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Alternative Homes the Yurt

Updated on January 10, 2015

These photos should help you to appreciate the yurt.

This is a detail of the basic structure of yurt construction showing the lath-work, door and window openings, the side cover and dome.
This is a detail of the basic structure of yurt construction showing the lath-work, door and window openings, the side cover and dome.
This looks comfy. The interior of a large yurt can give all the comforts of what we regard as our traditional style of home.
This looks comfy. The interior of a large yurt can give all the comforts of what we regard as our traditional style of home.
This is an alternative way to construct a yurt. This incorporates the wall with the roof in one unit.
This is an alternative way to construct a yurt. This incorporates the wall with the roof in one unit.
This is what the traditional yurt appears like, but this one is made of modern materials.
This is what the traditional yurt appears like, but this one is made of modern materials.
The Indian teepee is another type of home. Though quicker to raise ans strike, the yurt has advantages that the teepee lacks.
The Indian teepee is another type of home. Though quicker to raise ans strike, the yurt has advantages that the teepee lacks.

Yurts are a real alternative to contemporaty building techniques.

In this day and age of going green and alternative ideas, people are looking into new ideas as far as homes are concerned. People are looking beyond wood, cement brick and stone to alternative materials and construction techniques. Increasingly, as cities are swept by disasters, people are looking for quick answers for quick homes. One ancient idea developed and perfected by nomads in the east, is the yurt.

The yurt can be seen as a cross between a permanent structure like a wood frame house and a tent or teepee. Whereas a wood frame house is mean to remain in one spot for the duration of its life and a tent or teepee can be struck down, moved and pitched in a few minutes to an hour, the traditional yurt takes a few days to tear down and reconstruct. Thus the yurt can be seen as something of a hybrid between a permanent dwelling and a highly mobile one like a tent or teepee. The yurt is meant to stay in a spot for a few to several months. When taken apart for transport, they are moved on the backs of camels or yaks. In the western world that has adopted the yurt for similar reasons as the inventors of the yurt did or for recreation, they are moved in a pick-up truck or in some cases, even horse-back where wheeled vehicles can't go. Yurts are made to be used as long as the materials will hold out and can be replaced in part or whole depending on what is required. They are the ultimate in green technology.

The yurt and its derivatives were developed by pastoral people that worked herds of sheep, yaks or other pastoral animals that had to be taken to various pastures following the cycle of the seasons, particularly in mountainous areas and mountain steppes. Yurts as homes are found in Mongolia, Siberia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Hindustan (North India, the Punjab) and more recently in the Midwestern US and Canada. Yurts that are found in semi-arid near desert regions and frozen highland plains year round in many parts of the world, form the mainstay of a livable habitat. These buildings use all natural materials that are readily available to the people who build them either by direct access or trade with surrounding peoples for things like wood that is usually not found in semi-arid regions and mountains.

The yurt is a rounded structure, with vertical side, often with a conical or rounded roof. The basic construction is the use of a lattice of wood for a frame that is made in sections or wrapped around as a single piece and covered over with felt made from wool that is secured to the lattice frame. The felt is covered with canvas for waterproofing. The roof may be supported with one or more poles within the interior. In the case of the conical roof, this is added separately and tied to the round form of straight and vertical walls. In the rounded roof variety, the lattice is extended from the walls and curved inward to the center to make the roof. A hole is left to serve as a smoke vent for a fire that is made inside for cooking and heating. Where wood is rare, dried dung is used for keeping a fire going. The lattice is constructed to allow for a doorway that is incorporated in the design. Modern yurts in North America are usually made of hi-tech materials and are lighter in weight than traditional yurts. This can consist of heavy a duty plastic lattice or individual plastic or fiberglass rods.

The wooden lattice is woven from strips of wood that is similar in construction to the woven design of some wooden garden structures used to train roses and other decorative shrubs. The lath that makes up the woven wooden walls is tied together where they cross one another. Onto this is tied the felt and canvas covering. As wool that makes up the felt is an excellent insulator, the yurt can be kept warm in extreme cold with a minimum of fuel. Sometimes an inner wall is constructed for better insulation similar to the ozan within a Plains Indian teepee that is also comfortable during deep cold snaps. The inner wall is designed to lessen escaping heat from the chimney hole. People who live in yurts all their lives are comfortable in extreme weather such as found in Mongolia, Siberia and in the mountain steppes of the Orient and Russia. Yurts have the advantage of vertical walls so that space is not wasted close to the bottom as in the teepee. These people typically live at elevations of 5,000 feet or more.

So you'd like to build a yurt. Hers are some more resources.

Typically, yurts are constructed to house several people of family groups covering all generations in comfort and the body heat of these people actually help to keep the environment inside comfortably warm even in sub-zero weather. People eat, entertain themselves and sleep in yurts even today. In many parts of the world, the yurt is the only building structure you will ever see on the landscape. Animals like sheep, yaks and camels are kept outside nearby. People will rotate in turn to tend the animals and keep a watch for predators like wild dogs and large cats. Animals that die from exposure to the cold are used for food.

In our mostly sedentary lifestyle of large cities, we use other means of housing that use masonry, concrete, metal, glass and wood. These are not meant to be moved. For the adventurous and those engaged in modern day sheep herding and ranching, a high tech yurt can be a place of comfort in a hostile weather situation. Modern yurts can also be erected and struck much faster than the traditional yurt that is meant to stay in a spot for a few months. High-tech models can be erected in a day by a couple of people.

Yurt promotion societies exist to promote yurts as a low impact, environmentally friendly alternative homes. They are sold on the idea that almost anyone can afford a yurt as opposed to a traditional home. A yurt does not have to be moved around, unless one uses it for camping or for work like that at archeological sites. A yurt can be built from locally available material. In North America, this can mean that the frame is constructed using willow in a lathwork and this can be covered with canvas. A central pole can be made from lodge pole pine that has the advantage of length, narrow girth and lightness that was prized for that reason by the Plains Indians for their teepees and wigwams. Similar to a teepee, an inner fabric can be mounted within the interior to form an ozan for insulation purposes. Those who chose to make a yurt or buy a high-tech model can equip it with a small stove heating and cooking purposes. The lightness of a high-tech yurt will require that it is secured firmly to the ground to prevent it blowing over or away in a high wind. The yurt can be scaled to incorporate every member of the group or family. The interior is roomy in the larger versions and can be plumbed and wired for electricity, making it more like a modern home. Electricity can be generated locally using a small scale wind generator or even from a small turbine in flowing water. It can be furnished with the type of furniture you find comfortable. In addition, yurts are flexible in size, especially if you tailor make your own.

Should you build or buy a yurt? This is a personal decision depending on a lot of factors. It may be possible to test before you invest, but those who are into camping may consider a high-tech yurt as opposed to an expensive and often cumbersome tent. The yurt is also a consideration for housing the homeless due to its economy, ease and rapidity of construction. Every city and region has waste-land or regions not being used at this time. These can be turned into housing blocks where yurts can be erected for people who are homeless. In the present difficult economic circumstances sweeping the globe, the yurt is a viable and green alternative.

For more information on yurts, please check out;





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    • LongTimeMother profile image


      6 years ago from Australia

      Another off-grid family in my area is living in a yurt. They recently ordered an authentic yurt from Mongolia and it was delivered with all the poles etc ready to be erected. I haven't had time to go and visit yet but I hear it is brilliant.

    • syzygyastro profile imageAUTHOR

      William J. Prest 

      8 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      It was nice to come back to this piece and it's something I'm considering.

    • profile image

      Yurt Holidays 

      8 years ago

      Your article was very informative. It made me want to really try out spending my holidays in a yurt. The photos you posted were also splendid. Thank you!

    • Linnit profile image


      9 years ago from London

      Great hub - I love yurts!


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