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

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:

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?

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