Building the Yurt Platform #1: Foundations, Beams, Blocking

Sure, a yurt could sit on the ground, but Vermont gets cold! So on a weekend in April we built a round, raised platform (20′ diameter), insulated it, and then installed tongue & groove pine flooring (for what would become the interior of our home). This is the first of several posts to describe the process and experience.

TLDR: See the below timelapse. Key takeaway? Friends are invaluable.

Choosing Plans

The first task was deciding what construction plans to use for the platform. We looked at several and decided on the free plans from Pacific Yurts (20′ platform plans) because the design seemed, frankly, to be the easiest and the cheapest. Specifically, the joists here are set between the beams, as opposed to being placed atop the beams, as in some of the other plans we considered (from Colorado Yurt Company and Two Girls Farm & Yurts, from whom we bought our yurt). (Note that Rainier Yurts also provides free plans, but not in 20′ sizing, though they could of course be adapted.)

Sourcing Lumber

We then put together our cut list for the platform lumber (included in the plans) and priced it out at a few places in both hemlock and eastern pine. Of especial note: Don’t buy your lumber from Home Depot or Lowes, etc. It will be significantly cheaper at a local sawmill. Our lumber (rough, wet hemlock) for the platform frame cost $220 (including delivery, not including plywood and flooring) from RL Balla in South Acworth, New Hampshire.

Other Materials

Other materials we had to gather for the initial steps:

  • Plywood for subfloor: 12 4×8′ sheets, 23/32″, pressure treated. Depending on air circulation beneath the yurt, you could probably get away with non-PT, but why spend all that time building it just for it to rot away? Also: we recommend getting thicker sheets, especially if you’re using plywood as the only floor. We ended up adding additional blocking, even with our 1″ T&G flooring. Cost: $390, Home Depot
  • Cinder blocks for foundations: This was one modification we made to the Pacific Yurts plan, which we adapted from the Two Girls Farm plan: to use cinder blocks rather than pier blocks. The main drivers in this decision (as with most decisions) was cost and ease of installation. The field we’re in is enclosed on all sides by trees, so we’re protected from any strong winds. We also got extra thinner ones to fill in when leveling was off by several inches. Cost: $57, Home Depot
  • Simpson structural ties: 8 plates for center beams, 20 L-angles. For a given joist we used one L-angle on each end, as opposed to using four on every board. This decision was driven by cost, time, and a “good-enough” attitude. Cost: $55, Home Depot and True Value
  • Simpson screws: We obviously went through a lot of these. I think eight boxes of 100, at about $10 a box. Cost: $80, Home Depot
  • Aluminum flashing: An 8″-wide roll of this, cut into sheets and set between the cinder blocks and the beams, so that no water would wick from the blocks to the lumber. Cost: $TBD, have to find receipt!

Tools, etc.

The tools we needed for these first steps:

  • Electricity: We borrowed a generator to run corded power tools
  • Circular saw: The mainstay
  • Extension cord: At least 25′
  • Miter saw: Could get by without it, but it makes life easier
  • Drills, multiple: Definitely recommend having a few battery drills on hand for the number of screws to go in. Keep one charging
  • Level: Four foot
  • Measuring tape: Long
  • Square: A bevel also would prove useful
  • Work gloves: Especially if you’re using rough lumber
  • Friends: We cannot thank enough our friends who helped, most especially Emily and Taylor, who have a Coperthwaite yurt of their own and its attendant insights, as well as carpentry skills far beyond ours. Also super helpful: Karen & Patrick & Michael & Alex & Ryanne & Mike & Laura & Jeff’s truck. Can’t thank these beautiful people enough.

building the yurt platform

building the yurt platform

building the yurt platform, leveling the cinder block foundation

The Experience

The part that required the most patience was, of course, the first step: placing and leveling the cinder blocks. This task has the potential to be a too-many-cooks scenario, so find one (maybe two) other people you can work well with, and dive in, taking deep breaths and breathers as necessary. Rest assured that once these are in place, the rest of the work seems easy — or, at least, it seemed to require fewer mental gymnastics.

Completing the frame took us the entire first day — almost 12 hours exactly. Keep in mind, though, that we were amateurs being guided by pros. If your skills are better than ours were, you could almost certainly work much faster. At the end of this first day, we laid one sheet of plywood atop the frame as a vision of what was to come. And to make it seem like we’d got further than we had, for morale.

The next step was insulating the platform to keep our feet warm in the winter.