When we last left the yurt it was still standing but was decaying and in serious need of repair. The outer weatherproof cover had deteriorated again and the smell of mildew was pervasive. The mice were ransacking the interior and the flooring was starting to rot. The yurt needed help and lots of it. For a while (quite a while) we just let it sit while we considered a strategy to deal with all of the yurt’s needs.
The first step was to take it down before it deteriorated any further. In the spring of 2008 Molly and I disassembled the yurt and packed it up. Most of the platform and the outer covering went to the dump. Now we just needed a home for the rest. Storing a building sized tent as well as the furnishings inside of it was a challenge but we managed to shoehorn it all into our various other outbuildings.
Molly: It was a sad day when we took it down. It had been this thing of beauty and now it was…not.
Mike: Yeah, one more face lift was not going to recapture her lost loveliness. It was just going to make her look permanently surprised.
After going through three outer covers in five years it was clear that our climate was just too harsh for a ‘permanent tent’. At the same time, the yurt was so cool that we really didn’t want to give it up. What we needed was a weatherproof exterior that would not need to be replaced….ever. The only way to do that (in our twisted minds) was to build a real building and put the yurt inside of it. Then we would have something that would last with all the yurt goodness inside of it.
Great! A new building project! I knew just what to make it out of too- papercrete. I had been wanting to build some sort of papercrete building and now I had the perfect application. I had made some gardening beds from my first batches of papercrete but still had a bunch of blocks waiting for a project. Not nearly enough for a building though. The first step was to make five hundred more papercrete blocks. At ~45 blocks a batch I had 11 batches to go. Towards the end of the summer I had all my blocks made.
Molly: Yep, here he goes again! Makin’ blocks after work. Driving the truck slowly down the highway pulling a trailer full of pulp. That’s not weird 😕
Next up was digging a trench and casting a foundation for the building. I used a metal stake and a piece of string as a giant compass to scribe a building sized circle in the dirt. After shortening the string to match the inside of the building I drew a second circle. Now I knew exactly where I needed to dig. The foundation was one foot wide and six inches deep. It was filled with concrete and had rebar reinforcing inside of it. I also cast a small front entry stoop at the same time.
The door frame from the yurt was attached to the stoop and a ring of cinderblocks were put down as the first course on top of the foundation. The exterior of this initial ring was coated in roofing tar to waterproof it. It will act as a water barrier and keep moisture from wicking up into the papercrete blocks.
Molly: At this point I had abandoned Mike on this project. I have no good excuse, really. I would occassionally run outside and help when he was trying to lift something 5 times his body weight but otherwise this had become his project.
Next it was just a matter of stacking and mortaring the blocks together. It was a lot of labor but went pretty fast. I was able to complete the ring in just a couple days. I also used the papercrete to start to plaster the inside of the walls. After the walls were up I made a double layered ring of plywood (salvaged from the platform floor) that went all the way around the top. This ring is called a bond beam and it ties all the blocks together at the top so that the weight and pressure of the roof doesn’t spread the walls apart. By the time phase one was done it was well into the fall and the building season was over.
You would think with all the progress that happened in phase one that the building would get finished right away the following year.
That’s what I thought.
Molly: I did too. You had thrown up the blocks for the ring with such passion. It’s what you did with every available moment for weeks. It was an incredible feat!
Mike: I got distracted by the greenhouse, the CNC machine, the expanded chicken coop, the..
Molly: I get it! We have a lot going on at any one time.
Life intervened and it was two more years before I got back to working on the yurt. It would have been longer but my sister Heidi, sick of sleeping on the couch when she visited, started instigating for more yurt progress. I told her “Fine, we’ll work on it next time you’re here.” thinking that would be the end of that. Well she came out in May of 2011 and it was yurt building time again.
Part of the reason I had been procrastinating on the project was that I wasn’t really sure how to build the roof. It needed to be self supporting and not have any columns holding it up. It also needed to be sturdy. We’ve gotten three feet of snow in a single storm.
We started by making a central ring out of a couple layers of plywood that all the rafters would connect to. The ring was about 5 feet in diameter with a large hole in the center for a skylight. Next, we needed some way to hold this ring in the right place to attach the rafters to it. We erected some scaffolding and spent quite a bit of time getting the placement of the ring correct. It needed to be at just the right height and exactly in the center of the building. Oh, and level too.
I hadn’t really been able to visualize how the rafters were going to attach to the central ring and the walls. We experimented with cutting notches in the rafters and attached the first two. Then Heidi had to leave and I figured I’d get the rest of the rafters up in the following weeks.
I didn’t. The project just sat there.
Stay tuned! Next week more on the rebirth of the yurt!
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