Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Building my yurt: a doorway to a new lifestyle.

Why would anyone give up a comfortable house in the city to live in a yurt in the bush? For me, the decision has more to do with enriching my life than it does with simplifying it. For my wife, it is an adventure.
A yurt is a Mongolian felt and animal hide structured tent, in which they live year-round in the Himalayas. Modern yurts are constructed of lattice, space-age insulation and polycarbonate tarpaulins.
BC Yurts, a Canadian manufacturer of these innovative antique structures, claims that they are liveable – indeed, comfortable – at temperatures below -35C. Their round shape allows winds to flow aerodynamically around them, with little wind resistance and, consequently, reduced wind chilling effect. Their 30degree sloped domes allow snow loads to slide off like an avalanche. Because they are constructed as a single, large room, air flow is free, reducing heating demand. In summer, the dome skylight and screened windows allow such good ventilation that, on the hottest day, these houses are quite comfortable.
But, why move to a yurt? A yurt is more a statement about reducing clutter, waste and excess than it is an actual reduction in lifestyle. A yurt is symbolic of true minimalism. It gives you more, for so much less. At a cost of under $15,000 for a complete 800 square foot unit, it clearly minimizes the impact on the pocketbook, compared to typical 800 square foot homes or condominiums in Manitoba that cost upwards of $125-190,000.
The one-room concept provides a great-room feel, with absolutely no wasted space, uncomfortable corners or hallways. As a result, one room provides the impact of a huge house.
Minimal complexities of design and layout reduce cleaning and maintenance requirements. No hard walls means no painting. Open rooms minimize demand for lighting and heating infrastructure. Minimal infrastructure means minimal maintenance, and more time to enjoy life.
Our yurt will be entirely “off the grid.” Our lavatory is a composting system – completely waterless. Our lighting is provided by a combination of wind and solar, with LED lights, and 90-watt refrigeration. Our cooking equipment will consist of biogas-fuelled ovens and grills, while backup energy is provided courtesy of a biodiesel-fuelled generator. Heating comes from a unique geothermal/biomass heating system. Grey water from the shower and sink will be filtered through an eco-pond, and used to nourish our nearby garden.
All of this may sound a little avant garde, or even idealistic and unrealistic. However, our entire concept has been tested successfully, in various component prototypes. In fact, rather than being a little too idealistic, we believe that our move to reduce our environmental footprint and minimize our economic crater of consumption is a major enrichment of our lives.
We invite you to follow the building of our yurt, and our first year living our new lifestyle. Each week, we will be updating our progress on our new blog,, or visit our occasional posts on this blog location.

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