What Is A Yurt? Here Is What To Expect

The world of alternative housing choices has been growing in popularity in recent decades. This is no doubt because of the growing awareness of environmentalism and sustainability. As the standards for living evolve, the style of homes will too. But what is a yurt?

With growing demand in alternatives to standard housing since the 1960s, the western world has looked to ancient cultures and the traditions of the far east for inspirational designs and concepts for sustainable housing practices.

The simple and efficient home structures found in these cultures have influenced the way the western world views home construction.

This melding of cultures has led to innovative twists on the simplicity of yurt design. Let’s look at this history and its influence.

What Is a Yurt?


If you are not familiar with these simple homes, you may be asking, “what is a yurt?”. The invention of the yurt is not new at all. We have used these styles of homes for centuries leading all the way back to at least 425 BC, but they were certainly used before then as well.

Yurts are round homes with cone-shaped roofs that are easily portable and simple to build. While traditional yurts were not built to be permanent structures, in today’s world many people are choosing yurts over traditional homes to be their permanent dwellings. Because of advances in building technology, this is possible.

Yurts of old were a direct answer to a complicated problem for nomadic people groups: they needed housing that was versatile, protective, and yet easy to erect. These homes needed to withstand a variety of weather and other environmental conditions.

The materials had to be naturally occurring and readily available, while also being able to be altered depending on the weather. But they also needed to be easy to take apart, transport, and put back together. Thus the yurt was born.

The History of the Yurt

Yurts were the go-to style of housing for nomadic tribes throughout central Asia. Yurts are easily transportable and structurally sound. This simple design was ideal for those who moved frequently in small groups.

Herodotus documented his encounter with nomadic tribes and their yurts in Greece during his lifetime between 485 BC and 420 BC. This is the oldest known documentation of the yurt design. Ghengis Kahn and his violent followers were known to utilize yurts as they trampled through various regions of Asia and Europe.

Today yurts are still used in central Asia. Herders and other nomadic lifestyles rely on these simple homes to move from place to place conveniently. Yurts have now made their way into western civilizations and have been used in the United States since the 60s.

Modern History

William Copperthwaite is recognized as the person that first introduced the United States to the question “what is a yurt.” While Copperthwaite was teaching a math class about roof design, he stumbled upon an article in a magazine that featured Mongolian yurts. He subsequently built a yurt with his students, which eventually led to the establishment of the Yurt Foundation in 1972.

From this point onward, the popularity of the yurt grew. Copperthwaite’s students spread out across the country building yurts and promoting their use. In 1978, the Pacific Yurts company was started, and this company was the very first to offer commercial sales of yurts. Today there are many yurt companies offering rentals and sales of different types of yurts.

Yurts have proven to be more sustainable and better for the environment than traditional houses. Many activists and nature lovers choose yurts to lessen their carbon footprint; though naturally there are some downsides to using a yurt.

Is a Yurt Different from a Tent?

Is a Yurt Different from a Tent

Tents and yurts may serve similar purposes, but these simple structures are quite different. Traditional yurts were essentially more durable and structurally sound versions of tents. Yurts were often covered in animal hides and built using saplings or other natural materials.

While tents tend to be a covering simply draped over a simple framework, yurts implement slightly more complex designs. Some yurts have straight roofing poles; others have curves roofs.

Yurts may have proper wooden doors compared to a tent with just a flap door. Yurts are often compared to the Native American teepee, although the teepee is closer in design to the modern tent.

Our modern the yurts and tents have changed dramatically. With many people choosing yurts as permanent homes, the technology used to build them has to keep up with the modern standards.

While the cylindrical design and cone rooftops remain, the materials used are more technologically advanced, consisting of steel, acrylic and polyester among others.

How Yurts Work?

How Yurts Work

To understand the question “what is a yurt,” we need to learn about how they work. The simplicity and effectiveness of yurt construction is quite ingenious. There is no other building that is as easy to build while remaining durable and comfortable.


The traditional design of yurts used lightweight wood in a lattice formation for the walls. This lattice supported sapling beams that were held securely by a wooden ring at the top. The pressure from the roof put tension onto the lattice,
which was held tightly together by a leather strap attached to the perimeter of the building.

This framework was then covered by wool mats or other materials. These mats could be adjusted depending on the weather.

The warmer the temperature, the less covering needed. The colder the temperature, the more covering needed.

Today traditional yurt structures have meshed with modern design to create an industry of yurts. With the advent of space-age insulation, curved glass widows, and military-quality sailing cloth, yurts have been taken from obscure dwelling places to modern works of art.

It’s even possible to build your own with the right guides, and there are many books available that can teach you how to do just that.

Why Yurts?

We have seen that yurts are very simple to construct. This is appealing to many people who wish to be self-sustaining and build their own home.

Many yurts come in kits with instructions and all the materials you need. You can also hire a specialist to build them, and many of the top companies use these specialists to help promote their sales.

Science has shown that these structures are some of the most safe and resilient in the housing industry. The simple round design combined with a curved or slanted roof has proven able to withstand the heaviest of snows and harsh winds.

Another key factor in yurt construction is that they do not have to be permanent. Yurts are so simple to construct that it’s fairly easy to deconstruct one and rebuild it elsewhere if necessary.

The use of modern materials for covering the frame has also improved how structurally sound these are during intense weather.

These homes can be modified or customized to suit the needs of any family or individual. The future of housing might just be found in this marriage of simple ancient design and technologically advanced materials.


Whether you’re seeking a modern tent for camping trips or completely invested in a modern home, yurts are for you. These dwellings may have their roots in ancient nomadic groups of central Asia, but they are taking the modern housing industry by storm.

Traditional houses have proven to be structurally weak and complicated to build. They use materials that are not sustainable and cannot be easily dismantled.

Our traditional homes are also very expensive compared to yurts. The future of housing is taking place now, and yurts are on the forefront of this movement.

Many hopeful homeowners may be wary of new housing designs. This is understandable in a fast paced and unpredictable world.

There are many states and cities that have restrictions on alternative housing, and loans may be tough to get for a yurt. Do your research and find out about local laws as you decide if a yurt is right for you.

If you are interested in owning a yurt but wish to try it out first, there are many yurt rental sites and also vacation retreats that only rent yurts. This is a great way to test out the homes and truly learn for yourself the answer to the question “what is a yurt.”

So whether you are seeking to live in a home that is environmentally friendly and resilient, or maybe just curious about alternative housing, yurts are a great place to begin.

For modern and moral housing, the yurt is incomparable. If you care about the environment or wish to live closer to nature, yurts are for you. If you want to save money and own a more efficient home, yurts are for you.

There truly is no end to the benefits of owning a yurt: choose this alternative housing to improve your life and do your part to protect our world.

About the author

John is a wanderlust who quit his corporate job to pursue his passion for travel. He shares his experiences and insights through his blog, inspiring others to explore the world

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