Apr 042013

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 VectorsGold-144foundation, 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.

Supplemental insulation

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?




All about Bob the nutjob!

Bob is a N Georgia blogger, homesteader, yurt liver, self-sufficiency nutjob, pig farmer, political activist, politician baiter...and the best damn cook you know that doesn't make a living at it.He can be followed onTwitter. You can also "Like" our Facebook page.

  32 Responses to “Yurt living: More thoughts on how-to stay warm”

Comments (32)
  1. Ok! I have a couple of questions. How sturdy are these and how hard are they to set up?

  2. hi Bailey… Thanks for stopping by juicyMaters. We’re always glad to have a new member of the JuicyMaters family.

    Hard as it may be to believe, yurts are as structurally sound, perhaps even more so, than a regular, conventionally built house. If you buy it from a reputable company you are actually buying an engineered structure, not just something that came up in somebody’s imagination.

    I got my yurt from a company called Pacific Yurts, in cottage Grove, Oregon. the standard kit is engineered to withstand winds of up to, I believe, about 100 miles an hour… And with the optional wind kit it will stand up under winds even higher.

    As for the strength of the structure itself, outside of its ability to stand up in a high wind, I can personally speak to the strength of a yurt kit.three months after I finished my yurt and 80 foot tall pine tree fell on it. Yes, it was damaged and yes, it looked terrible and I thought it was gonna cost a fortune to fix it. Instead, 35 man-hours and about $600 and replacement parts from the yurt Company had me back as good as new.

    Wander around JuicyMaters for a while. There is a wealth of information on yurts… And other things to find, and remember… Keep coming back!

  3. I’m thinking that these would be great to rent to Eco Tourist or for familys that just want to rough it some what in my area.

  4. I think Most yurt companies sell an insulation package as an option for their yurt kits. Because yurt make awesome homes.

  5. Have been reading your posts and am seriously thinking of going with a yurt for a home. The suburban life is not what I need. Would love to be able to contact you and talk shop. I am in the augusta ga area and I think you would be a huge resource if we decided to go down this path. Hanks

  6. Hi Jon…
    There is nothing like stepping out on your front porch and being able to see the stars without town lights messing up the night sky, and hearing nothing but crickets. One of the things that makes it better is doing it from a front porch of a yurt.

    I’ve been a bit slack at keeping the blog up, but there is a lot coming…stay tuned.

    Also, I’d enjoy talking to you about your plans…you can email mt at bobdothaylesatjuicymatersdotcom

  7. we built or installed at Yurt in Nh last dec. ( White Mountain Yurts). Generally we used it as a getaway, as well as renting it through Air BnB. We pretty much rented it every weekend through out the winter to backcountry skiers, and snow shoe folks… We have a Wood Stove rated at 33,000 btu, which generally keeps it warm down to 10f, but once we start dipping below 0F , we all move in closer to the wood stove.. I would like to install a glycol floor heating systems, just do not want to use gas or electric. My preference would be wood, however based on the science of wood stoves not sure how to do this unless, I install a double chamber wood stove.. as if you install a SS water jacket jacket, you will pretty much cool the stove and crate a Creosote manufacturing stove. So any ideas with that would be greatly appreciated. We are off grid, and have a few hundred yard hike to access the yurt, which is how I like it.. A couple of issues, that I realized, after the Yurt was completed, originally I wanted to put in a loft,, however the openness of 24′ is so visually appealing, at this point , now I have no plans to create rooms, or lofts.. We have a couple of Futons that open up for sleeping arrangements , just a open concept. The other issue is lighting,, as Dec. Jan, the darkness comes on so early,, I see a need for Solar/Battery DC lighting system, just have not come up with the cash, and expertise. Any suggestions or directions would be greatly appreciated

  8. Ivan…the only way I can see to run your proposed hydronic floor sans gas or electric would be something like a Central Boiler, but that would be too much expense, probably, if your only need is for the floor.

    As for your other idea…solar…I’m going all solar in the next year, but don’t havew all the details worked out yet and don’t want to give wrong info. Once I get it all planned out I’ll be writing a post or two about it. Watch for it…it will be chock full of info.

  9. Do you think insulation on the roof only will be adequate for our Sonoma Northern California climate?
    Freezes a few nights a year..

    It is a Pacific Yurt.

  10. I don’t know if this is the right place for this, but regarding building permits, Sonoma County in California has the following exemption from permits:

    Prefabricated structures not more than 500 square feet in area, constructed of light frame materials and covered with cloth or flexible plastic, accessory to a single family dwelling, with no associated electrical, plumbing, or mechanical work and the height above existing grade does not exceed 12 feet.

  11. Hi Norman…glad to meet another yurt-er, especially a Pacific Yurts fellow yurt lover.

    Geeze…there are a number of things involved that make it hard for me to give you a straight answer…I have to say I really don’t know, too many variables. You aren’t far south of Cottage Grove, OR where Pacific Yurts is based so I’d ask them as the climate should be similar. Give them a call and ask for Pete…hmmm…Dolan I think is his last name, their engineer-type guy. He’s a straight shooter and will tell you his honest opinion, not just automatically say you need it to make the up-sell.

    My gut feeling is yes, you need the wall insulation, but that’s just a guess, and not even an educated guess, just a WAG…Wild Ass Guess.

  12. Thanks Bob…I have a call into Pete right now.

  13. Good…and congrats on becoming a yurt-er AND a new member of the JuicyMaaters family!

  14. Hi Bob,

    I am trying to decide on flooring for my yurt.
    Home Depot says they will not install any of their vinyl or other products in the yurt, because it is not Temperature controlled environment.

    What do you recommend?

  15. That is a weird reason for not doing your floorng, but if that is their policy I don’t know that there is a lot to do about changing it.

    MY solution is to buy the materials and do it myself and have the added benefit of saving the installation money…but since yo are apparently wantingf them to do it we need to have another solution, eh?

    I’m guessing that you are putting up the yurt according to the code section you told me about in an earlier comment? Under 500 sq ft, lightweight frame, cloth or plastic covering, no electrical, plumbing, or other mechanical systems? In other words, whoever wrote the code was thinking “tent”. (How did you get around “accessory to a singly family dwelling”?)

    I’m not suggesting you do this…I’m just telling you what I would do.

    Be devious. Tell them it IS a heated space. Borrow a wood heater and some of the necessary installation stuff to make it look believable from someone and when the installer shows up just tell him the yurt is “under construction” and the wood burning heater is waiting for the installer to come…next week.

    Then return the heater to whoever you borrowed it from. A nice chardonnay as a “thank you” would be a good touch.

  16. Thanks Bob for that answer.

    Fortunately, I do not need Homedepot to do the installation.

    I have a good carpenter.

    I think Homedepot is just being conservative, and not wanting to take on any liability. There is a life time guarantee for the vinyl itself.

    I checked with Armstrong flooring. They have no problem installing. But, price is double. So, I am going with Homedepot vinyl interlocking planks.

    We live in Northern California not Northern Minnesota.

  17. I knew you were in California, not Minnisota Norman…what made you think I was thinking otherwise? Oh…and the other question in my reply…how did you get around the “accessory to a single family dwelling”? Or is this going up on your residence’s land?

  18. I was making a metaphor.
    Yes, this is on land that is part of my residence.

  19. Ahhhhh…That “whooshing sound you hear was it going right over my head…LOL.

  20. So, about the flooring & what to install… I have a 33′ diam yurt from Rainier in Seattle. It sits 3′ above grade on the foundation supports built according to specifications. It was perfect. The yurt had been delivered in 5 huge crates a few weeks before the foundation was ready to put the SIPS floor on it. The SIPS floor structure was completed 2 days before 5 guys were coming to put the yurt up. I had one day to lay flooring. I selected Interlocking Vinyl Planking from Home Depot. It was the same stuff in the model yurt I saw before buying the yurt. Loved it. Was not cheap. I had given the flooring planks several weeks to acclimate, according to instructions. I laid it the day after the SIPS was done & covered it in case of rain. The next day the guys came to erect the yurt & I pulled the sheeting off the floor & all of the way across the floor, in three different lines, the planks had “separated” about 3/4″- all the way across. It made me sick. I think I did not give the SIPS floor structure time to “settle”. It was August & hot. I had no choice but to let the guys put the yurt up, as I had waited for 4 months for the appointment for them to come & I was living in a 70 sq ft conversion van with 3 dogs (since January). I decided I would deal with the floor later. I did not have the money to do the floor over. Nor did I have the time. It took them two days start to finish to put up the yurt. Now I have the lattice-work around the edge sitting hard on the planking & have water & electricity installed & I built walls for kitchen, bathroom, pantry & walk-in closet. The rest of the floor is covered with thick wool rugs (because yurts aren’t very warm naturally). For the most-part the separated lines of flooring are covered. The ones that aren’t, I just try to ignore. So, to make a long story end, make sure the substructure & floor have had a good amount of time to settle. I followed all of the construction instructions exactly, but nowhere was there anything about waiting to install the flooring. I do, however, LOVE my yurt. warts & all.

  21. BTW. I live on Orcas Island- north of the WA peninsula.

  22. What is SIPS.?

  23. Norman, they are Structural Integrated Panels. Learn about them here: http://www.sips.org/about/frequently-asked-questions-faqs-regarding-structural-insulated-panels-sips

  24. There are number of company are manufacturing a insulation materials for home or building insulation. Here Bob are sharing with us a very informative article through Yarts insulation , they are providing a basic insulation method to protect your home. Thanks to you for sharing this article…………………….

  25. How do I post photos and video of my new yurt?

  26. Norman…watch for an email from me. It will be coming fron bob at w4jic.com.

  27. Where did you post the pictures I sent?

  28. Not up yet, Norman. They will be part of a new post, probably the first week of 2017. Right now I’m slammed with Christmas and tryig to finish a book by the end of the year that will be published in January.

  29. How well would it work to put a very good fan near the dome (either directly under it, or just to the side), and then reverse the air flow (sucking air up toward the dome) with windows/doors open and dome open during summer to cool the yurt down? I’m not talking a small, dinky, noisy fan. I’m talking a large fan spinning relatively slowly, moving a lot of air.

    Also, your thoughts on a SIP floor (maybe 8.25″ or 10.25″ SIP), as opposed to joists with insulation? Yes, it would be fairly expensive, but as far as performance goes, probably pretty good, no?

  30. Hi Rick…welcome to the JuicyMaters family!

    Good questions. Let’s start with the first one: Using a fan to draw the heat up and out thru the dome. That is the best way to keep cool during hot months without an airconditioner but there are limitations. Here at the farm we have a ceiling fan that is 5 feet in diameter with wide blades and a reversible motor to do just as you describe. This is effective but there are limitations in really hot climates.

    First, something I didn’t understand about the dome opener was how far it opened the dome. If you are like me you are thinking the dome opens WAY up, but it doesn’t. It opens by lifting one edge about 6-8 inches. That is room to move a good bit of air, but its not like there is a 5 foot clear opening.

    Second, depending on the style of yurt it is likely you will have to open windows from the outside, as few yurts have windows that can be opened thru the lattice walls. If your yurt is on a crawkspace foundation on uneven ground getting to the windows from the outside could mean having to get a ladder out. Here, the two windows that would be the best to open for airflow are where the floor level of the yurt at the window location is 5 feet and 7 feet off the ground. Opening and closing windows is a bit of a chore.

    On your second question, I am not very familiar with SIP flooring so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on it, but if your plumbing is running in the voids between the joists you will need to insulate anyway (depending on your location) to keep your plumbing from freezing … and maybe bursting /// in cold winter weather.

  31. Hi Bob,

    Thank you for the reply. That is very helpful information! I am thinking about splurging on my yurt and going with a Pacific Yurt 30′ model with two screened doors (at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock) and a total of six glass “custom curve” windows that can open from inside. I figured opening everything would allow for quite a draw of air through the yurt, but I did not realize the dome only opens 6″-8″, which would be the limiting factor. Thank you for clarifying. I learn something new about yurts every day!

    Regarding SIP flooring, I like the elegant simplicity of SIPs, and apparently you need far fewer footers because they are very strong on their own. They are also apparently very insulating. 8.25″ SIPs have R Values around 30, for example. 10.25″ SIPs around 38!

    My thinking on SIPs was that I could order them pre-cut, and just snap them together and finish it out, and whammo, done, as opposed to joists, insulation, moisture barriers, etc. SIP just seems like a cleaner, simpler, faster option. But probably pricey. One thing that is kind of discouraging is that there are a million different SIP manufacturers, each with their own standards and claims, and varying levels of quality.

    So, as you can see, I’m trying to balance simplicity, quality, and value. I’m willing to pay for performance and convenience, but not to waste money, if that makes sense. Thanks again for responding!



  32. Rick, you ARE splurging aren’t you? 6 custom curve windows is rather pricey! I got my 30′ Pacific Yurt in 2009, before they had the glass windows so I didn’t have that choice. If I had I would have gottes 3-4 but not 6. Wow! That will look great.

    I did a single entry door at 6 o’clock and french doors at 12. I didn’t get screens as my chickens keep the property pretty bug free.

    Sorry I can’t give input on the SIP flooring, but I have 0% expirience with it, and I’m not going to guess, even an educated guess. One thing I will say is be absolotely certain you can have good support with fewer joists before you go that route. EVERYTHING you do is dependent on the foundation and floor system. Do that wrong and everything above floor level will suffer.

    Have a great day, and thanks for joining the JuicyMaters family.


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