Niki Raapana is guest posting for us today about the Gertee a house made from scraps:
You’re looking at a disaster that used to be a livable house. Besides the wood, doors and windows, you also see curtains, beddings and other fabrics poking out. Where many people see only a trash pile, I see enormous potential. Why? Because even if the wood is singed and the fabrics have rips, I know that with just a few simple tools, a way to cut the wood and wash the materials, we have the makings for a little temporary house I call gertee.
Gertees are basically standard yurts made from raw or salvaged materials. Unlike the Mongolian and Western versions (exquisitely crafted and covered in gorgeous fabrics), gertee is the budget variety. It utilizes many items that would otherwise go to the dump.
A 16 foot wide gertee needs about 80 wall slats. If there are at least 20 2x4s in your mix (or fifteen 2x6s or eight 2x12s), these can be cut down into 1/4 inch slats. Even broken boards will work as your walls can be made as short as 5 feet. Pipe or other metals can also be used although not as easily as the wood. Short thin trees and bamboo work too.
The walls slats are laid out like lattice on the ground and tied together at each cross. It takes 320 ties if you have four crosses on each board. The ties can be cut from scraps of string or fabrics. If at all possible, I recommend buying 400 8 inch plastic zip ties. Once tied together the walls slide together like an accordian and roll up for easy carrying.
A 16 foot gertee can be made with as few as 8 roof poles, more is better but not absolutely necessary. Poles need to be at least 9 feet long and can be as slim as a 2×2.
The roof ring is by far the hardest piece to make. It may take more imagination than the rest of the parts, unless there is a carpenter handy who can fashion one out of leftover wood pieces and has a drill to make the holes. I’ve made one roof ring (my first) from a piece of metal screen that I curved into a circle, and I think teepee roof poles tied together might also work, although I haven’t tried it yet. I also think a square roof ring may be okay. The roof rings we make for the gertees we live in now are 2′ wide octagon shape.
The door frame can be made of 4 boards screwed together to form a rectangle or a standard door with a frame can be used, even if the walls are shorter than the door.
The roof cover can be made from anything waterproof. I have used a combination of tent bottoms scraps, airplane covers and one time I used a slghtly ripped up sheet of construction plastic. Some sort of weatherproof glue is necessary if you don’t have one piece large enough to cover the entire roof. Square tarps work perfectly.
Today I cover all my gertees in recycled 24×24′ billboards, which are already fire, mold and UV treated.
The exterior walls can be covered in pieces of fabric or plastic/tarps/canvas. The interior walls can be covered in screens, sheets, blankets and bolts of fabric.
We’ve been living in our homemade gertees in interior Alaska for three years. While we’ve definitely improved on the materials we use to cover our roof and walls, we still keep a sharp lookout for useful throwaway items. The first 16′ frame endured six moves and rebuilds. Our initial concern that the zip ties would slip too much was unfounded.
As for staying warm in a gertee… well, I’m in one right now (written on 1/24/10). It’s a brisk 40 below zero outside and I’m sitting at my desk in a thin sleeveless dress, wool socks and my slippers.
I have RadiantGUARD foil insulation on all the walls and the ceilings plus an extra layer of R19 in the new addition. I have one long strip of canvas on the outside walls and this year I used the same canvas on the inside walls. I still use old blankets and scrap materials too.
We have two gertees attached together this winter. The main gertee is now the kitchen with a wood stove in the center. The new room is the bedroom and bath and it has its own woodstove with the stack going out through the wall. With both fires going steady neither one has to burn too hot to keep it at around 68 degrees. Of course smaller fires means more work feeding them constantly, and a thermostat heater is on our wish list, for sure.
I just took a nice hot shower. My gertees have no plumbing so my winter shower is a 2 gal solar bag filled with hot water from big metal pots kept on our woodstove 24/7. I stand in a 2′ metal wash bucket with a plastic shower curtain tucked inside it. Works beautifully.
While the gertee lifestyle is certainly not for everyone, we believe it has changed our lives for the better. The ability to eliminate many of the costs that come along with renting someone’s four square walls has been a boost to our spirits and our creativity.
There is something very nurturing about living in a round room, once you get the hang of how to arrange the furniture. We now think in circles and “pies” and not squares and rectangles.
We’re set up in a year round campground, have electric and phone (usually) and the rest we do for ourselves. It’s been amazing to see what kinds of things we need and how hard it is to find some of them. Sometimes it hits us how we could be making things we’ve always bought, like rope, and now we make our own. Gertee has caused me to try things I never imagined I wanted to learn, like my chainsaw, which I started using to cut firewood but now have made 2 doors and all kinds of structural changes with it.
I have to say the best part of my gertee experience is the satisfaction of knowing I live in my own house I built with my own two hands. I own it free and clear and can change it anytime I choose (which is often because I’m an American middle aged woman).
The best part for everyone else like me who needs a home is, Gertee is an affordable, livable option that can be modified to adapt to any climate. Green by natural design, yurts have a low carbon footprint and are a proven sustainable house; the Mongolians have been living in them for more than 3000 years without it destroying their environment.
Our Gertee book is under development and will be available in April 2010.