Ger, 2005-6

A major part of our annual New Year’s party is a large-scale construction project. The past three years, we’ve been building Mongolian-inspired gers, circular, portable tentlike structures designed to withstand high winds and heavy weather. We do this in part because it’s fun to build gers, in part because it’s useful to have additional sleeping space when 40 people come over to stay the night on New Year’s Eve.

The first ger we built was an aesthetic success, but failed pretty profoundly after a few days of use – and, more importantly, a few days of snowfall. Ultimately, the roof failed catastrophically. (If you’re interested, I wrote an earlier photoessay on this ger, titled “Behold the Power of String”) Last year, we started from scratch and built a ger that had far better walls and insulation… and the same problems with catastrophic roof failure, despite being built of far sterner stuff.

So we started from scratch this year. Taking lessons from Monica Cellio’s excellent ger guide and making some fairly major modifications, my friend Nate and I spent a full day engineering the toono, the central roof ring of the ger. We ended up with a pair of plywood doughnuts linked together by 48 spacers (cut from lengths of 1×2) and 24 wedges of wood, which hold the rafters at a 30 degree pitch. It’s held together with an ungodly number of wood screws, but is strong and surprisingly light. We then turned 24 six foot lengths of 1×2 into rafters, cutting the tops at a 60 degree angle (to fit into the toono slots at the correct pitch) and cutting a notch into each with a rasp so they’d latch onto the bottom ring of the toono and resist pulling out.

We attached this roof to last year’s walls (patched in a few places with duct tape) with heavy twine, attached last year’s walls (made of reflective foam insulation) and roof cone, used yet more duct tape to seal holes and leaks, then put on the canvas covers sewn three years ago.

A little climbing rope over the top and around the circumference and we were ready for a plywood floor, covered with tarps and blankets, power brought in via (grounded, grond-fault protected) extention cord, and this year’s key innovation, Christmas lights, thoughtfully strung by Sara.

Following with our New Year’s tradition, seven of us slept in the ger the night of December 31st. It was surprisingly warm with all of us inside – probably around 8-9 C, in contrast to the outside temperature of -5 C, and completely impermeable to the wind. Three days – and two modest snowfalls – later, the roof is completely intact and shows no sign of twisting or slumping, and the interior is completely dry. Charmingly, there are icicles hanging off many of the rafters, suggesting that the heat of people staying inside has been rising, melting snow and then refreezing the water into ice – outside the ger, which is where we want it.

All in all, a great success, and a wonderfully positive way to start 2006. Here’s hoping your year is off to a similarly good start.


Update: My friend Beth has a nice Flickr set of Ger photos, with a special focus on the toono, the center ring of the roof.

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15 Responses to Ger, 2005-6

  1. John Powers says:

    This is so fantastic! Often it’s really hard to pick photographs that illustrate essential information about how to make stuff. I’m very impressed I love this post!

    So happy to hear your 2006 is off to such a good start.

  2. Larry Irons says:

    You really should enter this on the Instructables web site. I just discovered it the other day, but this post is a natural fit for it.

    http://www.instructables.com/

  3. Ethan says:

    Thanks John, Larry. Instructables.com is incredibly cool – I plan to write up the full ger project sometime soon (I’ll need to do photos of the steps we did last year… this might require me to build a new, bigger ger!) and will look into instructables as a place to have it live – thanks for the tip.

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  5. Monica says:

    Nifty! People have occasionally asked me what to do differently for winter camping, but I’ve never gone down that path. In your situation I probably would have just left the center supports in, which reduces the usability of the space, so I’m glad you found a configuration that works better.

    (I’m here via Velveteen Rabbi, in case you’re wondering.)

  6. Debbie says:

    I’m almost sorry S and I opted for the livingroom floor this year … although there wasn’t actually room for us in the ger, in any case. I don’t think I mentioned (in your hearing, anyway), but the new design of the roof is both beautiful and practical, and I’m (as always) very impressed by your never-ending skillz.

  7. Elek T. says:

    wow thats so cool! ive always wondered what those where called.

    and such a basic design… very cool. i think ill show this to my brother he really likes building things.

    :)

  8. kevin says:

    Got here via BoingBoing and while I loved your tub post, I think this ger is genius and almost inspirational. Very cool.

  9. pete says:

    I built a yurt in 1990. a twenty foot diameter with four foot diameter toono. I bought a dome from Pacific Yurts for the toono. I cut all the lumber myself, got wire and nuts and bolts from the steel plant my dad used to work for. I built a thirteen piece floor out of two by sixes and plywood.
    I erected the yurt in June and lived in it for two years. The yurt is located ona glacial morain in western new york state about seven miles from Lake Erie which can be viewed through one of the windows.
    I left for Asia and left the yurt alone for a year. That winter the thickest snow ever (almost) fell. The yurt collapsed. I was told the yurt lookt like a giant mound of snow. I came back the following year, rebuilt the yurt, moved it fifty feet on a small incline, built it a little higher off the ground, and left a friend to live in it. A year later I sold the yurt to that friend and there he lives today. 16 years that yurt has been standing strong, same floor, same cover, although it needs a new one by now.
    Amazing. A very small waterford woodstove heats it up nicely using a small amount of wood.
    Another friend took the notion and built thirty footer a hundred yards away. Last year we built a foundation basement under his yurt. http://www.yurtguy.com
    Yurts are fantastic homes!

  10. Colin says:

    I’m sad there was no more room in the yurt on new year’s eve. You snooze, you lose — or in my case, you hot tub, you lose. Those who snoozed were doing so in great comfort and taking up all the ger floor space by the time I showed up.

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  12. Herschel Weeks says:

    Wayyyyyy cool! I am in Kabul, Afghanistan, and see them about here. Now they are mostly used as “touristy” places, but certainly not always… and inside them in the winters they are warm and dry and with the snow on the Hindu Kush above us… it gets really cold here.

    Inspiring!

    Herschel

  13. Marshall says:

    Ihave built two yurts now one we used while building a cabin in WEST VIRGINIA and the other is used as a green house.Iused monic cello’s guide and made a few changes but i can think of nothing i enjoy more than building yurts.The first one i built withstood a 30 inch snow fall with center posts in place. We use a propane blue flame heater to heat ours we also have a co/2 detector just in case.If you would like to see my handi work just drop by my web site.Ill help anyone that ask for it.

  14. CoJac says:

    Thanks for the info! This site has really encouraged me and I wouldn’t have found that online guide otherwise.

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