Raising a Yurt in Fairbanks

This last weekend I had the privilege to add a new skill to my construction resume when I and group of dynamic and great individuals put up a round, vinyl sided house called a yurt. If you are now thinking to yourself “a vinyl sided building in a landscape where temperatures can reach 50 below??… that’s crazy!” your thoughts are actually right on track, it’s a little bonkers. However, with the proper heat and insulation yurts can be a warm and comfortable way to get through life in the Interior.

The construction day was marked by beautiful skies, great company, strong coffee, pizza, and some local brew. I’ll head into some details of yurts (if you’re into that kind of thing, and I’m just learning for the first time), but first, here’s the timelapse of the day. I think the timelapse is pretty fun!

The yurt is originally a Mongolian structure associated with nomadic horse herders of Mongolia .and appeared for the first time in records near 500 BC although yurts have likely been around since 1000BC – that’s quite awhile! (although, to put it in perspective, Bristlecone pines may be 5000 years old, meaning they germinated ~3000BC). The structure is easy to take down and move which benefited the lifestyle of the Mongolian horse herder.

As you construct a yurt you, the builder, quickly gain appreciation for the efficiency of the dwelling. It is amazing that 6-8 untrained people could put up the bulk of the structure in just 8 hours! This yurt (http://www.nomadshelter.com/) was constructed on a raised platform with the about 10 inches of foam in the floor providing rigidity and insulation (~R50). The windows and doors were framed, and lathe which supports the walls was stretched between each of the frames. Stretched on top of the lathe a 3/8 cable hooked onto 2×4 rafters which joined into the central ring at the peak of the building. The tension of the boards on the cable holds the whole thing up; we found that 2 guys could sit on the peak with no stress the the building. It’s amazing that with NO nails you can support the weight of 300 pounds of man!

Once the rafters are on, the roof insulation and cover are put up and extra insulation is stuffed into the roof cavity. The walls are hung and insulated and finally the outer cover is put on. Adding in a few windows, a door, a roof cap with a stove pipe, and a stove will ensure your yurt is ready for the Fairbanks winter!

The images below were taken by Chris Behnke, the yurt owner. They show up close some of the key pieces of the yurt.

In the center of the platform a scaffolding was built and the center ring was suspended.
In the center of the platform a scaffolding was built and the center ring was suspended.

 

Here you can see the lathe which support the walls of the yurt. If the yurt was ever taken down simply collapse the lathe for portability!
Here you can see the lathe which support the walls of the yurt. If the yurt was ever taken down simply collapse the lathe for portability!
The yurt had windows and doors framed first. The tops of the framing lined up with the lathe walls and a cable was strung in a circle around the top. That cable supported the roof rafter boards and vinyl.
The yurt had windows and doors framed first. The tops of the framing lined up with the lathe walls and a cable was strung in a circle around the top. That cable supported the roof rafter boards and vinyl.
The center ring is supported by a rafter boards joined to the circular cable running around the outside. It's amazing to support a roof without a sing nail!
The center ring is supported by a rafter boards joined to the circular cable running around the outside. It’s amazing to support a roof without a single nail, and it could support the weight of two guys!

So, the next time you’re at local ski resort and they put you up in one of these round, wonderful buildings you are now equipped with all sorts of conversation starters 😉

13 thoughts on “Raising a Yurt in Fairbanks”

  1. My, I’ve just never heard or seen of anything like this. So INTERESTING! I’m impressed that you always include your sources and helpful links. So, I assume the curvature isn’t enough to cause trouble with the windows and doors. Are they a smaller size than usual?

    1. The windows and doors are framed just like they are in a house and the siding wraps around the frames. So, no change there! As for the size, they actually can be quite large, of course in a Yurt they cover a large surface area relative to the walls – so they can be heat sinks. It’s a trade-off between view size and how much wood you want to throw in the stove! So, these windows are actually quite large (3x3ish), Chris elected for the view!

  2. Hi Ian, I found the yurt very interesting because I had never heard of them until I saw an article in the paper. last Sunday. One of the National Parks are building them to rent out to the tourists for 50 dollars a night. I think its a great idea!! The construction is amazing. The pictures from the plane are great. Too bad the weather messed up what would have been a great day. Maybe there will be another opportunity. I guess we do have a number of Sand Hill Cranes here. Dan said he saw a flock of about 20 of them in the field not far from here. He enjoyed watching your video. We have had nice weather- Temps in the high 60’s and up to 70. By the first part of next week that will change. Daylight saving time is just around the corner again. I wish they would leave it on standard time. We really need some rain – like about six inches at least but not all at once. I better remember the old saying – be carefull what you wish for!! Just about News time and into the sack!! Looking forward to hearing from you. Take care and God Bless Love you, Grammy

  3. I would love to know how you fair in the Fairbanks winter in the yurt. I have had people tell me that at -30 outside they were like 18 degrees inside when they awoke and the fire had died out. I am in Fairbanks as well and just bought a tiny house but thought about adding a yurt on the property but wonder if good old fashion cabin might be warmer and more sustainable? Anyway I wouldn’t want to ask anyone outside of Fairbanks as our weather is different than other areas even other areas in Alaska. 🙂 Please keep me posted on how effective it is!! 🙂

    1. Hi Tammy,

      Thanks for checking in! This yurt was actually constructed by my friend, Chris. So, I can keep tabs with him, but unfortunately won’t be able to give you a day-to-day of life in a yurt. I do know they can be a bit troublesome to keep heated – need a stove that holds its heat even after the flames go out!

      Cheers,

      Ian

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