Thinking outside the box on keeping your yurt warm.
Yurts make for awesome homes…I wouldn’t change my decision to live in one, even after almost 4 years expirience at it. Yurt living is every bit as good as I had anticipated, and more.
With that said, there are a few challenges to yurt living, and keeping one warm is one of them. While a yurt can be a cozy place in the winter, you really need to think about keeping your home warm a bit differently than you would in a conventionally constructed home.
I have covered radiant floor heat like I put in my yurt pretty well HERE, and I still think it is THE best heat system for a yurt (or other type housing as well). Once you have the heat inside the yurt though, you need to keep it in the yurt. That is what we will talk about today.
Most yurt companies sell an insulation package as an option for their yurt kits. The company I got my kit from (and who I highly recommend , Pacific Yurts, has an insulation package that consists of insulation that is of a reflective material that reflects heat back in the direction it is coming from…back into the yurt during the winter and back towards the exterior during hot summers…and this insulation does a good job as far as it goes…but it can be improved on.
Basic yurt insulation
When you are building the platform you will erect the yurt on, be sure to insulate it well…very well. If you are building on a slab, there is little you can do, but if you build on a basement or crawlspace (my preferred yurt foundation, for heat AND other reasons) you have the opportunity to do a mega-insulation job.
I insulated my floor with rolls of R-30 fiberglass bat insulation between the floor joists and cut to length between the cross bracing, then skinned the bottom of the floor joists with a Tyvek-like material. This is good as far as it goes, but it could be improved on. First, when I cut the pieces to length I should have followed up by going back and filled in any voids caused by mis-cut bat, but I didn’t. Also, I failed to tape the seams where the Tyvek- wannabe material overlapped. Your insulation efforts should be to make the house as tight of an envelop as possible.
I did nothing to improve on the insulation package that comes with the yurt kit. It is good…but can be supplemented.
I would insulate the floor differently if doing it again.
I could have done a better job for roughly the same cost if there had been two differences, both of which I’ll do on the second yurt I am starting construction on (as a connected yurt for a separate bedroom, necessitated by a life change you can read about HERE) next week.
The first change is I need to get rid of “the lazys”. I tend to take the easy way out sometimes. I could have filled all the voids where the bat insulation had been slightly mis-cut. Each little spot that is not insulated doesn’t amount to much in heat loss, but cumulatively they add up.
More importantly, if I had been a better planner I could have used a better, more effective insulation method…cellulose insulation.
I tend to do things…including building my yurt platform…using the “design-build” method. Design-build is a term made popular on DIY shows on HGTV and it means doing things by the seat-of-your-pants, working from a rough mental plan and dealing with details as they come up.
That makes using cellulose insulation impossible. Before blowing the insulation into the spaces between floor joists everything…water lines, electrical conduit and or wiring, gas lines, CAT-5 (or better) wiring…everything that will be coming in through the floor must already be roughed in so any runs that will be in the space between joists are done.
After roughing in all the systems, you need to skin the bottom of the joists in some way. My suggestion is to use Tyvek or a similar material. It is virtually waterproof and also blocks air movement, holding in heat.
At this point you can blow cellulose insulation from above to fill the gaps in the joists, after which you can lay the subfloor and proceed from there as outlined in the posts on radiant floor heating elsewhere on JuicyMaters.
While the reflective insulation that comes with most yurt kits is a very effective material that does a good job, it does not create a tight envelope of your yurt to help maintain a comfortable temperature.. There are several things that you can do to help the insulation do its job.
1.) It is a labor intensive job when done right so the yurt’s interior appearance still looks good, but you can cut styrofoam insulation panels to fit snugly between rafters. In addition to helping insulate the yurt, the lightr color of the insulation reflects light back down into the yurt, reducing the needed light, thus cutting electricity costs and heat from the lights.
2.) Once you have styrofoam insulation boards between the rafters, and even if you don’t use that idea, you can improve your ceiling’s appearance and insulation effectiveness by using attractively printed tightly woven heavy fabric stapled to the underside of the rafters. While it will provide little insulation value, it will block a little warm air from escaping through the roof. Additionally it will be a unique decorative touch.
3.) One of the most unique things about a yurt’s interior appearance, and one that most yurt-ers love and wouldn’t consider hiding, is the exposed latticework wall system. It is a main feature of a yurt, so why hide it, right? Well, if you live in an extremely cold climate you might at least consider doing just that, despite the loss of yurt aesthetics. If you have the vertical studs that come with the snow and wind kit from Pacific Yurts (and maybe other companies as well), you can cut styrofoam insulation boards to size that will fit snugly between those studs just as discussed (above) regarding styrofoam insulation between the rafters. As a further touch you could use an attractively patterned fabric covering stapled to the studs to hide the styrofoam.
4.) For all of its benefits, one thing that a yurt cannot be called is “tight“, as in a tight envelope regarding air infiltration. The very nature of a yurt, with its flexible wall and roof system, makes it hard to maake it “tight” and reduce heat transfer through gaps.
Probably the single weakest point for air (and pest) infiltration, after weaknesses that also exist in conventional construction, like weatherstripping beneath doors, is the area where the sidewall material is attached to the drip skirting a few inches below floor level. When you can look down along the inside wall to where the sidewall material disappears on the outside of the platform edge, and you can see a gap, any gap, you have a significant air infiltration opening. A gap of 1/10th of an inch on a y8urt like mine, a 30 footer, which is about 90 feet in circumference, adds up to 108 square inches, or 75% of a square foot, the same as a hole that is 10″x11″…a significant place to lose warmth in the winter and cool in the summer.
This gap can be a challenge to fill. Probably the best simple solution would be to fill the gap with a non-expanding foam insulation that will stick to both the side cover material and to the side of the platform. Home Depot sells a spray foam insulation called “Great Stuff” that comes in an expanding and a non-expanding version, and it will fill the gap and stick to both materials, thus closing up the gap. Also use it to fill any voids around floor penetrations like where plumbing comes through the floor.
Ait handling management
Heat rises. That is a basic law of physics that gives you an opportunity to keep your yurt home comfortable while keeping energy costs low. Here are two things you can do to use “heat rises” to your advantage, summer and winter.
1.) Use your dome opener. My home is a Pacific Yurts 30 ft. yurt. The dome height at the center of the yurt is 13 ft., the highest ceiling I have ever had in a home (High enough to have had what I always wanted…a TALL, 12 ft. Christmas tree!). Given that hot air (heat) rises, this gives a lot of room above standing person’s head level to allow uncomfortably hot air to move up and away from people. I havew actually measured the temperature difference between the 7 foot level and all the way to the highest point. The difference (in early June) was a whopping 34 degrees, from 78 degrees at the 6 foot level to 112 degrees at dome level. By simply opening the dome a few inches, and opening a door (a window will do the same), I allowed the hot air to rise right out of the dome opening, which pulled (cooler) replacement air in through the door.
2.) Use a ceiling fan. A ceiling fan can help with temperature control in all homes, even those with normal (low) 8 ft. ceilings. The high ceilings of a yurt make a ceiling fan even more effective as a temperature control tool.
During the summer, when it is hot, I rarely use the ceiling fan during the day as it is a lot hotter up near the ceiling than it is down near the “living space” as I call it, from 6 ft. down to the floor, and I don’t want to move that hot air down to where I am. As explained in number one (above), simply opening the dome takes care of the hot air near the top on hot days.
However, in the evening when things cool down, and the sun is not beating down on the roof of the yurt, the air up near the dome is not nearly as hot, as cooler air (which sinks, as opposed to hot air rising) is coming in through the open dome. From the time things cool off outside in the evening until mid-morning the next day, I turn the ceiling fan on to push air down and assist in getting that cool air coming in the dome down into the living zone. I like it to be cool when I sleep, and using my ceiling fan/dome combination in this manner I never have to use my air conditioner at night. As a matter of fact, pretty much the only time I use my air conditioner is during the 1 to 3 hottest hours of the day.
During the winter, since warm air rises, the heat from your radiant floor or wood-burning stove or whatever method you used to heat your yurt rises and becomes wasted heat, and wasted energy, as long as it is up near the dome. I use the ceiling fan to push that heat back down into the living zone.
Note: when the seasons change, and it starts being cooler outside, even during the day, DON’T FORGET TO CLOSE THE DOME! If you leave it open, you will be wasting heat as it escapes out the dome. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Your living can be as rustic and frugal as you want it… Or it can be extremely elegant and expensive, but wasting money on wasted energy is neither rustic or elegant. It is simply a waste of resources, and the means to reduce that waste is simple.
By taking the steps above, you keep more of your resources in your pocket to use in other ways.
So… If you have other ways to save money on energy while living in a yurt, tell us about them in the comments section below.
Thanks for visiting JuicyMaters. Y’all keep coming back now, ya hear?