Want a Cozy, Affordable Home? Build A Yurt

Although he originally considered building a more conventional structure, reader Craig Boyer chose to build a yurt as his first step toward establishing his dream homestead in upstate New York.

| June/July 2010

build a yurt - Boyer Yurt

The year of the yurt: with a bit of help, Craig Boyer was able to build a yurt in under 365 days.


In 1996, I bought 10 acres in Saranac Lake, N.Y. At the time, I was living in Pennsylvania, but I had visited small town New York several years before while visiting Paul Smith Forestry College, and I had always wanted to return. Following the death of my father and getting divorced, it seemed a good time to start on my dream.

Until I was able to move to Saranac Lake permanently, I worked many hours at a utility company and spent my vacations camping on the land with my two kids. Over the course of those vacations, I cut, stacked, and hauled trees, and put up a shed to store my tools. I also had plenty of time to decide what to build on the land when the time came. At first I wanted to build a cabin or timber frame house, but as I thought about my age, the costs, and maintaining the property as I got older, I decided to look at alternative building options. The idea to build a yurt came from an ad in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. For $18,500, I could purchase a tall-wall yurt package with three standard windows, an insulation package for the roof and walls, and French doors for the front and another door in back. (The basic kit with just the yurt, windows and one door would have been less than $9,400.) I did my homework, wrote to yurt companies, and decided this would be a great way to accomplish my goal.

Getting Started

In 2009, when the company I was working for scaled down, I accepted a good severance package and decided to cash out and move to my land. I packed what I needed, put the rest into storage, and headed to upstate New York. I made a cabin out of the shed, closing off one end for sleeping quarters and making a temporary kitchen and bathroom at the other end. I put up tarps outside to collect rainwater and bought two rain barrels to store it in. I bought a second generator to use with the one I brought with me. My temporary living arrangement was ready.

I laid out plans for the deck and base for my yurt. I built it 4 feet off the ground to make room underneath for utilities, such as the water tank for collecting rainwater and storing water from a stream on the property, as well as an instant hot water propane heater. Early on, I installed all propane appliances, including a propane refrigerator to store perishable food.

To grade part of the property and pull out some tree stumps, I rented a track hoe. We kept getting heavy rain, so I also hired a contractor to finish grading the plot and driveway. He finished the job in four hours, including grading the road coming into the driveway.

That July, I laid out my lines for the yurt and started digging post holes. I rented an auger for the digging, but knew there were going to be rock issues, as there’s a lot of glacial drop-off boulders here. Sure enough, I hit my first major rock trying to dig the first hole. Given the space I had to work with, there was nowhere to move the hole to, so I drilled a hole in the rock and set a bolt in it to act as a pin that would hold the post in place. (I didn’t want to pour footers or any cement in hopes that the yurt would be classed as a temporary structure for tax purposes.)

2/12/2014 12:55:41 PM

Local sustainability group in Northern, NY hosting a yurt building workshop in the spring of 2014! The 'Local Living Ventures' group based in Canton, NY has put together a 3-day workshop where you will learn how to build your own yurt from a master yurt builder and cover topics related to long-term off-grid living. For more info visit: http://www.sustainablelivingproject.net/workshops-groups

1/5/2014 10:36:50 AM

Wow.... What motivation and determination to make his dream happen. I have, for many years, wanted to do just this, to build and live in a Yurt. I need to make a few adjustments in my life before doing so. After reading Craigs story, I have new motivation to make these 'adjustments' happen faster.

11/27/2013 9:45:31 PM

I am getting SO into this idea of building a yurt as a vacation getaway---I just need an education as to how to begin this journey--i have contacted several realtors regarding land in NY--looking in sullivan county---i don't know the law---i don't know what is allowed ,,,but i pretty much think if you purchase a piece of land you should be able to do whatever you want on it----maybe not?--- i read some of these posts---i see they are a little dated but the dream never seems to expire---i want a little piece of property to run away to and looking at old cabins and tiny cottages that have been severely abused and weathered to say the least,,just isn't the route i wish to take--i want something that has only been used by ME!! lol---everything i have seen to date has actually made me sick--i couldn't imagine where to start on some of the properties my horrible budget could afford--so am i on the right track? LEarning how to buy a small parcel…under 2 acres ---learn what to look for in the land…the sewer/ the water / the electrical lines--and then when the time is right start building…building a yurt!! Is this crazy?

7/23/2013 6:24:39 AM

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9/24/2010 8:51:23 PM

Thanks for your story, I am getting ready to buy some land (fingers crossed) in Hawaii, and I am beginning to envision how the pieces will come together. Your story gives me hope it will all work out. Thank You Adrian

7/22/2010 10:28:15 AM

Sir, I enjoyed your writing about building your own yurt. I congratulate you on your achievements at this age. Even I have plans like this at a later stage and may be alone too. I have received a lot of encouragement from your writings. All the best and keep going. God bless

bill strenkert. sr._1
7/21/2010 3:41:59 PM

Love reading stories about moving to the country and living a simple, self-sufficient life. When I was young and commuting from the suburbs to New York City, that was my dream. One summer, my wife and I took the Shelter Institute Course in Bathe, ME on how to build your own home. The course gave us a tremendous sense of confidence that we could do it. Well, one thing led to another and we never did it! Now I'm 72 and while I'm in pretty good shape, I could never take on a project like building my own home. These stories that Mother publishes keep that spark of an idea in the back of my head which is a very good place for a 72 year old to keep unfulfilled dreams. I patiently await your next adventure.

barbara gillihan
7/21/2010 1:23:04 PM

Congratulations! We also followed our dream by building a small cedar cabin ourselves! Took us 5 yrs. and we were 58 and 65 when we moved into it. Glad to hear you are going to use an incinerator toilet, as we are very pleased with ours.

obahdiah bentfinger
7/7/2010 6:36:19 PM

Good job and story Craig. You appear to be close to my age with a similar dream. Being from Colorado I so look forward to building a yurt from Colo. Yurt too. We here are so proud of our tent makers. Homesteading is a dream that I look forward to fulfilling once the last 3 of our 6 kids leave the nest. I look forward to hearing about the balance of your experiences as you complete your new "Home". All the best to you and stay your course; Obadiah B

karissa boyer_2
6/5/2010 4:20:41 PM

Great job Dad! The article is very cool. I am so happy for you and proud of all the work you have done. Glad you are living your dream!

bryan b stegall
6/2/2010 5:27:23 PM

I have always enjoyed the design and versatility of the Yurt. Your article motivates me to continue with my dream of homesteading on a large piece of property here in New Mexico. I understand what you mean about being over 50, as I am quickly approaching 60. (on the back side of 50). I like the Yurt design for the simplicity of design, ease of construction and lower cost of a conventional shelter. I too, plan on using a shed to shelter with, while I construct the permanent home. I lived in a tipi and 2 wall tents in the '70's in the mountains of New Mexico and have always dreamed of returning to that simple existence. Keep on dreaming and never look back! All I have to do now, is convince the wife...... Bryan

sam _1
5/25/2010 3:16:28 PM

Thanks Craig, a great tale-- proof that homesteading is a community endeavor. As a Colorado Yurt Co employee it's great to hear that we're helping to bring dreams into reality. folks can start dreaming at our "color your yurt" site: http://www.coloradoyurt.com/colorbuilder/

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