Yurt Living 101

While browsing listings on AirBnB, you have no doubt stumbled across some spacious, circular, tents with lattice walls and radial rafters. These structures are known as yurts.

The aesthetic beauty of a yurt is apparent the instant you see it. The very structure of the yurt is pleasing to the eye, and lends instantly to an atmosphere of sumptuous luxury within a rustic setting.

In this guide, we are going to tell you all about yurts. We will describe their history and modern construction as well as different uses for yurts. We will even answer the burning question on your mind: Can you live in a yurt? (Hint: the answer is “yes”!)

What is a Yurt?

As mentioned already, a yurt is a type of tent. But it is stronger than your standard tent thanks to the lattice structure of the walls as well as the presence of a door frame, ribs and a wheel. These features may be made out of either wood or bamboo. Some modern yurts also feature metal frames.

When a yurt is in place, it has an almost permanent look and feel. But this type of structure is fully portable. So, you can set up a yurt for short-term or long-term use, and move it to a new location if necessary.

A Brief History of Yurts

The history of yurts dates back thousands of years. The earliest known written record comes from Herodotus, who mentioned them as a prominent dwelling among a people called the Scythians.

The name “yurt” comes from Turkish. The same basic type of structure is called “ger” in Mongolian. There are also a variety of other names for yurts in various other languages, each with slightly different translations.

As you might guess from their origin and their portable nature, yurts are used by nomadic tribes. Traditional yurts are usually covered by felt or skins.

Although yurts are traditionally a Central Asian structure, they have managed to find their way around the world.

Over the years, the construction of yurts has also evolved, incorporating new materials. Indeed, the exact choice of materials may reflect the region where a yurt is being used (i.e. as appropriate for the local climate), as well as its intended purpose (full-time versus part-time use, portable use versus permanent installation).

Many modern yurts take longer to erect or take down than traditional nomadic yurts. Although they are technically portable, the manufacturer does not expect the user to move them frequently.

For that reason, the type of yurt you will typically see for sale in the US is more accurately described as a “yurt derivative.” Nonetheless, we will keep calling these “yurts” for the purpose of this article. Indeed, these “yurt derivatives” are largely what we will be focusing on.

Take note that there is a kind of hybrid between traditional Central Asian yurts and North American yurts that is typically sold to a European market. In fact, its design is close enough to that of a Central Asian yurt that we can call it one accurately, although some of the materials still differ.

One last thing to note about yurts is that they can be either large or small. In fact, the largest yurt in the world is a structure known as Ak Öýi (White Building). It stands 35 meters tall by 70 meters wide. It contains three floors, and even features a 3,000-seat auditorium.

Modern Western Yurt Construction

Raised Yurt House by © Sheltered Designs

To find out more about modern yurt construction aimed at the North American market, we can turn to the popular manufacturer Pacific Yurts.

The Oregon-based company writes:

“Pacific Yurts has redesigned the traditional structure using modern materials and technology…

The woven tension band is replaced with an air-craft quality tension cable and skinned willow pole rafters have been replaced by stress-rated, kiln-dried dimensional Douglas fir. The felt and animal skin coverings have been substituted with architectural grade fabrics that include welded seams that are impervious to moisture. These fabrics have proven adaptable to a much wider range of climates and conditions. NASA-developed reflective insulation replaces layers of felted wool.”

Other features include ADA-compliant doors and acrylic skylights. Buyers can also customize the yurts with additional optional features.

Incidentally, the company also does a great job describing why the shape of the yurt is so effective, explaining, “The compact shape of the yurt and the combination of lightweight members in tension and compression mean that the structure is highly efficient in maximizing strength while minimizing material.”

What Can You Do With a Yurt?

Now that you are more familiar with the history and construction of yurts, let’s talk about what you can do with one.

1. Glamp in one—or rent it out!

One of best uses for a yurt is glamping. Indeed, few other types of tents can offer as much luxury as a yurt can.

Keep in mind, however, that North American yurts are not usually designed to be moved around all that much.

It would take too much time and effort to haul one to a camping site and set it up yourself. So, if you want to glamp in one, you should look to rent one that is already located at a campsite.

But you can also set up a yurt of your own if you have a property you want to monetize. You can rent it out on a site like AirBnB.

2. Put a home office, guest house, or other structure in your backyard.

A yurt can make a good backyard structure. You could use it for a home office, a guesthouse, a craft room, or just about any other purpose you can imagine.

3. Live fulltime in a yurt.

Finally, you could consider living in a yurt full-time, depending on where you are located and if you have land where you can set one up.

We will discuss some of the possible advantages and disadvantages of yurt living momentarily. But first, let’s briefly discuss legality.

Is Living In A Yurt Legal?

Whether or not it is legally permitted to live in a yurt full-time depends on what state you are located in. You also need to check your county’s building codes.

Generally speaking, states take one of three approaches with respect to yurts:

  1. You can live in a yurt fulltime.
  2. You can put up a yurt for a maximum of 6 months at a time.
  3. You can have a yurt as an addition on your property, but not as a fulltime residence.

Of course, there are plenty of people who choose to live in yurts full-time even where it is technically not allowed. They are taking a risk in doing so, but enforcement in some areas is far less stringent than in others.

In short, residential yurts exist in the same sort of legal gray area as tiny houses or recreational vehicles.

What Is It Like to Live in a Yurt House?

To help you get an idea of what it might be like to move into a yurt house, let’s go over some benefits and drawbacks.

Pros of Yurts

  • Yurt living is cost-effective. In fact, you can get a 20’ yurt for under $11,000. Contrast that with how much it would cost you to build or buy a traditional home, even a small one.
  • You can move your yurt with you. Although yurts are not designed for frequent relocation, you can move one if you have to.
  • There are no high property taxes. The property value of a yurt is less than that of a traditional home. As a result, the property taxes on it are also lower, making it more affordable in the long run.
  • A yurt can be energy-efficient and eco-friendly. During summer, you can get a lot of natural ventilation going through your yurt if you want. As for heating and cooling, the small profile of the yurt keeps energy requirements to a minimum. Plus, the circular shape of the yurt does well containing heat.
  • You are close to nature. A yurt keeps you in close proximity to the great outdoors, letting you enjoy the splendor of your surroundings.
  • You can customize your home. With the money you save on a yurt, you can put more into customization and decoration, making your house truly feel like a home.
  • Yurts are beautiful. The aesthetic appeal of a yurt makes another great benefit. Even undecorated, its geometry is attractive.

Cons of Yurts

  • However sturdy a yurt is, it will not stand up to the harshest climate conditions. If you are in an area that is subject to gale-force winds or other such conditions, you should not make a yurt a permanent residence.
  • Yurts are not effectively rodent- or bug-proof. You may need to be ready to remove them from your home on a periodic basis.
  • You either need to install plumbing and septic for your yurt, or use solutions like a composting toilet. Electricity is possible in a yurt, but running wiring can pose challenges. Regardless, you can get working technology plus a functional kitchen and bathroom set up.
  • If you have noisy neighbors or traffic nearby, you will be able to hear them pretty clearly. Other people might also be able to hear your conversations from inside your yurt.
  • If you want something super portable you can move around week after week, a yurt usually will not fit the bill. You need a semi-permanent site for it.
  • There may be issues with local building codes and regulations.

Is a Yurt House Right for You?

Living in a yurt might be right for you if …

  • It is legal in your area. The looser regulations are, the easier it will be to find a way to live in your yurt fulltime.
  • You do not live in overly harsh climate conditions. This is not the right type of home in a state that is subject to hurricanes or other dangerous conditions.
  • You want a permanent home, even if you move. A yurt can be your home for life.
  • You want to save money. If you are on a tight budget, this could be the ticket to homeownership for less.
  • You love the idea of glamping forever. If you are passionate about glamping, you can turn it into your permanent lifestyle by choosing a yurt!
  • You are ready to do the extra work necessary to deal with septic, plumbing, electrical, and internet.

Summary: Yurts are Strong, Cost-Effective, Beautiful Semi-Permanent Structures

Now you know all about modern yurts, their benefits and drawbacks, and how you can live or glamp in a yurt.