By Sheryl Billman

Ah, the sound of serenity that seems always to accompany the sight of a yurt as it nestles into its natural setting. Maybe it is part of a quest for nature after being plugged into a cell phone, computer or television, or seated in a car or office for too many hours a week. A quiet retreat in a lovely setting--that is what a yurt promises.


Yurts are tents used for centuries by Mongolian nomads living on the grassland steppes of central Asia, and are still used by many on Asian plateaus. Their beauty and functionality invite one to be in rhythm with nature.

As more park campgrounds are opening for business--or working to draw visitors to existing ones--yurts are becoming a wonderful and economical choice for owners and managers. More people are becoming environmentally conscious, and yurts are an attractive alternative to traditional cabins because they are usually built on decks with minimal environmental impact. They are warm in winter and cool in summer.

In the world of eco-tourism, yurts are becoming popular. Initially constructed around a wood frame covered with wool, modern yurts are still made of wood, but covered with vinyl or a combination of polyester and cotton.

A standard yurt uses the following basic structure:

  • Deck

  • Frame

  • Lattice

  • Door

  • Window(s)

  • Tension cable

  • Center ring

  • Top cover

  • Dome skylight

These structures can be primitive or upscale, depending on preference and use.

Options can be purchased to increase the high-wind and snow-load capacity, as well as other amenities, such as ADA-accessibility. A variety of companies provides the basic yurt. The differences include cost of shipping, use and availability of “green” building materials and company-provided installation. All the yurt manufacturers contacted for this article are in the western, northwest, and the extreme northwest United States.

Pacific Yurts
Alan Bair, the original manufacturer of the modern lattice-wall yurt, started Pacific Yurts in 1978 in an old Oregon dairy. Its products are now sold throughout the world.

Along with a quality product, the company has a strong presence in the community and a deep commitment to a minimal impact on the environment. Part of that commitment includes donating the small ”end” pieces of wood to local crafters and sawdust from making yurt components to local gardeners for compost and mulch. Bair has also been a featured speaker at national and international eco-tourism conferences because of his commitment to the environment.

Nomad Shelter Yurts
Lee and Jess Tenhoff built their first yurt in January 1987, after losing everything in a house fire. Winter in Alaska and a newborn son were the driving factors in starting their own yurt company. The yurts were built the traditional way, lashing poles together to form the lattice work that comprises the walls for the dwelling. Construction was completed within a month.

Over time, the Tenhoffs have experimented and developed a yurt that can withstand the harsh Alaska climate. According to the company’s Web site, it has a test bed on the Bering Sea Coast where many yurt design challenges are addressed and solved. Their yurts come standard with climate-protection features, which are options with some of the other yurt sources.

Jess Tenhoff says Nomad Shelter Yurts is a family-run business--she does the fabric work, Lee builds the wooden framework, their son helps with set-up, and other family members help with the business. They also maintain nine rental yurts on trailheads accessible only by water in Alaska’s KachemakPark. Because the yurts are rugged and durable, they are primarily used in expedition camps.

Oregon Yurtworks LLC
Oregon Yurtworks LLC offers a complete yurt package--floors come already insulated, sheathed and framed; walls are finished to the outside and windows are pre-installed; the cedar siding is stained and installed; ceilings are finished inside and out with roofing materials, also installed. All that is left for the owner to do is to bolt the materials together and run shingle hips. The building is then waterproofed and ready for the interior finishing. Included with this yurt is the hardware package necessary to complete the exterior application.

The amount of “completed at the factory” construction can be a real time- and money-saver for the owner. The benefit of having a wood mill nearby reduces the cost of raw materials, decreases transportation costs, and increases further time, energy and money savings.

The company’s knowledge and availability of “green” building materials are above most builders’ common usage. Yurtworks does take and fill requests to build entirely “green,” which adds to the cost of the yurt, but is well worth it.

Rainier Yurts
Rainier Yurts’ origins date to 1896 as a supplier of fabric camping accessories and tents for prospectors heading for the Klondike Gold Rush. In March 2004, Rainier purchased Nesting Bird Yurts--a company started by Jenny Pell and Will Hays in 1994--and moved its operations to its Seattle facility.

Nesting Bird Yurts was created to improve yurt design and to use modern, environmentally safe products for yurt owners and the craftspeople that make yurt components.

In conjunction with the original beliefs of Nesting Bird Yurts, Rainier’s philosophy is to deliver high standards of beauty and quality. The company provides high-end yurts, and has also developed a more economical Raven yurt to fill out its product line.

Colorado Yurts
Known first as Earthworks, Dan and Emma Kigar’s business began in 1977 with their first shop located along the Blue River near Breckenridge, Colo. The first yurt was built in 1983, and remains in use on a mesa in southern Colorado.

At Colorado Yurts, the Kigars also make tents, including the tipi, which now bears the Earthworks name. The philosophy that makes this internationally known company a success is the belief that “success comes from making a quality product and treating people right.”

Yurts Of America
Located in McCordville, Indiana, Yurts of America touts the fact yurts are affordable and portable. According to the company’s Web site, their product differs because it is built with 19-inch industrial vinyl and use broad leaf yellow pine, as opposed to the competitors, who use Douglas Fir. Other differences include the fact there are no corkscrew pins sticking out of the end of the rafter—the “pins” are knobs that are cut from the same board as the rafter. In addition, the ends of the rafter board are cut at a 30-degree pitch, making it more difficult for a cable to slip off accidentally. Rivet holes also are not visible on the lattice work inside the yurts, according to the company’s Web site.

These earth shelters are highly appropriate for environmentally sensitive areas, adaptable to any budget, and climate-friendly. Depending on the owners’ construction capabilities, the yurts can be even more cost-effective.

In addition to the aesthetic value, the natural feel and low environmental impact of a yurt is priceless. It is time for such things to be in vogue--permanently.

Sheryl Billman is a freelance writer in Medina, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at sheran8@msn.com.