Lars and I sit down at a table and order coffee, eggs and fries. As I listen to this beard-braided, tattooed, and highly intelligent man talk about yurt life, I feel comfortable instantly. “The number one thing I like about living in a yurt,” he begins, “is all the pleasures of living in a garden, but warm and dry.” A yurt is like living in a tent; you can hear the birds singing, crickets cricketing, wind in the trees. You are never separated from the sounds of the earth as you are in a stick-built house. It’s like year-round camping. Yurts are designed to be easily disassembled and packed up within 30 minutes to three hours tops. In fact, yurts have served the Mongolians as a portable home for over 3000 years.
Lars tells me that it all began at a potluck. Some friends invited him to their farm, and while there he noticed a guy moving out of a cabin. Soon, that 10 by 12 cabin was his; he absolutely loved it and the farm. Even though tech is his trade, he knew he wanted to live in the woods and grow flowers, fruits, and vegetables. His answer lay at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta. The Pacific Yurt company had a demo set up, and Lars fell in love. He found some land, bought a 20-foot, 314 square foot yurt, and since 1995 has been a full-time yurt dweller. I asked Lars if the small yurt ever got claustrophobic for him, his partner, and four cats. “Let’s just say,” he said, “it was cozy. And we have the farm, so we carve out alternative tiny spaces scattered around the property.” I asked about living with four cats in a fabric home, and surprisingly, the only damage they have ever done (eight different cats over 18 years) is scratch one window screen. I wager to guess most of us have had more damage done in our square-box homes. As time went on, though, Lars did decide to buy a larger yurt—a 30-footer this time—and more than doubled his square footage to 706 square feet.
The new, spacious yurt has everything they need…except a bathroom and kitchen. Lars tells me that the plan is to convert the smaller yurt into these two amenities very soon. As it is, they have a broken-down, old house right next door which provides the basics. He does have a pellet stove, but he suggests getting only an electric space heater, if at all possible. “A pellet stove can overwhelm a yurt easily,” he tells me, and has figured out a formula of sorts. From 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the pellet stove is a beautiful thing, over 30 degrees it blasts you out of the yurt, and at less than 15 degrees the yurt leaks almost as much heat as the pellet stove generates. “Like I said,” Lars says as he sips a long mustachioed cup of coffee, “it’s a tent.”
There are so many advantages to yurting. After the base deck is built (the biggest task of all) upon which the yurt sits, the actual walls, crown, insulation, and canvas only take a few hours to put together. The circular, domed structure is constructed in such a way so that the compression and tension of all its parts creates an incredibly strong, free-standing home. This means that a properly erected yurt can withstand heavy winds, rain, and snow. Air circulation is provided through the crown, which opens with a long, hand-held tool, and the fresh air reaches every part of the interior evenly. Lastly, a yurt can be as modern as the owner wants it to be—electricity, hard-wood floors, full bath, kitchen, and sleeping lofts. (The picture above is one of the Pacific Yurt demos)
At a field trip to Pacific Yurts, I learned that there are a plethora of additions you can add to your yurt—rain gutters, rounded windows, ceiling fan, French doors, extra top cover, awnings, and more. Of course, each little addition adds to the price, but when you consider that you can buy a brand-spanking new yurt for anywhere from $4,700 (115 square feet) to $11,000 (706 square feet), the price doesn’t seem astronomical. A new house for less than the price of a used car.
So what about the negative aspects of living in a yurt? “Furniture isn’t round and it’s kind of awkward to place,” Lars tells me, “and there’s no sound-insulation capabilities at all; in fact, the crown amplifies outdoor sounds. There have been times I swear I’ve heard music, so I go outside and you can’t hear it! I’ve figured out that someone can be playing music a half a mile away, and the crown on top of the yurt will actually amplify the sound on the inside of the yurt, but you can’t hear it outside!” Wacky. The reverse is also true, and can be somewhat negative, as people on the outside of the yurt can hear everything that is going on the inside of the yurt. And lastly, “Rain is loud!” he says, “Conversation is impossible during a heavy rainstorm.” But if those are the negatives, that’s not too bad.
One serious issue to take into consideration, for a full-time residential yurt, is county building codes. Because yurts aren’t the North American norm, the codes don’t always “fit,” and it is up to the individual counties to grant permits. A new owner may even have to hire an engineer to demonstrate to the officials that a yurt will indeed live up to structural standards. A yurt to be used intermittently is usually granted a permit. Yurtinfo.org is a good place to learn about the legalities of yurting.
As we wind up our conversation, Lars mentions that, “Living in the round is a very comfortable feeling. There are no hidden corners.” I’ve heard this from other yurters, the familiar, almost womblike feeling of living in a soft, round structure. I then ask the silliest of questions—Are you happy with your yurt? Lars grins and says, “I wouldn’t be living in a yurt 18 years later if I wasn’t happy with it!” OK, I had that coming.
Laurelnestyurts.com (North Carolina)
Spiritmountainyurts.com (New Mexico)