Small talk is easy when you run into us in the winter. When we see friends at the local Vermont coop (real crunchy), when we talk to family on the phone (less crunchy), the question is common: How’s the winter been? Are you staying warm in the yurt? Of course! we say. I’m updating this in February of 2020, and we’re currently in the middle of our fourth winter living in our yurt in southern Vermont.
And sure, New England winters can get pretty cold, but with the right planning we’ve found living in the yurt to be perfectly comfortable and warm, even in the depths of Vermont winter. A woodstove or other heat source is a given in winter yurt life. Insulation in the yurt? Also dur. Here’s what we’ve learned and what else to consider for how to stay warm in a yurt in winter.
Woodstove — The Right Woodstove Size for a Yurt
Our yurt from Two Girls Farm & Yurts came with a built-in chimney up in the center. Ken, the owner of Two Girls, reached this design after many years of building yurts. The stovepipe used to go out the side, and then out of just-off-center, and now directly in the center. The reason for this change is that it’s easier to retain the heat and disperse the heat when your woodstove is in the middle of your space. Keep this in mind when shopping yurts for sale, especially if you live in a place with cold winters.
A worthy consideration is the size of woodstove for the yurt. It might seem logical to opt for the largest woodstove possible if you want to stay as warm as possible. (Or at least might seem logical to us, who had never heated with woodstoves before. Maybe this next point is obvious.) We found on Craigslist a mid-sized Vermont Castings Intrepid model, and even with a mid-sized woodstove we often find ourselves in an 80-degree yurt (luxurious). If you get too small of woodstove, you can’t load it up enough for a long overnight burn, which is what you need. But if you get too big a woodstove, you’ll have to damp it down more than is ideal for a clean and effective (and safe) flue. In our 20-foot diameter yurt, the Vermont Castings Intrepid has been perfect. We would not change the size.
(And obviously make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector. There are battery-powered ones for you off-gridders.)
Yurt Insulation in the Walls & Roof
If you’re living in your yurt full-time, I can’t think of a reason not to get the insulation package. Thinking, thinking…Nope, can’t think of a reason. In the summer, you can open the window and/or door at night to soak up the fresh cool air as you dream sweet dreams, and in the mornings you can batten down the hatches to keep it cool(er than it would be). In the winter, the need for insulation is clear. Do I need to say more on this? Our yurt walls and roof are insulated with foil-faced insulation (Reflectix).
Insulating the Yurt Platform
Whether to insulate the yurt platform, and how to insulate the yurt platform, allows you some creativity and requires of you some consideration of your own particular situation. If you live in a remarkably dry climate, maybe you can build a minimally-if-at-all elevated platform, in which case maybe you don’t need to insulate the yurt floor. If you live in a damp environment, greater elevation means greater airflow underneath to fight any moldy tendencies. Greater airflow also means more cold air under your yurt floor if your damp environment is also a cold environment. You can see in our timelapse of building our yurt platform how we insulated our floor with 5.5-inch mineral wool insulation between the 6-inch joists, held up by draped and stapled landscape fabric. We also elevated the yurt—between 10 and 18 inches depending on which support you’re looking at.
I spoke with someone recently who’s building a yurt in the Pacific Northwest, that wettest of places. They opted to insulate the platform with rigid foam insulation under the plywood and a vapor barrier to prevent creating a moisture trap. Even as is, with insulation, bare feet on our floor can be a bit chilly mid-winter, so I can’t imagine not insulating the yurt platform.
Choosing the Right Spot for the Yurt
This is pretty simple. Consider how to best leverage or harness the sunlight. You want to get all the sunlight you can in the winter for passive solar gain, and you want, ideally, shade in the summer. I feel like apps are a weird thing to recommend, especially paid apps, but we’ve used the Sun Seeker app ($9.99) for siting our garden and etc. With this app you can track the path of the sun throughout the year, through augmented reality viewing, so you can see which trees will be in the way and so forth. Deciduous trees will give you shade in summer, and lose their leaves and let the sun in during the winter months. (The app is also just really fun, beyond being useful.)
Using the Annual Snowfall and Snowpack (or Haybales) to Prevent Airflow
Snow is a godsend. God’s insulation. It falls, it slides off the roof, and builds up on the sides of the yurt. It accumulates and blocks airflow underneath the yurt, and it accumulates more and hugs the yurt in a warm, insulating embrace. If you live in a cold place without much snowfall, consider placing haybales around the base of the yurt to keep the cold air out.
Cooking Habits—Up Your Baking Game
Maybe it’s tacky, but when we’re done using the oven for baking or roasting, we leave the oven door open to let the lingering heat into the yurt. Why waste it? You want to eat heartier foods anyway in the winter, so start making more breads, cakes, casseroles. Freaking yum, right? (Check out Joy the Baker for sweets and Flour Water Salt Yeast for breadstuffs.)
Dogs as Warm Pillows
Okay, this one is kind of a joke. Kind of. Don’t go get dogs to just stay warm. (Though there are plenty of rescue dogs out there who could warm your heart.) But the body heat of living beings should not be discounted. Especially if you let your dogs sleep with you, or cuddle on the couch, or sit on your lap, or lie on your feet. Our dogs are also adorable around the woodstove. So. Cuteness as treatment for the winter blues. Its own kind of warmth.
As always, email us if you have more questions or want us to cover something in particular. We’d love to hear from you! thatyurt (at) gmail (dot) com
Or read our book review of The Man Who Quit Money (in short, it’s really good).