Yurts are a low cost and portable way to start going off grid. While there are many yurts for sale commercially, the cheapest (and funnest!) way to start living in a yurt is to build one yourself. Here is a cheap and easy way to build your own yurt, based on the plans I used when I build my own off grid yurt.
Planning Your Yurt Build
The first step when choosing to build a yurt is to answer a few basic questions:
- How much room do you need?
- How much money do you have to spend?
Answers to these two questions will inform important decisions about the overall yurt dimensions. Particularly the diameter.
Choosing a Yurt Size
Typical yurt sizes range from 12’ in diameter to 24’ in diameter.
I don’t recommend smaller yurts than 12’ because the tend to become top heavy if they are not wide enough.
24’ is the practical limit for home built yurts because that is the largest you can make roof rafters using typical 16’ long lumber available at home improvement stores. While large sizes are possible, it building one will require additional techniques I won’t describe here.
Because yurt walls are usually short (I recommend 60", see building the walls below), you cannot stand in all parts of the yurt. The edges of the yurt are best for placing chairs and furniture.
Note that round structures require more area than normal if you plan on using square furniture. If you are not sure how much space you need, the best thing to do is to try it out. Place a piece of string outside or on the floor in a ring of the right size, and lay out your furniture as you intend to inside the yurt. If necessary, use cardboard, sticks, string, etc to mock up furniture items.
Yurt Cost and Size Chart
To help you decide on the right yurt for you, I put together a little table. I personally built a 14’ yurt for my own use, and think that is a great size for a single person to live in.
|Standing Room (sqft)
|Cost / Sqft
The area is the total enclosed floor space.
The cost listed is calculated roughly based on the current cost of canvas, and dimensional lumber in my area. Prices may vary over time and from region to region. This is only provided as guide for relative comparison.
Parts of the Yurt
This is a brief overview of the parts of a yurt, and what you will need to make them. As well as common terminology that you are likely to see if you research yurt making further.
Yurts are portable tent like structures that originated from Mongolia, sometimes also called a “Ger.” Traditional yurts are made from wood or bamboo, animal felt, and woven cords. But, modern yurts typical are mode of wood, rope, and canvas or plastic shells.
The main structure of the yurt is a wooden lattice called the “Khana,” a door, wooden ceiling poles called “Uni,” and a wooden ring where the roof poles connect (“Tono”). Some modern yurt designs also have plastic domes on the apex, which serve as skylights, and windows. Very large yurts, or yurts in areas with very heavy snow load, may have wooden poles that support the center ring.
The outer yurt is waterproofed by a canvas in two sections: the wall and the roof, which are separate before erecting.
Additionally, you will need a number of ropes or bands. The most important is the main compression band(s) which keep the structure from collapsing in on itself. And, there are a small number of ropes which keep on the canvases.
Building the Yurt Wall Structure (Khana)
Start constructing your yurt by building the wall lattice.
Height of the Wall
Yurt walls are typically relatively short, for maximum strength and to allow for steep sloping roofs without too much wasted space. I recommend making your walls about 51" (137cm) tall, which allows you to use a single 60" (152 cm) wide swath of canvas for the walls and cut laths out of 6’ and 12’ lumber. This saves tremendously on cost and sewing time.
Sizing the Laths
You will need to cut 2 ea 5/16" x 1.5" (8 mm x 38 mm) strips for every 15.5" of wall length which is the total circumference minus about 32.5" (82.5 cm) for the door. These laths will need to be 76" (182 cm) long for a 51" tall wall design. Or, about 1.41 times the wall height.
See the table below for specific design parameters for common yurt sizes. I’ve also provided an interactive calculator to help you design your own custom yurt.
|38 + 12 (short)
|58 + 12 (short)
|78 + 12 (short)
|96 + 12 (short)
As shown above, you will need 12 shorter laths to cap off the walls where they meet the door: 4 ea 14.5“, 4 ea 37”, 4 ea 59.5". Taller walls may need additional short pieces.
Yurt Wall Size Calculator
This yurt calculator helps you design custom diameter yurts. Use decimal feet or inches if desired (eg 12.5 instead of 12 1/2).
Cutting the Laths
I cut my laths out of cheap construction fir, although any soft wood should work. Avoid lumber with large knots, as lathes must bend, and will break at any knot larger than about 1/4 of the width of the wood.
I found that wider lumber is generally better quality, which means you can get more useful pieces and waste less. At my local Home Depot 2“x12” at 8’ lumber only costs $16.50 each, and will cut up in to about 24 laths in most cases, assuming a 1/8" thick saw blade and a few laths per board being unusable due to knots.
2x12 lumber was the most cost efficient option I found, conidering the amount of waste I got using “cheaper” 2x4 lumber. But, pricing in your area may differ.
To make the laths, I cut them to length — ie in half for the case of 12’ lumber and 6’ laths — then ripped them to the 5/16" width. In the US, framing lumber comes 1.5" thick, so their was no need to cut that dimension. If lumber comes thicker where you live, no need to cut it down, just use wider laths.
For ripping, a band saw would be ideal. When I made mine, I cut about half the laths on a table saw. The other half I did with a handsaw, because my table saw broke down. Hand sawing is hard work, but doable. And, decent Japanese pull laws can be had for about $20, making it the cheapest and most portable option if you don’t have a table saw available.
The laths are connected using rope through precisely drilled holes where all the pieces cross. It is essential that holes are precisely spaced, or you will have problems in assembly.
All the full length laths need holes drilled every 11.25", as many as will fit, with the remaining space distributed equally at both ends. Center the holes in the width of the lath
With the 72" in laths I recommend, that would be seven holes starting 2.25" from the end. For speed, I carefully marked and drilled out a single lath as a template, then used this one to mark all the rest.
Drill holes using a 7/32" drill bit for 3/16" rope, or one size larger than the rope you select. See “Assembling the Yurt Walls” below for details on the rope.
The shorter laths will be again drilled every 11.25“, but will start 1” from the edge, leaving room for the door and making this hole closer to the edge than the last hole. This first hole will be larger at 9/32" to accommodate 1/4" bolts where it connects to the door.
Finishing the Laths
To avoid the potential for splintering, I rounded all the edges of the laths using a hand plane. But, you can do this with router, Spoke shave, or just a block and sand paper. I also cut off and rounded the about 1/4" from all the corners at a 45 degree angle.
To protect the wood, I used linseed oil, which is a natural wood sealer. But, you can use polyurethane or any other wood sealer that you prefer. While this isn’t strictly necessary, as the wood is inside, the laths do come on it contact with water condensing on the inside of walls in the winter. And, I expect them to last much longer when sealed.
Assembling the Yurt Walls
The wall lattice is connected short lengths rope through each hole, and knotted on both sides. This type of construction is easy, cheap, and allows for the lattice to be accordioned closed for transportation or storage.
The best rope to use for this is 3/16" thick polypropylene rope, like this rope for example. Nylon or cotton ropes don’t work as well because the stretch over time and become too loose.
Each joint uses about 4" of rope. And, every two full size laths have 7 joints between them. For example
For this processes you will need something to cut the rope and lighter or torch to melt the ends. Having a torch makes it much faster to melt the ends in on go after you tie everything together. Leather gloves can also be helpful to help form the plastic ends for threading without burning your fingers.
To join the laths in to a yurt wall –
- Lay out the laths crisscross, ensuring all left leaning laths are on top and right leaning are on bottom (or vice versa)
- Melt rope end with a lighter or torch to prevent fraying, forming the molten plastic in to a point as it melts to ensure it fits in the holes.
- Thread the rope through the holes of both laths at an intersection, from front to back.
- Tie a simple overhand knot about 1/4" from the end of the rope.
- Pull the knot very tight.
- Cut the rope, leaving about 3", and tie a very tight knot on the other (front) side.
- Trim excess rope to about 1/4" from the knot (optional)
- Melt remaining end to prevent fraying
Do not tie the rightmost three and left most three joints. They are secured to the door with bolts as described below.
Once your laths are all together, get someone to help you stand up the wall and curve it in to the yurt wall shape. The laths should bend easily and not break. But depending on the quality of wood used, you may need to replace a few by cutting them out and retying.
Take a quick measurement of the diameter and height, to make sure that the wall came out as intended (remembering leave a spot for the door). You can always adjust the door and canvas size at this point if you made a mistake.
The Yurt Door
Because yurt walls are usually short, you will need to make a custom door frame.
The design I present here simple and approachable for someone with minimal wood working experience. For that reason I’m avoiding mortise and tendon joinery, paneling, and other nice touches. If you are an experienced carpenter, feel free to embellish as desired.
Yurt Door Frame
The yurt door frame is make from four pieces of wood, reinforced with steel brackets to prevent twisting.
Wood for the door frame can be sourced from excess lath or rafter material. But, are size so you can use standard 2“x3” and 2“x6” lumber sold in the US. Feel free to use thicker material in any dimension if that’s what you have available to you.
Lumber can be hem/fir framing lumber, or any other structural wood of your choice.
- Studs: 2ea 51" long 2 1/2" x 1 1/2" (aka 2“x3”)
- Header: 1ea 40" long 2 1/2" x 1 1/2" (aka 2“x3”)
- Threshold: 1ea 32" long 2 1/2" x 1 1/2" (aka 2“x6”)
Metal brackets and wood screws support the door frame and prevent twisting or spreading due to the forces of the yurt walls. Six bolts, washers, and nuts are used to connect the wall to the door frame. (You may need more if you are using a custom wall height.)
I have provided links the hardware that I used, but you should be able to get everything locally at any decent hardware or home improvement store. Prices are local prices at the time of writing, and may have changed.
- 2 ea Steel ‘T’ Bracket ($8.49 for 5)
- 4 ea Steel ‘L’ Bracket ($2.88 for 4)
- #6 Flat Head Wood Screws ($4.39 for 100)
- 6 ea 1/4" x 2" Steel Carriage Bolt ($18.90 for 50)
- 6 ea 1/4" Steel Washers ($1.18 for 6)
- 6 ea 1/4" Steel Wing Nuts ($1.18 each)
Cutting the Lumber
Cut out the lumber to the dimensions listed. A chop saw, circular saw, or even hand saw works fine for cutting to length. Because the joints are secured with hardware, there is no structural need to have perfectly cut joints.
Round the inside edges of the frame posts. You can do this with course sandpaper, a hand plane, spoke shave, etc. This allows the canvas to wrap around without fraying or damming the fabric.
The header is also given a curved profile with rounded corners, to ensure the roof canvas contacts it nicely. Do this by cutting off the corners as shown, then rounding all upper edges and corners as you did with the posts.
The threshold may also be given a profile as shown. This is for ascetics and comfort, and can be skipped if you prefer. Dimensions of the cuts are not critical, so long as they don’t interfered with the ‘T’ brackets.
Drill 1/4" holes as shown on the posts and header. The post holes are there to accept the carriage bolts that connect wall to door frame. The four on the header provide places to attach rafters.
Drill additional 1 1/2" reliefs 1/2" deep on the front of each of the door uprights. These allow room for the wing nuts and prevents them from rubbing on the canvas.
Drill 5/64" pilot holes for each bracket screw. Use the brackets as templates to mark hole locations. Drill sizing is based on #6 screws as recommended above. If you use other screws, size the drill bit appropriately.
All door frame pieces need to be waterproofed, as they may come in to contact with moisture. I used the same linseed oil as with the wall laths, applying 5 coats and giving them several days to dry in between. But, you can use any wood sealant that you prefer.
For the door itself, I initially used a piece of canvas. The canvas was hemmed and set with three grommets at the top, as described in the section on sewing the canvas below. This was screwed to the inside of the door header, and secured with Velcro on the sides.
If you desire a wooden door, I recommend building a custom sized door, or cutting a large door down to size, as your skills allow. Then, attach the door to the frame with pivots.
While they sell pivot hinges, they tend to be quite expensive. One option is to just drill two holes — one in the header and the other in the threshold — which will act as hinges to two vertical dowels attached to the interior of the door.
Appropriately placed strips of wood with weather stripping nailed where the door meets the frame would make such a pivot door quite weather proof.
Constructing Ceiling Rafters and Apex Ring
Our last bit of wood working are the rafters and apex ring.
Yurt Roof Calculator
This calculator helps you calculate custom roof dimensions. A roof angle of 36 degrees is a good place to start, but can be adjusted anywhere between about 20 degrees and 45 degrees.
The apex ring diameter will need to be increased as the size of the yurt increases, so that the ring rafter spacing in no less than about 2 inches. Otherwise the ring is likely to be too weak. But, it can be larger if desired to let in more light if designed with a skylight dome in mind.
Cutting the Rafters
Rip rafters to 7/8" by 1 1/2". Use any light structural wood such as Fir, Hemlock, Spruce, etc.
Essentially, these made the same way as the laths, and with the same material, but thicker. Because of the additional thickness, having knot free wood isn’t as critical, but is still beneficial.
Finishing the Rafters
The end where the rafters connect to the ring needs to be cut to a 2" long and 1" diameter dowel. This tenon cutting bit can be used with a strong drill to save you a ton of time making these ends. It also comes with the right size 1" drill bit, that you will need for drilling out the ring later.
Otherwise, you can use a spoke shave to cut them out by hand. Mark a 1" diameter circle on the end, and keep whittling down until you get near perfectly flat edges. I recommend you drill a 1" hole in some scrap wood and use that to test each tenon as you go. Each one should go in smoothly, but still be tight.
On the other side of the rafters cut a ‘V’ about 4" long. This can be done in two passes with a 45 degree router bit or table saw set to 45 degrees. You can also accomplish this fairly easily with a spoke shave.
Drill a 1/4" hole perpendicular to the ‘V’ cut, to retain the rope which attaches the roof to the walls.
Smooth and round rafter corners, and seal as before with the door and wall laths.
Building the Apex Ring
Traditional yurt designs use rings make from thin pieces of steam bent wood made in to a circle of the proper diameter.
I’ve chosen this design because it is far easier to build, and requires much less equipment. Anyone with the skills and equipment to steam bend a ring might prefer to do it that way, since they tend to look a little better and be lighter in the end.
You will need —
- 1ea 44’x8’ sheet of plywood
- About 6 times the diameter of your ring in 2“x6” lumber
First, cut out two circles of plywood the same diameter as your circle. Mark out the circle with a trammel or a piece of string nailed in the center and a pencil. Cut carefully with a jigsaw.
If you want an open ring, cut a hole 12" smaller in the center of plywood circles. Otherwise, just leave them whole to produce a closed roof
Miter cut 16 blocks of 2“x6”wood at 22.5 degrees on both ends. The length of longest side of each block needs to be 0.414 times the diameter of your circle. This way eight blocks will fit on the plywood circle, with their outside edges just touching the edge and the points of the miter hanging over the edge.
Make the sides of the blocks as flat as possible. Use a planner or hand plane if you have one. Otherwise, use sandpaper and a block of wood. The miters should be as exact as possible, meeting with a minimal gap.
Glue the eight blocks to one of the plywood rings. I recommend expanding polyurethane “Gorilla” glue for this, as it is much more forgiving of a poor joint than standard wood glue. Place and clamp each block very firmly, to ensure a strong connection.
Glue the second layer on top of the first, but offset by 1/2 block. This way the joints between blocks on the first layer should be in the middle of the second layer block. Like two courses of bricks.
Glue the last piece of plywood on top, completing the sandwich.
Cut the corners of the blocks, so that ring is round again.
Mark and drill the rafter holes. Measure the circumference of the ring, and divide by the number of rafters to get your rafter spacing. Don’t worry if it the ring isn’t perfect in size. Mark out your rafters, and use a 1" drill bit to drill an 2" deep hole angled the same way as the roof.
Screw in about 16 2" wood screws from each side, placing about two for each block from each side. Take care to avoid the holes you have already drilled. These screws add a lot of strength to the ring. Especially if the glued joints aren’t perfect, which is almost a certainty for a beginner wood worker.
Seal the ring, as you have with other wood components of the yurt. Because of the plywood construction, you may want to paint the ring instead of using a clear finish. Traditional yurts builders would sometimes paint elaborate patterns on their rings in bright colors, which is not a bad idea, especially for enclosed yurts
Sewing the Yurt Canvas Cover
With the yurt structure complete, we move on to sewing the waterproof canvas covering.
Choosing the Material
The material that I use and recommend for DIY yurt construction is 10 oz Duck Canvas. This is a long lasting, waterproof, natural cotton fabric. I recommend it because —
- Cotton canvas is easier to sew than synthetic fabrics
- It is available in wide sizes the reduce labor and expense
- Comes in a variety of appealing colors
- Reasonable cost
Big Duck canvas also provides fire retardant options for most of their canvas, if you that something you are interested in.
Other modern yurt makers use acrylic coated polyester fabrics, which I do not recommend simply because they require special industrial grade sewing machines to work with.
|Roof Segments #
Yurt Canvas Calculator
This calculator helps you determine how much fabric you need for the different parts of the yurt. Plus, it estimates how many pie segments you might need.
In my yurt I used the “selvage edge,” which is the raw edge of the fabric. It looks a little different than the rest, but will not fray. Using it requires much less sewing overall. But, if you want to cut it off, just subtract the width of your selvage from the total fabric width below.
Choosing the Thread
Having plant of sharp needles at hand makes sewing a much smoother process. I went through a full pack of needles while sewing my 14’ yurt.
If you choose a different material, you may need to adjust the thread and or needle size used. Ask the manufacturer what they recommend, or be ready to try a few different sizes to see what works best.
Finding a Sewing Machine
The sewing machine I used to sew my yurt is an old “Domestic” brand from the 50’s or 60’s. I found it in an antique store for $20, and managed to talk them down to $15.
Thicker material requires industrial machines that have more powerful motors and more complicated walking feet that help move the fabric through the machine. However, I found that the quality of older quality built domestic sewing machines allowed them to handle canvas quite easily.
In order to get my used machine running, I took it to a local sewing machine store — the kind that has been open, unchanged for decades and is run by an nice elderly couple. The man helped me set up the machine with proper tension, needle size, etc with my chosen fabric and thread. Since this was my first time using a sewing machine, he was very helpful.
However, the attendant at the sewing machine store was a little hesitant about the old machine. And, he declined to service it, instead recommending one of his own used machines for sale.
So, before I used it, I followed YouTube video that covered oiling the machine. I also ended up needing to add a rubber band to push the motor on the wheel harder, because the rubber tire that transmits power to the machine was hardened with age.
If you live in a large city, you may want to search for an industrial machine for rent. I’ve heard that in some areas you can just rent a powerful sewing machine in crafts centers or schools that teach industrial arts. We didn’t have anything like that out where I live, so I can’t comment on how well that works. But, I can’t imagine it was cheaper than my $15 machine.
The wall canvas is simply a giant rectangle, where the length is the yurt diameter (providing extra to wrap around door way), and the height is about the same as the wall. The design I recommend (51" wall height) works perfectly with the 60" fabric, so you do not need sew together a long piece. Just cut the piece to length.
My recommended plan also allows about six extra inches of canvas to go below the wall and mate with the yurt platform. If this in not desired, you could make the walls higher, or just fold the extra under.
Walls taller than the fabric is wide will need two or more pieces sewn together lengthwise to cover the entire wall. The calculator below handles this case.
The conical roof canvas is sewn together like a pie that is missing a few pieces. First, cut rectangles of fabric of “Roof Segment Length,” then cut these in half lengthwise until you have the total number of segments required.
Sew long edge to long edge, and shorter edge to shorter edge, until you use up all the segments.
Finally, you will sew the “pie with missing pieces” flat canvas together at the final edge. The very last seam of this operation is quite a pain, because you have to force so much fabric through you machine. But, proceed carefully and it can be done.
Sewing Waterproof Seams
Sewing strong and waterproof seams is a four step process.
- Place to two pieces of fabric front to front, and sew together 5/8" from the edge
- Open up. Cut off 1/2 of one the right side. Fold and press the left side in half
- Wrap the long side around the short side, with the long side’s cut edge folded under both and back towards the first seam. You may have to press again to get this to hold
- Sew the second seam through both sides of the folded fabric and the single fabric below. This should be about 1/8" from the folded edge
When you sew this seam, try to make sure it is very flat. Not bulging or puckering. A good test is to try pulling the two pieces of fabric apart. If it is pulling on only one seam, the fold isn’t right. But, if both seams are resisting the pull, then you have a strong seam.
Test your canvas by spraying it with water. If you see any leaks then you may need to rub the seam with paraffin wax, or spray with water sealant. This was not required for my yurt, but it’s better to check now, than catch it after the yurt is up.
Hemming and Finishing
Any exposed cut edges will need to be hemmed, to prevent unraveling. To do this, fold and iron the edge over 1/2“. Then do the same again, leaving the cut end encased. Sew a single seam about 1/8” from the first folded edge.
Cut and place metal fabric grommets: 4–5 evenly spaced on the short ends of the wall fabric; one for each rafter on one of the long wall edges; and one at the tip of each roof canvas corner. If you left the apex ring open, you will want one for each of the center corners as well.
Lines, Ropes, and Yurt Erection
Stand up the wall lattice, and bend it around the circumference of the yurt. Laying out a circle of the right size on the ground or having a circular platform pre-built helps. You need to make sure the sizing is correct before proceeding.
Attach the door with the six bolts and wind nuts.
Wrap the webbing 4–6" from the top of the lattice on the outside of the yurt. Anchor both ends around the door frame and attach back to itself with the slides. This webbing will prevent the yurt walls from expanding outward from the weight of the roof.
Raise the rafters. Start by inserting two rafters, about 1/3rd of the way apart, in to the apex ring. Tie these two in place on the wall. Place a third across from the first two, and use this to lever up the roof, tying in place. Go around inserting each rafter in to the circle and tying in place.
Install the wall canvas. Start at the door, and use the short edge grommets to tie the canvas to the inside of the door frame or lattice. A few small metal screw eyelets are useful for attaching to the door. Unfurl the canvas around the wall lattice, tying each grommet to the lattice cross under each rafter as you go. Attach the final edge to the other side of the door, tightening the canvas until just before you start to take tension off the webbing.
Cut two more lengths of webbing, and wrap around on the outside of the yurt. One should be close to the bottom, and one near the middle.
Install the roof canvas. Fold in half, hoist on to the roof, and unfold to cover. Tie opposite corners of the roof down to the ground with stakes, or to the yurt platform with eyelets. If you have an open apex, use a ladder to fold the center triangles of the roof canvas around the apex, and tie them to an eyelet in each rafter.
Cut a final strap, and run it just under the rafters to hold the roof canvas tight to the walls. Attach both ends to the door frame.
Other Things to Consider After Building Your Yurt
Here are some optional extras and additional things to consider when building your yurt.
Most types of heaters work well in a yurt. Wood stove and open element heaters should be kept away from the walls. The very center is a safe place, and the apex ring directly above makes a good place for a stovepipe to exit, if you want to use wood to heat you yurt.
Windows can be cut out of the yurt walls, and filled in with sewn segments of plastic. However, I didn’t try this myself.
Many companies sell yurt “skylights”, which are Plexiglas domes you can screw in to your yurt apex ring. This makes a very functional alternative to wall windows, since it lets in so much extra light.
You can also make your own apex window using greenhouse a insulated plastic sheet cut to a circle and affixed with screws and silicon sealant to the ring. You will need to modify the top of your yurt canvas if you do this.
Yurt Floor / Foundation
While you can put a yurt directly on bare ground, having a raised platform makes it much more comfortable to live in long term.
One low cost method to build a yurt platform is to gather free crates of the same size and thickness. Place the corners of each crate on a stone or cinder block, which need to be leveled before hand. Screw plywood in to the top, making sure seams in the plywood floor meet in the center of crates as much as possible.
A more permanent method would be to build a circular deck, complete with poured concrete footings. There are many tutorial for framing a deck like this on YouTube.
The yurt platform is best made circular, the same size as the yurt itself. Any exposed exterior decking should be lower than the yurt floor, to prevent water from flowing in. Making the yurt wall canvas a bit wider than the wall means you it will extend on to the side of the deck. Running the lower strap at this level ensures a tight seal to the floor.
How much does it cost to build a yurt?
Yurts built to these plans cost between $578 for a 12’ yurt, and $1295 for a 24’ yurt. The cost factor is the canvas material, so getting a deal can decrease the price considerably. These cost estimates assume normal online pricing and typical local hardware store prices.
Do you need a permit to build a yurt?
Most yurts do not need a permit to build because they are not permanent structures. If you decide to build a yurt on a platform with a foundation, then you may need a permit depending on local building codes.
How long does it take to build a yurt?
Building a yurt takes about 5–10 working days for an average person. I build my 14’ yurt from scratch in about 7 working days. After a yurt is built, it can be set up in about an hour. But, build times depend on your skill, access to power tools, and how many mistakes you make.