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YURT 101

Our Yurt experts here at Rainier Outdoor have compiled an incredible amount of useful information to help educate you on all things Yurts! The Anatomy of Customizing, to permits and shipping is all here!

At any point should you have any questions, please click the line chat button to char with a live representative. We are crazy about Yurts and want you be too!

What is a Yurt anyway?

A yurt is a circular structure with a dome, fabric roof and walls, and collapsible wood lattice.

Architectural Digest called them an “architectural wonder,” because they rely on tension and compression to create a strong and efficient structure.

Yurts provide a compact space offers a variety of uses, including:

  • Campground Rentals
  • Seasonal Worker Housing
  • Permanent Housing
  • Fitness and Retreat Centers
  • Meditation/Fitness Room
  • Ski Resort Hut
  • Meeting Facility
  • Guest Rentals
  • Ecotourism
  • Temporary Housing
  • Spa Enclosure
  • Camps
  • Office
  • Photography or Artist Studio

YURT ANATOMY

Dome

The yurt’s dome serves as a skylight for your yurt, allowing natural light to pass through and brighten up your yurt’s interior. Rainier yurts come standard with a clear, fixed dome, but can be upgraded to a tinted dome and/or opening and closing dome. Typically, for an opening and closing dome, a small hand crank can be used to adjust the dome from floor level.

Ring

The compression ring is the yurt’s focal point, but more importantly, an engineering component that secures the top ends of the rafters. It also serves as the base for the dome.

Lattice

Lattice is the wooden accordion-like wall structure for the yurt that stretches around the circumference of the yurt, attaching to the platform and roof structures.

Walls

Yurt walls are made of a durable fabric supported by the lattice. They can be lined with a layer of insulation if desired.

Floor

Your platform structure is covered with a layer of plywood, cut to the same diameter as your yurt. The bare plywood can serve as your interior flooring, or you can install custom flooring on top of it.

Exploded drawing of the anatomy of a yurt

Roof

A yurt’s roof is made of durable fabric that’s stretched over the rafters and attached at the top of the yurt walls. If roof insulation is desired, it is installed between the rafters and the outer fabric layer

Rafters

The rafters are wooden beams that connect the lattice to the compression ring. They provide the frame for the roof as well as structural support for the entire yurt

Windows

Yurt windows can come in a variety of sizes, styles, and materials. Soft windows are are built into the exterior wall fabric, while hard windows are set in wood and built directly into your yurt frame.

Doors

Your yurt door is always built into the frame. The size and model of your yurt will determine how many doors, and what door styles can be installed.

Platform Support

Without an in-ground foundation, yurts are always supported by a platform, which is typically anchored with concrete blocks and raised off of the ground with wooden posts.

YURT HISTORY

We are delighted to share Candace Rardon's brilliantly illustrated history of yurts from her blog. She has given us permission to share it with you here at Rainier.
Candace’s beautiful sketches make her informative post charming and fun to read. Thank you again Candace!

“A man’s tent is like a god’s temple.”
– Kyrgyz proverb

THE MODERN HISTORY

Diagram of yurt compression and tension, how it creates a sturdy sturcture.
Diagram of yurt and wind flow pressure

Acclaimed by Architectural Digest as an “architectural wonder,” yurts are among the strongest and most efficient structures ever created.

Modern yurts, based on the ancient Mongolian Ger and Turkic Üy, improve upon the circular structures with smart and beautiful design.

Yurt design uses tension and compression to create a stable and sturdy structure. As the rafters push down and out, the tension cable (which circles the top of the lattice) resists the forces. The low profile, pitch of the roof, and circular shape keep the yurt standing strong in high winds.

Rainier Yurts are engineered to meet or exceed International Building Codes, and we use the strongest materials we can get our hands on to add extra protection against the elements.

Our lattice is the strongest available, and we use an aircraft cable tension band that sits on top of the lattice wall. The roof uses premium structural fabrics and walls are made with premium grade fabrics with superior coatings and warranties. Our cinch-seal offers Kevlar removable jib hanks to securely integrate the ceiling, wall, and deck.

ECO FRIENDLY

Many people are attracted to yurts because of their minimal impact on the environment.

Yurts are built on a platform, instead of a permanent foundation, so when the yurt is moved there is no lasting impact to the area it rested on.

The materials used to build a yurt are all sustainable and recyclable.

The round shape of a yurt leaves less surface area for heat to escape, and along with it’s durable wall fabric, this makes yurts very efficient to heat.

Read more about our commitment to sustainability.

RAISING YOUR YURT

Acclaimed by Architectural Digest as an “architectural wonder,” yurts are among the strongest and most efficient structures ever created.

Modern yurts, based on the ancient Mongolian Ger and Turkic Üy, improve upon the circular structures with smart and beautiful design.

Yurt design uses tension and compression to create a stable and sturdy structure. As the rafters push down and out, the tension cable (which circles the top of the lattice) resists the forces. The low profile, pitch of the roof, and circular shape keep the yurt standing strong in high winds.

Rainier Yurts are engineered to meet or exceed International Building Codes, and we use the strongest materials we can get our hands on to add extra protection against the elements.

Our lattice is the strongest available, and we use an aircraft cable tension band that sits on top of the lattice wall. The roof uses premium structural fabrics and walls are made with premium grade fabrics with superior coatings and warranties. Our cinch-seal offers Kevlar removable jib hanks to securely integrate the ceiling, wall, and deck.

CUSTOM INTERIOR

Depending on your preferences, the interior of your yurt can be customized to the comfort levels of even the most high-maintenance glampers. We've seen everything from kitchens and interior bathrooms to cozy wooden lofts (that's right, with our tall Eagle walls your yurt can actually have two stories!)

ENERGY CODES

Build a Yurt, energy codes collage graphic.

Word on the street is that the energy code is causing problems for yurt dwellers.

Some states in the US use the Uniform Building Code (UBC) but many states, provinces, and some countries use the ICC (International Code Council) rule books. The two ICC rulebooks are the IRC (International Residential Code) and IBC (International Building Code).

While the IBC establishes the basic requirements for exterior walls from a general building construction sense, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) updates in 2012 went further to address energy use in buildings. This was the most recent change that affected yurts, but codes are constantly changing and it’s up to you to do your homework when you’re applying for a permit.

The beauty of the family of codes prepared by the International Code Council (ICC) is the two codes have been painstakingly reviewed to complement and not contradict each other. The IECC uses a similar format and language to the IBC, but also acknowledges the need to coordinate requirements.

The IECC addresses energy efficiency on several fronts including cost savings, reduced energy usage, conservation of natural resources, and the impact of energy usage on the environment.

The building code terminology for the yurt is “membrane-covered frame structure.” In order to be permitted, a yurt must meet requirements in the areas of snow load, seismic rating, wind speed, and fires safety, dependent on location. Other requirements like egress (emergency exit) and occupancy are dependent on the use of the yurt (residential, rental, or commercial).

Building code officials have no problem with the above provisions, but they do have a problem with insulation. They are being pushed to comply more strictly than ever before with the energy code, which regulates building design for adequate thermal resistance and low air leakage.

For yurt dwellers, it all boils down to the insulation.

Diagram of yurt compression and tension, how it creates a sturdy sturcture.

They want the insulation to be R-38 in the roof and R-25 to R-35 in the side walls (depending on location it could be substantially higher or lower.) The reflective foil we offer is R-9 for a single layer and R-10 for double layer

However, there is a provision in our favor: “it is intended that these provisions provide flexibility to permit the use of innovative approaches and techniques to achieve effective utilization of energy.”

If building officials see your yurt as a permanent residential dwelling, chances are they will want to regulate the energy code.

The good news is the code is not intended to restrict the use of materials, construction, design, or insulation system. But the construction, design, or insulation has to be approved by the code official.

I am hearing about building officials who are willing to work with yurt dwellers using alternative energy sources like solar power and hydro-radiant floor coils. They can be flexible … so getting on their good side form the start is essential!

Yurt dweller Steven Hatch experienced this when he attempted to get a building permit for his yurt in rural Utah. He went to the local county building inspection department and asked what he needed to do to get a building permit for his new yurt. They gave him a checklist of the requirements he would need to satisfy in order to comply.

From there he went to the Planning and Zoning Committee. This was the key to Steven’s success! He claims in his book, Practical Yurts: Building and Living in a Low Cost Alternative Structure: “working with the Planning and Zoning Committee in a small, rural area was helpful to me getting my permit. I think one might have more difficulty in a larger urban area. I don’t know that for sure, but that is my feeling.”

Steven used Rainier Yurt’s engineer to get site specific engineered drawings, showing that the yurt exceeded wind speed requirements, met the seismic requirements, and exceeded the snow load requirements. After much back-and-forth with the permit office, he worked through the perc testing and sewer permit with the Health Department.

Cover of Steven Hatch's book, Practical Yurts: Building and Living in a Low Cost Alternative Structure:
Cover of Steven Hatch's book, Practical Yurts: Building and Living in a Low Cost Alternative Structure:

Steven wrote: “The only issue remaining was how I was going to insulate the yurt. The building inspection people were thinking it needed R30 and R45 and it wasn’t going to meet that requirement.. I printed out a copy of Dana’s “Yurt Insulation” blog post that discussed the Radiant Barrier Insulation and gave them a copy of Becky Kemery’s book, Living in the Round, to study. I also directed them to the portion of the code dealing with membrane covered frame structures and let them work at their pace to study and approve the permit. It took them about a week and they gave me a call and told me to permit was ready to pick up.”

Steven wrote: “The only issue remaining was how I was going to insulate the yurt. The building inspection people were thinking it needed R30 and R45 and it wasn’t going to meet that requirement.. I printed out a copy of Dana’s “Yurt Insulation” blog post that discussed the Radiant Barrier Insulation and gave them a copy of Becky Kemery’s book, Living in the Round, to study. I also directed them to the portion of the code dealing with membrane covered frame structures and let them work at their pace to study and approve the permit. It took them about a week and they gave me a call and told me to permit was ready to pick up.” $1800 later, Steven was free to start construction of his Rainier Yurt.

My take away is don’t give up! If you are told there is no way you can get a permit for a yurt, ask what you NEED to do to get a permit and ask for their help.

For example: explore the skylight and French doors options to get more natural light into the yurt during daylight hours, requiring less electricity. Discuss limited demand options for hot water, electricity, and lighting. It’s a yurt we are talking about, not grandma’s rambler!

Cover of Steven Hatch's book, Practical Yurts: Building and Living in a Low Cost Alternative Structure:

Ask questions – lots of questions! Start with mobile homes in the area – what R value to they have? Why are they calculated differently from stick built houses, but yurts have to comply with the R-value of a permanent residence? Is a yurt less permanent than a doublewide? Be persistent, share, teach, listen, learn, discuss. Repeat!

A mutually beneficial outcome just might happen when you educate the permit official about yurts and radiant barrier insulation and empower their help to assist you with complying with an alternative energy code using site-recovered energy and on-site renewable energy. Use your enthusiasm to explain to the official that alternative, sustainable, off-the-grid options will benefit the planet far more than your low R-value yurt will hurt the planet.

PERMITS

Do I need a permit for a Yurt?

Please note that permit regulations vary in different locations and sometimes they vary within the same county or state, so the bottom line is to do your homework! It is not our responsibility to find out if you can have a yurt on your property.

We cannot possibly keep up with changes from every building department across North America. Some Planning Departments will view a yurt as a “Temporary Membrane Structure” especially if it is for recreational use only. Others view it as a residence in which you would need to comply with the Energy Code and the R-Value required. Yurts do not have traditional batting insulation and therefore will not pass the Energy Code in which case you couldn’t get a permit to live in a yurt as your primary residence.

Rainier Outdoor is not responsible for past, present or future yurt purchases that do not meet Energy Code specifications and any potential ‘loss of use’ ramifications.

Dana the yurt girl with Vu posing in front of the yurt insulation

SHIPPING

The DIY Kits sold by Rainier Outdoor does not include shipping costs. This is because we ship all over the world and the shipping costs associated with these large crates is determined by size and weight of the crate(s) and the distance they must travel. At checkout you have the option to select “Will Call /Pickup“ OR ”Rainier Shipment Service”.

Dana the yurt girl with Vu posing in front of the yurt insulation
  1. “Will Call”: This entails that you work with your Rainier Rep to determine what size truck or truck-trailer combination you would need to rent or borrow to pick up your order at our facility in Tukwila, WA. Inset wheel-wells like those found in the back of a U-Haul truck will not allow us to set down the main crate on the floor of the truck box. Pay close attention to door height and floor or ‘deck’ space when renting your truck. Showing up with a trailer with side rails, higher-than-deck wheel wells, back gates etc all affect how our fork lift can load. Many times we simply can’t load the entire order due to insufficient space. Work it out on paper first – make sure you have the space needed. (*We call this…” Don’t be that guy!”)

  2. “Commercial Pick Up”: The customer arranges a Commercial Carrier to pick up the load. We encourage you to make sure that there will be room on the truck for your order. We have had trucks show up completely full expecting to load our huge crates on top of their load – see photos.

    All Commercial Carrier pick-ups MUST have a B.O.L (Bill of Lading) either printed and with the driver or emailed to our Shipping Department PRIOR to arriving. No load-out happens without it.

  3. “Rainier Shipping Service”: For an additional fee at checkout, we will arrange for a Commercial Carrier to pick up your order (and perhaps SIPS) and deliver to your desired location. This best-case scenario takes all the hassle away and leaves the handling to us. Based on the load size, destination and off-loading options we act on your behalf to get your investment to where it needs to go. This service still requires a forklift or work-party, to be organized by the customer, at the destination.

    Rainier Shipment Service is for large order shipments only and does not include international shipments, or shipments to AK, HI, PR

Off-Loading

Okay so the truck has left our facility and shortly will be at your property. How in the heck do you get those huge crates off the truck?

There are really only three options and if at all possible, go for the first one!

  1. Rent a forklift for a day. It won’t break-the-bank and your crates are offloaded in one piece safe and sound until your install crew arrives.

    Some folks have been creative and had their shipment delivered to the local lumber store where they purchased their lumber package for the platform. The larger lumber yards all have forklifts. Then you show up with a truck caravan to take the crates to your property. You can negotiate what to pay the lumber yard for their time and efforts. Usually a ‘Benjamin’ will do the trick.

  2. Next option is to rent the truck or trailer for an extended period of time and offload as needed during the yurt build. This is brilliant! Most truck rental companies have a reasonable 5- or 7-day rate. Be sure to ask our loading-team to position the crates with the “This End Opens” side ‘out’ so you can access it.

  3. Last option is the “barnyard scramble”. If you absolutely cannot get a forklift to your property, then you are calling 4 or 5 of your strongest buddies and laying down a huge clean tarp. When the truck arrives, the driver will only wait a reasonable amount of time before he charges you- so be organized! Have charged-ready to go drills and extra batty-packs. Have two people hop up in the truck and open the crates. Hand down the contents of one crate at a time to the receivers on the ground.

  4. Organize ‘like’ things together and keep fragile things like the dome in a secure area. (Don’t be that guy who drove over his dome off to the side in a grass field)

RESOURCES