Hand-Built Yurt Home from Scrap Material Offers Debt-Free Living

Reader Contribution by Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications
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The following post is an excerpt from Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2012) by long-time MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Lloyd Kahn. In this book are some 150 builders who have taken things into their own hands, creating tiny homes (under 500 sq. ft.) — homes on land, on wheels, on the road, on water, even in the trees. Here is the story of one of these builders, Scott Evans. You can rent this home as a holiday rental at Big Sky Retreat.

Inspired by Lloyd Kahn and Shelter to build my family a home from recycled materials, I then looked around for a way to make a more decent living on land once farmed. I ended up getting a design for a wooden yurt from Bill Coperthwaite. The plan was to build a small building that might be rented out for holiday purposes until my son was old enough to live in it. Situated in a redundant quarry, the site has a 180-degree view of Dartmoor and surrounding Devon countryside.

What emerged was greatly inspired by Bill, but somehow hybridized into something else inspired by the many characters and artisan builders out of Lloyd’s books, along with my excessive use of recycled and scavenged materials, an inability to follow plans or ask for help, lack of money, and sheer stubbornness — you get the idea.

The yurt is 20 feet in diameter, has a Scandinavian-inspired built-in bed with wardrobe and cupboards, a sloping shower room, a tiny kitchen, and a living room with built-in sofa and more storage, all constructed with scrubbed and sanded old scaffolding boards or dismantled pallet wood. Details are mainly driftwood or sanded-down branches found in my own woodlands.

The cedar-shingle roof has a circular skylight and is now one of the most attractive elements — but one that suffered from falling in on me twice during construction. It’s definitely my favourite detail in the whole building, but I am convinced that it’s only held up by a wing and a prayer.

When I was a teenager in 1980s Britain growing up with British building regulations, the only people I knew who built their own homes were the very wealthy with their professionally trained architects using nothing but solid bricks and mortar. I refused to join in with any convention (or rat race) and turned instead to buying my own small parcel of woodland and living in a caravan for 13 years: the best decision I’ve ever made.

Finding Lloyd’s Shelter in a cranky Devon bookshop was one of my luckier moments and then, buying when I was so broke, I discovered that anyone with determination might eventually build a home — inspirational!

Photos courtesy Shelter Publications

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny Homes, Simple ShelterTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


In this practical work focusing on building survival shelters by hand, Fred Demara teaches what has been proven to work for such improvised structures (because learning by trial and error is too costly in a survival scenario). Shelters built with the tried-and-true techniques and materials of Native Americans (and even those who came before them on this continent) still work. Mother Earth News is delighted to bring you these ancient construction methods in this revised edition penned by Demara, author of Eating on the Run and Surviving on Edible Insects.Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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