The yurt at dusk
I’m not accustomed to segmenting my blog posts into sections, so please excuse the bumpy transitions. I’ve never had a project or musing large enough to merit multiple passages.
Before and scaffolding
And now onto the construction of the yurt itself. We did not have the luxury of time to build a yurt from scratch so we ordered a customized yurt kit from a Western Slope (of Colorado) yurt maker. It was delivered directly to our landing spot in various rolled up bundles. Sadly I don’t have a before picture of the delivery; it was stunning that a pile so meager would actually become a home for two. In preparation for the big construction day, we built a scaffolding to help with the building because the yurt is so tall. More on the importance of — and stress of — said scaffolding later on.
Walls and a door
The day of the yurt raising arrived and the skies promised to be sunny without scorching and breezy without gale force winds. Our crew of six included my dad and stepmom and my local relatives. After fueling up with a big breakfast and donning our sunscreen and work gloves, we immediately got to work at 8 am. The instructions were less than helpful so there was some deciphering and decision making that occurred right from the start. Along the way we had to remind ourselves that the Mongolians erect and deconstruct such structures throughout the year without elaborate detailed books. The first order of business was to orient and place the door without bolting it into place. This required someone (me) to hold the door up while everyone else worked around the upright door on an otherwise deck. I felt like I was on a comedy sketch holding onto a door with no walls; knock, knock jokes ensued. Next up the crosshatched walls (uni in Mongolian) were unrolled and stretched out before being bolted to the deck with the door still being held in place. We placed a cable around the top of the walls to later place the rafters on. The construction of the walls and door were so quick, we had the brief delusional thought that the yurt would be done within a matter of hours. And then came the roof.
Rafters and a ring
The most crucial part of the roof construction was to lift the enormous and leaden center ring into place atop the scaffolding. This required our project engineer to lift 50 pounds plus directly above his head and then hold onto the ring. He then utilized climbing gear to tie the ring down so that it couldn’t fall down on us below. After the ring was hoisted up, then the rafters were rather quickly assembled around the walls and attached to the cables. We did not work on the rafters in any order, they had to be arranged to spread the weight around the evolving roof. The ring attempted to fall off the scaffolding rig with only a couple of the rafters on, our first scare on the otherwise safe worksite. During this process, It was helpful to have a few of us on the ground being able to assess where the best placement of the next rafter would be. Considering the scale of the roof (20 feet circular), it was assembled in less than 2 hours with everyone working together to move rafters up to the scaffolding and then attach the base to the cable.
Project Engineer and assistant formulating a plan for the roof
The roof would continue to be our biggest challenge yet of the construction with the placement of the actual roofing material. The outside of our yurt is an industrial weather-durable thick canvas designed to be outside in any element for years. In fact, our roof has a fifteen year warranty. First we placed a white roof liner (so that our ceiling is not just insulation) on top of the rafters. Naturally, this was when the wind kicked up to give us an extra challenge. After the liner was down and secured, we added the additional insulation panels on top of the liner. These were in multiple pieces and in the bright mid-afternoon sun, kept trying to fly off and not stay attached. The insulation around the yurt is made of a reflective material and about a half inch think and very pliable. Being in a climate with four distinct seasons, insulation is critical for year round living. We were jumping between ladders trying to secure everything prior to attaching the true roof. And here is where the scaffolding was both our source of assistance and consternation. To complete the roof, we had to lift the bundle of roofing material (weighing upwards of one hundred pounds) up to the scaffolding to three adults ready to unroll it. From my vantage point below as one of the folks bracing the scaffolding, it was pretty nerve wracking to watch them wrangle the unruly bundle up and onto the roof. The material was not easy to unroll into place. There was a lot of grunting and cursing from above and below. Once somewhat in place, we created an elaborate scheme to stretch the material across the roof from below. Although built to withstand weather, this is not a roof in which you can walk out on and fix things. Employing climbing gear yet again, we attached carabiners to the tags on the material and looped a climbing rope through. Then four of us pulled and tugged it into submission. This exercise occurred in various places around the circle and for several hours until the roof was in place. The instructions in our manual made it sound like all you had to do was plop the roof up and it would roll gently and seamlessly into place. Yep that manual needs a few upgrades!
The last step of our roof was to hoist the bubble up and into place. The bubble was lifted from below and, again using climbing gear, pulled up to the sides of the roof and then quickly into place. And with the bubble in place, the roof was complete and the scaffolding could come down at last. And no one was injured on the non-OSHA approved job site!
Exterior walls in process
The intricate wall construction
Now as the day began to dim into night, we still had to put the wall insulation and material up. Working quickly we got the insulation panels up and tied into place in sections along the cable. I should mention that the interior fabric of our yurt is nice bright white, perfect for construction in a field. We naturally have some shoe prints and dog paw marks gracing our mostly pristine walls. Once again the exterior wall was another massive roll of fabric. I don’t even know how to accurately describe the process that was putting up the this part of the fabric wall. Between the Project Engineer and me standing on ladders and the giant roll being handled a few feet in front of us, we crocheted (literally) ropes into other ropes all the way around the thing. With the sun and our blood sugars quickly descending, we got to the end of the roll of fabric and surprise!, there was still about two feet of yurt remaining and no extra fabric. There was some extra tugging and grunting and a collective decision to stop for the night before we devolved into an even more exhausted heap. Over margaritas and mexican food in town, there was a sense of satisfaction but not completion. There was exhaustion but the knowledge that 12 hours of nonstop work did not complete the job. Still, it was amazing that the six of us managed to nearly build a house in a long summer day.
The following morning, greeted a fresh start with better can-do attitudes and full bellies and a new set of eyes on the project. Sara (whose property we live on) spent years living on a sailboat. She said that there was enough fabric to go around, it would just require pulling and tugging and make little progresses turn into a big one. So we pulled and we tugged and we pulled and we tugged and after at least five times around we were within a half inch. And this half inch was easy to fix. A few hours later when my parents arrived, there were shocked when across the orchard they did not see the two feet of glaring insulation. They were so impressed and couldn’t believe it was done. Sometimes it takes stepping away from and new eyes to solve problems. We then sat in the yurt and enjoyed a glass of champagne together, everyone enjoying the space and the quiet of our new home.
Cheers! Champagne toast to the new home.
The lessons learned constructing our home are myriad. First, climbing gear is super helpful in construction sites as well as adventuring. Second, there is nearly always a solution; sometimes it just requires a new perspective. Third, when embarking on a big project, it is good to celebrate the small successes along the way because things are never going to go as planned. And fourth, friends and family that can support and contribute to a big project are the biggest gift of all.
And next time, projects built to facilitate full time living in the yurt and what a normal day is like inside.