I live on a odd little homestead, kind of. It’s getting there, at any rate. My husband, kids and I raise chickens, bees, and this Spring will be adding ducks, pigs or maybe goats (god, I hope the goats don’t win out!). Around here things are always changing. My husband, Michael and I currently work in the construction industry with expensive art degrees behind us. We love to make things. All kinds of things….. Our guest house was a yurt, also known as a ger in Mongolia where it’s from. Our main house is a double-wide mobile home (1986 vintage). It’s 1100 sq ft which is the perfect size for us but add a guest or two and it gets a bit cramped. Having a guest house even as rustic as the yurt has been a god send! I covered the interior walls with silk and the furniture was bought with our ‘wedding money’ (rather than gifts we asked for cash to furnish the yurt). The furniture is from far away places. In the center is a wood stove to keep it warm in our cold winters. Up in the ceiling is a beautiful skylight to see the stars at night. When you enter the yurt through the hand painted orange door it’s quite enchanting.
What’s a yurt, you ask?
It’s a round tent like structure- ours is about 300 sq ft. They are still used in parts of Mongolia and Central Asia where nomads move around carting their home with them. Our yurt was bought originally by an American woman who had been traveling in Mongolia working with a non-profit agency that built straw bale homes for the locals. She wanted to bring back a yurt for herself and decided to get enough of them to fill a cargo container, ship them back to the US and sell all but one to pay for the trouble and shipping. At the time there were several people selling yurts in our area and hers was by far the most beautiful and inexpensive.
You say you ‘had’ a yurt?
After standing for 5 years the mice got into it, along with the rain and it wasn’t the romantic hide-out it once was. We took it down and packed it up. Our dream was to rebuild it making it mouse proof and more durable. My husband is a combination of inventor, do-it-yourselfer and just plain crazy kind of guy. We are ‘project people’ and build lots of ‘things’ on our 2.5 acres. He was investigating paper-crete and we decided this would be a great material to rebuild the yurt with.
What the hey is ‘papercrete’?
It’s a building material that contains concrete and can be formed to make blocks. Think industrial paper maiche. To make paper-crete you mix up paper (we use junk mail), water and a bit of concrete. It’s incredibly light weight (which I love!) and has great insulation value (although it’s debatable what the R-value really is).
Here comes the junk mail!
You need 65lbs of paper to make about 45 blocks. Each block is roughly 5″ x 8″ x 14″. It takes a lot of paper! He uses junk mail for his paper source. Michael must have come up with the idea in the winter because by the time he made his first batch we had saved several hundred pounds of junk mail. We have the worst recycling program in our county. It’s almost non-existent so it was great to re-use all of this useless (useless to use, that is) paper! We just added a trash station where we shred all of our trash. It will go into future paper-crete projects. If you want to learn how to make your own PaperCrete Mixer, Click Here.
How much does a papercrete yurt cost?
Paper (junk mail)= free
Water= free (we’re on a well- pennies for the electricity to run the pump to get the water out of the well!)
Concrete= $11 to make 45 blocks
Have we finished building our papercrete hideaway?
No. The walls are up. The yurt lattice walls will be placed inside the paper-crete walls, the roof posts will get reinstalled and a new roof constructed on top. Because we are trying to spend the very least amount of money we are waiting to acquire a cheap/free option for the roof. I’d love to have a metal roof but it’s a hard material to find for cheap or free. We need to seal all the cracks between the papercrete blocks and the outside of the blocks will be covered in an adobe dirt plaster (prehistoric stucco). We live in the high desert of NM where dirt is plentiful. My aesthetic is closer to a clean finished craftsman look as opposed to what I like to refer to as the junky ‘hippy look’ (no judgements- it’s just what I like). We are using ‘hippy like’ techniques like dumpster diving, reusing materials and trying to get a beautifully crafted yurt…it takes time to combine the two! Michael spends his free time on Craigslist and Freecycle finding great deals on construction materials. Occasionally I join him on his hunts for materials. It’s a lot of work but there is something kind of fun about being out in the middle of an abandoned building sifting through old lumber with him and imagining what we could do with a particular material. I realize we are not your typical couple but we wouldn’t do it any other way.
Michael was laid off this March. Until he finds other employment he’ll have lots of time to search out free materials to finish our little piece of junkmail heaven.Sandy’s Closing thoughts: I’d totally stay here if I were invited! I’m sure it would be cozy and warm and decorated all adorable-like complete with fuzzy pillows. (I hear one of Molly’s weaknesses is cute pillows.) Hey Molly, one other question. What will the flooring be made of?