Frequently Asked Questions
Living in our yurts year-round through many New England winters, here are a few things we've learned...
Why live in a yurt?
Living in a yurt brings life closer to the natural world. Hearing the geese in the middle of the night as they fly south in the fall, or listening to the wind in the trees late into the night. The roar of the swollen stream after a big rain or the rustle of a December snowfall as it lands on the roof. The yurt becomes just one room out of many in your home as you create living space both inside and outside -- under cover and open to the elements of the seasons. Traditionally (in Mongolia), yurt dwellers tend to live out-of-doors, and the yurt comes to fill the role of a single dry and warm room in a large 'house,' most of whose rooms are outside.
The yurt is also a warm, cozy, enveloping space to nest into. The walls are low. The stove at the center radiates its warmth quickly to the entire round space. The split sapling lattice walls are almost entirely unprocessed in their short journey from the forest. And an absence of excessive windows are conducive to a feeling of protection from elements just outside in which people connected to the land spend all our days.
How do you stay warm in a New England winter?
Insulation is a good thing. So is dry fire wood. Not just the 'seasoned' stuff, but wood you've cut and split and stacked undercover for a year or so. A good airtight stove that you can damp down and let purr all nite is a necessity.
The space is small, and with a small wood stove in the center you're never too far from the heat. I'd say with three (+/-) cords of wood you can keep it 70 degrees all winter, though factors such as snow depth (more makes for more insulation) and whether or not you're home during the day (uses more firewood) will affect that. It's at times harder to not overheat the space and have it up over 80 degrees by accident with a good fire going.
It takes 30-45 minutes in the winter to bring the temperature from 35 degrees back up to 70 degrees after being gone for the day. With a good fire banked for the night, I find on the colder nights (around 0 outside), I rarely need to stoke the fire during the night. Warm blankets and a bed raised off the floor make for a cozy night's sleep. You'll want an airtight stove that's not too small--it's about a long slow fire, not a quick hot one. I recommend the Tempwood stoves--they stopped making them 40 years ago but they still turn up on craigslist, especially near where they were built in western Massachusetts--but there are other great stove manufacturers. Some yurt dwellers swear by FourDog Stoves.
Yurts get much harder to heat as the area and height increase. A 30' yurt with 8' walls is next to impossible to heat in the dead of winter, even with two stoves running. I have experimented with placing heat-retaining objects around the woodstove, like stones, bricks, or water-filled containers that can double as tables/counters to help hold the heat longer as the fire diminishes. I found that they took up too much space and didn't offer enough difference in holding heat to make the loss of space worth it.
Where do you place the woodstove?
It's harder to heat a larger yurt with a stove at the perimeter in northern New England: the heat is less even, and you lose the benefit of heat radiating from the central single-wall stovepipe. A seasonal yurt--or a smaller one--will work fine with a stove at the side. The center stove changes the feel of the space from a communal gathering space to a residence, by breaking up the yurt into distinct living, cooking, sleeping sections.
A small (less than 30,000 BTU) woodstove is not necessarily a problem, but it may mean more time spent tending the fire, and cutting+splitting your wood smaller. And harder to keep a fire overnight. There's no BTU number per se. The one I use and love is 55,000. The same company (Tempwood) also made a smaller 35,000 BTU one which I have used for a few winters, but it's more work to fit the wood in (especially before going to bed), and I have to cut the wood smaller. You can have a big stove and just not fill it up all the way in spring and fall, of course. Works just fine half full.
My main piece of advice is to get the stove you feel most comfortable using day and night: it will become a part of your life for half the year.
What is the insulation like?
The insulation is a fire-resistant, reflective, flexible, micro-cell polyethylene foam. It is 1/4 inch thick, with an r-value of 8. The extremely low flame rating of 10 and smoke rating of 15 is achieved without the use of toxic flame retarding or hazardous core materials.
Do you have electricity in your yurt?
I have tried the whole range of electrical, gas, kerosene, very low-amperage electric, etc. I have run heavy duty 10 gauge extension cords from an external power source, either from a neighboring house or from a power box at the power lines. A medium-gauge extension cord up to a few hundred feet will run a small refrigerator, lights, a radio, and a laptop computer comfortably. I tend to not use appliances that use electricity to generate heat (stove, water heater, space heater, toaster, iron, clothes dryer, etc.) because of the high increase of energy draw required (and wood is local and free if you work it up).
Solar power is another good option for providing electricity in a yurt. With a neighbor of ours, we have created a 'sun box' that holds batteries, charge controller and inverter...with outlets and usb charger on the outside. This works well if you have full sun. It does not work in the forest.
What kind of plumbing do you use in the yurt?
I have tried many types of indoor plumbing, including (for the the kitchen sink):carried in, carried out, piped out, siphoned in from gutter-fed rain barrel, connecting a garden hose from a water spigot to a kitchen faucet tap, and (my favorite) piped in through a frost-free yard hydrant. The issue, of course, is freezing. Hot water can be heated in a pot on the stove, in heating coils running through the woodstove or with passive solar systems including tanks, solar collectors, or even a couple garden hoses coiled in the sun. In terms of bathing, there's the bucket bath, solar shower (those black bags they make for camping), and (my favorite) visiting friends once a week for tea and a shower.
What do you do for bathroom facilities?
There are several ways of dealing with the bathroom situation in a yurt. All methods center around the bucket humanure collection system. I've opted for the simplest: a 5 gal bucket in a little plywood box with a store-bought toilet seat lid on top that gets emptied into a large composting container when full. This system has lived in a variety of places: in an outhouse that doubles as a storage shed, in a nearby hemlock glade (My very first winter I put a bucket toilet in a grove of young hemlocks and had the best view of the ice-covered woods from my throne...worth it, but so cold that one winter was enough), and at times, in the dead of winter, in a corner of the yurt. Sawdust used as covering and composting material essentially eliminates all odors, and the end product is fertile soil that can be used later. Check out the Humanure Handbook by Joe Jenkins-- you'll like it. Some people partition off a corner with a blanket or paper folding screen. I have seen photos online of folks who build a wooden room inside their fabric yurt (huh?)
Can I live in a yurt in my state/town?
We get this question a lot. In general, larger municipalities have more regulations and restrictive codes. More rural parts of the state, and smaller towns, usually have fewer. It's also very hard to navigate rural terrain from a distance. Without the personal connection, and the understanding that can only come from living in a place for some years, it's hard to truly know a place, much less a people. This is certainly more true of villages than cities, whose inhabitants are accustomed to interacting with strangers. My suggestion is to rent as close to the place you want to live, and spend as much time there as possible: a year is not too much time to get to know the feel of a place. You'll make friends who will begin to trust you and who may eventually be willing to put out feelers for land for sale in the towns they are familiar with (usually the immediately abutting ones), and which ones will accomodate yurts.
In New Hampshire, regulations come in two forms: state and town. The state regulates environmental-type things. In this case, water - coming in and going out. The towns regulate building: what you can build,and where, and what uses are permitted in what you build. This general pattern holds for neighboring states as well.
There are some areas of town/state overlap as well. For example: the state dictates what constitutes a suitable water system for a dwelling, and licenses those (civil engineers) who are authorized to design and certify them. But it is the town which enforces this, and issues you with a notice of occupancy upon completing your water system. Another example of overlap: NH mandates that if towns use a building code (many NH towns don’t), it must be one particular building code, known as BOCA. BOCA is written with conventionally-built houses in mind. Making yurts that comply with BOCA is quite difficult, even if they are built with graded lumber and insulation. The code is just not designed with portable fabric-covered structures in mind. Some yurt companies have BOCA wind and snow load-certified yurts (I have not sought certification for mine), but no fabric-covered yurts meet BOCA’s insulation R-value requirements (read my article at custommade.com for more info on why R-values are not as important to keeping yurts warm). However, BOCA is not usually a deal-breaker to living in a yurt, and have known hundreds of people who live or have lived in yurts in New England without breaking any laws.
The State Part. The state of NH requires you to have a way to deal with the water you use. If you use more, you must have a better system to deal with it after. Makes sense. If you are going to be cooking and/or bathing in your yurt, you can--as a bare minimum--carry in your water to use at a sink (or washtub if you’re super-simple), and set up a pipe leading out of your sink to a dry well (or carry out the washtub to pour in the dry well).
Copied this from the NH RSA:
Env-Wq 1022.02 Mini-Dry Wells for Gray Water. (a) For purposes of this section, “gray water” means residential wastewater other than from a urinal or a toilet. (b) A mini-dry well shall be used for the disposal of gray water only if there will be: (1) No running water to or within the structure to be served; and (2) No other wastewater discharge from the structure to be served. (c) No mini-dry well for gray water shall be within 75 feet of drinking water wells or surface waters. (d) A mini-dry well for gray water shall be a hole up to 18 inches in diameter and up to 12 inches deep, filled with stone or gravel. If you carry your water into the yurt, this is how you should dispose of it.
So, no running water = dry wells are acceptable. There are many ways to not have running water. Most fall into either carrying water (from a nearby house, pump, spring, rainwater collection, etc), or hand pumping it inside (or nearby) the yurt. You can store the water in a barrel, in plastic buckets on the floor, or in a spigoted container above or beside the sink. The general idea (which makes sense if you think about it), is that if you have to do work to get the water, you’ll use less; and a dry well will suffice.
In my experience, a dry well built like they prescribe tends to clog. If it clogs in winter, the drain pipe quickly backs up with ice. A better system involves 10’ of 1-1/2” perforated pipe on top of the ground covered with some sort of mulch. But if you’re going to go by the book, then it's the dry well.
That’s the grey water (sinks and showers). For poop, you will need a purchased composting toilet, a home-made humanure box and collection bin, or traditional in-ground outhouse (see the RSA’s for official outhouse hole design: they’re pretty simple). Most yurt dwellers (and an increasing number of conventional house dwellers) opt for a humanure system. (read Joe Jenkin’s book to learn everything you need to know about humanure systems) Place the humanure box in an outhouse (no-digging involved), and if you like bring it in to the yurt in winter to be warmer when you use it. Peeing in the humanure bucket is ok, but it does fill it up a lot faster and makes it heavier too. Peeing outside is more common.
The Town Part. Towns regulate where you build a yurt; what you use it for (is it a full-time dwelling, a studio, a rental, a summer cottage, etc?) and towns with building codes regulate what you must build for each intended use. Towns will also tax you on your buildings, though because yurts are portable, most towns do not tax them. A few of NH’s larger municipalities require you to have hot running water in the kitchen and bathroom, a flush toilet, and the infrastructure to accommodate that amount of water both coming into and leaving the dwelling. Don’t try to live in a yurt in these places. But most smaller towns don’t.
I don’t know the specifics of each of the two hundred plus cities and towns in NH, but most small towns don’t care what you live in. And as long as you don’t have running water, the state will not require you to have a septic system and there will be no notice of occupancy requirement before you move in. Of course, no matter your town, there will be someone enforcing the building ordinances (such as they may be), and that person will have the final say on whether you can live in a yurt. How they interpret the state and town regulations will depend on their experience (which may be zero as regards yurts) and how many chocolate chip cookies you bake them (I’m joking. Do not bribe officials.)
Towns will have different requirements depending on your intended use. For example; rentals, schools, and dwellings may be stricter than agricultural worker housing, or a studio in your backyard. Speaking of backyards: often if a yurt is located on a property which also has a conventional house, the facilities rules will be waived; as they assume you can go inside if you feel the need for a hot shower, a flush toilet, or to sleep in a room heated by a central furnace. I haven’t covered your town fire marshall’s wood stove requirements, but basically: heat your yurt by burning dry wood (not pellets) in an airtight woodstove (modern EPA certified ones with catalytic converters are probably good but many yurt dwellers have trouble with them). Make sure you observe all safety clearances around the stove and stove pipe, and put a hearth below your woodstove (and behind it too for a wall-exit chimney).
I also recommend a look at yurtinfo.org/yurts-and-building-codes by Becky Kemery.
How many people can live comfortably in a yurt?
The 20' yurt, I find, fits a couple and a toddler comfortably. With 2 kids one starts thinking about a cabin. After my second daughter was born, I built a woodshop with attic, a shed that doubled as an outhouse, and a bakery. Our living space was expanded outside the yurt into the dooryard and we found nooks and crannies all over the farm for sleeping quarters.
How long does a yurt last?
The roof cover material is warranted for fifteen years. I've seen it at twenty-five looking almost new. The most common issue is mice damaging the roof liner.
What material do you use for the cover?
Our standard roof cover is made from Duro-last, a super-heavy duty 40-mil welded polyester membrane. The seams are heat welded instead of sewn to decrease possibility of water penetration through the material. Also, even the best thread deteriorates much sooner than Duro-last. It has a Class A fire rating, -40 degree cold crack, and is mold and UV resistant. It comes with a 15 year warranty. For what it's worth, this happens to be the same material that some other folks offer as their heavy-duty roof option at an increase in price.
The walls are a high tensile 18 oz. vinyl with polyester thread inner weave. It is UV resistant and anti mildew. It resists cold cracking to 30 degrees below zero.
What kind of saplings do you use?
All our saplings are hardwoods that are common throughout New England. Species include Yellow and Black Birch, Red and Sugar Maple, Hophornbeam, Black and Pin Cherry, White Ash, Beech. To sell us saplings, go to the saplings link.
Where should I place the yurt?
In looking for sites for a yurt, you'll want to consider moisture and sun exposure. A yurt will warm up quickly in the sun during the summer months, so some shade is nice. At the same time, a yurt that is deeply shaded may have more trouble with dampness accumulating inside. If the ground is prone to dampness, you'll want a platform that allows for good air circulation underneath. Better yet, put it somewhere else. If it's a dry soil type, a platform can be closer to the ground. A platform can be set up on a slope - this will mean one side of the yurt will be higher up, increasing the materials needed for the pillars on that side. This offers some storage space underneath, but might increase draftiness in winter. A more level site will be easier to insulate as the snow gathers around the base of the yurt.
How is the flooring platform built? Is it included in the cost of the yurt?
For long-term living, a platform is recommended. I recommend you create it yourself or find a local carpenter to construct a circular deck for you. Frost footings are not necessary. Plywood works, as well as tongue and groove or planed pine or just rough-sawn. Click on the 'Platforms' link above for ideas and plans.
Can the platform be bigger than the diameter of the yurt?
No. You want the platform to match the size of the yurt so that the wall cover can hang down below the edge of the platform. Otherwise, water will flow off the roof and right under the wall. If you'd like to have a deck outside of the yurt, build it a step or two down for door clearance, etc.
How long does it take for an order to be processed?
Once we receive your deposit, we get right to work on customizing your yurt. We make every effort to facilitate folks ready to take the jump out to year-round yurt living. That said, if you're looking to move out to your land in the spring, please give us a heads-up as soon as you can, preferably before February.
Can I visit a yurt that's already set up to see what the space is like?
We welcome visitors to the farm in NH to see a 20' yurt in action. See the 'Visiting&Directions' link above.
Can the wall height be adjusted?
Roof height increases quickly from the wall to the center. With the five-foot wall, the roof ring in a 20' yurt is nine feet from the floor. At two feet in from the wall edge, roof height is above 6'. Even vertically privileged people don't seem to hit their heads on the roof.
That being said, we do have a 6' wall option.
Do you ship your yurts?
No. Our yurts are prepared for you to pick up at our shop in Acworth NH. You raise them with your friends. See the 'Raising a Yurt' tab above.
How do you transport the yurt?
The yurt is best transported with a truck and trailer, or box van. The platform would be a second, similar trip.