A Yurt with a View

By Beacon Staff

Nomads first used yurts as portable homes in the harsh steppes of Central Asia. Now Will Hammerquist uses one as a rental in Polebridge.

Hammerquist, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, owns a piece of property with a friend in Polebridge. Over the weekend, he invited a Troy-based company called Shelter Designs to his property to give a public demonstration on how to set up a yurt and answer any questions people had about the circular dwellings. Hammerquist plans to rent out the yurt.

Yurts have long been used by nomadic people in Central Asia and are now gaining popularity in the United States. The nomads’ traditional yurts had wood frames and were covered with felt. Shelter Designs also uses wood frames in its yurts, but the wall material is a durable acrylic fabric and the roofs are vinyl-coated polyester.

Though yurts can be taken down and moved to another location, they are sturdy when standing and are often used as permanent residences, said Hays Daniel, Shelter Designs’ co-owner along with Vince Godby. Shelter Designs’ business office is a yurt.

“We want to show people how versatile and wonderful they really are,” Daniel said.

Hammerquist had been entertaining the idea of purchasing a yurt and was pleased to hear of a company that makes them right in his backyard. After visiting Shelter Designs in Troy and learning of their emphasis on using local materials, he was sold. Hammerquist’s has larch floors and a deck on the outside. He said the circular shape is an efficient use of space.

“They have a good vibe when you’re in them,” Hammerquist said.

Daniel said he built his first yurt in 2000. At the time, he was living in a dilapidated tipi with his girlfriend. Describing the tipi’s condition as “rotting,” Daniel said they clearly needed an upgrade, but not a pricey one. Having heard about yurts, he set out to build one.

“Necessity – the mother of all invention,” Daniel said. “We needed a place to live.”

The result was less than brilliant, but it served its purpose. It also gave Daniel and his two friends a business idea. So the three colleagues began building yurts in West Yellowstone before moving to Lincoln County in 2001. They focused on local and sustainable materials.

“We got lumber from a local guy with a band saw up the road,” Daniel said. “We built those first ones on a shoestring.”

Over the first several years, the yurts were built mostly for friends and family. Then in 2006, the entrepreneurs formed Shelter Designs, and in 2008, they pulled out all the stops – they quit their jobs and became full-time yurt builders. Today there are two of the original three business partners left: Daniel and Godby.

Shelter Designs has grown into a multi-faceted community business. Daniel and Godby continue to do all of the woodwork but they get help with the rest. A local seamstress sews the fabric used for the walls and a Billings company named Reliable Tent and Awning helps with the roofs, which are heat welded and carry a 10-year warranty.

“They’re completely impervious,” Daniel said of the heavy-duty roofs.

Business is picking up fast, partly because of the yurts’ affordability in this poor economic climate. Daniel said: “As soon as we sell one, we have another to move on to.” Shelter Designs’ customers include a family in Missouri that will use the yurt as a full-time home.

Shelter Designs’ yurts come in a variety of sizes. The biggest is 706 square feet and has a 30-foot diameter. The smallest is 201 square feet. Prices start at about $5,000.

The yurts are fully insulated and “very strong,” Daniel said. People can install a heat source, which is usually a wood stove though some people have used pellet stoves. Electric, propane and radiant heat are all options as well, Daniel said. The family in Missouri is installing air conditioning too.

While some customers use the yurts as full-time residences, Daniel said another practical use is temporary. People who are building a house or transitioning into a new home can purchase a yurt rather than a trailer or other temporary residence. When they’re ready to move into their new home, they can just take down the yurt and put it in storage. They’re pleasant on the eyes too, Daniel said.

“The wow factor is huge with a yurt,” Daniel said. “You never hear anybody say ‘wow’ when they walk into a trailer.”

Shelter Designs will be featured on the PBS special “Business: Made in Montana” on Thursday Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. For more information, go to www.shelterdesigns.net or call (406) 295-4661. Hammerquist’s Web site is www.northforkyurt.com.

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