March 4, 2016

Yurt Living - Groundwork + Foundation on Big Island, Hawaii

Becky Kemery, author of Living in the Round, provides a world of information and inspiration dedicated to helping people make yurt decisions. A good start is to read the history of yurts she published years ago. The more yurt homework you do, the better, but don’t forget the importance of the setting  ― whether constructed on land or a trailer.

Yurts are comfortable in so many environments and that’s a good thing for Hawaii dwellers. Heck, there are about ten general climate zones on Big Island alone. From shore to high altitudes, yurts make sustainable sense here. Hence, the popularity continues to grow in paradise.
The purpose of constructing a yurt may be for a home, office, store, workshop, rental, camp, or vacation lodge. The yurt design may include a loft, be surrounded by a large deck, or be a two-story structure. It can be permitted to satisfy building codes, or be off-grid and hidden.

Preparing the groundwork for a yurt is much like that of a conventional building. Yet yurt kits (custom or pre-fab), are sold without consideration of your building site. You may be honored a discussion with a helpful yurt salesman, but the responsibility is ultimately yours. Thankfully, yurt builders are kind to share instructional videos. These are helpful to determine your preparation budget, so check out the videos listed below.

After you determine your purpose and site, follow these steps to refine the process:

GROUNDWORK - Any trees? You may love the idea of your yurt in the middle of a forest, but there are many reason why you want some distance. Plan to clear enough to walk around your structure. You don’t want limbs falling, so I recommend at least topping the tall trees in close proximity. There are many ways to maintain privacy from nature with creative landscaping. Don’t forget your rain water catchment and gutter system need clearance too.

ARCHITECTURAL DRAWINGS OR PERSONAL RENDERING - Drawings with the architectural stamp are required from Hawaii Public Works for any buildings to be inspected and permitted. This is done by a professional draftsman and typically includes your foundation, plumbing and power. If off-the-grid is your goal, don’t hesitate to ask for a “non-permit” quote. Illustrated plans are imperative for good teamwork and labor ― even if it’s a crude sketch without the draftsman!

FOUNDATION - Post and pier is the preferred choice for Hawaii terrain. That applies to all altitudes and it’s ideal over lava. However, one can get creative ― not to mention luxurious. Remember, your yurt order does not typically include the floor. It is possible to erect it onto a concrete pad. Pour the cement circular, same diameter as the yurt. Attach a flexible bender board around the outside of the platform.

CEMENT OPTIONS - If your location is tropical-chilly or high altitude, you may wish to consider installing radiant tubing within a concrete slab. With paint and stain to artsy-inventive finishes, you can create a beautiful floor with concrete. (Maybe even hempcrete)? Another option is to build a ferrocement water catchment tank as your foundation under the yurt. Yeah, get inventive!

DECK + ENTRY - Back to the drawings ― figure out how to get in and out of your yurt, how many doors, and if rain cover and shade are needed. How easy will it be to open and close your windows? In some areas, you may wish to have your wall open and close instead.

SIP OPTION - That’s structural insulated panels over concrete footings and framing. This has become so popular with yurt kit manufacturers, most of them offer it as an add-on option for floors and decking. It makes the framing process much easier and faster. Shelter Designs Yurts of Montana explains how to use SIP platforms well. For SIP products without glue, see RAY-CORE panels. Find more SIP resources here.

VIDEOS, YouTube:
Platform Construction, by Ron Trout the owner and designer of Light Feet Yurts
How to Make Hempcrete
Mixing Hempcrete in a Drum Mixer
SIP Platform Build Video, for 20-foot Mongolian ger

Delia is a Big Island yurt design consultant by request.

May 23, 2015

Canopy Addition

 Yurt builder Donald Hyatt in the Puna District of Big Island, Hawaii came up with a solution to keep my yurt entry covered and dry.
Although the canopy protected the three-step lanai, I needed help to stop rainwater from dripping over the existing rain cricket and gutters.
This is a picture of the other side.

For my restricted budget, I am very happy with Don's solution. Now my door, frame and lanai shall no longer fear rotting!

Yurt Living – Creative Doorway Designs

April 8, 2015

Wooden Hard-wall Yurt in Maine

From fabric yurt in rural Maine to wood construction, ‒ meet Josh, Melanie and kids.

With Bill Coperthwaite influence, this family documents their yurt loving journey beautifully.

Read more on their Circle In blog.

February 23, 2015

Kids in a Yurt

A new playhouse, swing, and climbing wall in a 30-foot yurt; precious!

This is super to have while adults work in another section of yurt. Pictured herein waxing snow skis.

Check out the floor and loft plans, as well as a slide-show tour.

Also, a YouTube video helps planners with kids.

This yurt was constructed 2008 in Eagle River, Alaska on top of a 30-foot square garage. There is a roof over-hang of 2 feet on three sides of the garage to form a deck around the perimeter of the yurt.

Read more from the family blog on

November 13, 2014

Roam for a Dome?

The purpose of this article is to consider how to repair or replace your yurt dome.

As a sales rep for Hawaiian yurts, I get lots of queries for dome replacements. That reminds me of a builder who said that skylights and domes eventually have problems and to not purchase them if you can't deal with repairing leaks.

My 24-foot yurt kit from Colorado was erected 2009 and never seemed to fit properly onto the compression ring. I didn't think it was a problem until it leaked. Several people tried various solutions from weather stripping to styrofoam, but there was always a gap between the dome and ring. Because only the rare south wind caused some rain to land on my floor, I was able to just cope with the misfit.

In this low-altitude tropical setting, I typically opened the dome during the day and closed it at night. As most yurt kits from the mainland, a dome opener is required. Unaware my latch and screw was off track, a fine crack formed in the acrylic dome. Opening and closing daily made the crack worse, but it took me months to realize it.

Well, the crack expanded a lot during 2014 Hurricane Iselle and my little occasional leak turned into a waterfall. From part time carpenters to commercial builders, help was sought. Yet each strategy proposed was stuck short on how not to step on the fabric roof between the rafters, which would cause serious damage.

There were so many complications (scaffolding included) I'll not detail here. I came to the point of wanting to remove the dome and build a cupola to replace it. But I couldn't afford options and was still stuck on how to prevent labor damage to the roof.

Creative woodworker Peter Frost of Puna came up with a solution pictured here that I'm very happy with. He repaired the crack and inserted a wind turbine from Home Depot. Peter jokingly calls it "the nipple" and suggested a glowing hula hoop around the exterior of the dome.

Nathan Toler of Backyard Yurts was super helpful with repair instructions, yet he didn't have the dome mold to fit my 24-foot design at the time. Shipping a new dome from Colorado was not an affordable option I wanted to pursue. Afterall, it may fit as poorly as the original.

I hope my story helps those that need to fix their dome. Fortunately, Nathan does have 4 or 5-foot dome molds to fit on the compression ring. He hand-blows the acrylic in Hawaii and the result is stronger and thicker than what competitors offer.

Each fourth-inch flat acrylic sheet is heated in a large commercial plastics oven until pliable, then placed in his round blowing forming table. Compressed air is pushed into the center of the dome form until the correct height is achieved. Then the dome is set in place to cool and harden. The domes are made perfectly clear, or choose from an array of tints for an extra fee.

Because Nathan design-customizes yurt orders, there is no need for the awkward dome opener. The windows and air flow are tailor-made for your particular climate and location. A fan can be added under the dome, if desired.

So whether you are fixing a dome, or ordering a new yurt, know that there is a competitive offering in Hawaii that cannot be matched from the mainland!

Yurt Living: Dome, Cupola or Spire?