Gertee: Affordable Portable Homes

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 ...

Gertee is what we call our sweet Alaskan twist on the original ger/round hut design, built by people around the world for thousands of years. I christened the first one I built in the summer of 2004, "Gertee" because I made it a half ger/half teepee. Years later we learned that in Mongolian, where many people still live in gers today, Gertee means "relaxing at home."

Our use of the name and design has been dubbed "favela-chic" in the green architectural press because we use scraps as much as possible. We've rebuilt every one of our models several times, each time making modifications, trying different fabrics and structural materials, and we learn new ways to do it with each reconstruction project.

We've already been building up our small book business since 2006. The next thing we need to do is finish the How-to book and DVD series for Gertee. Our company catalog will expand to include blueprints, basic tutorials, a childrens' coloring book and paperdoll cutouts, miniature kits and full-size Traveler frames (and parts). Some of the contest funds would go toward towards building a website with a webstore. We've already established a strong web presence with all our projects.

We're currently living in our newest model which is 4 small Gertee Travelers connected to one center kitchen/woodstove room. Each Gertee has a different roof ring, and the bathroom/water closet will have running water and an inside toilet. The focus now is on making Gertees with all the modern conviences, able to meet land use codes while still keeping it affordable.

A couple of the pictures I inserted in this video got crunched together during the upload. One of the things I would use the contest winnings for is new or gently used video recording and editing equipment!

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    17 Discussions


    4 years ago

    I'm an Alaskan temporarily living Outside. My little piece of the dream is 4 miles south of Talkeetna. As soon as I can afford to build my 3 unit camping cabin, (1 to use as an office, 2 to rent). I can see using somthing like your ger-tee as camping units until we can afford to build the duplex units. Mary Alice


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, haven't spoken in a while but I wanted to let you know about something I saw on YoutTube (tried to find it again to give you the link but couldn't). What it was was a man talking about buying one of those used RV's or 5th wheelers or campers. The point is that all of the appliances inside of them are suitable for tiny houses (or yurts) as they all run on batteries or can be plugged into 110 volts, etc. Usually they have stoves, refrigerators, etc. I don't know why I didn't think of that but you can get them dirt cheap if you buy one of the older ones and then salvage from them and resell the rest as scrap metal. Most of them have only been used for a few weeks a year and may have a leak in them but it's the appliances that are the important thing. Anyway, thought I'd let you know. How's the book coming?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Nitepagn,

    I used used billboards for the outside of my yurt (Thank you Yurt Lady for your enthusiasm that got me to build my yurt). They are cheap (shipping isn't - find local if you can) and last for 8 to 15 years. They are mildew resistant as well as UV resistant. Found them on the Internet. So, basically, if I didn't include shipping, I covered my 16' yurt, top, floor and sides for $100.

    Hope this helps.


    8 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Alaskan TentLady,

    I think we spoke about two or maybe three years ago. My yurt is getting ready to go through its third NH winter in the back yard of the cooperative mobile home park that I live in. At one point it had about 4 feet of snow on the top and only the fabric sagged. I unfortunately don't live in it. I use it as a sanctuary/prayer/meditation room. I dream about living in it though.

    As an aside, I used plastic shopping bags for insulation. They act like bubble wrap and friends are happy to save them for you. We measured the first winter 7 degrees outside/inside. We closed the door and fired up the kerosene heater. 11 minutes later we had to open to the door because it was too hot.

    Loving my yurt. Thanks for showing me it could be done even by a 69 year old woman who's never ever been in a yurt before or since.


    It's really, really cute! You did a fantasic job Raven. You're 69? Yes! Thank you so much, this makes me very happy to see what you could do with just the inspiration. You inspire me to keep going. It really is a lovely yurt. I'll be contacting you for permission to include it in our Gertee Stories book. I want a whole chapter with other people's stories and pictures: :)

    My daughter has been saying we should start insulating with plastic shopping bags too! Can't wait to tell her you did it already.

    I'd be honored to participate in the creation of your book with my own story. Let me know when and how many words/pics.

    Thanks for your knowledge,

    That's so generous of you Raven, thank you. I will be in touch with the details! I'd say now you can write anything from 500 to 5000 words, and at least ten pictures. People like lots of pics and the first edition will be in pdf/ebook so we can put as many high quality color photos in that version as we want. Thanks for your acknowledgement and for honoring us with your contributions. Every time somebody builds a yurt based on our Gertee idea it is the most amazing feeling.

    I love the people we've met in the global yurt "community." You and nitepagan remind me how many people whose lives have been impacted by us, and who impacted us right back. Not everything about the internet makes me happy, but this whole instructables idea opened up a great way to share ideas and meet people interested in making things. Even if we don't win I'm glad I posted this just so i could reconnect with the people I met here before. Thanks Ed!

    Hi Again,

    I saw that you had to move. Bummer. I would like to help but being on SS and living under the poverty line, I can't send cash. But, I could help with stuff like book editing and website design and computer stuff. ( Maybe something else that can be done from the other side of the country? I'm in NH.

    I love your "grape" house (cluster). I thought of/dreamed of doing the same 40 years ago when domes were the big thing.

    Keep going. There will be breakthrough in the community. I think your high school idea, building a yurt on stage, to show the homeless kids how to build a yurt is absolutely wonderful. I would like to see this kind of thing all over the world. I look at Haiti and similar places and wonder why they don't use Yurts. Why hasn't someone with the means gone and showed them how to build one. The best gift to give someone is the ability to take care of themselves.

    Anyway, just wanted you to know there's someone else out there that believes you are on the right track. Dreamers rock!!!



    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Again,

    Re-reading, I meant to say that I've never been in any other yurt other than this one. It took me about 3 1/2 months from start to finish because I only worked 1-1/2 hours 3 times per week and did all of the cutting and whatnot (including the platform) myself and mostly by myself. Since there really wasn't much in the way of designing instructions I believe I made the walls too tall (7 ft) and the ceiling is 13 feet at the center. If I were using it as a home it would be ideal to have a loft.

    But, it's probably the only yurt I'll ever make and I'm enjoying it greatly. I think, more than anything, just the knowledge of a means of survival is what is the most important.

    lol that's funny! the first "real" yurt I was in was last summer I stopped at the Matanuska Glacier on the Glenn Hwy where a hiking company puts them up in the summer. It was so beautiful and perfect that I may not have tried to make one on my own had I seen it before I started.

    You're right there wasn't much detail in my insructable, but more than a few people went ahead and made one with just the idea planted in their heads. I met another woman in her 60s from New Zealand through my blog posts, and she had built a yurt like Gertee before she found me! Hers is adorable and she only puts it up in the summertime in her back yard.

    In the UK the men have their "Sheds" (our Gertee was featured in Gordon Thornton's 2nd book about Shedders) and a lot of men have told me they want to build Gertees too, so it's a private space that not only men and women can make, but children can too. My 5 year old grandson Fred calls them his Bat Caves. I never worry that he won't know how to fend for himself in a emergency.

    Raven, that's awesome, where is a pic of your yurt? Do you live in it? So happy you did it! We talked on one of my other instructables, didn't we? I think I remember but I haven't been here in so long. I bought 24x24' billboard covers for two of my gertees from the internet too., Shipping to Alaska was $60 a piece UPS so they cost me twice as much, but it was well worth it because they work so well and are so strong one of them is holding 500 gals of melted snow on the one out in Kenny Lake. I haven't been able to get back out there for a year and the roof caved because I took out the center beams when I put in new flooring last summer. It's not how I wanted to test the strength, but yeah, they're strong. And of course they keep with the whole gertee theme of recycling materials. :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, I remember you, always wondered what happened to you. I started building the walls for my Gertee, but never finished, I could not find something suitable for the outside covering. I wanted something semi permanent, so the project never got completed. I am glad to see your doing ok, surviving the Alaskan climate. Helping the homeless and the homeless veterans is a good thing.

    5 replies

    hi nitepagan! I remember you too! I haven't had regular internet for years but we're still surving up here. You got the wall frames up and stopped? Sorry I wasn't available to help you come up with ideas. I've pretty much settled on heavy tarps and canvas for my outside walls. It lasts a few years and is still the most affordable option here. We also started making walls without khana, just simple 3x5' wood frames that are easy to slide insulation into. I'll put up a new instructable soon with the new ideas. We do want to start our home4life outreach here, Wasilla has over 1000 homeless teenagers who still attend school regularly. There may be a few who are motivated to build. We're in the process of establishing Gertee as a presence in an RV park near town, If we can show it works it may open the door to other parks that have the same set-up. Of course now I have to make the outside look as nice as the inside, it's still so new that the exterior is what people judge them by, and I normally just make sure the exterior is weatherproof and spend all my decorating budget on the inside! Stay in touch, I find good deals on materials all the time and we'll find something for your walls.Got pics?

    Hi, I was cutting 2x4's into 1/4 lathes, you need a table saw to do it right. The wall tarps started looking expensive, so I got disillusioned by the idea. I also came up with the idea of building rigid walls out of 2x4's and smart siding, a 4' x 8' sheet costs about $25 and comes already painted, this idea could accommodate windows and a way to pass your stovepipe through the wall. These frames could be insulated with 3 1/2' fiberglass insulation and you could put wood paneling on the interior side of the panel. I would have bolted them together forming a rigid durable wall. The walls would require a solid level foundation, a deck or my other idea was to make a ring cement blocks, which the walls would sit upon. We have a wet climate here so elevating the wall above the dirt and water was important. The walls could be anchored through the holes in the cement blocks. The roof would be pretty much the same as your design, with again using the smart roofing to go between the roof rafters. Flashing could be used to cover the seems or with innovative overlapping design a water tight design could be achieved. Maybe drop the ring and use a center post instead, this would provide better stability to the roof. 2x4's would be best for the roof. This design becomes a more permanent design. The painted smart siding provides pretty good water resistant design, so could be used without the use of additional roofing materials. The roof could be insulated and have paneling on the interior side. Venting at the peak of the roof is important, especially if the ring is replaced with a post.

    I am currently living in a trailer, so a gertee is not a high priority, but could be additional space for my woodshop. I build cabinets out of shiplap pine boards, about the cheapest material on the face of the earth. No pics on the gertee, but I'll show you my cabinets.


    I really like those cupboards! Pine is lightweight too isn't it? Have you given any thought to designing cabinets that fit nicely into round rooms? I think there's a market for that, I know I am constantly wishing I had smaller custom cupboads and have come to see why the Mogolians make their beds the way they do.

    The tablesaw was a barrier to me too. The way you started building the walls is the same direction we went. I still think the lattice is great for camping and quick set-ups, but a more permanent situation allows for all kinds of innovations. Have you seen the people combining Earth ships with yurts?

    I just met a guy from here who has a wonderful sturdy design for a wooden hexayurt, which looks very similar to how I want to start building. I'll post the link because he makes professional blueprints that could woo over any code officer. Plus his floorplans look fairly easy to build.

    The hexayurt with 8 foot long walls is still about a 16' yurt. I found this website that lets you play with polygon areas and sides, etc.
    You lose a lot of space in a round building, so have been toying with idea of a 16' x 20' building, 320 sq. ft. and no more round issues. A company in Vermont makes a post and beam kit that can be delivered on a flatbed truck and can be constructed by 2 people in 40 hours. Cost $13,000, often discounted to $9,000. I know it's a lot of money, but a lot cheaper than a $100,000 home. check it out.
    My thought was to buy 2 of them, one with a porch and the other without a porch and a loft. Bottom floor would be 560 sq. ft. and loft another 320 sq. ft. The section with the porch would be the kitchen and living area and the section without the porch would be bedrooms, utilities and bathroom. The loft sleeping area and storage. I would do all the interior work insulation and interior paneling, I don't think I would use any sheetrock, it's probably the only way I will ever have a real house and be able have a wood stove again. Right now, I don't have the money, but am working on clearing my debt, so I can borrow the money for the project.

    I could adapt my cabinetry to fit a round building. My cabinets are light and strong. Right now I don't have a planer, which would allow me to make improvements in my cabinets. As it is, my cabinets are a bit on the rustic side, but are still high quality solid wood cabinets, no plywood or composite materials used.