Garco puts the hurt on yurts
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” Ron Lloyd says he has no interest in spending a winter living in a yurt.
“It is a tent, and it gets cold in the winter,” he said.
But the type of circular shelter that long has sheltered herdsmen on the steppes of central Asia seemed the perfect place for him, his wife Michelle and their children to live during the warmer months while he builds his home on the Catherine Store Road outside Carbondale.
Garfield County officials have other ideas, however. The county’s Building and Planning Department decided that yurts, which typically consist of a wooden frame covered by heavy fabric, shouldn’t be permitted for use as dwellings because they fail to meet many provisions of the county’s building code. Recently, Garfield County commissioners voted 2-1 to back that conclusion.
That could prove problematic for Lloyd. County building official Andy Schwaller said the county sent the Lloyds a letter in March saying they were out of compliance with the building code. County commissioners instructed Schwaller to hold off on pursuing enforcement until he could research the issue and seek their direction.
Now that he has it, he hopes to gain the Lloyds’ compliance.
But Lloyd hopes his family can continue with their living arrangement until he finishes his house, which he expects to happen within a few months. He says another neighbor already was using a yurt before he put his up, and the county didn’t make an issue of it. He also contends that he checked with someone in the building department before installing his and was told then it wouldn’t be a problem.
“If they want to get ugly then I guess that’s what they’re going to do, but you know what, I did the right thing and I didn’t try to hide it,” he said.
Schwaller said Lloyd’s neighbor also was using a yurt to live in while building a permanent home, but since has sold it.
Lloyd thinks county officials are being closed-minded toward the dwellings.
“They’re a neat structure, and they shouldn’t just say absolutely ‘no,'” he said.
For Schwaller, the matter comes down to public health and safety. Building codes address things such as structural strength, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and fire safety. Structures such as yurts and tepees come up short in many areas of the building code, he believes.
“To try to change the code to fit the yurt or the tepee really isn’t the good way to go. The yurt or tepee really must upgrade to match the code,” he told county commissioners before they made their decision.
Yurts could be improved to meet codes, but Schwaller said few people would want to do that because of the cost involved.
Dan Kigar, owner of the Colorado Yurt Co., based in Montrose, said his company has worked with numerous counties to upgrade the structures as needed to meet things such as insulation requirements. He said yurts also comply with flame-retardant standards and are engineered to stand up to wind and snow loads.
He and Lloyd noted that Colorado provides rental yurts at several state parks. “The state has obviously accepted the building for their purposes,” Kigar said.
Schwaller said he checked with Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Gunnison counties and none of them allows yurts as dwellings beyond limited use. In Garfield County, a yurt would qualify for recreational use, the same way remote cabins do, but that is intended only for short-term occupation in remote locations, Schwaller said.
Tony Fusaro, the chief building official for Pitkin County, said the question of the use of yurts hasn’t come up often there, but someone recently inquired about putting one up to live in up the Crystal River Valley. He said a yurt that is to be lived in for fewer than 180 days would only have to meet fire code requirements. After that, it would have to comply with the building code, he said. That would mean it would have to have a permanent foundation, meet electric requirements, comply with energy insulation standards, etc.
As an example, he said the vinyl windows on some yurts probably wouldn’t meet energy standards and wouldn’t serve as a required emergency exit. Although the windows roll up, the window openings typically remain covered by a yurt’s lattice wood frame.
Kigar said such concerns can be addressed easily by adding a second door to a yurt, or installing framed-in, glass windows. The state park in Ridgway installed yurts with glass windows for ease of use by visitors, he said.
Fusaro said any yurts used as an office or studio in Pitkin County would have to meet building code requirements. A yurt could be used in Garfield County for storage if it were attached to a permanent foundation and conformed to standards for things such as snow loads, Schwaller said.
Garfield County allows for the temporary occupation of recreational vehicles and mobile homes during home construction because they comply with established safety standards. Mobile homes must be hooked up to an approved septic system.
Lloyd’s yurt is tied in to his septic system, and also has a water supply. He thinks campers are an eyesore and yurts are a cheaper alternative. He and Kigar also believe yurts can play a role in meeting the shortage of affordable housing in resort areas.
John Martin was the only Garfield County commissioner to vote against barring use of yurts as dwellings unless they are brought up to code.
“It’s amazing that they’ve been used for thousands of years and now they’ve been deemed unfit to use as a dwelling,” he said.
To which Schwaller responded, “There was no electricity a thousand years ago.”