Melinda Sorber was living in Colorado Springs in a 2,500 square foot home she didn’t like to clean in a subdivision she didn’t like when the idea of a living in a yurt sort of just came to her.
“I was living in what was essentially a subdivision in a forested area. It was somewhat disconcerting to me that I was in nature, but on this little quarter acre plot of land in a subdivision next to everybody else.” Looking for a place she could call home, Melinda ended up finding a beautiful, 10-acre parcel of land overlooking Pike’s Peak, complete with a lush meadow, grazing elk, AND a well and electricity already in place. She was sold.
By mid-November, Melinda’s new property was under contract and she had less than two months to figure out exactly where to live.
“I’m a pretty big do-it-yourselfer and I thought, ‘Well, what can I do here that would be simple and cost effective?’” Having heard about yurts—those round, domelike structures that nomadic Mongolians and off-the-grid, outdoorsy people live in—years before, she began thinking more and more about how nice it would feel to live in the round. Melinda did her homework, visiting people who lived in yurts and looking into a few different manufacturers of the domelike tents.
After deciding that a yurt was the way to go, Melinda felt that she wanted to give it an acid test. “I thought, ‘How about I get a small yurt, throw up the platform really fast and that will be the real test of if I want to do this on a larger scale.’” By mid-December she had moved into her 16-foot diameter yurt (about 200 “square” feet) on her rural land.
Life in the little yurt was both a challenge and a reward for Melinda. “It’s an interesting quandary. The thinness of the canvas shell is difficult and rewarding at the same time. You can hear the wind flapping, but by the same token you can hear the elk and the birds. It brings you really close to being outside without being outside. It’s really cool to wake up in the morning and hear the forest—but then when the hail is beating down you can’t even hear yourself think!”
“The thinness of the [yurt’s] canvas shell is difficult and rewarding at the same time. You can hear the wind flapping, but by the same token you can hear the elk and the birds. It brings you really close to being outside without being outside.”
Melinda’s yurt had no plumbing and only a few little outlets for space heaters. She took to showering at her office in town and had to go down the drive about 40 yards in the chilly winter if she wanted to fetch fresh water. “People thought I was crazy. There were times when it was 20 below outside and the breaker had flipped on my space heater and it was 32 degrees inside! I thought, ‘Oh what am I doing?’ But at the same time, it was the best possible thing I could have done. I lived simply and it was actually pretty refreshing!”
Although Melinda was awfully crammed in her small space, after a few months she knew that not only could she do it but also she actually liked living in a yurt. So, she decided to go for it and settled on 30-foot diameter yurt (about 700 square feet of living space), which is the biggest the manufacturers make. Her friends and family weren’t quite as sure as Melinda was about her decision. “It was a feeling really, it wasn’t something I could articulate. When you go into this round space it is really comfortable and nice. People said, ‘Why not build a cabin?’ Well, I didn’t want a cabin! Cabins are dark. In a cabin, you’re insulating yourself from the outside, not wanting to be a part of it. But a yurt keeps you entrenched as a part of your surroundings. For the most part, everybody knew me pretty well and was like, ‘Oh boy there she goes again!’”
Melinda started her yurt building process by getting building permits, which was a whole ordeal in of itself. At some point in the process, every single person in the building department had reviewed her file. Nobody in the county of Colorado Springs knew what to do about a yurt, a building they had never even heard of before. “They nicknamed me the Yurt Lady. It took months and a lot of back and forth. But, actually, I have to give them a lot of credit. They were actually very helpful. Inspectors would come up and help me understand how to do certain things and explain what the codes were.”
After working exhaustively with the building department, Melinda’s plans were finally approved and she was ready to begin. Acting as general contractor, she worked very closely with her framer and became a regular fixture at all the hardware stores in a 50-mile radius. “Everything with construction I learned from the contractors or the nice people at the hardware stores. I had a few building books and looked a ton of things up on the Internet. Sometimes they’d look at me at the store like ‘You don’t know what you’re doing.’ And I’d say, ‘No I don’t but I’m going to learn.’ And then I’d get the good advice. Some people would say things like, ‘Well I heard you built that deck yourself’ and they’d think it was just the planking. They were surprised to learn that no, I built it from the ground up! I did it all.”
After digging the trenches for plumbing and water, surveying the land, and laying the utilities, Melinda then turned to creating her yurt foundation. This was the point at which she made her first fatal move. “There were a lot of issues with some bad advice I’d gotten early on. I wanted to put the yurt right on the ground with a poured, round foundation, no raised foundation. People were like, ‘No you can’t do that. You have to have a raised, framed foundation.’ I know now that that was really stupid! I should have done it. I built it three feet off the ground and then had to insulate everything underneath, add heat coils, and build a deck to get up to it. It added a huge amount of complexity and wound up costing me a lot of money.”
By mid-September, it was time to put up the yurt. Melinda and her friends had a yurt raising party and in two days time the framing, canvas, and insulation were all up. It was time to move in! “I moved in pretty raw. In fact, I took my first shower Super Bowl weekend. It was a huge milestone! I did a lot of it myself. It was really satisfying to say, ‘Look I just did all this.’ It was that much more gratifying to look around and know that what I was living in was me, it was all my own work!”
Surveying her finished home, all the family and friends who’d originally thought the yurt idea was a little nutty now thought it was the coolest thing ever. Would they live in one? Well, maybe not. But it was certainly pretty interesting! “The biggest satisfaction for me is that from the outside it doesn’t look very exciting. It’s round and vinyl with these plastic windows. But every time people step inside they automatically say something like, ‘This is so cool!’ Inside the yurt, it’s that airy, open lightness that is just so comfortable. I’d get a lot of people coming up the driveway if I was working outside and they’d say ‘Wow, what IS that?’”
Melinda has been out of her yurt for a few months now, ever since the company that she worked for in Colorado Springs took a downturn and she wound up taking a contract job in St. Thomas. While the Virgin Islands are nice, she often thinks of her home in the woods. Since being in St. Thomas she has begun renting the yurt as a vacation rental so that others may experience a bit of life in the round. “No matter what, I definitely want to keep the yurt because it is so special to me. It’s one of those places of peace, kind of like my little sanctuary. Everyone loves it, which makes me feel really good about not being there right now. I miss it a lot!”
Melinda Sorber started her blog, http://www.yurtlady.com/, as a way to provide practical information on yurts because she had such a hard time finding good yurt information when she was building. Her advice for future yurt dwellers is to do your research and talk to people who have experience with yurts. Don’t be discouraged by what other people may think! To check out Melinda’s yurt, visit http://vacationyurtrental.com/.
Thank you Melinda, for sharing your Story with us.
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