The Mongolian Yurt
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What is a yurt? Is it a tent? Is it a hut? Is it a shack? Is it a cabin? Pick up the book titled, “Build a Yurt!” This book was written by a guy in the 1970’s that actually visited Mongolia. This web site has a nice gallery of yurt photo’s. Yurt Gallery Yurts are actually called a Ger in Mongolian. Ger means home or dwelling. It is a light wooden frame, circular like the native American Tee Pee, yet shaped more like a short grain silo. I think we have all seen grain silo’s in America. It was probably covered in hides by the Mongolian’s. They may have used some heavy cloths (canvas) as well. It was insulated with thick felt made from animal hair. They were tied down with stakes and guy ropes or chords, in the similar fashion as tents. Yurts have a sky light at the top which serves a similar purpose as the hole in the top of the Tee Pee.
You may want to read a related article Green? my blog post on the green building trend and green living.
Yurts were known to withstand hurricane strength or blizzard winds of around 90mph(144kph). They are as strong as most of our buildings when it comes to wind resistance. Since yurts are round houses they are very energy efficient to heat. Yurts consist of a frame of 1 inch(2.5 cm) by 2 inch(5 cm) or 1 inch(2.5 cm) by 3 inch(7.5 cm) sticks or ribs. These are oriented in a lattice work pattern for both the side and the roof support. Of course these can be built right on the ground or on any kind of floor and foundation. I list here a parts list for a yurt which will be 22 feet(6.7 m) in diameter and have about 7 foot(2.13 m) side walls. It will rise to about 12 (3.6) to 14 (4.2) feet (m) in the middle. This yurt will be constructed on a wooden floor which will be about 2 feet(60 cm) above grade (ground level). It will have one door and the sky light and possibly some windows. When completed it will have 400 square feet(37 m2) of dry floor space.
11.33 foot (3.45 m) radius. 22.66 foot (6.9 m) diameter. 403.2 square(37.43 m2) foot floor space. 71.18 foot (21.69 m) circumference. Here is a Yurt Math PDF The side walls will be built with sections of lattice. The lattice is made from 1×2’s and will be about 8 feet long. The roof lattice will be made from 1×2’s(2.5x5cm) and 1×3’s(2.5×7.5cm) The 2(5cm) inch side will be on top and laid horizontally. The 3 inch(7.5cm) side will be vertical and function similarly as rafters.
- 140-1″x2″x8′ (2.5cm x 5cm x 2.43m) sticks for wall lattice.
- 70-1″x2″x12′ (2.5cm x 5cm x 3.65m) sticks for roof lattice.
- 70-1″x3″x12′ (2.5cm x 7.5cm x 3.65m) sticks for roof lattice.
- 3/8″ (9.5mm) steel cable 75 feet(22.86m) long (for the 70 foot (21.33m) perimeter)
- Rope for guying. Or cable for guying.
- 6 to 8 Wooden or Rebar Steaks
- Turn buckles for tightening the steel cable.
- 6 to 8 Cable clamps.
- Small finishing nails.
- 4’x4′ (1m x 1m) foot piece of Plexiglas (for the sky light).
- Side covering. 8 feet by 72 feet in size. (2.43m x 21.94m)(canvas or vertical wood or tin) Contact an awning maker for this.
- Roof covering. This is a cone shaped piece. in 11 feet the roof will rise about 5 feet(1.52m). (canvas or wood shakes or tin) A circular piece of about 25 feet(7.62m) in diameter might work. The circumference would need to be 71 to 80 feet(21m to 24m) maybe.
- 500 feet (150m) of Nylon chord for tying down the roof covering, if the roof covering is made of some cloth like material.
- Linseed oil, to be rubbed onto the lattice pieces.
Parts list for the floor.
- 6, 6″x6″x11.33 feet in length beams size (can be larger than 6×6 such as 6×9). The angle between the outer hexagon beams is 120 degrees. The angle between the main beam across the middle and the diagonal is 60 degrees.
- 1, 22.66 foot 6×6 (6×9) beam.
- 44- 2″x6″x10′ for floor joist spaced every 1 foot
- Or 22- 2″x8″x10′ for floor joist spaced every 2 feet (if used 6×9 beams)
- Joist hangers, metal sheeting for custom hangers, or pipe strapping. If using strapping then toe nailing is required. Do not end nail for support.
- 1x planks for flooring. If 1×4 will need 132. If 1×6 will need 88. They will be 10 foot long. Planing and tong and grove jointing would be nice.
- Plywood for cantilever floor support. This is for the edge that hang over the beams. Figure a 71 foot circle then draw a line from one edge of the circle to another edge which is 11.33 feet long. There will be 6 such areas.
- 100’s of 16 penny nails or long wood screws.
- Stone or blocking for support to lift the floor 1.5 feet off the ground.
- Linseed oil for some rot protection (to be sprayed on beams)
An insulated floor might need these parts..
- 6 mil plastic to be draped over the joist.
- Fiberglass Batt insulation.
- Or wheat straw as insulation. (if I used this I think I’d want a light weight plywood underlay.
- Staples and Staple gun.
Fly Screen might be needed on top and sides to keep insects out.
Instead of the yurt lattice for side, consider a normal 2×4 stick frame side. For the top use two layers of 1″ plywood pieces cut in circular fashion to make a wall plate or 2×4 pieces with angles cut to fit perfectly between studs. A metal top plat would work well also. Use metal plates and sheeting for extra support.
A tin roof with standing seams would be easy enough to make. Would need pieces of tin that were about half a foot wide at the top and maybe 2 or 3 foot wide at the bottom. Top to Bottom edges would be bent up at about 2 inches. You would lay these side by side then use some tool to bend the seam of the edges of two pieces over once then twice. These pieces would be nailed at the top. Something at the top would cover the nail holes, such as the plexiglass sky light cover.
Cost of a yurt?
I shopped around in our area a bit and realized the yurt frame was going to be fairly affordable. Just the frame and all the parts needed to get the frame up might be less than $500. If you look at my article on Log Cabins you will find near the bottom photo’s of my milling operations using the Alaskan Small Log Mill, my chain saw and the Beam Machine. I calculated from that one log I could make 128 10’x1″x2″ pieces. I would probably need a table saw or skill saw to make the 1×2 pieces from 2×18 planks. And at a cost of only about $10 in fuel and oil.
I’m not sure what an awning maker might charge to make the top section and side section but material is near $4 per yard. On this first yurt we will be cutting pieces from an old revival tent. This is some kind of rubberized canvas. A person could use the clickable calculator below to calculate the size of wedge shaped pieces of material needed for a roof piece. You would enter the slope distance and not the horizontal distance for the radius in this case along with the number of pieces. To figure the shape of the round edge simply use a string nailed at the apex, then with a pen tied to the end of the string mark the arc shape for both the outside and the sky light hole. Each piece could then be cut out and sewn/glued together. This could also be used to calculate the sizes for tin roof pieces.
The wood for the floor is a different story all together. I priced this at $2500. It could be done cheaper if rough cut by some local mill, maybe $1000 or so. I bought some tools to mill my own lumber. A used chainsaw, $250. Beam Machine chain saw attachment $50. Grandberg mill chainsaw attachment $200. We plan to mill all the wood for the yurt. Not counting the cost of the milling equipment we hope to have less than $500 into this yurt when finished.
Yurt kits go for $5000 to $8000 or more. If you have the money, the kits are probably worth every penny, though I’m sure a bit overpriced.
I am wondering why the industries of the world do not mass produce yurts and offer them at rock bottom or at cost prices for the homeless around the globe. Or at least to missionaries, peace corps and for disaster relief. The yurt is the perfect temporary shelter for any location anywhere, they just need to be shipped. Its darned arrogant to think that because other peoples around the world can’t afford a modern home that they should have to live in card board boxes or homes made of scrounged parts or whatever. The existence of living in a yurt would be rich to many homeless peoples around the world. Churches around the globe should make these for their missionaries with donated materials. Churches should be the leader in getting this type of housing to people in 3rd world countries.
How about putting yurt on stilts in a flood prone area. It is light weight and this would be easy to do. What about putting a yurt over water? Sure, on stilts over water, would make an awesome lake cabin for lakes with well known maximum water levels.
A ladder could be added which goes from floor up to the sky light for added support, as well as providing a view from the peak of the yurt. Maybe even a great shooting position aye?
A 2nd floor could be added which would serve as a loft. In the above design which I lay out in this article consider an inner 12′ diameter floor where the joist of this floor is 6 feet 6 inches off the main floor. This should give 5 to 6 to 7 feet of head room. 2 to 4 people could then sleep in the loft area. A ladder would be needed for loft access. It would need to be supported by some sturdy columns. These columns may need to descend through the floor to concrete piers and footers. Bracing may also be required on the columns.
Could a yurt be made from poles for the lattice works? I’m sure Mongolians used poles. I’d guess 1 to 3 inches in diameter tree’s and limbs could work if they are straight enough and don’t taper too much.
How about a bamboo yurt? Would river cane or fishing pole cane work for a very very small yurt? Or how about combining small river cane into chords which make up the yurt poles or sticks for the lattice.
Other variations on the yurt theme. For example if its a permanent yurt, many different things would work well for round, cylinder walls. Then the yurt wood top could be used as traditionally.
Earthen walls to include. Super Adobe, Adobe, Rammed Earth, Earth Bag, Earth Tube.
How about papercrete sprayed on the yurt frame? I’m not sure that I’d do the roof section that way, but for the wall lattice this method would work nicely, and provide some insulation. Papercrete has an R rating of 2R or 3R per inch of thickness. If you couldn’t stand to cover the nice wood lattice with papercrete then blocks could be made and stacked around the outside of the lattice as the wall covering. The roof covering could then drape down over the papercrete wall veneer. I sheet and some vapor barrier plastic could be between the lattice and the papercrete wall veneer. Other variations of wall veneering might be possible too, such as the earthen methods I listed above.
Verticle Log walls can be done using a variety of methods.
Grain Silo walls.
Steel or metal frame instead of wood? Any kind of scrap metal might work for this. Tac weld the frame where the lattice pieces cross. Would make a frame way stronger than the wood yurt frame. Use angle iron for the roof for at least one direction in the lattice. Flat iron could be used for the sides. How about rebar? How about Metal pipe? PVC or Plastic Pipe filled with grout or some other material to make it rigid? And as long as we are putting up metal frames, how about gunite or shotcrete? Plaster? of course metal lathe or chicken wire might be needed. The yurt frame and structure and design could be made many different ways if one put his mind to it.
I was told at a Genghis Khan exhibit, where they had an authentic yurt on display, that it took 10 men 10 days and 200 sheep to make the cover for one yurt. If you are interested in felting yourself, look up felting machines on Ebay. Also one can hand felt with felting needles (not me). A felting machine resembles a sewing machine in appearance. Basically all animal hairs have joints. If you wet the hair and agitate it, the hairs align an interlock making felt. Wool, Angora, Mohair and other animal hairs can be felted. If the felt is thick enough its even water proof. It insulates really well.
The way the mongols made felt was to take a felt mat and add a layer of fresh hair to it, wet it, then roll it up like a rolled up carpet. Then they would tie it to a rope and drag it for miles behind horses. The new felt would then merge with the old felt.
Update on our yurt plans. We were first going to build Gary Tuck a friend of mine a yurt. We had decided it might go good next to a good sized pond on their place. The problem we were having was in keeping the cost down near $500 for the whole project. We have had found a way to do that but it required milling quit a few logs for the floor decking and structure. Not having time for that has postponed the whole project a year. However, Gary Tuck recently found a source for free 4’x8′ pallets. I also have a brother that can get me random sized pallets for free from his business. So we have new plan.
We can get used light poles from the power company for free. These are treated so they would make great post/piles. His pond’s water level usually drop 4 feet or so in summer. So we are now planning to construct using these post a platform/deck 1.5 feet off the ground at the lowest point and probably 3 feet off the water. It will extend maybe 4 feet over the water when the water is at normal full levels. We will put in the piles, then attach some 2×4 bracing to them. We will attach treated 4×4’s on top of the pile to run horizontally as the main structure for holding up the pallets. We will staple 6 mil plastic to the underside of the pallets. The pallets will lay on top of the 4×4’s and overhang a foot all the way around on the perimeter. The area under where the yurt will be placed will have used/recycled fiberglass batt insulation stuffed in that we will take from an abandoned mobile home. We will then nail down thin plywood sub floor on top of the pallets.
Using my chain saw I will cut the 2×4’s off some of the pallets to make 1.5’x1″x4″ flooring planks. We may floor the entire deck with this. Then sand it with a huge electric buffer/sander. Then water seal it. The area where the yurt will go however will need a 22’diameter additional flooring in a circle shape. We will mark this area and lay down some additional flooring and cut it to shape with a router. Again sand it and apply water seal. This will make a deck 28’x28′ leaving 6 feet on the water side for a porch/deck that overhangs the water 4′. There will be 3′ on each side of the yurt on the sides. And the yurt will be at the edge of the deck on the land side opposite the pond. The total cost in this may go slightly over $500 maybe even up to $750. We intend to mill the lattice framework from logs. And use an old revival tent to make sides for the yurt. The roof may still be a problem. I’m trying to talk Gary into roofing it with #10 cans used as shingles. Though I’d prefer a canvas roof if we can get that cheaply enough. If we can’t then the price will go up above $750 to who knows how much more, maybe $1500.
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