Traditional Ger Up Close

What Is A Yurt? A Complete Guide To Yurt Living

6-Minute Read
Published on March 7, 2022
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With hobbies like pottery and baking bread all experiencing a recent surge in popularity, it’s no surprise that many of us may be longing for life’s simpler pleasures. And after being holed up inside, there’s no greater pleasure than feeling close to nature. Alternative living is a great way to do just that.

If you’re considering an alternative home, your mind probably jumps to RVs, vanlife or tiny homes, but how about a yurt? For anyone wondering what a yurt is, read on to learn more about this unique, affordable and eco-friendly housing option that will surely satisfy your inner adventurer. 

Yurt Definition 

You may have heard of yurts in passing, but what specifically makes a yurt a yurt? 

A traditional yurt was a portable circular-shaped home assembled most similarly to a tent, with a skeleton of supports for the walls and roof, and a protective covering for shelter. Mainstays of a traditional yurt include wooden lattice walls, a dome-like roof and minimal amenities which emphasize its spacious feel. 

Traditional yurts were typically covered in sturdy layers of sheep wool or yak hair for insulation, with a hole, or “crown,” in the center of the “toono,” or roof piece, for sunlight and ventilation, which was especially important when wood burning or cooking took place. 

Parts Of A Traditional Mongolian Yurt

“Toono” 

Dome-like roof 

“Bagaans” 

Central poles which support the roof 

“Huns”

Roof rafters

“Khaanas”

Wooden lattice walls 

Modern yurts may stray from tradition with their construction, design and amenities, which can provide contemporary dwellers with more luxuries than those who came before us. While traditional yurts are best known for their open one-room layout, modern yurts can include partition walls or adjacent structures to provide more privacy or break up the space and maximize square footage. Some modern yurts even have multiple levels with lofted spaces or patios and decks for additional outdoor seating. 

Although Rocket Companies® does not currently offer financing for yurt homes, we do offer personal loan options which may help you with financing. 

Is A Yurt Different From A Tent? 

Both tents and yurts are temporary structures made up of supports and a protective covering: so what really sets these two lodgings apart? 

The first and most significant difference between a yurt and a tent is that yurts have lots of symbolic and cultural significance. Not only did yurts originate from the steppes of Central Asia, but today over half of Mongolia’s population resides in yurts – or “gers” as they’re known in Mongolian. Yurts have also become an important symbol for many countries in Central Asia, with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan even featuring parts of a yurt in their national flags. 

From a structural standpoint, yurts also provide more stability against severe wind and are usually regarded as more permanent than tents. Having originated in an area known for its extremely windy climate, the circular shape of yurts is perfect for withstanding extreme conditions.

Here are a few more ways that yurts and tents may differ on a structural basis: 

  • Yurts have sturdy door frames built into their structure, while tents typically do not
  • Unlike tents, yurts are well-known for their signature circular, dome-like shape
  • Modern yurts can be accommodating of more permanent features like glass windows or doors, while tents typically just offer varied coverings with precut “windows” or ventilation 
  • Modern yurts also rival tents when it comes to flooring, with options like insulated hardwood or carpeting
Tent at night

Where Does The Yurt Come From? 

According to National Geographic, the history of the yurt, or ger, dates back thousands of years, with the first mention documented in the form of a bronze bowl from 600 BCE. Famed explorer Marco Polo also observed the use of yurts by Mongolian people during his stay with them in the 13th century, and as the Mongol Empire expanded, so too did yurt culture. 

Originally popularized due to their lightweight portability and their relative ease of assembly, the trade market for yurts and their materials erupted among Central Asian nomads and has long since stood the test of time. 

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What Is A Yurt Made Of? 

Traditionally, yurts were constructed of wood and thick felt made from steppe communities’ own livestock. Sheep, yak and goats were the most typical sources of yurt coverings, which were created through the process of felting. Felting included harvesting animal wool, and thoroughly wetting, rolling and wrapping it in hide before dragging it behind a galloping horse to compress the material. 

Today, it’s more likely that your yurt – whether you buy or build it yourself – will be made up of modern materials, like fiberglass or durable, water-resistant siding. Some of a modern yurt’s central structure, like the rafters or supports, may also be replaced with steel cables or reinforced columns to provide extra durability to your build. 

Modern yurts can also include many more features, including:

  • French doors
  • Gutter systems
  • Skylights
  • Ceiling fan support 
  • Modern insulation or house covering
  • Plumbing
  • Electricity 
  • Heating and cooling systems
  • Modern appliances

Yurt Camping Vs. Yurt Living

If you search online for yurts, it’s likely that you’ve seen photos or rental experiences for yurt camping. Many “glamping” excursions utilize modern yurts to provide guests with luxury housing while still allowing for that one-with-nature experience. 

And while a temporary stay or camping trip in a yurt can be a good way to gain a better sense of what it may be like to live in a yurt home, there are still some key differences between vacationing in a yurt and living in one full-time.

Let’s explore what to expect when camping in a yurt versus living in one. 

Interior of a Yurt

Yurt Camping 

Yurt camping is a great way to escape the daily grind and enjoy the natural world or become immersed in a brand-new culture. If you’re interested in learning more about traditional gers and want to experience an authentic yurt stay, consider visiting where they originated: Mongolia. 

With an abundance of domestic yurt experiences and highly rated vacation rentals, experiencing Mongolian hospitality and exploring these Central Asian steppes are a bucket list must. 

If you’re looking for an experience a bit closer to home, don’t fret. There are many yurt camping options all throughout North America, though they tend to congregate in coastal areas – particularly states along the Pacific Coast. 

When booking your yurt camping trip, consider when you’re planning to go and the weather you’re likely to experience at that time. Not only will the experience vary based on where you stay – yurt camping in Alaska versus California are sure to be different – but the activities and amenities available may also vary.

And if you’re glamping to get a sense of whether the yurt lifestyle is right for you, it’s wise to experience a yurt stay in a climate like your own. 

Yurt Living

Whether you’ve been considering alternative housing and have been eyeing a tiny home, or you’re interested in taking on a minimalist lifestyle, consider adding yurts to your list of housing options to explore. 

And for those of us interested in sustainability and energy-efficiency, it’s likely that maintaining a yurt home will be in your wheelhouse. Many modern yurts are more than capable of accommodating energy efficient features like solar panels or rain collection, while also allowing dwellers to feel freer than with a typical single-family home. 

If you’re considering buying a yurt, it’s not a bad idea to enlist the help of a real estate professional experienced with alternative home listings. For those considering doing their own yurt build, you should have a good sense of your area’s weather and where exactly you’d be interested in building your yurt. It may also be worth looking into yurt home building kits or speaking with a professional contractor. 

How Much Does A Yurt Cost? 

The cost of a yurt will all depend on your location and what you envision for your home. This includes size, features and adjacent structures or amenities, and not to mention the condition of your construction site. You can expect to pay anywhere from $6,000 to as much as $37,000 depending on whether you buy a premade yurt or outsource the materials yourself. 

For a custom build it’s likely that labor and materials will be the largest costs, though you can still get a large, luxurious yurt home at a much more affordable price than a typical house. Keep in mind that you’ll still have to secure the land to put your yurt on.

The Bottom Line

Yurts have long stood the test of time due to their cultural significance and the mobility and durability they afford travelers. Whether you’re interested in a yurt for your next camping trip or can see yourself taking up residence in one full-time, check out what your area has to offer compared to other types of houses to see if this unique home is right for you. 

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Holly Shuffett

Holly Shuffett is a staff writer who writes with a focus on homeownership and personal finance. She has a B.A. in public relations from Oakland University and enjoys creative writing and reading in her free time.