I had just gone to sleep one night… I knew it was going to be windy but the winds were well within what the yurt had been through before. And then I became aware of the sound of the wind just rising and rising. I waited for the gust to end but this was no gust. It was like a runaway train, just gathering momentum. I jumped up and went to the door which was already bucking under the strain. I leant hard against it, wondering if I could hold it back for the next two hours when the wind was due to drop. I didn’t have to wait. The door broke loose, knocking me out the way, and came to rest in the centre of the yurt, flattening the services wall in the process.
I scrambled up to fetch my dog and rushed him into the vehicle for safety, and caught my breath. My mouth was bleeding badly -from lacerated cheeks and lips. (Later I discovered my body was covered in the worst bruises I’d ever seen.) Looking back at the yurt, it was gone…
This was a traumatic night. On my first night back in the yurt after it was rebuilt — during the next storm — I understood the real meaning of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Every time I closed my eyes to sleep, I saw the roof disappear, or the door come flying towards me, or a gap appear between the wall and the floor, or, or, or…. I had to open my eyes to prove it wasn’t true. Fortunately that didn’t persist.
Peter Kastner let me stay in the “Trailer” — a whimsical place to stay — while I regrouped and gathered my thoughts. I kept asking myself, “Am I arrogantly trying to achieve the impossible?” Can I really beat the wind and Mother Nature?
So I made a plan and — before I outline that plan — I’ll give you the answer. I can’t beat it but I can cater for it. The yurt has withstood two more storms now, one reaching wind speeds of 121km/h. During the one shown below, the inside of the yurt was a sea of calm while noise raged outside. The walls hardly rippled, and — most times — there was just an occasional lazy flapping on the roof.
Firstly, a note of warning about the Windy app. It’s not wholly accurate but it is good for warnings. It shows the same weather in the village as on the mountainside where the yurt is located. But while Stanford can be quite pleasant, the yurt can be buffeted in a gale. Even 200 metres down the mountainside, a howling gale turns into a light breeze.
What was the plan?
A (more) level floor
Given the total devastation, I had the opportunity to rectify one problem — levelling the floor. The slope on the first floor just encouraged the yurt’s structure to slide off the base. Just after I erected the yurt and before I attached it to the floor, I woke up to find it had just slid off its base in a medium wind. That’s when I realised how light the yurt actually is. The total weight of the walls, covering, rafters and roof ring is only about 150Kg. So the weights on each of the 16 points where it meets the floor is less than 10kg at each point.
Make it as air tight as physically possible
This was a big issue and I had to address several components:
The Roof Dome
I had wanted to get a plastic dome like Yurta has, but there are long lead times getting one made.
I had been using a translucent sheet of tunnel plastic tied to stays in the ground. This worked well because it was easy to open and close, although it was challenged in strong winds.
I needed a fast solution that would be totally air tight. So I bought a sheet of 1220mm square 9mm plywood, cut a circle and the opening to match the roof ring, and glued a sheet of tunnel plastic onto it. The seal is a strip of self-adhesive foam rubber (used for door jambs). Four bolts hold this tight to the roof ring. It works brilliantly! And if you are going to be using the yurt for camping trips away, it’s far easier to transport.
It can be opened and closed — with some effort because you need to use a ladder to get to the roof — and the ideal solution is for it to be attached by a screw jack which can be opened by a long pole. I couldn’t find any locally.
The issue of the door’s position
Everybody I spoke to said the door needs to be at the opposite end to where the bad weather comes from. I said that the door and its frame, if they are the strongest elements in the yurt’s wall, need to anchor the yurt against the bad weather.
So the door is more sturdily connected to the wall than it was before, and it’s also anchored, at the top and bottom on either side, by wire stays connected to one-metre steel posts hammered into the ground.
In addition, and to make using the door during a gale still possible, there’s a 3m wide x 2m high wind deflector. It’s basically two sheets of shade cloth between wooden posts. (I’ve read of people doing this with broomsticks and stays, but I wasn’t taking chances.) This has worked well.
Sealing the wind gap between the walls and the roof.
I’d used some bubblewrap as insulation against the morning sun, which was wrapped over the tension cable to form two layers hanging down and wrapping under the floor. This formed a fairly tight seal against the roof and seemed to be the solution.
So I applied this to the entire wall and in light winds it seemed to do the trick.
Then, while I was writing the previous story and waiting for the first real storm to hit, I looked at the pictures of traditional Mongolian yurts I used there and thought… wait a minute… I’m missing something — the rope bands around the yurt. So using existing rope and the eye-hooks in the door frame for the wire stays, I wrapped two lengths of rope around the yurt diagonally.
As the winds rose… there was no flapping and almost no wind entering the yurt. So I rushed off to buy more eye hooks and more rope, and now have three lengths of rope wrapped around the yurt for really bad weather. The windows can’t be opened when the ropes are in place, but I really don’t want the windows open when there’s bad weather.
The yurt is now probably more draft-free than any house I’ve ever lived in. It’s a sea of calm and totally drama-free while the wind roars outside. It’s bone dry inside even in the heaviest downpours.
I think the project has been a success… even if it did take its toll on me! It has been tested under the most extreme of weather conditions.
There’s still a really unique bathroom to share with you!