The Biggest Project Yet — Part 1

New Home with Mesa Verde in the background

New Home with Mesa Verde in the background

Of all the projects I have been involved in, none have been as momentous and life changing as building our own home.  Tired of paying too much for too little and living next to neighbors with no concept of quiet hours or smoking rules, we received an offer to build a temporary home on our friend’s apple orchard 10 miles east of Mesa Verde National Park.  And this is where we now live.  The home is off grid but within an acre of a cozy home with hot water, a washing machine and a refrigerator.  We are surrounded by heirloom apple trees, roaming deer and a big open sky.  We watch the stars through the bubble of our roof instead of scrolling through endless hours on the internet.  We have a 300 foot circle in which to simply be after work.

Aha! It’s level!

The first process of the yurt building was to make a deck and to survey a flat spot for the home.  What looks to be a simple task in actuality involves hours upon hours of staking, measuring and rearranging.  Having an engineer as your companion in this crazy life makes building a heck of a lot easier!  When we placed the first center board down and got it level, we were ecstatic.  But celebratory moments are fleeting because there cannot be distraction on a job site.  Once the leveling was complete, the deck building commenced at a rapid-ish pace.

A level foundation

A level foundation

The foundation took about a full 12 hour day to construct.  Being organized and proactive was key; we ordered all of our building materials from local mills and staged everything near the site, including the van which housed all of our food, water, shade and sunscreen.  After the first night, we collapsed into the van and slept soundly.

Constructing the deck

Constructing the deck

The second full day of construction involved placing rigid foam insulation to the foundation before construction the yurt deck.  We were working in the southwest heat on top of reflective insulation pieces for hours.  Remember when it was fashionable to place foil under your face while sunbathing for optimal burning and rapid aging?  Well, that was this was like except it was underneath our entire bodies.  And here I would like to mention how grateful I am for gatorade because I have never sweat so much in my life.  Anyhow, on to the deck building.  We had chosen to have beetle-kill Ponderosa pine milled for our deck.  Beetle kill has been rampant in Colorado and there is a lot of excess lumber because of it.  It has very interesting hues from blueish to purple when it meets the natural red of the pine and a lot of character.  We had the wood milled with tongues and grooves thinking that we could simply snap it all together across the deck.  Wishful thinking!  Because our wood was beetle killed, it was wonky and not straight in the least.  We wound up having to cut the wood into 4 foot pieces instead of our 8 -12 as we originally planned.  In order to facilitate all of this new sizing, we had to rent a generator which promptly died on us mid cutting.  We then loaded all of the wood into the truck and drove it to our electricity source to cut down to the new size.  We built the entire deck with no power on the site: we used hammers, mallets and hand saws.  Building the deck was a process requiring several more weeknights after work to construct.

A round deck

A round deck

Constructing in the round created an additional set of challenges.  When we first began construction of the deck, we found the true center and marked it with nail which we then affixed with a piece of string to measure.  We needed a perfectly round 20 foot circle, so we were constantly measuring 10 feet from the nail in a circle to make sure we were on the mark.  After copious measuring, we created a length of extension cords out to the site that would have given any OSHA inspector heart palpitations.  For the task of making the deck a circle, a powered circular saw was necessary.  We attached a pencil to the string and made a perfect 20 ft circle to cut.  Once the circle was complete, we added a band of OSB to the deck about an inch up in order to attach the yurt.  We also encased the bottom in roofing material to ward off the potential for animal settlement underneath.  We also sanded and sealed the wood until we could construct the yurt.

And next time, how we constructed the yurt.


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