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Yurt Living

Yurt Living in Central Asia

No-one knows when people started living in yurts. Nomadic peoples leave few records of their passing. Bronze age petroglyphs from Siberia appear to show yurts, so it is reasonable to assume that they have been in use from many thousands of years. The geographical distribution of yurts is no coincidence. The yurt is perfectly suited to the nomadic lifestyle in the most extreme climates. Nomadism is practiced in areas that are either too dry or too cold to grow crops succesfully. Farmers or people who are nomadic during the summer months could not justify the expense of a yurt, a permanent house is easier to build and better suited if it does not need to be moved. And a simple tent is all that is required for hearding animals in summer pastures. Where nomadic hearding is a year-round occupation, making a moveable tent the family home, only a yurt will offer sufficient portable protection from the extreme climate.

To this day millions of people throughout Central Asia are born, grow old and die in yurts as they move from pasture to pasture following routes set out by their ancestors centuries ago. The shape of the yurt varies from region to region. The Mongolian ger has a heavy timber crown, straight roof poles and a fairly low roof, to offer protection from high winds, retain heat, and make use of the timber from the larch and birch forests of Northerm Mongolia. The Bentwood yurts of Kazakhstan use frames of willow which is easy to bend to shape, but retain the low roof which offers protection form high winds and reduces heat loss. The Kyrgyz yurt resembles the Kazakh yurt, but has a tall steep roof better suited to the warmer, wetter and less windy climate.

Paradoxically the makers of these yurts are not nomads. They live in permanent houses attached to the workshop where the yurts are made. Yurt frames are always made by skilled craftsmen. The covers may be made by the yurt maker and his family, or by the nomads themselves.

Yurt Living in Europe

Many people live in yurts in the UK, US and Europe. The yurt is warm, dry comfortable and secure. Living in the yurt one is aware of the weather, the changing seasons, the surrounding countryside and wildlife and ones place in the ecosystem in a way that no house dweller can ever be. However living in a yurt is not like living in a house. All of the luxuries of a house are available to the yurt dweller, but a little more thought and effort is required. It is interesting to discover how one can live off-grid making ones own heat, light, electricity and responsibly disposing of ones waste. In a very short time the countryside and the wildlife cease to be something separate to view as an outsider. One becomes a part of the landscape and a part of the surrounding ecosystem. The neighbours are the birds, the foxes and deer who soon grow familiar and less fearful of the new creatures living among them in their big white nest.

The yurt is not a permanent building, some people do put up their yurt and leave it there for years on end. However this is missing the point. The beauty of a yurt is its portability. If a yurt is lived in it will last many, many years in one place. However if it is left empty in a damp wood the cover can be ruined in less than a year. If the yurt is for summer use, bring it in for the winter. If you just want another room to store things buy a shed.

Practical Yurt Living

We have lived in yurts, both in the UK and high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. The yurt proved very practical and comfortable. However a yurt is not a house, there are many advantages and a few dissadvantages. Many of our customers have lived very comfortably in their yurts for years. Each person has their own ways of living and providing heat, light, toilet facilities etc. This is how we did it.
Our land was all sloping, we had to dig out and level an area to put our 18 foot yurt on. This looked like an easy task but actually took three long days of very hard work. The yurt faces South-East which was great for getting up early with the sunrise, but the sun dissapeared by mid-afternoon. Being on an exposed hillside the yurt was easy to see from miles around, especially when the light was on at night. It did get very windy at times but the yurt stood up to this without a problem (our adjoining Tipi blew down).
We used a woodburninng stove from Fourdog stoves. This kept the yurt warm, gave a good supply of hot water and even allowed us to bake bread in the side oven. we had a gas heater but found the wood-stove gave more heat and produced less condensation.
On cold evenings and mornings we cooked on the woodburning stove. However, a wood-stove is not suitable as a sole means of cooking, it heats the yurt up. For cooking on a hot day or for a quick cup of tea we used a gas hob. The four dog had a side reflector oven which worked well for baking.
The white canvas allowed plenty of light into the yurt whatever the weather. At night we used candles for a lovely relaxed ambiance. When we needed a bit more light for work, or reading a gas lamp provinded more than enough light, but it was a bit noisy. A solar panel, deep cycle battery and electric light would have been good, but quite expensive and we did not find it necessary. If you are going to use solar or wind power a deep cylce or leisure battery is needed, a car battery is not built for this use and will not last long. LED lights are extremely efficient and make a worthwhile investment.
We did not have a supply of elctricity, so we used a freeeplay wind up radio.
We used an eleven foot tipi as our bathroom. The height of the tipi allowed plenty of headroom under the shower. Our composting toilet sat towards the side of the tipi.
We made a very simple shower by attacing a tap and shower head to the bottom of a large bucket. The bucket was filled with hot water and hoisted to the top of the tipi an old pallet made the floor of the tipi. A bucketfull of water gave a good long shower.
We used a composting toilet. The actual toilet consisted of a large plastic bucket with a toilet seat. After going we would sprinkle dry leaves on top and empty the bucket every day. The bucket was emptied into a pit and left for six months. After six months the waste had become a very good organic compost.

Yurt living and the UK Law

Many of our customers live perfectly legally in their yurts full time. However you cannot just put a yurt wherever you like and live in it. The yurt itself does not require planning permission. But if you want to live in it full-time you will probably need permission for change of land use. If you are in a field you are changing the use from agricultural to residential.
There are no hard and fast rules, every local authority is different they have guidelines but the interpretaiton of these guidelines can vary. If you can live on your land for four years (and prove it) with no complaints you will probably be able to stay. You can live on your land for up to 28 days a year for the purposes of working the land.
Some local authorities are quite helpful and have actually encouraged yurt living, others can be more obstructive, many people are now living legally in thier yurts after long legal battles. One customer returned to his yurt one day to find a letter from the council pinned to his door, he went to the council offfice expecting to be told to leave, but was offered help and encouragement.


At home in a yurt Yurt farming
Our yurt home in Spain Yurt home in Devon



"It is just a delight more and more to discover and to settle in the yurt. We feel finally arrived home." K&L (Austria, 2003)

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