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Art & Crafts : Alternative Living Spaces: Life in a Yurt

Alternative Living Spaces: Life in a Yurt

What do you do if pursuing your art means you need to live on less?

By S.C. Giles

YurtArtists have always found creative ways to live inexpensively, but today's economics make it even more challenging to live cheaply, especially when rents can rise to as much as many people make in a year and mortgages are off the Richter scale. And, we're not talking luxury living either. We're talking a lean-to with bathroom facilities. So, what do you do if pursuing your art means you need to live on less?

One way to cut expenses is to find alternative living situations. One that's gaining popularity is the yurt. A yurt is a glorified tent. It's a form a traditional housing in Mongolia. In the U.S., most yurts have wood latticework walls covered in canvas or canvas-like material, a center dome with wood beams radiating out from the dome to the lattice walls. People live in yurts from Alaska to Arizona and here's why.

Home Ownership

When you buy a yurt, you're buying a home. A yurt is considered a temporary living structure, like an RV. There may also be tax advantages to owning a yurt.

One thing to keep in mind is that unlike an RV, the resale value on a yurt isn't great, but there's a small market for used yurts. However, like an RV, you can move a yurt if you need to. It takes a couple of days, but it can be done

Buying a Yurt

Yurts are affordable. You can buy a new yurt and everything you need to make it habitable from between $5,000 to $15,000. We bought ours from an online company with extra insulation and hurricane clips (helps wind resistance) for about $7,000.

You need to have a place to put the yurt. We put ours on a piece of property owned by a family member. This made the proposition extremely cheap for us. The property already had electricity and running water with bathroom facilities. That was a huge advantage because we didn't have to deal with plumbing to start.

Nevertheless, even if you don't have a kind family member to help out, it's not that hard to find affordable land that has both a well and electricity. The main thing to remember is to take a look at the local zoning law to see if your structure is allowed before you actually purchase the yurt and the property.

Building Know-How

You have to have basic building knowledge to put together a yurt. The yurt websites make it look easy, but trust me, it's not as easy as it appears.

First of all, you have to build a platform. This takes a long time and it's something you have to do on your own because when you buy a yurt, the platform isn't included. There are a whole host of tools you have to have and there are some things that even two people can't do without the help of another person.

You also have to get the yurt and all the building materials to the property. Depending on where you're putting up your yurt, this can be tricky. Our yurt came in a large box and it was extremely heavy. Two grown men had a hard time moving it.

Also, everything takes twice as long as you think it will. Make realistic plans and then double them. It's common to underestimate the endeavor.

Where There's a Will There's a Way

Say you have a piece of property, but there's no bathroom, no electricity, and no well on the land? Can you still build a yurt and live comfortably. Sure. You'd be amazed at the ingenuity out there.

Some people collect water off the yurt itself to store in a cistern. Others build a holding tank and have water trucked in. Photovoltaic cells are becoming more efficient, allowing people to run many low use appliances. Others use gasoline powered generators or battery operated appliances. As far as bathrooms go, there are composting toilets that require no water (but watch out, they're very expensive, about a $1,000), or you can put in a septic tank or even the old fashioned outhouse. There are lots of ways to do things if you're motivated.


We have a twenty-four foot yurt, 450 square feet, and there are three of us, all of our belongings and a cat, yet, it's one of the most livable spaces I've ever been in. There's plenty of natural light during the day and you can see the stars through the dome at night. The sunburst beams are simply beautiful. My biggest worry was that we'd be so cramped, we'd get on each others nerves. It's been just the opposite. It's been downright pleasant.


Living in a tent-like structure, you wonder about theft, but a yurt is actually a very secure living space. The lattice work is strong. You can't break a window and get in (unless you have a window on the door) like you can with most homes. With a yurt, you'd actually have to saw through the structure to get in. Not the fastest route to a quick buck.

Some Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Buy as much insulation as you can get and waterproof both sides of your foundation plywood. Our yurt has been subject to some intense rainstorms. The yurt is very dry and comfortable during storms. In fact, it holds up better than a regular, rectangle house in high winds because of the circular design. The wind just zips around the building. But, here's the thing we didn't count on: heating. You need to have a good strong heating source and plenty of air circulation and ventilation.

We naively used an electric heater and within a month almost all of our belongings on the outer edge of the yurt molded and I mean serious mold, the kind that destroys. So, after some frantic house cleaning (the mold stained the floor and part of the wall besides wrecking our belongings), we looked into wood stoves and other forms of dry heat and use a fan and dehumidifier every day without incident. But, it would have been better if we could have avoided the whole mold thing in the first place.

An Affordable Alternative

With a little work, you can buy a piece of property, build a yurt, and put in the basic improvements that make life livable for under $50,000. Especially if you live in one of the more expensive areas of the world (i.e. California), this can be an attractive alternative if you're up for the adventure.

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S.C. Giles is a contributing author of The ARTrepreneur E-Zine and newsletter. More »

Updated 9/7/15