal and spiritual nature of yurts is broadly recognized but, again, the reason for it ultimately remains a mystery.
What are yurts used for?
Yurts have many applications, including State Park camping, back-country skiing, schools, offices, shops, studios of all kinds, bed-and-breakfasts, a camp kitchen, a women's moon-lodge, and resort accommodations to name just a few! Here are some more answers from the companies:
What kind of foundation does
a yurt require?
In Central Asia gers are set up on the grassy plains, and rugs and felted mats are placed on top of the grass. In the winter pallets or shallow wood decking may be used to create a floor, and felted mats or rugs are layered on the flooring for insulation and warmth. Central Asia is very dry, and what little precipitation does occur is usually in the form of snow so there is little danger of water leaking or flooding inside the ger.
In North America and Europe, which have areas of high precipitation, yurts are typically erected on some form of deck. The deck is built in a circle the same diameter as the yurt, so that the yurt's outer covering can be attached to the deck itself. Most yurt companies include designs for a deck in their set-up instructions. Pacific Yurts Co. also includes a design for a moveable deck. (It's very important, by the way, to build the deck to the exact specifications given by your yurt company. Otherwise the yurt won't come together and be as tight and weatherproof as it is designed to be.)
It is possible in a dry climate to set up a yurt on the ground. It helps to have a rock-filled trench around the perimeter of the yurt for drainage. For extra insulation you can dig the circle down six inches, lay in plastic sheeting, fill it in with sawdust, and place your floor coverings and rugs over the soft sawdust floor. A yurt community in Kelley, Wyoming (near Jackson Hole) has lived this way successfully for many years. (For further information see "Yurts in Cold Climates" in The Last Straw Journal, Issue 32, Winter 2000.)
My favorite yurt of all time had a cob floor with hot springs water piped through it. (Cob is an adobe-like mud mixture made from clay, sand and straw.) The floor had a natural, earthy feel and the radiant heat kept the yurt warm and cozy on the coldest of days.
For more information on decking, go to Nesting Bird's FAQ's and click on "PLATFORMS".
Do yurts work in cold
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: The felted covering of Central Asian gers makes them perfectly suited for the extremely cold, but dry, conditions of the high Asian steppes. Felt doesn't work well in the damper climates of the UK and much of North America, where some form of canvas or architectural fabric is used as a covering instead. The problem with canvas and most architectural fabrics is that they don't do much for keeping out the cold (i.e., they don't have the natural insulative qualities of felted wool). So some type of insulation must be added.
A number of options are available, including the fiber-fill used for quilting, synthetic felt (placed inside the canvas layer with a vapor barrier between), and a couple of insulation types developed by NASA. The most commonly used by yurt companies (known by the brand name Reflectix) is a type of bubble-wrap sandwiched inside reflective foil. The foil works by reflecting radiant heat (97%) in both directions, making this a lightweight but highly effective form of insulation. (Adding multiple layers of reflective insulation is not recommended, though, because the added benefit is minimal relative to the additional cost.)
Insulating the floor is also important. One can place standard types of insulation under the floor (as in a traditional house) or use stress-skin panels (with built-in insulation) to build the deck itself.
How do you heat a yurt?
There are a number of heating options available
For more helpful information on heating go to the Nesting Bird Yurts FAQ's Page and click on "GENERAL QUESTIONS".
What about yurts in tropical
Yurts are ideal in tropical climates where heating needs are minimal and cooling needs can be met with proper siting and adequate ventilation. The sides on a yurt can be rolled up and mosquito netting hung across the lattice wall.
Pacific Yurts has this to say about tropical applications:
For tropical use add top cover insulation, tinted dome skylight with opener for ventilation, extra screened windows, porch and window awnings and ceiling fan support. A water catchment option is also available. Water catchment is a primary source of water supply in many tropical countries. Pacific Yurts also has a tropical cupola, a center ring insert and screen doors available for tropical applications.
Are yurts bear proof?
Yes and no. I've heard stories about bears in Alaska trying to break into yurts without success. But there's a bear in central Idaho that managed to break into a back country (unoccupied) yurt; in fact this bear comes through at the same time every Spring and the owner leaves the door open and cleans up after the bear, rather than risk more damage to the yurt.
If you live in bear country it's a good idea to build your deck up high (preferably high enough to put a full story underneath for storage, and close it in with walls or skirting for warmth). A north Idaho couple used this tactic and feel it helped avoid problems with the numerous bears on their property.
What about permitting?
Good question. This is a complex issue that varies with location. It will be covered in greater depth in YURT: Living in the Round, but for now, you'll find a good answer at the Nesting Bird Yurts website. The yurt companies know more than just about anyone about this topic. Ask them for advice, and check out your local code situation before you buy your yurt.
Should I build or buy?
If you have skills in carpentry and sewing and want the experience of building your own shelter, then by all means order a set of plans (see Building a Yurt), or combine some plans off the internet, and go for it. For this project you'll need a commercial sewing machine (which can be rented), woodworking tools and a workshop space. Keep in mind that some of the plans available are for camping yurts and others are more suited to year-round living.
A friend who has made three yurts claims it can be a stressful process. If crafting is not your forte, you might prefer to purchase a yurt from one of the companies listed on this site. Keep in mind that the markup with most fabric yurt companies isn't all that high. In most cases you're probably getting a pretty good deal.
If wood is plentiful where you live and you'd like something more permanent, take a look at Bill Coperthwaite's plans for his tapered-wall wooden yurts. One has to think about walls a little differently when they're slanted outward, but the spaces themselves are wonderful. A yurt workshop with Bill is both educational and a community building exercise.
If you like the idea of living in the round but don't want to be "roughing it", contact one of the frame-panel companies for a wooden yurt, complete with the level of amenities you choose.
It is important for the future of yurts that people receive good customer support from yurt companies, that yurts are honestly represented and that companies meet their obligations with integrity. All of the companies listed on this site, as far as we know, have good customer relations and can be trusted to deliver what they promise.
Please do be aware, when comparing yurt manufacturers and prices, that there are vast differences between the types of yurts listed here. Some, for example, are designated for camping use only and others are designed for year-round use.
Nesting Bird Yurts recently changed hands (in February '02). The new owners have affirmed their intention of maintaining the quality of materials, workmanship and customer support the company is known for.
If you would like to read about people's experiences with different companies, or share your own experience, please visit the Forum on this site.
Systems questions (wiring,
plumbing, heating, cooling, etc.)
Nesting Bird Yurts does a good job with these questions on their FAQ page. For specific questions, try the Nesting Birds Message Board or the Forum on this site.
How long does it take to put
up a yurt?
Count on three days to a week for the deck, depending on site and weather conditions, the size of the yurt, and the experience level of the builder(s). We recommend working with a professional carpenter for the deck. See Lars' Yurt Page for photos of a deck being built.
The yurt itself takes under a day to put up, preferably with three or more people. A thirty footer may take two days to setup. See the Nesting Bird yurt-raising for a nice set-up sequence.
How long should a yurt last?
What kind of maintenance is required?
The wooden framework of a yurt is built to last indefinitely. The canvas or material covering is built to last ten to fifteen years, after which time it may be replaced. Often these coverings last much longer, though this is largely dependent on weather conditions and the siting. Lots of sun exposure will break down the material more quickly, and too much rain without sun (e.g. in a forest site) will lead to mold problems and, again, disintegration.
If you're in a wet cold climate it's good to scrub the walls down every six months with a fungicide. (Shaklee's biodegradable product Basic G seems to work well). In a climate with a lot of sun exposure, some yurt owners have painted the outside of their fabric walls to make it last longer (which may, however, affect the breatheability of the fabric).
What about storage, privacy,
and interior design options?
This will be covered in greater detail in YURT: Living in the Round. For now, here are some ideas:
More answers to general questions can be found at: