Some feel fulfilled by owning a large house in the centre of a popular neighbourhood, others are content with a simpler existence.
Five years ago, Mike and Renee took the first step towards their well-thought-out dream, living off-grid. They purchased a piece of untouched land in Northwestern Ontario, cleared only necessary space, and a year later, erected a yurt for their homestead.
Less Bills, More Freedom: Yurt off the Grid
The couple was initially living in a house in a small town in Northern Ontario, Canada, and quickly became frustrated by the sheer amount of bills they were paying for mediocre amenities.
The water tasted concerningly like chlorine, the heat was quickly escaping out of any crevice it could find, and soaring electricity prices showed no signs of plateauing.
On top of all that, the house simply seemed lifeless. In Mike’s words, “Any renovations we would make were to increase the value of the house for the next buyers. We were living in someone else’s home.”
Many YouTube videos and off-grid forums later, Mike and Renee had taught themselves the fundamentals of living off the land.
Why a Yurt?
Renee and Mike chose the Mongolian yurt because it allowed them to quickly move onto their land throughout all of Canada’s seasons. In addition, they liked that the yurt was made of sustainable materials, and was more durable than modern yurts (especially with the humidity).
For amenities, they wash dishes with water heated on their wood-burning stove, shower in a wood-fired sauna, and use an outhouse that they’ve outfitted with a composting toilet (no smell).
Below the yurt, although not pictured, is an underground root cellar where they store food. This was very effective throughout the winter and spring, however, rose in temperature throughout the summer.
Once the soil and insulation around the cellar is finished, they hope to have cold storage year-round. In the meantime, an energy-efficient solar-powered ‘fridge’ (it looks more like a fancy cooler) keeps their food cool.
Renee and Mike’s property also includes a screened-in room (not attached to the yurt)that they used for bugless dining in the summer and storage space in the winter. Lastly, they’ve constructed a nearby greenhouse for more sheltered plant growing.
Challenges of (and Solved by) a Yurt off the Grid
One of the bigger challenges of off-grid living for the pair has been trying to balance a property that’s functional, while also leaving it as natural as possible (especially when considering horticulture practices).
Minimal destruction to current ecosystems in the area is very important to them. Currently, they’ve been using a horticultural method called ‘Hugelkultur.’ This method involves building steep, narrow mounds that consist of layers of wood scraps and biomass, within layers of soil and humus which support growing fruits and vegetables.
It is largely beneficial as the gradual decay of wood is a consistent source of long-term nutrients for the plants (provides a constant supply of nutrients for 20+ years), the composting wood generates heat (which should extend the growing season), and the mass is more effective at holding water from natural rainfall (they don’t have to water their crops).
Additionally, Renee and Mike use clover as a natural mulch for the mounds, as it prevents weeds from overtaking the beds without stunting desired plant growth. So far, they have mostly been successful with potatoes and apples in their cold northern climate. Their biggest piece of advice is to be patient and observe the interactions of natural plants and animals in the area for the most effective land use.
Bears and Yurts (Oh My)
One question we are often asked at Groovy Yurts is whether our yurts are bear proof.
Our answer is often ‘no, nothing is bear proof, but there are some preventative measures you can take’. We posed this question to Mike and Renee, as Northern Ontario is the black bear capital of the world (this stat is made up, but likely true).
They told us that they’ve had inevitable run-ins with bears but have not had the animals damage any part of their structure. Although they cook and eat inside the yurt, they thoroughly clean all surfaces after encountering food, and store anything that may attract bears in their underground cellar. Hopefully, this puts any potential yurt buyers at ease with these wonderful creatures.
No Regrets, Just a Groovy Yurt Outlook
Although lots of hard work is involved and many challenges must be overcome, Mike and Renee concluded that they very much enjoy living off-grid.
It’s quite empowering to know the origin of the resources that you use daily and you gain a much bigger appreciation for them.
Their favourite thing about the lifestyle: “being able to live in the moment, you aren’t on anyone’s schedule except for the sun and the rain.”
Stay tuned for more on our Customer Experience series as part of a great Canadian road trip!