The Lab: Take a Tour of Commune Yurt Living

Apr 28, 2020
We were just finishing our first property visit of what is now Commune Topanga when the real estate agent said, “You know, there’s one more area I should show you, but it’s kind of overgrown.” 

We hadn’t even noticed the offshoot when we drove in — decades of sagebrush narrowed the dirt road to a thin trial, but we scratched our way uphill in spite of the July heat. At the top, the road abruptly flattened into a lovely nook overlooked by old oak trees. 

Surveying the thigh-high dried grass, Jeff joked: “Jake, this is where you can build your yurt!” We all laughed and moved on, but the seed was planted, and that seed grew into a home.

So, why live in a 314-square foot, off-grid yurt? Let us count the ways...

#4 - Living in the Round

Yes, living in the round requires asking your woodworking friends to build you custom countertops, but there is something delightfully organic about a circular home. Lying in bed, looking at the skylight brighten, it’s like the eye of the world is waking you up.

#3 - Living Lightly

Less poetic, more prosaic, but I can’t say enough about foot-pump sinks. We used this design and materials list to build ours. Both hands are free to wash, and because the water only runs when you press with your foot, it’s also water efficient! We only need to haul water about once every two weeks.

Moving from water to power, gone is the era of wiring a solar system from scratch. Our GoalZero system was relatively affordable and easy to install.

Same with our composting toilet from Nature’s Head. The eventual plan is to build some sort of structure around it, but for now you could say it’s “incredibly well ventilated.” If you're Julia, it's also tastefully "clothing optional."

#2 - Proximity to Nature

No sugar-coating the truth here: yurt living is glorified camping. When it’s cold at night it’s pretty darn cold in the yurt.* On the other hand, nature feels incredibly close. Sometimes that sounds like bobcats mating at midnight in the tree next door (let’s just say they don’t have quiet sex), but it also means waking up and listening to the birds like they’re in your lap: 

* Small side story: When we went to buy a feather comforter the saleswoman told us the option we chose was “way too warm unless you live in a log cabin in the snow.” Julia responded, “We live in a yurt.”

#1 - Self-reliance + Community

Growing up, culture taught me that the grocery story provides food and contractors build houses. We are continually disempowered from directly providing for our basic necessities. 

Ordering a pre-cut yurt from Pacific Yurts is not exactly the same as my dream of building a natural home from scratch (check out Quail Springs Permaculture for inspiration and education), but it was the first time I even contemplated constructing my own permanent shelter.

And here’s the beautiful thing: Julia and I couldn’t do it alone. Just like a traditional “barn raising,” there’s a step where a group of people lift the rafters to establish the roof. In total, more than 14 friends and family of all ages participated in our yurt raising. To this day, each of them feels especially connected to our home, and we feel their love in its walls. 

What else do you want to know about yurt living? I’m happy to answer any and all questions!

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