“Hey, would you guys ever consider an advanced workshop on stuff like how you power and plumb the yurts in your community? I know covering everything would be too much.I’d be more than satisfied with just knowing how you guys are making it all work. I am about ready to start on my yurt (finally!) and the thing that I am hung up with is off-grid power generation, where to find a composting toilet affordably, etc. , and how t do the nuts and bolts stuff of getting the yurt turned into a complete living space.”
We get requests from our customers to help them with all aspects of yurt living, so I thought I’d take a minute to answer this request more thoroughly in this blog.
So… just to answer some of these questions, I’ll give you a little food for thought, and then I promise I will do some research and give some more in-depth answers… but to start with some basics, we have some suggestions for low-impact living that can make your life much more comfortable.
Going to the bathroom
We suggest using compost toilets for your yurt. There are several brands you can explore, and you may make choices based on their cost, size, and other qualities. Some people choose to dig big holes and use the old-fashioned outhouses. This is a fun option, but check local codes, as they may not be permitted. We usually suggest doing a good bit of research on this, and ordering directly from the company.
At our home, we have two types of compost toilets. One is the Biolet compost toilet (see http://www.biolet.com/products/) which is good for a few people in a space that gets climate controlled all year. We like this toilet, and the people at this company are very helpful and nice. The Biolet works optimally when the temperature is 65 or warmer, so you wouldn’t want this toilet if you don’t heat the space all the time in the winter. There are other top brands, including Sun-Mar, Envirolet, Ecotech. I love the Ecotech Carousel model, which is a large capacity toilet and has 4 chambers that you rotate. This means the matter stays in the toilet for longer and when you remove it, it is ready to go. It’s pretty amazing and from what I can tell this is a wonderful company. They will even give you plans to make your own toilet (which is really aligned with how we do things, so I love this!!) I have not used this toilet, but the ideas sound excellent to me. It’s on my wish list… http://www.ecological-engineering.com/carousel.html Our other toilet runs on the same principle, but instead of 4 chambers, we use a barrel and when it’s full we put it in the sun to cook for a year.
Plumbing with a gray-water system (not black water!)
Any wash water that has been used in the home, except water from toilets, is called gray water. Dish, shower, sink, and laundry water comprise 50-80% of residential “waste” water. It’s a waste to irrigate with great quantities of drinking water when plants thrive on used water containing small bits of compost. Unlike a lot of ecological stopgap measures, grey water reuse is a part of the fundamental solution to many ecological problems and will probably remain essentially unchanged in the distant future.
The US Green Building Council, the City of Santa Barbara, CA, Oregon ReCode, and SLO Green Build are among those organizations which independently chose greywater standards as the technology with which to launch their programs of regulatory reform. In practice, greywater legality is virtually never an issue for residential retrofit systems—everyone just bootlegs them. However, grey water legality is almost always an issue for permitted new construction and remodeling, unless you’re in a visionary state such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas (and soon, NV, MT, OR, and CA). Find out about local codes, and do it responsibly. But, try to create a system for the most efficient water usage and you will truly have a low-impact lifestyle. This website is a great start for more information: http://www.oasisdesign.net/greywater/index.htm
Off- grid power generation ideas
There is lots of ways to generate power. Some people choose to apply for a temporary power pole, so that while they’re building another structure they can access this electricity source. This is often an inexpensive interim solution, so you can get settled in your yurt and then later explore which off-grid power choice is the best. Some options include: solar, wind, water, and a bicycle generator.
My favorite is the bicycle generator, which is basically a bicycle stand that allows you to power a battery that will then power low-watt devices. One company that offers a ready made is Pedal-a-Watt. The average rider will produce between 125 and 300 watts using the Pedal-a-Watt. While this may not seem like much power, many pieces of equipment draw very little power and can be powered for long spans of time with small amounts of power. For example, a laptop only draws 70 watts so one 20 minute workout could run the laptop for over an hour. This is ideal when you don’t have a lot of things running electricity- maybe a light, cell phone, laptop, small music player… http://www.econvergence.net/electro.htm
Solar power is an option if you have lots of sun.
We live in the middle of the woods, and so this is not really an option for us. Our local company is Sundance Solar and they are an awesome company. If you are considering solar, I urge you to look into their webpage, store.sundancesolar.com/ They have DIY solar kits available that are very affordable and also offer a wealth of resources. Wind, or turbine energy is another great option, although if the wind doesn’t blow, the turbine stays still and the electricity isn’t generated. Wind turbines also have moving parts, which means more things that require maintenance and have the possibility of failure. But if you’ve got a good consistent stiff breeze blowing through the back yard, you can harvest its energy for years to come. A last option, if you have a stream in your backyard, is microhydro electricity. It’s produced from the energy in water flowing from a high level to a lower level that turns a turbine at the bottom end of the system. Microhydro electricity generation can be the most cost effective of the three, according to Energy Alternatives Ltd., “Our experience with micro hydro systems has demonstrated that water power will produce between 10 and 100 times more power than PV or wind for the same capital investment.” If your source is good, it runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing lots of off-grid energy for a long, long time; because it produces so much more consistent energy, fewer batteries are needed to store the energy because there is less (or zero) time that the system isn’t harvesting energy.
I’ll do a little research on these systems, and write another specific blog about each one… look for more to come.
Staying warm and cool through the seasons
We have a whole section of our FAQ that deals with this, so check it out!! Let u know if you have more questions, and I’ll get to them! I’ll be updating our FAQ with this info, so stay posted! http://www.laurelnestyurts.com/heating-and-cooling-a-yurt