Building a New 20 Foot Gertee


Introduction: Building a New 20 Foot Gertee

About: I'm a full time researcher and writer who began seeking alternative housing in order to continue my work (which doesn't pay very well). Along the way I became a cold weather housing researcher and full time ...

In the spring of 2008 we built a 20x24' wooden platform for a whole new 20 foot gertee. The walls are 7 feet high, the center height is 12 feet, and there's a 4 foot wide roofring with a recycled plastic wndow covering the hole.

Some of the materials for this one were new, i.e. the white marine duck canvas outside wall cover and the 30' pool cover tarp used on the outside roof. Inside the roof is a layer of used parachute. In October I added an inside layer of painter's plastic and covered it with recycled and new RadiantGuard.

This gertee was Camp Redington's Alaskan Peoples Museum all summer. We began modifying it into a winter home in late September. The remodel is ongoing.

A special thanks to Tim Redington for his carpentry skills and especially for giving us a place to build our weird little huts. We never could have done this without his assistance. His quirky Alaskan pioneer's knack for recycling materials continues to amaze me.

This 20 foot model cost $600.00 in wood for the platform, $300.00 in lumber for the frame, approximately $300.00 for exterior coverings and another $300.00 in misc used and new materials. The cost of the recycled materials: priceless.



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    Since you live in a yurt, I have a couple questions, is a 16 foot big enough to live in or should I consider a 20 foot yurt. I have written off the deck. May build a platform floor inside the yurt, but I guess not right away. If the door is traditionally on the south side, where would you put the wood stove, on the north side or the west side. The winds come in from the west, sometimes pretty strong. On the east side the ashes would blow away from the yurt. I am thinking of a solid wall for the chimney. I am also thinking about building yurts to sell, but that's down the road a piece. Most commercial yurts are made for people with the big bucks. I want to make something more for the not so rich people, but still have some elegance in the structure and it would be a little more permanent than a lot of the home grown yurts. I like making outdoor furniture, the stuff made out of 2x4's or 2x6's rather than delicate upholstered furniture. I got a lot of ideas swirling around in my head, so am trying to sort things out and bring some of them into reality

    6 replies

    are you building these yurt-shaped structures yet?

    I have some of the walls made, Khana. But I have several problems, our climate here in Maine is wet, not good for yurts. I would have to construct a platform for the yurt, a building permit would be required. My other problem is how to cover it. I need a building which can be heated in winter and kept dry. I am not sure if this yurt would meet my needs. I also wanted it to be somewhat of a permanent structure. I would have liked to buy a pre-made cover from one of the yurt companies, but most of them won't sell only the shell. Right now, I am on hold as far as a building. I need another building, but don't know what I will do. I am worried about dealing with building inspectors, as I have other possible violations here. If I can find a solution to those possible violations then I can move forward with the Yurt. Money is always an issue here. If you need advice about building a yurt, maybe I can help. I am hoping to move forward with my issues this summer. I will post more info, when I get ready to build the yurt.

    nitepagn--- have you ever thought of a hogan like in the west. solid, made of logs or 4 x4's laid in an octagon shape. solid building, could have windows and regular doors etc. might be the answer to your problems. hunter

    I am thinking about putting up a yurt. Would be seasonal at best. I want to put in a sand base with cement blocks around the edge for the yurt to stand on. I have some of the Khana made cut from 2x4's. The roof rafter might be furring strips, Ultra cheap wood. Would be 16 feet round. The covering would be canvas or awning material, maybe with window opening of some type for air. I would be following one of the pdf's that I downloaded from the net. If you need a copy let me know. The yurt would be used for an exercise room, heated with a pellet stove for fire safety. A wood stove can be used, but there are fire risks. A kerosene heater could be used, but had bad luck with trying to keep them working ok.

    The difference between a 16 footer and a 20 footer is amazing. I think you'll find it much more livable in the long term to go with the bigger model. A wooden floor makes it feel a LOT more like a cute cabin and it doesn't need to be high off the ground. If there is air flow underneath you need to insulate it like any normal floor. Radiant heated floorboards would be superb. I ignore the traditional place to put the door, and highly recommend 2 doors as you may find it appealing to add a second yurt later on and it's a good fire exit. I'd love to have a solid wall for the stovestack and think it's a great idea. My door on this one faces northwest and I put my woodstove next to the doorway on the right because it's convienent for bringing in the wood supply. I also put my kitchen to the left of the door since it's easier to bring in my water. Building affordable and elegant yurts is a seriously worthy endeavor. Not only is it a viable aternative housing option for low income people, it also fits well within the green and sustainable lifestyle movement. You may find a lot of support for this project within your local community development agency. If you can design functional furniture to fit inside a round room you'd open yourself up to the entire yurt market, because fitting square edged furnishings into a round room is the most often heard complaint by new yurt owners. I've also found it's easier to place my heavy straight edged furniture in the center, using it to form my walls. This keeps the air flow on the outer walls and reduces inside wall condensation problems. My 20 footer is big enough to have 3 separate rooms, my kitchen and bedroom are on the left side (8x20') and the whole right side is the living/dining room (12x20') We'll be experimenting with covering the roof with moss this next summer, since ours is obviously becoming more of a permanent structure. We're also considering covering the outside walls with bricks or stones. I guess the best advice I have is to try anything you think is worth the effort. To me this is a great way to find out exactly what we need to be comfortable and safe, at the same time we're helping to save the planet by using as many locally harvested, recycled and produced materials as we can. Please be sure to keep us posted on your progress and any furniture designs you make! Too bad Maine's so far away, it would be fun to come help you with this. :)

    Thanks for the info. I was afraid the 20 ' would be a great idea. Will have to do that. I can do walls and roof rafters for the cost of the wood, I have a table saw and router, so I can smooth out the wood. I'll set up a jig so it will be easy to run through all the pieces. The only problem is the work shed has limited heat which makes it hard to work in. My heater goes through a 1 lb propane tank every 6 hours. Temp is now around 30 F all the time now, so heat in the shed is a must.

    The rigid panel for the chimney. I will use T-111, the one that is painted beige in color, is the best, cost about $20 a sheet. Will reinforce with 2x4's, insulate and put the T-111 on the inside too. I am also thinking about putting in slider window using the T-111 to give a sturdy wall section. Guess I would put the door on the East, stove on the North and the windows on the South. A Kitchen window and a living room window. I don't think it is wise to put a window on the windy west side. The wind howls in the winter. My trailer is aligned north and south and gets the wind broadside.

    Behind the trailer is an open almost level field about an acre in size which I own. This is where the Yurt will go. I think a secondary yurt off the first would be a bathroom, shower, if I have running hot water and a composting toilet. I hope to eventually generate my own electricity with solar or wind energy. I want to also have a few sheep for wool, goats for milk and chickens for eggs. Will also need a garden for food. Still not sure how I will get water without electricity, maybe drive a point into the ground with a pitcher pump. Would be nice to have it inside the yurt. I'm dreaming again.

    Are you aware of the coming Earth Changes and the big shift. One of the primary reasons for my interest in all this. If you want to know more go to http://zetatalk.com I can't tell you it is true or false, but I feel it will really happen. You have to decide for yourself. I also believe you are in a safe area.

    One thing I haven't figured out yet is what to do about the open ring in the ceiling. I would like it open for sunlight and air, but also need to be able to close it for rain and winter weather. Maybe the canvas is the best solution. Where did you get your plastic dome for the top.

    For furniture, the side toward the wall, keep it narrow 24' or less. for walls hang sarongs, if privacy is needed. Try to get wool felt for the roof, it will stay warm even if it gets wet. I think I would put the bricks on the inside of the yurt. Would help hold the heat in the yurt.

    Winter is just starting, I will keep you informed and will tale a lot of pics.

    I've been scoping the net looking at yurts or gers and I like how you did the roof. I hope to build one next spring here in Maine.

    3 replies

    It's not in the slideshow but here's how we covered the roof: I cut the parachute from one outer edge to the top circle, then I pulled it up over the roof beams and wrapped it tight round the edge of the roofring. Then I laid out the 30' round pool cover, measured and marked the center hole with duct tape, then I cut out the center. I pulled it over the top lining up the cutout piece in the center. Since the plastic skylight was screwed to the roofring, Tim had to climb up on the outside and unscrew the plastic, tuck the tarp and parachute tight underneath it and screw it back down. We didn't know if the roofbeams would hold his weight so he put a 12' ladder under the roofring for support, and then he did this thing where he "thought light." I'll see if I can find where I filed the pics of him on the roof and add them. Another thing is the round pool cover is not a good waterproof tarp and the best tarps are the heavy duty reinforced thick ones. A square tarp works fine and can be trimmed once it's up. They're a bit hard to find and cost about $150. for a 24x24, but it's a worthwhile investment if you want to stay dry. Good luck with yours! Hope you take lots of pics abd share them with us.

    Up here in Maine I own 2 acres and a trailer which I live in. Maybe you remember Roger Miller's song King of the Road. It's about Bangor, Maine. I am just outside of Bangor. Winter's a bit milder than Alaska. I want to build a real house with a wood stove and have settled upon a yurt. I don't have the $100,000 to build a real house, so a yurt is doable. I own my land, just have to get permission from the town. I have a small woodshop so will cut the wood from 2x4's or 2x6's. I can get some nice Douglas Fir as 2x10's. Am thinking that I will use that as it is nice and straight and has very few knots. It is also quite rot resistant, will treat it with Thompsons water seal, gives the wood a nice finish, too. Will tie the slats together with cording rather than nuts and bolts. Am trying to cut costs here. Want to use a steel cable to hold the rafters in place. The Door will be custom build and the roof ring will be solid, similar to the roof ring which you are using. I have decided to build a deck, which will be my big cost. The wall and roof coverings will need to be insulated, not sure on this stuff yet, will have to research that some more. Thanks for your advice.

    Did you post instructions for the 20'? I have 4 children and would like to build a bigger yurt that we could stay in during the summer. My husbands job requires us to move a couple times a year and I thought a yurt would make a nice little home away from home. Last year we lived in a 30' camper with one small tip out and that was plenty of room. What design did you use for your roof ring? As for inexpensive materials I have saw one that was wrapped using old concrete blankets and left over billboard material.He has lived in his year round for at least two yars in Norther CO. Its what I am hoping to use as well. With a herd of kids ( lol ) that doesn't leave lots of extra $ to fund my adventure. Gonna be hitting up the culled lumber bins, craigslist, and freecycle along with habitat for humanity restores as much as possible. Good luck to everyone. What a great project!

    This is awesome, looks like a really comfortable space. I like the slide show, it's great to see how actually living in a space can influence the design so much after construction. Unlike conventional housing, this is more like a flower that changes its appearance seasonally. If you ever decide to make a larger version, I would refer to Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Deployment Unit. Structurally it's different, but it's similar in form to what you have here, and could be used to inform programming (the purpose assigned to spaces).

    4 replies

    Thanks shooby, I've already changed it around inside since these pictures were taken. It's beautiful that you liken it to a flower, the best I could come up with was changing your walls like your seasonal clothing. I've looked at those dome units before and they're pretty neat. I'd like to try living in one for sure.

    hi, have you been living in your yurt structure yet? winters?

    I looked at the pictures the Alaskan Tent Lady posted. Looks like pretty tough living. The roof covering has to be custom made. I have a sewing machine that might be able to handle the canvas. My idea was to connect several yurts together through the sidewall. I have also toyed with the idea of rigid walls made with lumber, which would make insulating easier and having permanent windows in the the walls. A wood stove or pellet stove would provide the heat. A pellet stove is the safest and only requires a small vent for the exhaust. A composting toilet would avoid the septic system hookup. The only outside utilities needed is water and electricity. Solar panels off the grid could serve the electric needs. A water system and cook stove would be needed to complete the package, I would put in propane for cooking and water heating. which will also require a pressurized water system. The water system is the biggest problem here. I have an artesian well, but would not want to use a well pump for the water, my current system has a 50 amp 240 line to the pump. Too big of an energy draw for solar panels. I currently am in a trailer, so building the yurt would allow for easily moving into the yurt. My purpose of building the Yurt is to use it for a workshop, heat is needed. I may build a movable platform, so that a permit will not be needed, a permanent deck is a permit item. A stone/ brick/ cement block patio would not need to be permitted and would work for a base for the yurt.

    Yeah, me too. It's not often discussed, but the roof ventilation unit on Fuller's design actually rotates to face the wind, for constant optimal ventilation. Also, those things could be constructed in one day. What a guy.

    Very Nice! I was wondering how they would hold up in weather extremes. What was the inside temperature when it was -50 outside? I imagine the radiant barrier made a huge difference. If radiant barrier had been put down under the floor it would also make a huge difference in comfort level. It looks like the slats are more substantial than some of the "camping " yurts. What are the dimensions of the wall slats? How many slats did it take to make the wall? What are the dimensions of and how many roof trusses? Also, what is the diameter of the roof ring? I would definitely need to do multiple pods with my family of 6, but bedrooms could be much smaller. I am much encouraged as other housing options require much more in the way of money, time, tools, skills, oh yes, and MONEY! Other options we were looking at were running into $20,000 that we just don't have. The string or zip ties are definitely a cheap, quick and easy way to go if you are just going to set it up in one location. String or twine can be scrounged almost anywhere around here. However, if a person is going to be moving it frequently the nuts and bolts method would avoid having to adjust the strings or zip ties every time you put it up. It would however add $75 to $100 to the cost as well as a need for a few tools and relative accuracy in drilling the holes to put them in. The tools could be borrowed, but it would be hard to scrounge that many nuts and bolts! You may not have a lot of step by step details, but you have done a great job of showing how easily and cheaply it can be done. You have also done a great job of sharing what it can be like to live in this type of simple dwelling. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1 reply

    I have had a yurt (gher, whatever) for about 12 years now. I use it for camping and burning man. I have an OLD web page for the 2G yurt (We are on 3G now) at .
    In it's current incarnation, I have used zipties for the wall joins (much faster to install.) and the roof ring is now a cedar sandwich. I would not suggest bolts for the walls, as the yurt needs to flex. The strings on 2G did fine, don't use cotton, go synthetic, as the cotton will rot and is a pain.

    Have you thought about insulateing (the outside) with hay bales? I love your yurt. and am going to build one myself using cut saplings and small trees for the walls and supports.