We get questions often about how we chose where to put our yurt, the type of land we’re on, the size of the parcel, and any particular considerations or deal-breakers we had when looking for the right spot. We’re on borrowed land, so haven’t made some of the improvements we likely would if we owned it (such as putting in a real driveway or getting internet). Here’s a rundown, from our perspective, of what to think about if you’re potentially buying land or choosing land to put a yurt on.
Sure, this is maybe the most obvious, but be sure to think it through. Is it accessible year-round by vehicle or only in certain seasons? How close to a road is it? Is it up a hill? Will it require snow-plowing? Will you need to invest in a proper driveway for it to be drivable, much less plowable?
We don’t have a real driveway—just dirt—and the slope is pretty steep anyway, so we can’t plow in the winter. That means we have to walk up and down the hill to our yurt for roughly five or six months out of the year. Just keep this in mind when you ponder how far you would be willing to carry groceries, laundry, etc.
And if it’s a walk-in site year round? That’s up to you. We recently met someone nearby in Vermont who was putting up a yurt in a walk-in site, and it was a beautiful site, but they had to hand-carry or wagon every single piece of their yurt into the clearing. That’s some human-powered dedication.
Is there running water on the property? Will you need to haul it or install a pump? Will the pump work year round, even in freezing weather? Is there a spring? Will you drill a well?
This is arguably the most important consideration. It may, from our perspective and experience, make or break your own experience of yurt life. There’s a spring near us, about 700 feet away and just barely up grade, that we ran a poly hose from, so that we could fill up water jugs (we use these) just about a hundred feet from our yurt and haul inside to filter. That worked for a few years, and then it unexpectedly stopped producing enough water—not enough to make it down the slight grade to our clearing. So now, for the past several years, we’ve been hauling water up the hill from the stream on the property. It’s a pain in the butt, but it was nice to have a backup water source, at least.
All to say, consider water closely. If you’re relying on a creek, is it dependable? Does it run low in late summer? Could it run completely dry? And so forth.
Will you be on grid or off grid? If you want to be on grid, will you have to run power lines onto the property? Above ground or underground? How many power poles will be required? (This is obviously related to the “access” consideration above.)
If off grid, where will you get your power? Solar or fossil fuel? (Wind? Any wind-lovers out there?) You’ll want to consider what’s most realistic for your location. If solar, how large of a system will you need to install? If fossil fuel (propane or kerosene, likely), how big of a tank will you need and is access reasonable for refilling as needed?
We’ve been using a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery with flexible panels from PowerFilm Solar. In the summer it works great; in the winter here in Vermont, we just don’t have a big enough array to capture enough energy in the low light months, so we end up charging the Goal Zero from an outlet at the workplace. (That’s a plug for the easy plug-and-play nature of Goal Zero products.)
But we also use extremely minimal energy. All we require is enough energy for lights and recharging phones and computers. We are not running any appliances.
Sun and Shade
Generally speaking, you probably want a property with at least some southern exposure (in the northern hemisphere). How much sun exposure you need, though, will depend on your particular situation.
Will you be relying on solar energy for power? Be sure to do your due diligence on hours of exposure throughout the year (I swear by an app called SunSeeker, though it isn’t free). Will you need to clear trees? If you’re not relying on the sun for power, maybe you don’t need southern exposure. But will you want a garden? Hey there, sun, you’re looking pretty good again.
Beyond solar energy, consider seasonal variations in temperature. In the heat of the summer months, we get around 7 hours of direct sun beating down on the yurt. Seven hours of direct sun is not that much. Still, at the height of summer, the yurt becomes an oven, soaking up all that energy without reprieve. Of course, in winter any direct sunlight is a small blessing.
So in hindsight, it would be smarter of us to site the yurt in a place with some shade from deciduous trees in the summer, which would then let the sun through as they dropped their leaves in the fall and winter.
But before you go and build in the middle of the woods for maximum shade because you’re afraid of the yurt being too hot, you should also consider humidity. I can’t count how many emails I’ve gotten from people living in yurts asking if we too have mold problems. Luckily, the answer for us is no, and I can’t help but credit the (sometimes stifling) warmth that direct sun provides in the summer months (and then obviously the dry air inside provided by winter and wood stove heating).
Additionally, consider the lay of the land. Will the yurt be in a low-lying spot likely to collect moisture and runoff? Probably good to avoid this, but if it must be, you could probably counter that tendency with more exposure and building a higher yurt platform for better air circulation underneath.
Heating considerations dovetail with access and sun exposure. Unless you’re on grid, your options will be fossil fuel or wood heat. If fossil fuel, it’s the same consideration as access—is there a way to get your propane or kerosene into the site? If it’s wood heat, is the lot wooded and do you plan to cut your own? Is the lot big enough to cut sustainably, or in a few years will you have denuded the lot and require buying cordwood? If you’re not cutting your own wood, is there access for wood delivery? Or will you need to find a way to haul several cords of wood into the site?
Our yurt platform is simply set on cinder blocks, even though we live in Vermont where frost heaves are a real consideration. You might consider drilling and pouring concrete footings for your platform foundation so that you’re not subjected to such heaves.
So you’ll want to know how deep the frost line is in your climate, and what kind of earth you’ll need to be drilling into. This is not a make-or-break consideration, just worth remembering that if you’re planning to drill, you might run into some surprise ledge.
Cell Service and Internet
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Do you want cell service, is there cell service, and how good is it? Is it better for one provider over the others? And do you need internet? Depending on access, is there cable or fiber optic available at the road? Or will you need to rely on rural satellite internet service?
Our cell service is good enough to take calls and receive texts when we’re outside, but not quite strong enough to use our cell phones as hot spots for internet. And if you need to go satellite internet, consider how much power you’ll need for that when you’re consider power and sun exposure.
You know what? This one also feels pretty self-explanatory, and you know what you want. Ultimately, though, this consideration might be the biggest trade off you’ll make, as it’s not a technical consideration.
And really trade offs are the nature of the beast. I’m not here to tell you what kind of land to look for. You know what you like, and you know what you value, whether that’s being nestled in a tucked-away and forgotten clearing or perched on a windy knob with a view.
But based on our experiences yurt-living over the last years, these are the considerations that come to mind were we to do it all over again. And maybe we will. And maybe we’ll see you out there. Unless you choose privacy over access, and shade over cell service—then maybe we won’t.
Did we forget something? Get in touch at thatyurt at gmail dot com.