top of a yurt

Retrofits and Life Hacks for a Groovy Yurt: Insights from 5 years of Yurt-Life

This is the 3rd instalment of our customer experience blog series written by Beige, who lives full time, off-grid in a Groovy Yurt. 

 

The traditional Mongolian yurt is a beautiful structure made of natural materials and enhanced by hand-painted designs on the Huns and door.

I quite enjoy the rustic feel, the rawness of the materials and knowing that owning one supports the people overseas who are building them.

A Groovy Yurts kit is complete with all the pieces one needs to have a functional structure. That said, there are many things one can do to modify their Groovy Yurt to make it more suitable to their environment and modern life. Here are some of the retrofits I have made to my yurt.

Tension Ropes

Mongolian yurt componentsSince I live alone in my yurt, I have found it challenging to tighten the outer tension ropes myself.

To remedy this, I put a simple loop at one end of the tension ropes and used that loop to attach ratchet straps. The ratchet straps allow me to easily and quickly adjust the tension of my outer tension ropes.

Waterproofing the Toono

When I purchased my yurt, the Toono (center ring of the yurt) came with four inserts that fit into the openings of the Toono.

These inserts had a flexible, translucent plastic to let some light in but keep the rain and critters out. The problem with the inserts is that water still found its way to the inside of the yurt through the space between the inserts and the Toono.

My solution was to take the inserts out entirely and cover the outside of the Toono with plexiglass.

This task proved to be a bit difficult due to the curvature of the Toono, and I ended up cutting a separate piece of plexiglass for each of the sections I covered. I then drilled pilot holes in the plexiglass and into the appropriate spots in the Toono, then secured the plexiglass pieces with roofing screws.

other outside layer of a yurtFinally, I applied a generous coat of caulking around each section of plexiglass to ensure that water would not be able to find its way inside. I chose to install plexiglass on 3 of the 8 Toono sections because 4 of them were already covered by the canvas Urgh (the piece of canvas covering the Toono), and one of the sections has my chimney pipe coming from it.

Plexiglass was a suitable choice for this as it’s transparent and lets lots of light in, is flexible and can be bent a little bit to curve with the Toono and can be cut to any size.

If you are doing a retrofit similar to the one described above, you might consider covering all of the sections of the Toono with plexiglass.

The benefits to this would be: preventing water from entering the yurt when the Urgh shifts, holding heat better during cold months and providing the option to take the Urgh off to allow more light to enter.

Please note that Groovy Yurts now offers Top Covers for the Urgh with clear vinyl to cover the open sections of the Toono. I don’t believe this was an option when I purchased my yurt nearly five years ago, or perhaps I wasn’t aware of it.

Although this is a more straightforward solution to the retrofit just described, I think the plexiglass is an excellent choice because it offers an undistorted view, and I imagine it keeps the heat in better.

Securing the Urgh

inside layer of a yurtWhen tying the Urgh (a piece of canvas covering the Toono) to the tension ropes on the outside of the yurt, I noticed the Urgh was subject to a lot of shifting.

Most of the time, this wasn’t a problem as it’s quick and easy to readjust. That said, if I were away for several days in a row and the Urgh shifted while I was gone, I would sometimes come home to find wet contents in my yurt.

My solution for this was installing eye screws on both sides of the platform, which I used to thread the ropes to the Urgh through a more secure tie-down.

The eye screws are strong and unmoving, unlike the tension rope that would be pulled up when tying another rope to it. The eye screws allow me to tie the rope for the Urgh very tight, holding it in place for longer than when I tied it to the tension ropes of the yurt.

Plus, using the eye screw instead of the tension rope has the added benefit of having these two ropes be independent of each other.

Now I can adjust my tension ropes without the rope holding the Urgh to be moved.

Modified Chimney Design

chimneyMy Groovy Yurt came with a Toono insert that fits a 4″ chimney pipe, but the standard chimney pipe size is 6,” and the insulated ones are even wider.

So I created a customized Toono insert out of sheet metal that can fit an insulated chimney pipe and withstand a bit of warmth that the insulated pipe gives off.

Much like creating the plexiglass windows, I measured and cut the sheet metal to fit over one of the Toono openings. Then I cut a hole out of the center of the sheet metal to fit my insulated chimney pipe before securing it to the top of the Toono with roofing screws.

Finally, I sealed the sheet metal’s perimeter with caulking and sealed around the chimney pipe with heat-proof caulking.

Blankets on door and window

To reduce the draft from coming into the yurt, I have covered the door and window with blankets.

To hang the blanket covering the window, I tied some rope that spans the window’s width to drape the blanket over. Then I attached a carabineer to the eye screw attached to the window to clip through the rope to hold it up.

This keeps the blanket from sagging and prevents it from dipping down such that it won’t be covering the top of the window.

Similarly, I had a quilt made that ties to the Huns (rafters that join the walls, door and window to the Toono) that fit into the door.

I like having these in the winter to keep some of the cold wind out. They are so easy to put on and take down that I can still enjoy the added brightness of the window when I take the cover off during sunny parts of the day.

Screens on the inner folding doors and window

yurt screen windowThe location of my homestead is VERY abundant with mosquitos, so adding screens to the bay window and inner doors was essential if I wanted to open them for airflow.

It was a simple retrofit involving nailing little pieces of wood to secure the screening on both the door and window.

With a few simple retrofits, my Groovy Yurt has become much more comfortable and functional.

Completing these retrofits offered me the opportunity to gain some skills and to think outside of the box. Having the ability to conceptualize and carry forward modifications and repairs is a major part of homesteading, no matter what kind of structure you choose.

It’s essential to be aware of this to ensure you are prepared for the amount of work involved in maintaining a homestead.

Groovy Note: We now offer an acrylic finish option to cover the toono. All the improvements that are not typically made in Mongolia can be purchased or made at home. Detailed DIY instructions can be provided for many of our add-ons, such as the chimney flashing or the house wrap, and we’re always ‘at yurt service’ for advice and recommendations.

Contact us today if you have any questions for us, or yurt stories to share!

 

 

stockpile of wood for future construction

Biggest challenges to living off-grid in a Groovy Yurt

This is the 2nd instalment of our customer experience blog series written by Beige, who lives full time, off-grid in a Groovy Yurt. 

 

When I decided to buy a Groovy Yurt 5 years ago, I was a novice homesteader in every sense of the word.

I had never built anything, started a generator, heated with wood or used power tools. I quickly learned that homesteading was a lot more complicated than lighting fires in a woodstove and carrying in jugs of drinking water.

I learned that every decision I make has a ripple effect, either working for or against my well-being and enjoyment in this way of life.

Temperature

chimneyI have learned that my ability to stay warm started with the woodstove I decided to buy.

It then extended into the quantity and quality of the wood I acquired, how I stored it and how available I was to feed the woodstove.

Staying warm has been one of my most significant challenges while living in my Groovy Yurt.

During my first winter, I struggled with 2 different woodstoves that simply were not suitable for primary heat sources. The first one I had was a portable, ultra-light wood stove intended to heat a wall tent. Since the metal was very thin, it did not have the ability to hold heat and needed to be fed very frequently to keep the yurt at a comfortable temperature.

Then, in mid-December, I bought a potbelly cast iron stove. The trouble with the second stove was that none of the seams were sealed, so even though it had a damper, I could not really reduce the amount of air going into it.

I tried my best to seal the seams with heat-proof cement and epoxy, but the fixes were sub-optimal and temporary. This made it impossible to leave a bed of coals burning through the night or when I left the yurt.

Needless to say, it was very challenging to maintain a livable temperature my first winter.

Although some of my challenges with my wood stoves stemmed from setting up in a hurry, the main cause of this challenge was my hesitation to invest in a good wood stove in the first place. Had I been willing to invest in a quality product from the start, I would have saved myself a lot of suffering, hassle and effort.

Some projects are worth salvaging materials or skimping on; a wood stove is not one of them!

Since that time, I have purchased a much better wood stove and re-built my original woodshed; these upgrades have made a huge difference in my quality of life.

Moisture

tapestryIn all of my years of living in my Groovy Yurt, I never have figured out how to keep moisture out.

I had problems with the bottom of the fabric walls retaining moisture when I had my first platform because it was too large and the water pooled in some areas. Since then, I built a better platform that is just the right size, but the water still seems to be retained on the bottom of the yurt’s fabric.

Further, when there is significant rainfall, I end up with puddles on the floor in certain areas around the edges of the yurt. I can’t understand how the water is getting in, especially to the extent that it does. It’s not a huge deal for me, as I usually just dry up the puddles with a towel.

That said, this would be a problem if the water pooled in an area where there were items that could be damaged by water. My main concern with this is that having moisture on the walls’ fabric regularly will likely degrade the fabric over time.

During damp or wet days, I always light a fire in the woodstove to dry things out and have installed a bay window, which helps increase airflow to reduce stagnated moisture.

Bloodthirsty insectshole in yurt

My yurt’s location is surrounded by cedar forests on all sides and by wetlands on two sides. In the peak of bug season, I feel like there are millions of them buzzing around my yurt, bouncing off of the walls to try to find a little hole to fit through, and when they find one, they call in the rest of the troops.

This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they indeed can and will discover tiny holes to enter the yurt through.

Despite my best efforts, there are small openings where the door and window meet the Brezent (outer canvas cover). Once they are inside, they seem to hide on the walls and emerge after the lights are out, making it difficult to sleep in the summertime.

A couple of solutions are to either put a bug net around the bed (but you can still hear them trying to find their way inside) or take 15 minutes before bed to find and squish all of the hiding mosquitos.

Lack of natural light

When purchasing a Groovy Yurt, the only windows included are thesmall openings of the Toono (center circle).

yurt screen windowThese openings do let some light in, but they are quite small and mainly let sunlight in during the times when the sun is high in the sky. As such, I have found that my yurt feels rather cave-like, especially in the winter when the light is already minimal.

If it’s getting dark in the yurt and I step outside, I always think to myself, “Oh, it’s still daytime out here!”. If you plan to be spending time inside your yurt during the daytime, best to be prepared for the lack of natural light the original design offers.

A couple of years ago, I invested in a bay window; a total game-changer in terms of the amount of light coming into the yurt!

I installed my window facing east because I love to wake up with the sun, and I could orient the window so it was the opposite of the door. This allows lots of beautiful morning light to pour in, and when I open my bay window, I have a nice cross breeze flowing through the yurt.

Although many of the challenges I listed are regarding things out of my control, I could have made many decisions differently to alleviate difficulty.

 

The most significant challenges I have faced have been from single-handedly building a homestead from the ground up with no experience, mentorship or tools.

Although I have no regrets, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend choosing to jump into homesteading the same way I did.

 

 

Groovy Note: We are always ‘at yurt service’ for advice and recommendations. And we love to hear yurt stories.

Contact us today if you have any questions, comments or anecdotes.

yurt withstands low and high humidity levels

How to Control Humidity in Yurts

Humidity in cold regions is the largest challenge to overcome for permanent dwellers, especially when living in a yurt.

Over the last few years, the number of people opting to reside in their yurts has increased and now represents about 40% of our clients!

In this edition of the Groovy Yurts blog, we’ll discuss how humidity affects a yurt, and how yurts are built with protective elements to combat humidity.

Layer of House Wrap Between Yurt Canvas & Insulation

yurt withstands low and high humidity levelsBecause the cotton-based outer canvas of a yurt is water resistant and not waterproof, we add a layer of house wrap between the felt insulation and the canvas.

The house wrap acts as an additional barrier to block any humidity that manages to get past the canvas, while still allowing the yurt to breathe. This dynamic created by the outer layers it what makes the yurt so efficient, comfortable… and healthy (in a way). However, it should be noted that the house wrap is a compromise and does reduce the breathability.

This solution sometimes reaches its limit in the freezing temperatures of winter, when the humid air inside the yurt runs through the felt, hits the cold layer of wrap and freezes, disabling the wrap’s breathability.

yurt withstands low and high humidity levelsIf too much condensation accumulates in the felt, it may drip down the yurt or leave humidity stains in the inner liner.

The same process can occur in above freezing temperatures when humidity builds within the yurt and is quickly followed by rainfall. This causes the yurt’s roof to cool much faster than the air does. In this situation, yurt dwellers are often confused and think that rainwater is coming through the roof.

The best strategy to continuously monitor humidity production and ventilate when cooking or producing extra vapour (ex. using propane).

Heating with a wood stove to dry the yurt inside (keeping an opening in the toono) is another options when the yurt was left unattended for a while or if water had found its way in.

A Better Wrap for Yurts to Control Humidity

tyvek wrapping for yurtBut what if there was a better wrap?

Over the years, we’ve tried a few different brands.

In the beginning, we were using Novawrap Aspire, however, due to the fragility of the product, quick diminution of quality, and poor response from the company, we made the easy decision to turn back to TYVEK.

We recently began evaluating other wraps and just did a comparative test on a 3-wall (14’ diameter) yurt. To do this, we made a roof wrap out of 4 different brands and installed it on a double layer of felts. Over the next few days, we boiled over 100 litres (over 25 gallons) of water inside the yurt alongside outdoor temperatures of -24C (-11F). We let the yurt cool down occasionally, but always kept it closed and tight.

The simple experiment showed interesting results.

On the bright side, one of the wraps was clearly superior and trapped significantly less frost under its surface. It remained relatively dry. Most of the vapour had escaped, following the path of least resistance, as the felts were mildly moist and showed few water stains in the ceiling. It seemed to prove the necessity for ventilation (vapor will follow the path of least resistance) and allowed us to identify a better option to use as a roof underlayer from now on.

It comes with a price, though: This product is about 3x the price of the TYVEK.

What’s to Come for Yurt Humidity Control in the Future?

tyvek wrapping for yurtWe wish to keep the Mongolian ger’s original characteristics, as we have so much respect for this timeless dwelling and want it to remain as simple as possible. However, now that they are used in other climates and have purposes aside from nomadic life, we must understand how the dwellings react to new variables and relay this information to our customers.

The best first precaution: Monitor humidity and ventilate. Humidity stains can be removed by spraying a solution of bleach or vinegar.

The article mainly applies to Authentic Mongolian yurts. Modern yurts experience similar condensation issues, however the process is quite different.

the groovy yurts team standing in front of an assembled yurt

Canadian Maritimes Yurt Delivery Tour – Part 2

 

This is Part Two of a 3-part series on our Maritimes Delivery Tour

 

Wednesday, December 2nd

 

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian Maritimes

It is rare that I stop for breakfast, but a restaurant on a pier on the Atlantic coast is just too good to be true.

Scrambled eggs with lobster was the treat this morning. It certainly helped to cope with the discovery of damaged belly boxes on the trailer during the morning inspection (I had more than likely hugged some hidden rocks when trying to exit last night’s spot in the dark).

Later, the worst downpour of the trip so far had forced the traffic to a halt and is yet another reminder of the extreme weather in this part of Canada.

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian Maritimes

We did a small drop-off in the red zone, Halifax, before heading to the South Shore area.

At this point, I’m anxious to reach the next customer before dawn as I suspect her place is not quite as accommodating to an 18-wheeler as she might think. Sure enough, there’s no way I can back the trailer in, let alone even park close to the house.

I ended up driving 10 kms around a peninsula to find a spot where I could leave my trailer.

On the bright side, that spot happened to be the Bayport Pub parking, the only open establishment in the area. Before dinner, I managed to install a special structure on the back of the tractor unit – the ‘last mile device’ that we designed this past summer and had only used once. It enabled us to transfer two yurts, while their platforms were set-up on the short length of the Groovy tractor unit.

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian Maritimes

Thursday, December 3rd

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian MaritimesBy the time I arrived at Lara’s at 9am, I learned that their substructure was not finished.

I really need to praise our customers who are ready for our arrival and follow instructions. In Lara’s defense, her order was placed last minute, and it had been raining ever since.

This new Canadian resident has been living in the area for only a year. She managed to get together the most amazing team of neighbours and friends I’ve ever seen.

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian MaritimesPeople of all ages, backgrounds, and skill sets helped the entire day with such enthusiasm, kindness, and dedication that we managed to put up not one, but two yurts and their platforms. Kudos to these amazing people, and to Lara for assembling such a team!

I made my way back to the pub parking lot and still had to take my structure down and reconnect the trailer. The local beer that night tasted fabulous!

Friday, December 4th

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian MaritimesI was sad to leave this beautiful area, but I needed to continue to my next stop in the Bay of Fundy. So, I crossed Nova Scotia from East to West to meet our next customer.

Gert’s sister is already the happy owner of a Groovy Yurt, thus inspiring him to leave Ontario and live in a yurt of his own in the Maritimes. He is not happy with the way the world is evolving and thinks that government and large corporations are slowly overtaking our private lives.

I understand his point of view, but I do not share its extreme negativity. We all create our own sense of reality and I prefer mine to be happier. I strongly believe that the world is slowly progressing. Unfortunately, we cannot debate much longer as Gert is not ready for set-up and we decide to store his yurt in his sister’s beautiful 300-year-old house.

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian MaritimesAfterwards, I drove over the nearby hill to get back to the coast and am once again lucky to find a small fish shack where I allow myself a lunch break.

The ferry from Digby, NS to Saint John, NB is expensive and only runs once a day.

I decide to drive around the bay (a 5-hour drive) and stop before Saint John to have a look at Dannie’s yurt, who supposedly had a lot of water entering above her door. We found the yurt in the middle of a swamped field and were very confused when it appeared to be vacant, however, things cleared up when her kind neighbour led me to her.

Upon arrival, I heard what I thought was a security alarm. The noise didn’t stop until I opened the door and realized that it wasn’t a security system after all, but rather a beautiful white parrot.

TGroovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian Maritimeshe bird politely greeted me with a loud, “Good Morning! Good morning!” I began to reply, but the bird proceeded to interrupt me and asked, “Do you need a shower?” Huh, do I really stink that badly? Note to self: bathe more often.

After looking at the doors, I realized that the back one had not been taped properly by our team in anticipation of connecting an outdoor structure, but the structure was never added. It was an easy fix, but it took a couple hours in the dark with a flashlight in my mouth and encouragement from half a dozen parrots and other feathered beings.

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian MaritimesI also noticed many humidity stains in the ceiling. The outer canvas was dry after a good day, but the under-wrap was moist.

This yurt houses a variety of birds and two dogs in a climate that is already very humid. Additionally, Dannie is cooking and heating with propane which produces more humidity and has also sealed her toono (dome), leaving no escape for the humidity produced inside, and causing it to condense under the colder wrap. This is an issue that we are continuously facing with those living in yurts in cold climates. Until we find a better solution, yurt dwellers must be very careful not to produce extra humidity and make sure to ventilate when they do.

At the end of the day, I am once again blessed to find a perfect spot at the gate of a closed holiday resort. I fell asleep that night to the sound of crashing waves.

 

 

Stay tuned for the 3rd and final installment of our Maritimes Delivery Tour, coming soon!

 

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian Maritimes

 

Groovy Yurts delivery tour in Canadian Maritimes

Mongolian people constructing a yurt

Mongolian Yurts & the Traditional Felt-Making Process

 

Sheep’s wool offers amazing properties.

Nowhere can we think of a better example of wool’s many benefits than by looking at Mongolian yurts and the traditional felt that insulates the yurt against cold, harsh winters.

In this edition of the Groovy Yurts blog we’ll look at the traditional felt making process that goes into creating comfortable, sturdy yurts.

Why Sheep’s Wool Makes a Great Yurt

yurt on plains in mongiliaWhen processed as felt and used as a yurt (or “ger” as the Mongolian people call it) lining, the wool breathes and insulates the space with the varying temperatures of the summer.

Wool felt in a yurt can also accumulate a certain amount of humidity and give it back when it gets drier (an all-natural humidifier). In addition, Mongolian yurt felt made of sheep’s wool is a great acoustic insulator, which helps make the yurt very cozy.

The best part? These felts protect against almost all elements.

It’s naturally fire retardant and resists mold and wards off ear and tear, while actively participating in the yurt’s strength.

Mongolians say that felt is the ger’s muscle.

It is certainly a fabulous product as the fibre is rapidly renewable and 100% biodegradable!

Wool Felt: Traditional Crafting in Mongolian Yurts

Felt is traditionally made by the nomads of Mongolia by cleaning the wool, beating it, carefully laying it out evenly, getting it wet, and finally, collecting it into a big roll pulled by a horse across the grassland.

This fun video describes it well:

The felt can become water resistant over time, partly from the lanolin and dirt, but mainly from the smoke produced by the open fire in the ger.

Open fires were commonly built in the yurts prior to using stoves with a chimney, which according to a few Mongolian elders, is the best improvement in 2000 years. We’ve been told that the older ‘waterproofed’ layers were then put on top of the yurt to protect from Mongolian rains.

Often the felt is mixed with cow or horsehair to improve strength. The only downsides to that material are that it is difficult to clean wool, and the felt will have a strong odor when wet. It also tends to fall apart over time if it is not felted well, or if it’s exposed to constant sunlight.

Groovy Yurts: Our Felt Is Made of 100% Mongolian Wool

Mongolian people constructing a yurt
The felts used for own yurts are made with a needle machine and 100% Mongolian wool. That means that your yurt comes with a story of the people who made it.

We previously bought yurt felt from the old state factory that uses old Soviet era machines in Ulaanbaatar.

We now source the felt for our yurts from the countryside, where a similar technique is used in Bataa’s province, but with newer machines.  We love that the profit goes directly to this rural area.

Mongolian people constructing a yurt

This new felt is denser, much cleaner, more consistent, and somehow seems to offer better insulating properties with a similar thickness. The felt that we previously bought was definitely not waterproof.

You can make your own felt as demonstrated by the amazing Sustainable Sheep and Fiber Community of Northern Minnesota.

This community created a complete layer of decorated felt for their own yurt. This incredible work of art depicts the making of felt in Mongolia. The illustrations are made with different colours of wool and felted together using a wet tapestry inlay technique!

For more questions about the wonders of yurts and their many benefits, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Photographs taken in 2002 in Bulgan Aimag, in the northern part of Mongolia (northwest of UlaanBaatar) by Dr. Michael Gervers Turkish Felts

Mongolian yurt in Minnesota USA Mongolian yurt in Minnesota USA
Mongolian yurt in Minnesota USA