“It Only Yurts When I Laugh”

I saw this caption on a photo of a yurt and couldn’t help but laugh…and make it the post title.  Yurts will always have a special place in my heart, I was almost going to put up one while in my masters program, but the land ended up having no sewage or water.

I still question their efficiency when it comes to insulation, I have slept in one while in Vermont, it was very cold even with a wood stove.  They can be really dressed up, with full kitchens, bathrooms and nice wood floors.  Here are 5 reasons to consider living in a yurt.

yurt in snow

1.Yurts are the Real Green Deal

Dave Masters (of the Luna Project) talk about his life in a yurt: “We talk all the time about living with less; Dave lives in 706 square feet with off grid power, a composting toilet, a shower and a full kitchen and didn’t give anything up at all to live in comfort and style. When you live in 706 square feet you don’t need much to run it; he collects water from his roof, power from the sun and wind, heat from sustainably cut wood. He spends about six hundred bucks a year for his propane barbeque, gas for his chainsaw and log splitter and that is about it.”

2. Yurts are Eco-Friendly

Living in a yurt can help us re-connect to nature, sure, but the literal structure of a traditional yurt is also nature-friendly. The materials are recyclable and should you decide to pick up and move your yurt, there’s no residual damage to the ground because no permanent foundation is used.


3. Yurts Have Stood the Test of Time

“They’ve been used throughout history by nomads in Central Asia,” from HowStuffWorks.com. Evidence of fourth century B.C. yurts has been discovered, and the oldest complete yurt was found in a 13th century Mongolian grave. The structures were well-suited for the nomadic lifestyle because only a few oxen were required to carry a family’s entire home. But the structure was also easy to heat in the cold Mongolian winters where temperatures might reach 50 degrees below Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit).

4. Yurts Can Be Modern, Too

By combining the durable yurt concept with a few modern updates, we now have something called a yurta. This form of micro-architecture has optimized the original yurt concept to create a shelter that is steadfast, quick to install, light-weight, easy to transport, minimal in footprint.

nice inside

5. Yurts are Cheap

The Nomad Yurt, for example, costs a little over $5,000 (US) for a 22-foot diameter version with an insulated skin. If a few comrades pooled together for land, you’d have yourself a yurt commune and giant step forward and away from the unsustainable life.


  1. Saw a similar piece not long ago on The New York Times, called Broadband, Yes. Toilet, No:


    They were living in Alaska in a yurt. I would love a small house of some kind, but I can’t afford it at the moment, but I like the blog.

    If you can find a mobile, sound-proofed tiny home let me know, it’s my dream.

    • I Think that would be the order of importance for me Internet > flushing toilet. Now I don’t think I can give up my hot shower every morning, won’t budge on that one.

      • I totally agree. it’s something like this…

        Well sealed and insulated building > composting toilet > hot shower > internet > electric light > hotplate/stove > cold food storage >>>>> flush toilet.

    • That’s the problem with mobile minimalism: ablutions and Internet. I am hoping the newer 4G standard will improve things significantly over the poor standards 3G delivers (under 100kbps most of the time – even though they advertise it as a 3600kbps modem).

      With a decent mobile connection I could look at ‘full-timing’ in an RV (as long as it has a decent heater and shower – I’m with you on that one).

      • Yikes – well, you nay want to reconsider the 4G thing.. got “anxiety” issues..? Many countries are working to Limit Wi Fi for Health/ precaution for children at least…

    • Some of these are far from roughing it, I have checked out Colorado Yurts Co. and they do great work.

    • You should look into Earthships. They have the potential to be very affordable.

  2. I’m glad to see someone else question the insulation claims of yurts. A layer of reflective bubble wrap provides very little insulation. Yurt owners seem to compensate by burning loads of wood, but is that really green? A handful of yurt owners might be able to heat using “sustainably cut wood” from large plots of land, but how long would the forests last if everyone did that?

    Then on top of all the firewood, Dave also burns $600 worth of fossil fuels every year..ouch! My electric bill for my apartment is under $200 a year, which includes electric heat, electric stove and refrigeration.

    • Where do you live?? My electric bill is $200 a month in the winter. ( I have some electric baseboard in my carriage house ) Even in summer with no air-conditioning it’s over $100 and I’m considered the electric nazi… I turn off everything!

  3. In a dry climate, perhaps.
    Wetter and they get built with vinyl rooking and walls – not so eco-friendly…

    That tall ceiling makes a large volume of air to heat.

    • not only is it not eco-friendly, but I bet it gasses off a ton! Much like paint with VOC’s I bet this is an issue.

      • Hi there,
        actually, offgassing isn’t normally an issue. Yurts are frequently used by folks with chemical sensitivities, myself included–that’s one of their advantages.

        For someone with extreme sensitivities, you can always allow it to air out a few days or week before moving in.

  4. I don’t know why they don’t provide the option of covering it with layers of wool felt like the Mongolians do. (The soft glow of the roof in that picture is the tip-off to how uninsulated it is. If you see a house covered in snow, with a mushroom-cap roof, it’s either unheated or has GREAT insulation so none of the heat escapes to melt the snow. However, the stove may be a factor – many stoves are actually oversized for such a small space – it burns quickly and actually gets overheated.
    (BTW, I contacted the NYT couple. They say they’re doing well, and that the writer was a city rube, new to Alaska. Also it wasn’t quite as backwoods as the writer implied – they had family & resources close at hand. Dramatic license was involved.)

  5. wool felt + moisture = rot

    works in Mongolia but not everywhere

  6. ‘Couple of great teepee companies out there as well- they’re also comparably affordable. Readymade magazine had a decent article (cover of the most recent issue) on a yurt/teepee/trailer “hotel” down south, that offers up lodging in your choice of shelters- very affordably.

    My BOOK is NOW OUT “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts (And Whatever The Heck Else We Could Squeeze In Here!)”

  7. Can someone explain to me how wool felt rots? It’s pretty impervious stuff in my experience. I do wonder why the yurt companies offer such tall versions as well as non-wool insulation. That would solve much of the heating/waste energy issue. Install something like a finnish stove and you’ve solved the overburn of wood issue.

    It begins to look better (and no a finnish stove isn’t that much heavier than a regular cast iron wood stove)

    • I think the issue comes about when water pools and sits for long periods of time. That is just a guess though, I would think the mold from the sitting water would make it a poor choice.

      The reason for the tall roofs, again just a guess here, is people like tall ceilings and a taller ceiling mean greater slope of roof (which helps prevent snow build up or water pooling).

    • Wool doesn’t rot, it gets moldy. Not good if you have asthma!

  8. Hi folks,
    RE: insulation, felted wool isn’t used for reasons of molding in wetter climates and with condensation, and also factors of cost and availability of wool (it’s not ususally a local resource like it is in Central Asia). Though Howie Oakes of GoYurt Shelters did develop a wool insulation from locally sourced Oregon wool.

    The NASA-developed reflective insulation used in yurts works on a different principle from the conductive insulation we are used to, which holds heat or cold in a room. Reflective insulation reflects heat back in once a heat source is already going; it won’t hold the heat in once the source goes out. It is, however, very effective and yurts in cold climates can be toasty warm without using and inordinate amout of resources.

    It’s also important to insulate more than just wall and ceilings (e.g., floors, skirting around the platform) and to add extra insulation if required (e.g., rigid foam insul between rafters, quilts hung on walls, etc.). A fan helps to send the rising heat back down from that high ceiling. And there are other tricks… just like with any form of shelter.

    For more info, check out the FAQ’s page on www.yurtinfo.org.

    thanks for the great blog!
    becky kemery
    Author of “YURTS: Living in the Round”

  9. Thanks for the link Becky, “Yurt The Best!” guffaw….
    Your site’s great!

    I’ll have to check out the book too!

  10. I have to have a flushing toilet. And I don’t want to have to burn wood. I figure I’ll use a blue flame heater. For about three hundred dollars they are as close to 100 percent efficient. Have you googled dc heat pumps? I have a small background in air conditioning. There are dc compressors for sale if you google them. Many of them use r134-a which is available at Walt-Mart or AutoZone without a certification required to buy it. So I think I can install my own septic system for around $2000.00. And while installing it before putting the dirt back in the trenches of the seep field, I’m going to get a double duty and lay Pex tubing for a ground source heat pump. There are condenser coils that run water in an outer tubing while the refrigerant flows the opposite direction, so it can be used in a heat pump no matter how cold it gets. Most heat pumps work to a temperature of 40 degrees. A ground source dc heat pump would work with minimal power usage, and I think it can be installed fairly inexpensively. Heating using a heat pump however makes a house feel drafty so I want a blue flame heater for the very cold days of winter. I don’t have a solution for using an electric stove or oven as the energy consumption is rather large and I have no idea what size of solar system it would require. Since I am going to have to have propane for the stove anyway, a propane blue flame heater makes sense. I’m thinking of using RV appliances to save on space, so why not a propane refrigerator? I have to have a dishwasher and a garbage disposal. I’m not going to rough it at all. PDAnet is fast enough for my internet. I need a Satellite dish for my big screen TV.

    You can get five gallon buckets of fire retardant on the internet. I agree that the insulation qualities of the foil back bubble wrap may not be sufficient. But, the DAV’s have low priced quilts. I’m going to do some heavy duty second hand store shopping and use quilts under the foil insulation. And I sure don’t want my walls to burn so I’ll make everything fire retardant as I install it. It won’t cost much and it’s very green to recycle the quilts. They would look nice under lattice work as well.

    It’s pretty easy to make solar panels. Everything takes time and patience. But, make an assembly line and construct several at a time.

    It’s a goal of mine to drive the whole project down to the smallest dollar amount that I can and have all the comforts of the inner city. I don’t pretend that I will get any responses that help me from posting here. But just in case, I have yet to size the components for the heat pump. It should be a 2 1/2 to 3 ton unit. Everything changes when you use a different coolant. I don’t want to experiment. I want to put it together and have it work.

    I’m not sure what or where when it comes to the covering of the outside walls. I would like to be able to make everything myself, but I suppose there are a few things that will make sense to purchase from yurt maker. Billboard covers are a great idea for low cost covering material, with the exception that the sun reduces their life span to about five years. They are cheap and water proof. I don’t know if they can be protected from the sun’s rays and extend their life.

  11. Cool roofing is the fastest growing sector of the building industry, as building owners and facility managers realize the immediate and long-term benefits of roofs that stay cool in the sun. Coolearthcontracting.com – provides full range services and specializes in commercial roofing, epoxy coating and Reflective roof which helps to Reduce up to 15% of annual air-conditioning use.

  12. I have been to outer mongolia and had the great fortune to see nomadic mongolians in their camp with their extraordinarily beautiful yurts. They were made from a very heavy canvas with beautiful designs sewn on it. They were very efficient. All of the cooking was done in the middle of the yurt floor under the rooftop hole. Logs or dung was used for cooking. The smoke went up through the hole in the rooftop. The rooftop had another small protective roof over it so water and snow was deflected down the side of the yurt rooftop. The heat from the cooking logs was used as heat for interior warmth. Warm yak milk was a constant food item on the logs. They were picked up and moved when the Mongolians moved to new grasslands for their herds of goats or horses. The circular form is, of course, a sacred geometric space for tribal people for thousands of years. The problem with Americans is they want a yurt with a designer look. What’s the point? If you want to impress the world, just buy a small house and you won’t have remorse when it comes down to having to truly living in tune with nature. People in that part of the world have backbones of steel and are happy with their simple lives.

  13. I am glad you said it Zhide! It’s what I’ve been thinking just about every entry. Americanized yurts aren’t yurts anymore. Get it low to the ground, burn the wood, insulate it with wool, move it every once and a while, batten down the hatches, make the necessary repairs as you go. Live outside and drink fermented mares milk!

  14. Straw bale “construction” is, by definition, not a yurt. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad idea.

  15. 2 things that reflective insulation give you are 1) it does reflect back radiant energy and 2) it will help prevent inside condensation. However, it is indeed a very poor insulator in and of itself. However, to add what little insulation there is in reflective insulation, and outside cover placed over it with an air gap will insulate very well. I built a tipi of reflective insulation (duct taped together). I set it up with 6 inside poles. I put the reflective insulation cover on the 6 poles and then added 6 more poles and then laid a large tarp (poly ethylene tarp) over it thus producing a air gap between the tarp and the polyethylene tarp. I heated the structure with a kerosene convection heater. This made a great winter camp shelter. I am now building a yurt using the same cover principles just laid out.

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