Well, I can take one thing off my list of things to worry about. There may be bears on the mountain where we homestead. I may not be able to grow any real food on our North-facing slope. My kids may mutiny and try to hitchhike back to the yellow house, where they get TV and hot baths. But I do not have to worry that we won’t have a place to call our home.

It’s in the garage right now.

For anyone just joining us, we’re making a yurt.

It isn’t a Neiman Marcus yurt.  It isn’t any kind of pre-fab yurt. It’s a Fouch-o-matic yurt. That means that although the design principles are centuries old, this particular expression of them is emerging, fully formed, like Athena, from the brain of my builder-designer husband, Nick Fouch.

When we last reported (About a Yurt, Part One), we were using child labor to make the extendo-lattice walls, called khana. Nick’s design-as-you-go mentality was allowing us to work cheap and low-impact, using readily available and reclaimed materials.  Six weeks later (drum roll please)… The yurt is almost ready to be assembled!

The Frame

So…let’s say we’re Asian animal herders. We take down our yurt when we want to move to new pasture land. Our round wall, the khana, collapses into a bundle of sticks. When we set up camp, we spread it back out, set it up in the shape of a circle, and tie a band around it to create tension.

We have another bundle of sticks; we can call these rafters. One end of each rafter gets attached to the top of the khana (the wall), and the other end of each rafter fits into a specially shaped round centerpiece we call the crown.

In Afghan culture, long ago, the crown of the yurt would be passed down through the generations, from father to son. The length of a family dynasty could be measured by the smoke stains on this carved piece. Ours is made out of reused ¾” ply.

The Skin

The nomads would have covered their yurts with something they had lots of, which was animal hair. They would have made the animal hair into felt, and then used the felt to cover the yurt, making ingenious overlapping folds at the door.  But we don’t have any herd animals at the yellow house.

We are covering our frame with three layers of skin. Closest to the inside — but still outside of the khana – we will hang stitched together thrift store bed sheets. This is just for looks, basically wallpaper, and since I’m going to be very picky about it, I get to be the one to get it done. I’m also working on the interior floor plan (remember, all of us living in one room!), which means I am playing with matching light-colored patterns and solids to the different areas of our tiny living space: mud area, kitchen area, beds. It will take about ten bed sheets to make our sixty-foot circumference.

The second layer is the insulator. We talked about gathering free or cheap bubble wrap, but then we got a great deal on this stuff called Double Bubble, which is essentially just bubble wrap with foil on both faces.

Finally, the outermost layer, the rain slicker, durable and watertight: We talked about tent fabric, or canvas. We figured we’d go cheap and reclaimed with this as we did with all the other parts. But then we met BJ, who is a fellow who makes geodesic domes for a living, and has also made yurts.  BJ recommended that we use vinyl coated polyester, and that we buy it at a cover shop – a shop that makes custom shade cloths, vehicle covers, and awnings. We checked it out, we met Abe, Abe said he would seal the pieces together for us, using their heat-sealing technology, at no extra cost. And we went for it.

That is how it happened that we turned to technology and industry to finish our yurt, instead of stitching it by hand by candlelight with no shoes on. Somebody reminded me that we’re actually intending to live in this thing, and raise our kids in it. So as much as it is super cool to do everything ourselves, it is even cooler to do something that actually will shelter us through winter at an elevation of 3000+.

So. Here’s our buddy Abe, building our house.

Eighty yards of medium weight vinyl cost us a little over 800 dollars. We had planned to make the whole yurt for $1000, but now we’re in the ballpark of $1500. This is a lot considering that we quit our jobs to be a full-time DIY family. But it’s still pretty cheap for a house.

Nick did the patterning and the cutting of the pieces himself, and, wisely, allowed me to choose the colors. The wall is simply two rectangles seamed together.  The roof is made of fourteen triangles, of alternating colors. A yurt doesn’t blend into the background anyway, no matter what you do. So I went for vibrant and striking, to complement the greens and shadows of our beautiful Idaho mountain landscape. As long as we’re making a yurt, let’s make a YURT!

Next…We’re waiting for snow melt (feels nowhere close) to put up our pallet wood and cinder block foundation on our land and start setting up camp like the nomads did. But in just a couple of weeks we’ll do a trial set up in somebody’s yard, and I’ll post more pictures then.


UPDATE DEC. 2013: This is what the finished yurt looks like. See the Homestead Diary category for details of our homestead life!