House of the week: Takaka yurt

Last updated 05:00 07/11/2012

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After three years living in a yurt, Sarah Manson vouches for life in a tent.

She says it's not only one of the most affordable housing structures, but it imbues a definite serenity to life under canvas. And it's a proven method of housing, with a history stretching over thousands of years.

Yurt living dates from 484 BC, when Herodotus of Halicarnassus referred to a yurt dwelling in written description. According to historians he recorded Scythians living in yurt-like tents in the Black Sea and Central Asian region up until 300 AD.

It was the Mongolian nomadic peoples form of housing and still is, for some, today. A similar structure was used by the Sammi of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia using reindeer hide; and North American Indians used buffalo hide.

Wooden poles, sometimes stretching to more than seven metres in height, supported the structure.

While Manson's yurt doesn't stretch to those heights she has fitted virtually complete self-containment into her 38.5 square metres of living. The only exception is the bathroom with shower and composting toilet housed adjacent to the main structure.

Manson's yurt tent has a compact kitchen, solid fuel wood burner, bedroom area and sitting room space. It's a superbly comfortable, warm and ambient 'house' where she has entertained, had guests for dinner, or simply relaxed alone.

"Everyone who walks in says 'Wow', its because of the way I've set it up and the feeling. It's a beautiful space, there is something special about living in a round house with a structure all made from cedar."

In the winter the floor is covered in sheepskins and Persian rugs. In the summer, the heat of Golden Bay means the rugs are stored, the curtains taken down, rattan mats laid and the yurt is opened up to the breeze.

"We were clever with the flooring. There are used tyres on the clay platform then loads of gravel over the tyres and in between, then four by two timber and then plywood. It feels so good, I think it's how the air is trapped in the construction and it makes it so warm. The felted wool on the roof is amazing both in summer and winter. It keeps the warmth in when it's cold but breathes and keeps things cool in the summer, a bit like a sheep I suppose."

The home is powered solely from solar panels, which are sufficient to operate a TV, DVD player and stereo, as well as the normal household kitchen requirements. It's a house with all the usual comforts - at the fraction of the cost and with few overheads.


Build cost: $20,000.

Architect: Jaia Tepees, Takaka.

Build size: Seven metres in diameter

Materials: Cedar wood, canvas, tyres and plywood.

Energy efficiency: Solid fuel log burner,  insulated with felted wool.

Done right: The whole concept.

Done wrong: If it's really windy and rainy, water comes under the door through a gap.

Unexpected: How peaceful it feels because of the shape and structure, and how easy it is to heat.

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Recommend: Windows (you can choose how many) and insulation especially living in a tepee in New Zealand. I wouldn't recommend a yurt on an exposed site unless you are surrounding it with plantings. Yurts are warm and waterproof, but they are not solid structures.

Next time: I'd do it all again, but instead of zip-up windows, I'd have velcro windows. In my exposed situation the elements have made some of the yurt materials deteriorate after three years so I'd recommend velcro, especially for an exposed site.


- © Fairfax NZ News


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