How is a Yurt Structured?

Since Chris and I have decided to live in a yurt permanently, we have been bombarded with questions. After answering all of the basics, some others popped up. Questions like what do the walls look like? How do you build it? How is it shipped? Does it have windows? Is it really a tent? What about the winter?

Here are some answers!

Can you live in a yurt during the winter?

Since we live in New England, this may be the most asked question we have received so far, and the answer is yes!

A Mongolian-style yurt
Yurts were introduced in Mongolia thousands of years ago. The original yurt was designed to be portable, and give optimal shelter in the Mongolian climate, consisting of dry, frigid
temperatures, and high winds.  These yurts could be packed up in as little as thirty minutes and carried away on a couple of camels. Yet when they were erect, they could withstand the most fierce winds and bitter cold.

Today, many yurts exist in the most aggressive winters. Modern yurt companies usually have a snow and wind kit that can be purchased to reinforce its structure. Ski resorts often utilize yurts on their ski slopes. Building codes for ski resorts tend to have higher snow load requirements, and yurts with snow and wind upgrades are still able to pass these codes.

A Shelter Designs Yurt in the Snow
We will most likely be ordering our yurt from a company in Montana, Shelter Designs, where they sell many yurts to snow-heavy regions. They have a very durable snow and wind kit that adds a lot of stability, as well as an “arctic insulation” layer that can be added to the standard reflective insulation layer. We will be incorporating both of these upgrades into our yurt. Though they said we may not necessarily need the arctic insulation layer, we all agree that more insulation never hurts.


Still not convinced? Watch this video of someone who actually lives a yurt year round.

How is a Yurt Structured?

Much like a stick-built house begins with a foundation, a yurt begins with a platform.shelter-designs-platformYurt buyers are responsible for building this feature ahead of time. Some platforms are flush to the ground, while others are high above. Some have a crawl space, or even a garage underneath them for added storage. Yurt buyers then can place any type of flooring they desire on top of the platform.

The basic frame for the the walls of a yurt are similar to a wooden lattice baby gate. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Imagine a giant wooden gate that is large enough to connect to itself in a circle, almost creating a huge, round playpen.

The roof frame is created by wooden rafters connecting a compression ring to a wire cable that runs along the top of the lattice. A tinted dome window is placed in the tension ring, creating a beautiful and unique skylight.

Layers of insulation and polyester or vinyl are placed over the wooden framework.

shelter-designs-windowStandard windows include a screen, clear vinyl, and solid vinyl that can be used to shut out light.

Many companies offer upgrades for windows and doors, including thermal pane glass windows, full light doors, and french doors. We are hoping to add a few glass windows in addition to a few standard windows, a standard half-light door for our front entrance, and french doors for our back entrance.

How is a yurt shipped?

Shelter Designs will send us a yurt kit that we will put together. Since this company is a small one, they will build our yurt kit personally, and as they do, they will be adding each necessary part into a custom box for safe shipping.

Shelter Designs is out of Missoula, Montana, and regularly ships their yurt kits all over the world. After the platform is constructed and we’re ready for our yurt to arrive, we will arrange for the best type of shelter-designs-yurt-buildingshipping.

In order to construct it, yurt companies suggest grabbing a handful of friends and family and taking a weekend to raise it up together. From what I’ve read, they supply very easy-to-follow directions that make the process simple. The idea of building our home with our closest family and friends over a couple pizzas and beers, sounds just about right to us.

What about the interior?

shelter-designs-interiorYurt companies do not provide interiors. They furnish everything that is needed for the exterior, and will even help offer designs for the internal structures, but when it comes to building, they leave it up to the buyer.

In a perfect world, if we have enough funds for the entire project at once, we will put in a septic, well, platform, yurt, and interior decked out with a master bedroom and bathroom, guest bedroom, main bathroom, kitchen, and living room. We are being realistic with ourselves, however, and guess that this may not be the case. If our budget runs short, we may do all of this in stages. Maybe even living off the grid for a portion of it.

The idea of doing everything at once, and when it’s finished, being able to walk into our completed yurt and have many, many house warming parties, sounds so perfect. Yet, really, this is not what all of this is about. Part of this project is about learning new things, taking our time choosing, utilizing the skills and knowledge of our friends and family, doing much of it ourselves, and ultimately slowly building our home, piece by piece. We want to put our heart and souls into every aspect, and that cannot be rushed.

We live our lives “always taking the scenic route”. So why would we do anything different when building our home? When we go out to eat, we will often take the longest route possible, enjoying the ride, because for us, the destination is not everything. If we slow down, and take the time to acknowledge the progress of the journey, we are able to witness such beauty that would have otherwise been missed. A deep conversation that the drive allows, a newly discovered road with epic views, a rare sight of a wild animal. We plan on using that same mentality when building our home. If we rush through it, what will we miss along this route? By slowing down and enjoying the journey, we see the world.


Photo credit: UBC News via VisualHunt / CC BY-NCBernd Thaller via / CC BY, Shelter Designs via, Colorado Yurts


Buying Land Isn’t So Easy

Chris and I have changed the direction of our lives as we prepare to buy land, build a yurt, and live a different kind of lifestyle. Naively, we imagined that the hardest part of this journey would be the building process.

Since houses in our price range are in a higher demand than land in our price range, we thought that buying land would be much simpler than buying a house. We wouldn’t necessarily have to worry about bidding wars, or house flippers taking great deals off of the market. Yet we are discovering that finding the right property is quite a confusing process.

Our Dream Property

After looking at many properties, we fell in love with one in particular. It had caught Chris’ eye when he scanned the online local listings a while ago. It was 20 acres of beautiful woods with amazing views, all for a price that couldn’t be beat. The listing showed high tension power lines in one of the pictures (which we knew we would have to investigate), and explained that 18 of the acres were conserved, while only 2 were zoned for building. This didn’t bother us, it actually intrigued us. We could have most of the perks of owning 20 acres of land, like adding hiking trails and keeping others from building right next to our yurt, while getting a break on property taxes. Realistically, two acres for building was generous for our needs.

The location was vague on the listing; it only offered a street name and no street number. We asked our realtor for more information. He said that it would be easy to find if we just drove down the road and looked for a real estate sign.

We spotted a sign right away, but continued to the end of the road just in case we found another. We didn’t see one. So we went back, parked, and walked around. The land fit the description on the listing to a tee. It described a roughed-in driveway, a two acre area reserved for building, which appeared to be a man-made clearing, and westerly views. We found the high tension power lines, which luckily were far from where we would build our yurt.  img_3727

We left believing that it was the best property we would be able to find with a price we could afford. The excitement we felt from this property, knocked anything we had seen so far, off of our list. We saw ourselves there among those peaceful trees. But how could a property so lovely be priced so much lower than its counterparts? It seemed too good to be true.

Time to Think

Though this property was very inexpensive for what it offered, it was still a considerable amount of money above our budget, making our timeline much longer. We needed time to think it over. If we were going to act on this property, our whole plan would change, but img_3739the payoff could be very much worth it.


After giving ourselves a few weeks to think, we went back to the property and walked around again. Our hearts swelled, as the ideas flooded our heads with what we could do with this special piece of land.

If we were going to put an offer on this property, we had to get serious. We created a list of questions we needed answered before we could proceed, and emailed them to our realtor. And then we waited.

Time to Wait

Waiting when hopeful can be a tricky time. I spent the next few days dreaming about that property, even though I tried not to. It came up in conversation easily and frequently. We were prepared to buy it and we both knew it. We started hypothetically discussing things img_3737we would need, like maybe a tractor or a truck for snow removal, since it had a very long driveway. Being an avid disc golfer, Chris mentally mapped out a personal disc golf course with those 18 acres of extra land.

The Email

Then halfway through the third day, I received an email from our realtor. My heart skipped a beat. I finished out the workday and got home to Chris. We opened it together. We went through the list of answers, liking each of them.  There was a survey map attached at the bottom of the email. This was the most important part. What if the land we saw wasn’t quite right? What if that beautiful clearing wasn’t part of the land for sale? What if the high tension power lines occupied most of the property? My heart hammered away as we opened the map.

It was very confusing. Nothing from the map looked familiar, which terrified me. After trying for a while, I handed it over to Chris. He pulled up a map of the road online and tried to compare. Then he noticed that the top corner of the page showed a small basic road map with the property shaded, indicating its location. Oh no.

From what he could tell, it was far away from the land we had looked at. It was on the opposite end of the road. What we had looked at was another parcel of land all together.

But how could that be? My mind fought the news. How could the land we saw match the description so perfectly? Even one of the answers in the email included a landmark that we had seen. I thought that maybe we were still reading the map wrong, or the map itself was wrong. Then Chris pointed out that the property was very close to two other roads. What we saw was far from those roads. I could almost hear our hearts shattering.

Time to Change

I thought we had it this time. I knew that by purchasing this land, we might have to wait longer to build our yurt because of the added expense. I also knew that this wait would be absolutely worth it, because we would end up with a yurt on an unbelievable property.

I figured that the second it was ours, we would spend as much time there as possible, slowly transforming the landscape. I even pictured us having camping trips there with our friends next summer. Our dream was so close, and it seemed that our chances were so high. We weren’t entering into a bidding war. We weren’t trying to buy a house on a short sale (which we had tried to do last year) and be at the mercy of a bank. As soon as the information checked out, we were going to buy it, and it was going to be ours. But no, not this time.

A sliver of hope was still alive as we remembered about the real estate sign that had originally led us astray. We searched the online listings and found a small parcel of land right in front of the one we had seen. It was dramatically out of our price range, explaining why it hadn’t come up in our original online search. What we had seen, wasn’t even for sale.

The Real Property for Sale

We felt like we needed to go see the real 20 acre property for sale since the pictures and descriptions still looked great. The approved building site appeared to be right next to high tension power lines on the survey map, however, so we weren’t very optimistic.

We pulled up to what we thought was the property and saw the real estate sign, which was very tiny, and set back. Very easy to miss. We started walking down the ‘roughed-in driveway’, which was really just grass with a couple of tire marks, and as soon as it turned into woods, it disappeared. Then the confusion blossomed. We scoured the forest, trying to just find the power lines as a reference. After a while, we turned back, discouraged from seeing houses nearby. We didn’t want to walk on another person’s property, or worse, fall in love with the wrong thing again. So we turned around and went back home.

When house hunting, finding what’s for sale is pretty straight forward. The listing often shows an exact address and even when it isn’t perfectly accurate, there are pictures and descriptions. The pictures can easily be compared to reality.  Yet when land hunting, the process isn’t as easy. Many times even land owners are uncertain of property lines. Pictures on the listings are of forests and patches of grass which can easily be mistaken for any clump of trees or greenery they are compared to.

A few days later, we got into a conversation with someone who happened to know the real property for sale very well. He explained that the building envelope really was right next to the power lines. Worse than that, he said that the building site consisted of rock, thinly veiled by moss or earth, making building expensive and difficult. We let that property go.

One Day

I have to remind myself of that dreaded phrase, “if it is meant to be, it will be”. Part of me wants to take that phrase, tear it to shreds, and throw it down the river. But another part gently reminds me that however annoying it is to hear, that phrase is right. If we had been able to purchase that short sale house last year, we would never have discovered the joys of yurts. And who knows what kind of financial hole we would be in with that money pit? As frustrating as it is to think of that stupid phrase, I whole-heartily agree with it. Maybe this land is not ours. But ours is out there somewhere. One day soon, we will find it, and it will work out. And when it does, we will look back on this property and say, “Imagine if we really bought that property last year? We would never have found this gem.”landscape-with-trees-and-mountains


Photo via Visualhunt