A Year at Circular Lodgic

yurt and a frame

In 2012, my husband and I lived in our 18-foot yurt for seven weeks and passed the story along to Tiny House Blog. You can read that post here. Since then, we lived in the yurt in Vermont at Moosalamoo National Forest Campground and acted as campground hosts. This summer we were back in Santa Fe, enjoying another yurt summer in the Southwest, but that’s not what this story is about.

In August of 2013, we made the leap to full-time yurt living. We both left our teaching jobs so that my husband could pursue his PhD in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We bought 9 acres of land in the area for next to nothing and set about creating an off-grid setup where we’d pump water from a creek, and someday where we hope to get our power from solar and water. We quickly renovated a tiny, mouse-infested a-frame cabin (200 square feet, but a-frames waste so much space!) on the land and erected the platform for our yurt. What we thought would be a couple weeks’ worth of work spun itself into months of disasters, urgent projects, and checklists.

insides

From building the platform in 90 degree heat and 70% humidity, to having to completely gut the cabin (surprise! there really is that much mouse piss!), to very unhappy, stressful visits from building inspectors (“yurts are not for sleeping in!”), nothing went according to plan. My father-in-law planed each piece of wood from the family tree farm for our yurt floor, and just as my husband finished putting them down, a rainstorm blew in and warped them. The building inspectors made us put in a septic system, despite having an approved composting toilet and no money. The snow came before we had the heaters all hooked up or any wood for the winter cut. EVERYONE who drove up our incredibly steep driveway swore to us that come winter, we.were.screwed. The buried water pipe that brings all our water from the creek froze, so pumping water all winter long (and remember, that’s from November to late May) meant hooking up and unrolling 100 feet of water pipe, clearing ice on the creek, boiling water to thaw the hose, and THEN pumping water. I took a dive off a loft ladder while alone, hitting my head and breaking my thumb. By the late fall, our water pipes were freezing inside our walls, so mornings might find me blow drying walls in order to get ready for work. On December 31st, before more than 300 inches of snow had insulated the cabin and yurt completely, our sewage pipe froze underneath the toilet (if you’re going to pay thousands for a septic, you might as well have a flush toilet). No plumber would come for days. We learned all about living tiny, and have oftentimes been heard sarcastically saying “tiny house!” when two humans, two poodles, and a cat get just a little too cozy.

A-frame accomplishments

If none of this sounds like “living simply in a complicated world,” that’s not lost on us, but alas, life isn’t perfect and this one is definitely a work in progress!

And despite all of the learning curves and crises, we are living our dream. We live on our own land. We survived one hell of an Upper Peninsula winter (even the locals SWEAR it’s not usually that bad). We managed to clear snow and use our driveway all winter long with very few incidents. We are living in the woods. The poodles have room to run. We are living in the round all year long. Often we fall asleep to coyote songs or owl hoots. Between the two of us, we mastered electrical, plumbing, carpentry, generator maintenance, snow removal, and many other trades. I got to know all the local hardware stores and sometimes shocked fellow shoppers with my odd knowledge of plumbing tools, despite not looking like I ought to have that knowledge. I got a teaching job and Bryan totally nailed his first year of his program. The sun started coming out more often and the snow started melting. The world eventually turned green again and I remembered that there is life again after winter.

winter

As spring approached we started thinking about how to solve some of our more irritating problems, like strapping on mukluks and a down jacket in order to go to the bathroom. Come spring, Bryan added a screen porch that attaches the two buildings, and a platform for the next addition to Circular Lodgic: a 15-foot yurt (Nonesuch Yurt) to be attached to the backside of the big yurt. This will act as our bedroom. We’ve definitely made progress without losing sight completely of the simplicity we hoped to find, and we’ve had one hell of an adventure along the way!

A very challenging year later, I’d take the leap again. After a second summer in Santa Fe, we’re looking forward to getting back home to Circular Lodgic and heading off into year two of the yurt life.

For more information on Circular Lodgic, visit our blog. You can read all our stories since we moved there in August, including details about being off the grid, how we’re set up, etc. If you’re thinking of taking your own leap, feel free to use us a resource. We haven’t done it perfectly, but we have done it!

Meryl and Bryan Freyberg

the baby yurt bedroom

the baby yurt bedroom

the big yurt, living room (9/2014)

the big yurt, living room (9/2014)

the catwalk between yurts

the catwalk between yurts

the screen porch (connecting the a-frame and the big yurt)

the screen porch (connecting the a-frame and the big yurt)

(looking into the big yurt with baby yurt beyond)

(looking into the big yurt with baby yurt beyond)

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Becca - September 17, 2014 Reply

Wow… sounds like you’ve had quite the tiny house journey! Props to you for sticking it out and making the best of it 🙂

PepperReed - September 17, 2014 Reply

Awesome! And yes, winters in the Mitten (even in the UP) aren’t as horrendous as last years. Lots snow and cold temps anyways, but last winter was fierce!

Kari - September 17, 2014 Reply

What an amazing journey! You guys r doin great. I’d love to live in my yurt year round, but can’t convince my husband! Thanks for all the inspiration. K????

Wendy - September 17, 2014 Reply

Thankfully it sounds like you managed to not lose your sense of humor during the process. Reminds me of other “pioneers” who have survived against the odds. Would be a great book out of all of this one day!

Hope Henry - September 17, 2014 Reply

Here in SE Tx, your summer sounds mild…almost a “cold front”…the winter really wild…the first snow my dogs saw, one refused to walk in it. Kudos for toughing it out…what you learned prepared you for whatever might come your way…you’re pioneering for future yurt dwellers in your area.

Bob Byars - September 17, 2014 Reply

Have you considered that winters in Santa Fe and summers in Michigan might be a little more pleasant? I want to build a little house in NM and a summer house in Northern MN, but I probably won’t consider your scheduling.

Donatella - September 17, 2014 Reply

Pretty hard to insulate a yurt against those kind of temps; in the end, you had an igloo what with all the snow around it. An extremely solid cob, straw bale or clay/slip straw timber framed building with thick walls would perhaps make more sense; and the land was cheap because of the extreme weather (you pay in other ways), not to mention the abdominable bug problem in springtime…having spent time in the Adirondacks, I would never want to live with black flies, even for one day. The mouse droppings are dangerous (hanta virus? Maybe not that far north, but yikes!)

Why use the toilet if it freezes? The composting toilet actually makes much more sense in that area, and for water, melt snow instead of screwing with piping off the creek… and tell the building inspector to take a hike. What’s he gonna do, put you in jail at a cost to the taxpayers of $50K a year? What happens if you don’t pay your ‘fines’, AKA harassment? For sleeping in a structure that has been used on the mongolian steppes for centuries? Time to tell the code nazis to go you know where…

I keep wondering about the inspectors the way I wonder about the IRS; if someone feigning (successfully) mental retardation showed up for an audit, what would they do? What true recourse do they have besides threats of.. what exactly?

    Meryl - September 18, 2014 Reply

    Donatella, Thanks for the comments. We already owned the yurt and had stayed in them in winter in the UP, so we knew it was do-able. Many of our decisions were based on finances and personal taste.

    Yes, we did have an igloo! Once the snow piled up, we were actually much warmer than in the late fall. It’s surprising how well the foil/bubble wrap insulation works though! I was surprised by how warm we stayed!

    Having used a composting toilet for several months, we much prefer the regular toilet. It froze once, before we had kinks worked out. Is it possible it will do so again, around the same time of year? Yes. Not a big deal (for us) compared with the constant “fun” of dealing with the compost. I know some folks love it, and I didn’t mind it, but I also was not the one who had to change it. With working full-time and going to school, we found our complicated water process time consuming enough but it allows us to fill a big tank, shower, and have on-demand water, not to mention boiling water takes a long time!

    Like I said, it didn’t end up being all that simple, but it has been an adventure!

    2BarA - September 18, 2014 Reply

    I don’t know about where you live but building inspectors can have you fined and/or order you to demolish illegal structures. If you don’t do it, they will. All this gives me a pain when you have no immediate neighbours to be affected but I think it best to ask no one/tell no one and just go about your business and hope no one will know or care. If you apply for a building permit in the hope of doing things legally, that’s where they can make things difficult for you.

      Meryl - September 20, 2014 Reply

      2Bara, Unfortunately, I think you’re right. We did ask, before we bought the land, if we could put up a yurt. The answer was no, so we decided we’d “live in the a-frame” and the yurt would be an accessory building. Or in other words, we hoped that no one would ever come by. And yes, the building inspectors were prepared to force us to remove the yurt and move elsewhere. They did ease up a lot when they saw how scared we were and then came in and saw the work we had done (to code). We felt we had no choice to comply and put in the septic, so that they would give us the permits and go on their way. -Meryl

Michael - September 17, 2014 Reply

The modular layout of your Tiny House adds a level of safety. If one section of the structure is damaged by storm or fire, the rest may still be livable.

That, and it’s an interesting design.

Continued good luck.

Beverly - September 17, 2014 Reply

As a fellow Michigander, kudos for all your efforts to live in God’s country. Yes, the winter of 2013-14 was pretty brutal. Nothing like celebrating Christmas with no heat, no water, no lights, no cooking, no phone service, etc. We live in Barry County, the hardest-hit county of that storm. It took a long time for things to get back to “normal.” Here’s hoping we both have better winters this year. Great job and best of luck.

kevin - September 17, 2014 Reply

I’m impressed. Good job.

Toby - September 17, 2014 Reply

Respect for mastering those challenging circumstances.

Despite it’s neither tiny or simple nor living in a yurt any more, YOU DID IT YOUR WAY.

Namaste.

Rebecca - September 17, 2014 Reply

Well, I am laughing about my first winter in the mountains of NM… frozen water pipes, freezing temps inside this old trailer after propane company refused to refill tank (heater not mobile certified) and no stove or hot water.

Still… five acres of glorious pinyon forest, bear, deer, coyotes, puma, rabbit, rattlesnakes, lizards… and a bit of winterizing… might get me through until I can create a new career and build a cabin.

Meantime, I now have a few fruit trees, garden, chickens, worm bin, downspout water collection started, and..

a sense of humor.

Knitting is a form of heat, doncha know. Electric blanket, bedcap, and cuddling a furry dog helped. I considered giving the dog to a better home, but now we have “history,” bless his big heart.

Last year was better… I designed a solar heater that took the edge off with no expense, will have three this year, and so on.

Not as planned, but living my dream de todos modos.

    Meryl - September 18, 2014 Reply

    Rebecca, Sounds like we had similar first winters! Here I was dreaming of living in Northern NM in the winter!

    I want to hear more about this solar heater (not that we’d have as much sun as in NM!)! Willing to share? If so, hit up my blog to connect! -Meryl

eric - September 18, 2014 Reply

Insightful & inspiring story! Well done people!!! Keep on truckin’

Meryl - September 18, 2014 Reply

Thanks for all the comments, folks! -Meryl

2BarA - September 18, 2014 Reply

Very interesting project! You have worked very hard to achieve something unique.
Here’s hoping for a less severe winter to come.

Susan J. - September 19, 2014 Reply

Ha! A former yooper, I felt for you reading of your first year’s travails and remember my Dad patiently closing up our little cabin, draining the pipes, etc., before winter really set in, and that’s when you were just getting started. But I still wish I was back there.

Good luck this year, it can’t be as severe as last winter.

I am curious if you are attending Michigan Tech?

Chris Seibel - September 19, 2014 Reply

I absolutely love that you are living totally on your own land…and pumping your water from a creek….would love this. Was raised using an out-house, so this would be no problem for me…and could actually take the cold better than the heat….I live just below the bridge….and so used to our winters. My hubby, on the other hand, could not withstand that much cold…as he has Parkinson’s, but I do believe that he would love living way off the grid…as he loves being by ourselves, with not many neighbors around us. The shoveling snow would have to be by a plowing company tho…as I just can’t do that any longer….but love the wood stove to cook and heat by. Take care and may the dear LORD bless you both for following your dream!

Hollymaren - September 19, 2014 Reply

I just don’t think I will ever complain about a bit of rain in our mild climate of Western WA.

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