Cold Fingers, But Lots of Progress

by jericho | January 21, 2012 at 11:44 AM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

I forgot how tiring working in the cold can be. At first, I was feeling very wimpy for being exhausted after a day spent using a power drill, but then Mom reminded me that my body is working hard just to keep warm all day (thanks Mom!). It is similar to that wonderful dreamy exhaustion that I always attribute to evenings after a day of downhill skiing, but even better because I know that I have gotten some really good work done. This week, that "really good work" was getting the platform done!

On Tuesday, Dad and I drove down to Varney and Smith's in Lisbon, NH (but basically in Littleton) to pick up the dense pack cellulose blower, a bunch of cellulose, and some insulweb fabric. The insulweb (which it turns out is pretty much exactly the same thing as agricultural fabric, or row cover) got stapled to the uncovered side of each platform piece (as shown below) so as to create a cavity that we could fill with insulation.

When one is attempting to install "dense pack" cellulose the idea is to pack in about 3.5lbs per cubic foot. The blower (big blue box shown above) didn't have any kind of button labelled "3.5lbs per cubic foot" and also didn't come with any kind of manual so Jean-Paul called the company to find out if there was anything special that we needed to do to make it do "dense pack" as opposed to something else. They said to just start it one third of the way open and see how that goes... Our best bet for something that could be "one third of the way open" was a bright orange metal piece toward the base of the machine that could slide in and out so we went with that.

Of course, that really only determined the rate at which the cellulose was leaving the machine and the only measure of how much we were actually getting into our platform was the "pressing down" measure. In other words, press down on it and see if it feels full enough. All a bit vague really.BUT, we did it!

Then we just had to put the final pieces of plywood over the top of the cellulose to seal it all in and voila! A yurt platform! Well, at least the segments for a platform. We will put it all together when we get ready to put up the yurt.

Speaking of which, in the midst of finishing up the platform we have also been making progress on our wall sections. This is where a part of my brain that has been relatively unused for the past 10 years or so was put to the test. In "The Complete Yurt Handbook" (which we have been using for much of our design) the wall sections for a 16 foot yurt are only 5 feet high. We envisioned much head bruising as a result of not stooping down quite far enough to get in the door so we decided to raise our walls to 7 feet. This meant not only longer full-length strips of wood, but also a different number of full-length strips and all different measurements for the shorter lengths as well. After much trigonometry and graphing we finally came up with some approximate measurements to test out. In the pictures below you can see how we laid out the lattice in order to check and see which strips needed to be longer or shorter.

Then we made a full cut list and on Thursday I was able to get all of the strips cut out. Now they just need to be drilled and then let the assembling begin!

With only one week left in January, it is looking like we won't quite finish this up by the end of the month, but we are getting close. With warmer temperatures forecast for Monday and Tuesday this week we should be able to get quite a bit done before JP heads to California for work. Now that our canvas has arrived (just yesterday!!) I will get that started next weekend and then hopefully we can set everything up when he gets back so that we can fit the canvas and put the finishing touches on our future home. Enjoy the winter weather everyone! -Jericho

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Platform Construction

by jean-paul | January 16, 2012 at 10:00 AM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

Over the last week we've gotten a whole lot done on the yurt - in fact, the platform is almost completely done.

In the last post, Jericho mentioned we're building 13 "pie pieces" to use as the yurt platform. Here's a visual aid to help explain that:

We made twelve of these out of twelve sheets of plywood. They're eight feet long and four feet wide at the base. Jericho used a circular saw and a track to cut triangles out of the plywood:

jericho cutting out the last piece

Then we screwed 1x4s onto the edges, and a couple more pieces in the middle to provide additional support:

After cutting a triangle out of a piece of plywood, there are two pieces left that can be combined into another triangle of the same size. We'll use those pieces to cover the opposite (bottom) side of each pie piece.

Twelve of these don't quite make a complete platform, though. We need one more, but it doesn't come out to be the same size as the others. To determine how big to make the last piece, we loaded up the first twelve on Jim's truck and brought them to Newark school's multipurpose room (it's not just a gym!):

loaded into the truck

At the school, we set up the platform and measured the size of the gap:

assembled at the school

Then we loaded them all back up, brought them back to the garage, and assembled the final piece. Now we have all 13 pieces of the platform.


We still need to do a few things to each of these. We're insulating them with dense-pack cellulose, so we need to cover the open side, blow the cellulose in, and then screw on the remaining pieces of plywood. The plan is to take care of those steps this week - and then the platform will be completely done!

Cellulose seems like a pretty awesome insulation material. Dense-pack has an R-value around 3.8 per inch (we're doing 4 inches, so our floor will have an R-value of around 15, plus whatever minimal contribution the plywood makes), plus it remains effective at sub-freezing temperatures (whereas fiberglass loses some of its effectiveness). The cellulose is 100% recycled newspaper, it's much less expensive than most other kinds of insulation (partially because much, much less energy is needed to make it), and it's a lot safer to work with and be around than some of the alternatives. Plus, blowing it into the platform pieces requires playing with a big machine.

Concurrently with all of that, we've actually gotten a bit of snowfall and accumulation here in the Northeast Kingdom:

snowing quite a bit

It actually feels like winter most days now. Of course, it was nice when it warmed up a bit, since most of the garage where we're working is unheated. Fortunately the next step of yurt construction mostly involves working in Jim's heated workshop, so we can appreciate the snow and not freeze our fingers.

We've also been working on the khana, cutting the lattice pieces and drilling holes in them.

me drilling holes

The longest pieces are nine feet six inches and need nine holes drilled them (for a total number of holes somewhere around 500 - thank goodness for power tools). We diverged from the original plan a bit to make the walls seven feet tall, so we've had to figure out the number and size of these pieces ourselves (a task involving a lot of graph paper, calculators, and time). We're converging on a final design, so now we just have a lot more cutting and drilling to do.

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We're Here

by jericho | January 08, 2012 at 08:00 PM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

We're here. We've started building. Phew.

I am a person who loves routine so the past couple of weeks of packing, moving, and celebrating left me craving a shift back to some kind of regular schedule. Of course, now that we make our own schedule we have to figure out what “regular” actually means. At the start of the week, I attempted to sit down and mark on the calendar what days we would order seed, work on the yurt, etc. etc., but it turns out I need to loosen up (surprise? I think not) for many reasons and most of all the fact that working on the yurt is somewhat dependent on the weather this time of year. For example, our first step (cutting rafters and platform pieces) required the use of my father's sawmill which will not run if it is too cold outside. Also, even if we were super tough and willing to cut and assemble yurt components in subzero temperatures I think that it might be dangerous to operate power tools when you can't feel your fingers.

Lucky for us, the weather warmed up a bit toward the end of the week and on Saturday we started cutting!!! Here are some pics of my dad and I (Jean-Paul was there too, but was the photographer so didn't get in any of the pictures. We'll have to trade places next time) milling and moving around 2x2's for the rafters and 1x4's for our yurt platform. Which reminds me that I should mention something about our yurt design (after the pictures).

So after much talk, sketching, and engineering brainpower (thanks Dad, Pat, and Dave!) we came up with a design for our yurt platform that involves 13 standalone 4” thick insulated pie pieces that we can transport apart and then put together to form a basically circular platform that is about 2” bigger than the yurt all the way around. We'll be sure to take lots of pictures once we start assembling the pie “slices” to you can get a better idea of what I mean.

As for the yurt itself, we decided to follow the instructions for a 16' diameter traditional Mongolian ger (their word for yurt) found in “The Complete Yurt Handbook” by Paul King. This seems like a good idea not only because it will be neat to make a yurt that is more traditional than the design we were originally thinking to follow, but also because it is kind of nice to have some basic guidelines to follow especially where measurements are concerned.

OK. Enough about business though. At the top of the post I alluded to the fact that the transition has been a little rocky (as all transitions are), but what I didn't mention is how it has also been really amazing and has made me once again reflect on how incredibly lucky we are. I mean, first of all here we are embarking on this incredible adventure which could never happen if not for the generosity and support of Jean-Paul's parents on whose land we will be housing our agricultural pursuits, and we get to spend our first month with my parents, sleeping in the little cabin that my Dad and I built (see below), taking over portions of their house for office, etc., and having a professional carpenter (Dad) spend his time (and his lumber) helping to build what will be our portable house. Can somebody pinch me please?

Plus, I know that I am biased because I grew up here, but Newark, VT is a really awesome place. Some friends of the family had their annual Twelfth Night party last night and each year this event ends up feeling like a reunion of sorts. Almost everyone there was a huge influence in my life, whether as friend, teacher, co-worker, or neighbor and at Twelfth Night we have a chance to reconnect, reminisce, and celebrate together. It always gives me an overwhelming sense of love and pride for the place that I came from and the people that made it so special. I guess, Twelfth Night, more than New Year's Day is when I find myself reflecting on past year's and thinking about the new one to come. And man, I am so psyched.

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