Gertees are round houses made of sticks and poles tied together with zipties and covered with cloth or other materials. Each one is as unique as the owner who builds it.

All ger/yurts can be tailor made to fit any kind of budget. Many builders world-wide offer varieties of the yurt at prices ranging from 2 to 25K. My variations, based on the original Mongolian Ger design, expand the concept to include more people who don't have the 2K.

American made, high end yurts are so well constructed and modern they are getting HUD approval. In English towns residents are overturning municipal codes prohibiting odd looking tent homes. Yurts are a growing option for camping in National Parks and Wilderness areas. They also have an emerging fan base in the sustainable development-green community.

These may be perfect for creative people who want to try something new or they may be an optional shelter for homeless disaster victims in areas full of scrap lumber and salvageable materials. People from all backgrounds and income brackets can build these very comfortable little round home for themselves, and even the lowest end ones are very cute and sturdy.

The first recycled GerTee prototype I built in 2004 merged a ger (yurt) with the American Plains Indian Teepee smoke liner. I also thought the roofring could be replaced with a teepee top design. A few months ago I learned that the Mongolian phrase for being "at home" is gertee.

My GerTees are a very simplified way to erect a cozy, warm, sturdy home in a few hours or a few days. It requires no drilling or any special tools besides maybe a handsaw, screwdriver, scissors, staplegun and a hammer and nails. If you have power tools it goes a bit faster.. and a table saw is a huge help if you need to cut your wall slats out of bigger pieces of wood, but there are other ways around all these challenges.

The idea behind this ger model is that in an emergency it can be made almost entirely out of scraps and later modified with nicer additions, all depending on the needs and finances of the owner.

Step 1: Assets Inventory

These ideas are for people who are already familiar with the original ger design. It's directed at those who think they lack the skills or simply cannot afford to build their own. I'm born blond and I built these when I was broke; I'm here to show you why I think anyone can build these.

The first step is to categorize lists of what we want, what we need, and what is available to us.

Want is determined by what will we be using the Gertee for. Use determines many things. For example, if we want a ger to take camping we will want it lightweight, portable and easy to set up. If we plan to use it as a greenhouse, it will need clear plastic covers. If we plan to live in it all winter, it will need layers of extra insulation and a safe, inside heat/cooking source.

Need is what we arrive at when we think we can't afford the one we want. If we want an extra guest bedroom or a private office/studio in our fenced backyard then we're probably not as concerned about the building costs as someone who wants a place to call home. The most primal human need is for shelter from the storm. There was a time when all humans knew how to provide for their own needs. Adequate housing is not always provided to victims of natural disasters, and large government and NGO operations favor some pretty ugly ways to live. Displaced and homeless people have a lot more options than they may realize.

Availability is the reality of our current situation. Sometimes we may have the money but even then, ready made products are out-of-stock or not exactly what we want. Sometimes there isn't a lot of time to figure out ahead of time what materials we may need to build a temporary shelter. So the very first thing to do after you decide what you want and need is: look around to see what's available, right before your eyes.

Think you're too poor to own one of these?

Gers can be built of sticks, strings, rope and material. The sticks can be thin... the wall poles can be few.. the Mongolian's design is so genious that not one stick or pole carries the load itself... the load rests on a tension rope, evenly distributed into the circle. The walls don't need to be even in height all around, the roof poles don't need to be placed every foot or even two, and the roof cover can be layers of smaller tarps, they don't have to be sewed or glued. the walls can be anything from old tablecloths to blankets. It does not need to be built on a nice deck overlooking a lovely scenic view. It can be right on the ground, on a platform, or it can be built on top of a city skyscraper (wouldn't that be something?) Finding the available land is the biggest challenge to the broke yurt owner, but since yurts are easily made portable they can be moved every 2 weeks as per national park seasonal rules.

A recycled Gertee can cost next to nothing besides the time it takes to scavenge materials and build it. An upscale Gertee can be made the same way, and it can cost whatever you feel like spending. Want French doors and custom woodwork? Want all indoor plumbing and heated floors? Want stained glass windows in the roof and a loft? All this and more is possible, but at some point the cost is not really going into the Gertee itself, not once it has everything it can possibly accomodate.

As a struggling author of obscure political essays, my budget is often more on the low, low end of the scale. I've built three full size Gertees and one 12 inch model Gertee. The first two full sized ones were covered with recycled materials. The one I live in now is the same frame I used in the summer but I added wall slats and purchased new roof and wall materials, and I laid new plywood for the floor.
<p>Was condensation a problem inside due to the tarps not being breathable? </p>
<p>This is brilliant!! I wish that our country provided this type of thing for our homeless folks. Personally, I was looking for an inexpensive way to get my things out of storage (keeps going up!!! and on fixed income) and also have a place that I can sit in outside...a santuary/storage space if you will. I have not been able to figure a solution until I saw this. Thank you thank you thank you. I only have 5 feet worth of width space, but have lots of height and length. So it won't be round, but somehow I'll figure it out. What an awesome gift ya gave me. Thanks again.</p>
Can i use chicken wire for the walls and a tarp for the roof? Because i want to make a tent-thing , but im short on money and supplies, and i want to make my tent-thing portable and easy to assemble/disassemble. Also, i want it to be cheap, sturdy-ish, and <br>6 ft in diameter, 3 ft. tall (this is going to be my tent, remember), and about 19 ft. in circumference. Please get back to me! :)
I wonder how it will take a heavy snow load? Have you weathered any snowstorms in it yet? You certainly filled it up with &quot;stuff&quot; ! Just like home, yes?
I'm seriously thinking of building one of these for the backyard when it gets too hot to sleep in the house! =D
This totally puts a smile on my face :-) I have been collecting recycled &quot;stuff&quot; to make a yurt for a million years. Your adventure makes me think I can totally do this! I also live in Eagle River, Alaska, and am pretty darn impressed that you have been wintering in your yurt. What do you use to insulate your walls good enough? <br><br>Thanks for the smile!<br>
You might consider a simple solution to the ties slipping around while the wall sections are being moved. Just put one staple into the slat around the ziptie or string and it will keep the fastener right where it is supposed to be despite movement in the wall.
I have a few random questions! First, I love the fact that you shared so much info on building a gertee with scavenged materials. Being poor is hard but often so rewarding. I have a degree in outdoor recreation and spend lots of time working as a sea kayaking guide living out of my kayak and camping on beaches. I love being engrossed with the natural world and its rhythms and really would love a tipi, but they are expensive and difficult to build and transport. My first thought when I saw your awesome home is where you use the bathroom. When I take groups out we are only in a place for a night or two and don't worry much about waste disposal, we just dig cat holes or go in the ocean. I have never had to figure out how to dispose of waste when staying long term in one location. Do you have an outhouse? Or did I miss your mention of that somewhere? What about bathing? Sponge baths would get rather old after a while I would assume. <br>Oh, and what do you do about critters? Do you have problems with mice or raccoons stealing yummy and shiny things? Don't grizzly bears come visit when you're cooking up some nice steak? The raccoons out at the outer banks of NC are brazen little things and steal all sorts of stuff from shiny things to food to life jackets!
hi Wayfinder, sorry it took so long to respond. My internet access is often disrupted, part of the hardships of being poor.:)<br><br>We have an outhouse with a 6' wide 10' deep hole beneath it. I also have a new compost toilet. Before that we used honey buckets with lids, lined with trash bags, easily carried and lifted out and into the outhouse hole. <br><br>I make showers using Sunshower bags. I've tried several ways and all of them worked. The best place for the shower/bath in the winter is next to the woodstove, can fill them easily with hot water from the stove and stay warm when wet. Alaska also has public showers at many places because so many places are &quot;dry&quot;, which means the people haul their water in jugs or tanks. Some of my Swedish and Russian neighbors have built saunas and banas.<br><br>This last fall I was gone for 3 weeks and shrews moved in. They had to be trapped and killed. So far we haven't had any bears trying to get in... but several of our neighbors who live in wooden houses have. We're putting one of the new PVC models on Tim's trapline next month and I'd like to set up a motion sensor camera to record a bear trying to get inside. An average size bear around here could probably lean on the roof and cave it in. Like all rural Alaskans, we keep big guns handy for such an event. The reality is grizzlies break into log cabins all the time so there may not be anything strong enough to keep them out besides rebar walls and roof poles. We'll see.
I would like to express my great admiration for your ingenuity and survival skill living. I can't imagine what Alaska is like, but I'm in Southern California and turning into professional junk raider, thrift store addict, survivalist because of the economy and unemployed 14 months. If the current state of the economy keeps going south this lifestyle will become more common as more are forced to become homeless. For me the tent is so simple and just viewing your instructable it is fused in my memory such that I could do this when/if the situation arises weather desired or not. It's a lot better than a lean-to. Best wishes and good luck.
You can also compost your own waste...try googling humanure. There's a book all about it!
Wayfinder; For cleaning up carry wipes. For a privy, line a can (as large as you are willing to carry and line with a plastic bag. Put kitty litter in the can and after doing your business, tie it shut and carry it out. OR, dig a latrine and cover your waste with ashes from your campfire. Dig the hole deep and bury when you leave. Another option is to carry lime and cover waste with lime, but again in a privy hole and bury when you leave. If you are staying in an area for some, ove your privy from time to time. ALWAYS keep your waste covered (kitty litter, ashes, lime or dirt if nothing else to avoid disease carrying insects. P.S. keep the privy down wind! Also keep all food residues AWAY from your camp. Broiling steak is not near the attraction of raw meat or even potato chips. Animls don't cook their food, don't find the cooking meat smell attractive and don't like fire. Trouble is more apt to come before cooking when the meat is raw and after eating when you get careless with bones and other foods. If I knew predators were in the area, I would put my left overs in the same plastic bags as my human waste and cover them with the same medium, seal and haul out with me. If camping long term. Bury it. Deep!
I have access to a large stand of bamboo. Do you think that would work? I love this Instructable!
I know it will. Read down, tallfuzzyone just built one of bamboo! I cut hundreds of bamboo trees out of my yard in Seattle years ago and threw them all in the dump. What a waste, huh? It may be harder getting the walls tied at first cause they might roll around a bit, but I'll bet you can use the bigger ones for roof poles and the skinny ones for the walls. I'm off on a whole new thing now putting lovely fabrics up on the interior roof. Changes the whole feel of it. So many varriations and possibilities. Have fun!
That's so strange! I grew up in Seattle (Redmond, really) and one of things I always hated was every few years trying to get rid of the bamboo my father had planted in the yard in the early 70's. Man! you just couldn't control that stuff. Wish I knew then about all the wonderful things you can do w/this wonderful plant!
No kidding! in 1999 I cleared a ton of bamboo out of my N.E. 65th Street yard over in Roosevelt, and we took it ALL to the dump. :( It takes over wherever it's planted and there are a lot of varieties too. I'm guessing it's one of the strongest poles we can use... and someday maybe someone will build an entire house using bigger bamboo for water pipes and foundations.
well I should have read all my replies before i wrote this!
I'm currently in the process of building a small yurt out of bamboo. It'll probably be 10-12 ft diameter. I'm making the tarp out of fused grocery bags. Thank you for posting this and sharing your knowledge. If people want to see photos of my work in progress: http://strangerock.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/a-yurt-in-progress/
what an inspiring story! we're finding the 12 foot Traveler to be a very nice, workable space, much better than we imagined. Your idea with the bags is so, SO good, and sharing things like recycled paint is really helpful too. Great job! TY!!!!
hi am new to this ger building and one question I got after reading this post. according to what you said it looks to me that the wall pieces of wood are smaller (thinner ?) than the roof ones..?.
so heres the thing, i love gertees, so three days ago i started building one out of bamboo. it's completely finished in record speed from growing in the ground to a structure. the only problem is, where do i find free material for roofing? if anyone knows of free fabric please let me know. i usually dumpster dive my materials, so i was thinking silt/erosion fencing. ~tallfuzzyone
Another option is what I'm doing on my bamboo yurt, fused grocery bags. You can make a whole tarp out of it. It takes a lot of bags though.
Another source of free materials for the roofing can be old billboards. They do n't use paper anymore they use really heavy duty poly. After Hurricane Katerina Here in Mississippi there was a lot of it that had blown down. It was hard to get poly tarps for awhile so I used so of it. It was SO much better than a poly tarp and all the ads on it made it really colorful. I sure if you see anyone changing a billboard they will give you the old one the just pulled off.
Here are some pics of the bamboo yurt I 'm making so far. Just have cut the boo and put up the wall.
Hey tallfuzzyone- I want to build one of these out of bamboo myself. I have a huge stand of the stuff in my yard (some out it is almost 30ft tall). Do have any hints or advice about doing it w/bamboo. It would be totally -way- killer -cool if you had any photos of it you could post somewhere. Thanks dude. -Rick
One guy wrote and told me he used a bike wheel for his roofring. Construction sites use a lot of plastic sheeting and throw away/burn materials regularly. I bet the bamboo is beautiful, have you taken pictures of it?
A few months ago I helped a friend building a Yurt (=Ger??) and it was fun. He bought in France as they were cheaper there then in Portugal. It's so simple to build that in 1 day an 8m diameter tent can be finished in 2 days with 4 people. <br/>We built it on a wooden platform so the bottom moist can't reach your floor. We also installed a little plexi glass in the ceiling for day light which is very welcome. <br/>What I didn't like is the low doors. You always have to bend when getting in or out. <br/>Although I liked the project I can't imagine living in a tent like this. It gives me a claustrophobia feeling. No windows, no daylight everything in 1 room, strange smell of the natural materials you use. I think I'm a Sissy.<br/>Anyway thank you for the great Instructable and hope you enjoy life.<br/><br/>Michel<br/>Portugal<br/>
We get a lot of hits from France at the ACL gerteepictures page, most come from a minimalist site there. I'm going to add some new pictures of our latest 20 foot gertee, which used 7 foot wall slats and the door is 6 and 1/2 foot high and 3 feet wide. We made it tall for guests, to us it feels enormous! It also has a 4 foot roofring with a plexiglass skylight and it changes the interior into an amazingly lovlier space. The only one room thing is hard when there's more than one adult, next time I will be building 2 attached, or even three, like a pod. Nomad Shelters in Homer, AK did it in Nome and it worked nicely for them (a family of 4?). The strange smells don't bother me usually, what's hard now is to feel comfortable inside a normal square room with solid walls and roof.. I find it hard to breathe. And I've learned to love hearing the wind and rain and birds flying over my head. It's sure not all about peace and quiet either. thank you for sharing your experience, and I'm sorry it took me so long to respond here, it's been a crazy summer for us, cold and wet and a challenge. Years ago I researched the possibily of buying a cork farm in rural Portugal. I loved the idea of your steady 60 above climate and the undeveloped aspects of the hill country. It looks like an absolutely beautiful place to live! The only person I've known from there was a dorm mate at UMass, Amherst, and she was an absolutely lovely gal who studied hard and had a fantastic accent.
Portuguese are very peculiar people. They've been so suppressed for many decades that they act very strange now. Somehow they know they're very behind because of their history but don't like to admit it and act just the opposite. They work and study very hard, that's true but unfortunately they forget to live like people in France and Italy know so well. Dolce far niente or savoir vivre doesn't seem to exist here. Very pitty as it is such a beautiful country with friendly people with lots of potential. Anyway, during summer I've build a 6mx7m lodge tent on a 7mx8m wooden platform and lived there for 2 months and must say it was quite an experience. As you said it's much more noisy in a tent then in a building, because you can here every single noise even from miles away. I had to wear ear plugs because I couldn't fall asleep!! And during the nights it was much colder and humid. I've build myself a solar shower (black piping in the sun and a thermo tap) witch worked like the champ. Everyday I looked forward to shower all naked in the woods with hot water. Amazing how long you can shower with just 30 meters of this black pipes. Abraços. Michel
Beautiful platform tent! Reminds me of my Girl Scout camp - but yours is more of a house! I love it!
I never told you how fabulous this camp is! It's perfect in every way.
Goodness...why in the name of common sense didn't FEMA research the use of structures like this instead of fixating on ideas like mobile homes and trailers??&nbsp; You folks have proven conclusively that one can live quite comfortably in something like this!<br /> <br /> Great job!&nbsp; I'd like to build something like this myself! =)<br />
This!!! I just visited the Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation and was considerably impressed at the comfort of the native dwellings - of course, the ger is much more mobile - but our generation has decided that there are so many things we &quot;can't live without&quot; -- many of us would be much better off if we stripped back to the basics and re-learned the joy of simple living. A lesson I need to be reminded of more often.
Using twine instead of zipt ties sounds like a great recommendation. A good source of twine can usually be anyone who has horses and needs to purchase their hay. Bailing twine is incredibly strong and great for all sorts of fastening.
Its refreshing to see folks really using and reusing their yurt, its components and improving/experimenting. Building with whatever materials you can find is also a breath of fresh air. Its on the other end of the scale from the turnkey, $16K ready made yurts that most think of. I love it! Keep up the good work.
Yeah it's been a lot of fun cause it looks different every time! I have to say though that if I had the money I'd love to have a new 24 footer from Nomad Shelters in Homer. They make special Alaskan insulated gers and they perfected their design in Nome. Of course they knew how to get a grant and make the high end ones; it took somebody like me to figure out how to make the low end. :) Thanks for your encouragement. I will!
nice i might build one of thees for camping with my friend. also I'll need a oil drum stove for heat and cooking.
send me pics when you make yours, please! and any stove will work, even a small propane stove/heater will keep a small gertee warm enough. have fun!
I seem to have a difficult time following verbal instructions for construction designs. Then again, I was blond as a child. I'm not sure if gender matters.... Anyway, the concept and the ideas you reported here are what fired my cerebral furnace. And some of the pictures are very helpful. Overall, this is an excellent instructable - and in agreement with what an earlier fellow said, you ARE one cool lady. More power to you, and to your writing.
If you haven't read about the construction of the 'Round Houses' of the Iron Age Celts, you ought to . Like a combination yurt/ger/teepee but thatched. The vertical walls below the thatched roof were wattle and daub, you put as many layers of daub as needed to insulate against winter cold. No smokehole. Smoke just finds its way gradually through the thatch. <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.gallica.co.uk/celts/build.htm">http://www.gallica.co.uk/celts/build.htm</a><br/>
I've been looking for just this! Yay!
Thank you so much for this Instructable. Especially being that I am from Alaska this really made sense to me. It might be a little tacky to say something this cliche...but this Instructable kind of changed my life... You are an amazing woman...just thank you for being so awesome!
Your so welcome shadowqueen, I put it up for gals like you and me too. Nomad Shelters in Homer says they thought their target customers would be expeditions and resorts and it ended up being single working women from Fairbanks! I know I lived in a LOT of drafty, freezing cabins in Fbks, and my 22 year old daughter commented all winter long, even when it was 50 below outside, "Mom this is warmer than most places we lived up here." Please let me know if I can help you find materials, I have a 28 foot winter pool cover coming off ebay, it cost 39. and shipping was 70. A good roof for a 119 total may be worth it and I'll put pictures here when I put it up. We're also planning a Summer of Freedom Festival at Camp Redington from Solstice to July 4, and we'll be having a gertee building seminar and contest. So exciting to think I empowered you to provide for your own housing. It sure is an amazing thing to realize how easy it really is, isn't it? Good luck building and I'd LOVE to see pictures of the whole thing!!!!
well right now I'm in Connecticut in an apartment for relationship reasons...my man is in the Navy. But someday I want to build and live in one of these! Also, I'm trying to convince my dad that he should build one, he's been a carpenter all his life and loves projects that leave more room for him to think outside the box. oh also this Instructable has inspired a design college final project, my friend needed an idea and this just seemed like the very perfect thing because they could be used for so many different kinds of things.
I want to say that your Ger Tee is awesome and you are also awesome! Thanks for sharing all this great information. You are cool people! :)
Thank you, and you're very welcome. I don't get called awesome very often so that's cool that you think so. Most people think I'm nuts. :)
Further proof that Alaskans are the hardiest of Americans. I live in Florida and cannot imagine living your house at -50F. We worry about mosquitoes and hurricanes and traffic. So maybe it evens out in the end. To intrepid souls...and warm clothes
I think it evens out in the end. The only tropical place I've lived is Hawaii. I had scary bug encounters over in paradise numerous times, so many I almost wrote a short story about it once... was going to call it, "what the tourist brochures will never tell you about Hawaii." The bees can be really horrible here, and of course mosquitos are the Alaska State Bird... and we have bears and you have crocodiles and sharks. We all have something that challenges us, that's for sure. Can't imagine living with big predatory cats... or snakes either. I'm not that brave. To Florida beaches and frozen margaritas.
Thanks both of you for the encouraging words. My daughter just showed me this site yesterday and I was so motivated I jumped right in and made this instructable last night. I think it's a fantastic way to share ideas. We too like Eryka Badu a lot, and Apple Tree seemed to fit what we're doing perfectly. We sure hope she doesn't mind we used her song. That YouTube video was a lot more fun to make because we could totally stand to hear the song over and over while we edited. Anyway it will be very cool when we start seeing other people making gertees, I hope to add more explicit directions to this instructable asap.

About This Instructable




Bio: 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 ... More »
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