Building a Pergola

I felt inspired the other Saturday, so I built a pergola.


Truthfully though we’d been trying to figure out how to shade our south-facing deck for quite awhile without overly sacrificing solar gains in the wintertime. This was not an easy thing to decide and we’d belaboured over it – well, since we built the deck last year.

You see, when it’s sunny and hot here, like it has been these past few weeks, it is smoking hot, out on the deck. Too hot. And with my wife home with our baby now, she would like to be able to get out of the house and sit on the deck, but it’s just too damn hot and sunny. The other day when I came home from work, I found her and the baby lounging on the north side of the house back stoop, in the shade, but looking out at… well, the driveway. I sat down with her and we decided, we gotta do something about the deck.

We did pick up a shade sail last year, but hadn’t put it up. This is one of those canvas/mesh shades that you see at California pool sides and in the outback. It’s good for sunny hot places. The nice thing about it is that it can be removed in the winter and packed away. My concern with it too though was: How do we secure it and how do we make sure the wind doesn’t wreck it? (It’s sunny and hot and windy here in the summer in some combination). I could never answer those questions.

A pergola though, combined with a shade sail, might just be the answer though! I have always liked pergolas – the filtered light, vines growing up and over, the little bit of intimacy it gives to be outdoors – but, I was concerned about shading things TOO much. We still need that solar gain in the wintertime. I went back to my trusty Pinterest resources and looking at modern pergolas (not the traditional curvy end ones). The epiphany came when I realized I did not need to run the top slated boards east-west like most pergolas for maximum shading, but instead, could run them north-south. Eureka! With the added shade sail underneath we could have our full shade, but then when we remove it in the fall, the pergola would still allow the sun through (albeit, slightly less so then when it was unobstructed).

I sketched out some plans for it on a notepad and the next day, I went to the lumberyard and picked up the materials. I was taken back to our house building time and, as it was then, that night I dreamt of how I would build it (this is a very useful strategy!). I was up at 6am and ready to get to work.

8am: No Pergola
Getting the posts levelled
Squaring it all up

By 6pm, it was built. Mind you, I didn’t work alone. My neighbour, Ray, came and helped me for most of the day too thankfully. I couldn’t have built this without him (see post-script).


6pm: A Pergola!

I ended up using all treated lumbar. I planned to stain it black (obviously) and treated wood simply made the most sense for longevity and cost. I used five 6×6 rough sawn posts for the base and double 2x6s for the upper frame. The top slating is 2x4s spaced 8” apart (figuring out the spacing was the hardest part). I like the 8″ spacing for a couple reasons – it still allows a reasonable amount of light through for our needed solar gain in the winter and the 8″ correlates nicely with the 2×4″ lumbar (too big or too small looks weird). The long side of the pergola runs 16’ and the short side is just under 10’. I secured the posts to the deck (the deck is 2×6 boards) using a simple Simpson post support with 3” screws and lag screws. The top beams I secured to the posts using my Kreg Jig (best tool you can buy) and did the same to secure the slating to the beams. This was a lot of jigging, but you get excellent stability with the Kreg Jig. The slating overhangs the beams by 8” at the front and is flush at the other three sides.

On the west side, which is where our prevailing windows are from, I put up a slated wall using 1x6s that I ripped down to just under 1 ¾” wide each (which allows for 3 equal slats per 1×6 board) and spaced them roughly 1” apart (the depth of each 1×6 – just use a scrap piece to line the next one up). This slating is a repeated theme around the exterior of the house with the outdoor shower and base of the outdoor countertop (and when the front stoop stops sinking I want to do the same at the front door).


Although the build went relatively quickly, the staining part took my upwards of three days the next weekend. Ug. I forgot how much work it was to stain all this wood. My shoulders were so sore from all of the overhead work. I used the same Auson black pine tar with linseed oil (50/50) mix on the pergola, which gives it the same matte black sheen as the exterior of the house.

Now to hang the hammock under it and rest for a little while (but maybe I should build some new deck chairs first)…


Post Script:

This was the last project I did with my neighbour, Ray. The following weekend we received the shocking news that he’d passed away suddenly and without any warning. It didn’t seem real. We were totally devastated. Ray was more than just my neighbour. He was my dear friend. He was my father figure out here. We were so naive when we’d moved out to the country and he’d taken us under his wing and been there whenever we needed him – which was a lot. I’ve written about him on his blog before and all of the help he’d given us in the building the house. He spent countless hours helping us with the house. He walked over here everyday during construction to check on the progress and to make sure the contractors were working. He’d allowed us to share his garden for two years and helped me establish our own. He’d come and cut our grass when I was too busy in the house. We had dozens of dinners at his home when we’d been working all day and night the first couple of years. He’d bring us pies or cinnamon buns just because he had some extra. He cut a path to our house along the river so we could be connected. The gratitude I have for this man could never have been repaid. He was one of those very rare people who would drop everything for you whenever you needed them. He was patient, humble, honest and sincere.

He taught me so much and has made me feel competent out here. He showed us how to truly appreciate living in this beautiful place. It will be difficult for us without him. I will miss him terribly.

Rest in peace my friend.


Floor plan: the long-winded version

I’ve had a few questions over the last number of months about our floor plan. How we decided on things and why. Way back before we started construction I’d wrote extensively about the design and planning of the house. It wasn’t easy! We thought we knew exactly what we wanted initially. But it really wasn’t until we had 13 designs/redesigns that we felt really good about the house we were going to build. If you’re curious about that process, please read the links as I go into a lot of detail about the process, decisions, considerations and some of the struggles that went with that.

Despite all of that prep work, it’s really difficult to fully imagine what the house will be like, how it will flow, and if you will have any regrets (even if you have a 3D walk through), until you’ve actually lived in it. We spent 10 months planning and designing the house and I’m glad we took that much time to do it (I’m grateful for the patience of our house designer and friend, Crystal at Bldg Studio). We maybe could have even spent longer, but I’m not sure that we’d have changed anything. Nearly all of the things I’d, let’s say “tweak” if I could, I don’t think I’d have realized until we’d actually lived here awhile. The funny thing is, and I’d been told this before, after you build your first house you’d know exactly how you’d want to build your second house. Don’t get me wrong though – I love our house and I’m so happy with so many of the decisions we made early on, but I think I’d know how to make our next house even better (or maybe by the third or fourth)…

Anyways, my plan here is to show you our floor plan and then walk through some of the things I’d change if I were to do it again.

The first and most important thing was to not build too large. We wanted a quaint, modern farmhouse. We’d lived in a large house (6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms) and it was just too much – too much space, too much stuff, too much cleaning. Between that house and the new one, we lived in a very small 600 square foot cabin with two small bedrooms and 1 bathroom for 14 months while we built. The cabin was too small, but we realized that we didn’t need as much space as we thought we might.

After 13 house designs, we finally settled on the following, a bungalow with a full height basement with a main floor square footage of 1440 sq.ft. to the exterior walls (remember our walls are 16″ thick) which equalled an interior floor space of 1240 sq.ft. The interior basement space is the same size, so that gives us an overall heated interior floor space of 2480 sq.ft. The ceilings are 9′ in both the main floor and basement.

Ok so onto the floor plan. For reference’s sake to the proceeding floor plan, the house is square to the four directions: top is North, bottom is South, left is west and right is east. On our land the best view, facing the river, is south and east. We have a shelter belt of trees (spruce, pine, and amur cherry) blocking the prevailing winds from the North and West. Our yurt and chicken coop are about 50′ from the west door (left side of picture). The edge of the river is 160′ from the south/west corner of the house (including hillside).

We wanted to have the house feel very open and connected to the beautiful surrounding landscape so it’s really difficult to fully understand the layout of the house without seeing where we live…

This is our front yard:

So when designing the house, our priorities were: 1) to maximize the connection to the land and views, 2) to optimize our energy efficiency, and 3) to be cost effective.

Main Floor:


The main door is on the north east corner. We have a driveway that comes to the back of the house (north side) and in the next year or so we will build a detached garage on the north side of the house. One thing that bugs me in some homes is a main entrance that opens into the heart of the house, like right into the living room. I don’t like that. It seems like such an invasion of privacy to me. Not that we get many strangers coming to our house, but even still I find it very nice to be able to greet people at the door, give them lots of room to take their jacket and shoes off and then allow the house to be “introduced” or revealed to them as they’re welcomed into the main living space. The one thing I would change in the entrance way now is I would have made the window smaller. It faces east and is a beautiful view and brings in some awesome light, but it doesn’t need to be as big as it is (48″ wide). Being east facing it’s an energy loser for us. Oh well.

As you come into the house from the main entrance, the space really opens up to the great room which is essentially, a large wall of windows. The south facing windows are all 16″ from the floor and are 68″ tall (this was purposeful so that the top of the doors line up with the top of the windows creating a continuous symmetrical line around the house). They let in a tonne of natural light and frame the river and river bank. They also function for passive solar heating in the winter. The windows are like a massive, constantly moving and changing landscape portrait (we don’t need any landscape portraits in our house!).

I will say that we purposely put the small half bathroom near the main entrance for two reasons. The first was that we did not want a door coming off the main space to a bathroom. That’s gross. Second, we spend a lot of time outside, we get dirty, and we did not want to be tracking mud and dirt into the house to use the washroom.

We placed a large storage closet in the hallway leading to the great room, which stores our recycling, vacuum, dog food and a bunch of other miscellaneous stuff. Don’t underestimate the amount of storage you need! It’s the difference between a cluttered or a clean house.

The great room includes our kitchen, living room and dining room. This is where we spend 90% of our time. I love this space. We’d actually debated about about not doing an “open” kitchen, but I’m so glad we did it this way. The kitchen really is the heart of the home. We have friends and family over almost every weekend and I cook a lot. There’s nothing worse then being stuck in the kitchen while all your friends are visiting in the other room. This way, I can be preparing food while still visiting with everyone and often now people are willing to pitch in and help with food prep and cleanup. Success.

The kitchen island is 8’x3′ with an induction cooktop. We have a floor to ceiling pantry, and cupboard with a built-in fridge, microwave and oven behind the island. I highly recommend extending the cupboards to the ceiling. I’ve never understood why some people stopped their cupboards at 7′ and then have an awkward space between there and the ceiling which simply collects dust. We use a small step ladder to reach the top cupboards which stores those occasionally/rarely used kitchen appliances we all have. In the northeast corner of the kitchen is open shelves which holds glasses, coffee cups and some pretty things. We’d been hesitant about open shelves, but I think in the right amount they look great and are very practical. The kitchen sink faces an east window overlooking the river. Having a window with a view in front of the sink makes doing the dishes so much more enjoyable. We extended the east counters and lower cupboards nearly all the way to the corner window to maximize our storage space. All of our lower cupboards are drawers and they are great. The window seat also has drawers underneath for more storage. We do not have any upper cupboards or shelves on the east wall. It is very clean, tiled from counter to ceiling. Our total counter space is around 15′. In the book “The Pattern Language” (which we relied on heavily for the design), Christopher Alexander recommends a minimum of 14′. I’d thought that was excessive initially, but I’d say he’s bang on. I can be baking bread, fermenting sauerkraut and kombucha, have a sink full of dishes and ones drying beside it, and still have plenty of room to prepare dinner.

On the other side of the island we have three stools and on the end facing the sink is an open lower shelf to store our heavy cast irons pots. Check out this post for a photo tour of the kitchen.

The dining table is between the island and the south windows. The table is 101″ by 33″ and seats 10 people comfortably. I have to admit I had no idea if our spacing was going to be right until the day we moved our table and chairs in and had our first meal. This is the difficult part about designing a house – how much space do you leave between things? It is such a subtle amount, we’re talking 1-2″ of space that will make something comfortable or cramped. I’m glad to say that we nailed this though (thanks in large part to my mother who is an interior designer and helped us with all of these tricky spacing decisions). But when designing your own house these are the decisions that make a huge difference – and you need to know your furniture. For example, can you have someone sitting at the island on the stool and someone sitting on a dining chair behind them and still have room for some to walk between them? Trust me, I would be so annoyed if I couldn’t do this.

The rest of the great room is occupied with the living room, which includes a lounge chair, sectional couch and area rug. I’ve never been a big fan of area rugs before we lived here, but putting a nice wool rug down (especially on concrete floor), not only is nice for your feet and to give kids an area to play (“don’t leave the rug!”) but it also differentiates space nicely. We placed the wood burning stove in front of the window. When people had looked at the plans initially they’d said, “you really want to do that?” I have to say that this is one of the best decisions we made. The stove is a very attractive Morso stove from Denmark. A lot of people will tuck a stove into the corner of a room, but I love a wood burning fire and again, as written in “The Pattern Language” (have you bought it yet?), all people in the space should be able to see and enjoy the view and heat of the fire. Also, the stove does not block our view by any means, if anything, it makes it more interesting.

I will also say one more thing about the height of the window sills – this was very intentional, placing them at 16″ creates the same height as your standard dining room chair. This way you have natural bench seating throughout the house.

Behind the couch on the far west wall of the great room is a nook for our amp, record player, speakers and LPs. I’m glad that we added this, but my only regret on this space is we could have made the whole room about 10-12″ wider, which would have allowed me to put a narrow credenza or bookshelf behind the couch. Oh well – next time!

The door on the south side is mostly glass and leads onto our large deck.

The master bedroom is not overly big. We had had a gigantic, massive bedroom before and it just seemed unnecessary. I just sleep here. We did not put in a walk-in closet. We had one before, but it allowed us to collect more clothes that we didn’t wear. Having enough space is good, but having too much space you can lose track of what you have and eventually you realize you have a tonne of junk you don’t wear and don’t need. I like the closet size. There’s more than enough room for Darcie’s and my clothes but if we fill it up then that means we need to get rid of stuff. The window in this room is really big. It’s cool, but it is unnecessarily large. I like being able to wake up to the sun and see the river while I lie in bed, but it doesn’t need to be as wide as it is. It could easily be three-quarters to half the size and still give us the things we like about it.

I do wish that we could have found a way to put in a laundry shoot. I know that a lot of places don’t allow these, but we could have done it where we are.

We did not do a true ensuite bathroom. This was done for a couple of reasons, the first was that we wanted the shower and bathroom to be accessible for whoever is in the second bedroom. Typically if you have an ensuite you need another bathroom on the same floor with a tub/shower. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of cleaning bathrooms all day. I did that in our old house – remember, we had FOUR bathrooms! So unnecessary. We also wanted the shower to be close to the outside door so that we could come in, strip off our clothes and go right into the shower – we are dirty people out here. The bathtub is the old clawfoot tub we refinished which is a real beauty. I love the double-sink and the large vanity. No more are Darcie and I trying to push each other out of the way for sink or mirror space – it will save your marriage! We also put in a “water closet” which is the tiny doored room in the bathroom for the toilet. We had this in our 100 year old house and it was very smart. Do you know how disgustingly dirty toilets can be when flushed? Yucky.

And yes, we have an outdoor shower.

The second bedroom is a fun little room. It’s not a perfect square due to the stairs on the north side of the house. Currently it’s Darcie’s sewing room, but it will make a fun kids room. There is an option of extending the raised platform to make a sleeping space under the window or to put bunk bends towards the other end. Kids love nooks and alcoves (according to both my childhood memories and “The Pattern Language”) so the raised platform above the stairs, walled on three sides gives a nice little space to cozy up and read a book or hide away.

I really like the side door at the end of hall leading to the coop and yurt. It is glazed like the door leading to the deck so it brings nice light into the hallway, but it also has a small transom window above it that opens. This way we have cross-ventilation through the whole house. From the transom to the operable window above the kitchen sink and from the north side window (at the top of the stairs) to the small operable window adjacent to the wood burning stove.

Phewf! That took longer than I thought to write about. OK, onto the basement.



At the bottom of the stairs is a wide landing about 6′ wide. This is wider than your standard hallway by quite a bit. But, in a basement it’s nice to feel like you are not tunnelling under ground or in some dark space, which basements can often feel like. The ceilings are very high, just over 9′ tall, which makes it not “feel” like a basement. We also placed large windows on the east side and one on the south, they are 5′ and 10′ wide. We did not put more south windows down here due to the deck above.

The first room at the bottom of the stairs is the cellar. This is an unheated space, but not sealed from the rest of the house. We’d considered making it a true cold room with venting to the outside and we could still do this, but I’ve been reluctant to do so as I’m worried it will be a big energy draw to the rest of the house, even if we totally seal it. Also, with a fridge and freezer in there I question whether it would even be cold enough with venting. Currently it primarily functions as a large pantry with lots of shelving for dry goods. Living outside of town it’s nice to have a bit of stock pile of food including canning that we’ve done.

We wanted a large laundry room with a sink and cupboard space. It’s very nice to have a contained space for this and a place to hang clothes to dry and do ones ironing. It is also easy to let stuff pile up and simply close the door on it!

The mechanical room is really big, but it also holds our water tank. Now that we’ve lived with the water tank and I’ve recognized my dread of having 2000 gallons of water leaking into my basement – doing it over, I’d likely put the tank underground in a cistern outside with a pipe leading in. That way if anything were to fail with the tank, well, it would just water my grass rather than flood the basement. We might still change this at some point down the road, but of course, it is always more work and money after the fact.

The family room is also very large, nearly the same size as the “great room” on the main floor. You might we recall that we have exposed concrete walls in the basement and exposed steel beams so this definitely has a pretty industrial feel down here. We have a TV and sectional couch (and area rug) in the corner against the wall of the mechanical room. The rest of the space is fairly open although Darcie has a large weaving floor loom on the other side… It would be a perfect size for a pool table, but Darcie disagrees.

The bathroom down here is really cool. I’d wanted to do a Japanese bath, like a real hand-built wooden tub, that is, until I found out the cost is ~$9000. Scratch that. Instead we found a deep round two-person tub that we wrapped in cedar. It is open to the shower that is also open to the rest of the bath. Here’s a photo I took awhile back. I like the other bathrooms in the house a lot, but this one is rad.

Under the stairs is another cellar, this one is where I make my beer and wine and where we let the ferments sit. I’ve put a bunch of shelves under the stairs for storage. Can’t have enough storage, I tell ya.

And lastly, is the basement bedroom. This bedroom is pretty bad-ass with two walls of exposed concrete. Teenager-me would have loved this room (I still do, but I would have really loved it then).


All in all. We really are happy with the layout of the house and the planning time we spent to get it as “right” as possible. Sure there a couple minor things we would have changed, but they certainly are not major things. It’s not easy to get it perfect – in fact, it might be impossible. But I’d recommend when planning and designing your house to tour as many homes as possible. If you get into a space that feels good, try to analyze what it is – is it the window placement, the size, the spacing? Take measurements of your furniture and make sure your architect or house designer lays out your rooms so that you have proper spacing. Measure your favourite rooms in your current house or the houses that you go into and say, “Oh I like this.”

Buy and read “The Pattern Language.” It is worth it’s weight in gold.

Talk to people who have built and ask them what they “nailed it” on and what they wish they would have done differently (everyone will have at least a few things). Do smart things. Design it for yourself. Don’t design it for someone else or “resale value.” That’s silly. But, at the same time, I’d caution you against doing something very “out there” – unless you’ve done a lot of houses before and you’ve evolved to the “out there” point. You never know, your first home build, well, it might not be your last.

Opening Doors

While the design of the house with Crystal was moving forward and we’d decided to work with the EcoSmart Team, we were also finishing up the Yurt build. Things were such a whirlwind around that time and we were excited to be finished the Yurt so that we could “relax” and enjoy the rest of the summer, spend time in the yurt, and focus on the design of the house. Though for us fate had another idea.


One morning, I called up my good friend, Benjamin, and asked him if I could take some cindercrete blocks from his retaining wall he was demolishing. I hadn’t talked with him for awhile and naturally he asked what I needed them for. “Well, it’s a long story,” I hadn’t told him about our recent life transformation, “we bought some land south of town on the river, and we’re going to build a house, but I need the blocks to build a foundation for our chicken coop when we move it out.”

“No way!” He replied, “Where?”

I started to describe the directions to him, but midway through he interrupted, “You didn’t by the place with the awesome outhouse, did you?”


Sure, enough he knew the spot dead on. Turns out his wife’s parents own a tree farm just up the road from us. It had been for sale for a couple years, but they’d recently taken it off of the market. I knew that her parents lived somewhere south of Saskatoon, but south covers a lot of area. “We’ve been coming down there for years and swimming off your sandbars and playing with our dogs out there,” he said.

I knew I should have put those no trespassing signs up earlier!

A couple days later – in fact, the day before we planned to build and finish the yurt – his in-laws, Doug and Linda, rode down the gravel road on their bikes to introduce themselves and invite us for coffee. Absolutely, we wanted to visit their farm. We’d actually looked at it on MLS while it was for sale when we were looking at property. It had two houses on the site, one theirs and the other a modern little guest house that I thought was pretty cool.

Three days later, exhausted from building the yurt, we were tired and wanted to go home, but thought, let’s go for coffee and check out their place. If we didn’t go today, who knows when we’d have another chance?

Doug and Linda fed us coffee and we brought cupcakes. They gave us a tour of the house and grounds, but I was really excited to see the little guest house that they called “The Cottage.”

Linda told us that they’d lived in the Cottage for three years while renovating the main house. “It’s a shame no one is living in it now. We tried to get a student in horticulture to come rent, but it’s tough to get a renter this far out.”

Frick, I thought. We would have rented this place! But we had just slaved away building a yurt for the purpose of it being where we would live next summer. “Out of curiosity, how much would you have charged?”

On the drive home I got thinking though. I said to Darcie, “What if we rented that place… Like now? Like if we sold our house and lived here for the winter and then in the yurt next summer?”

This whole process of finding and purchasing the land, beginning the design process of the house, and meeting the neighbours had seemed so fateful – so many chance encounters, coincidental meetings, amazing timing – here was just another one. We’ve compared this whole experience to opening doors. A new door comes up in front of you. Do you open it up and go through? Or are you worried about what might be on the other side? Are you willing to see where this next door might take you? We’d already come this far, so why not walk through another door?

By the time we got back to town, we’d made our decision. We were going through the door.

I called Linda and told her, “Yea, so we were talking and I think we’d like to rent your place. When could you have it ready for us?”

Well, so much for the rest of our “relaxing” summer. We were moving to the country.


Yurt + Fire

I think we finally completed the yurt. After putting the whole thing together a few weeks ago we still had to put all the finishing touches together. The biggest thing left to do was install the wood burning fireplace and chimney.

We actually bought the fireplace a couple months ago – before we’d even received the yurt. We knew we were getting a 15 foot diameter yurt. I measured it out on the ground and it seemed pretty small to me initially. Cozy, let’s say it seemed cozy to me. It came in at 177 square feet. We wanted to be able to go and hang out in the wintertime in it so we needed to have some type of heat source. An electric space heater is just not as quaint and ambient as a wood burning stove though.

Because the space was small, we needed an equally small fireplace. And so my hunt began for the world’s smallest fireplace (that didn’t cost a a small fortune).

We found some pretty cool fireplaces. One company from Sweden called Jotul (pronounced “Yo-tel”) we’d seen when we were in New York state this past spring. They make really beautiful cast iron heritage-type Scandinavian stoves. This one, the Jotul F602 was great – only 12.5”x19”.

That’s pretty tiny! But unfortunately the long side would be jutting out into the room all awkwardly. Plus the price came in at $1300 + tax. Sorry Jotul, maybe next time.

As the search continued, I found another Scandinavian fireplace company that I liked even more: Morso. This was an even cooler Scandinavian company with even nicer fireplaces than Jotul. This little guy, called the Morso 1410, was so sweet.



Plus it had a fancy little squirrel on the side! And you could boil tea on top! And, and it was only 15.5”x17.5”. I was really excited about this stove. We search their website and found that there was actually a dealer in Prince Albert, SK, of all places. We requested a quote… $2300. Frick. How could I justify spending that much on a fireplace for the yurt. The cost of the yurt was not that much more than the fireplace. Even still, the squirrel almost had me convinced.

I was starting to get a bit bummed out about the cost and options for small stoves. In my desperation, I started googling “world’s smallest stove”.  Wouldn’t you know that there’s a stove called “The Hobbit”.


It’s only 12”x12”! Sure it needs extra mini logs, but it had the “The Hobbit” in the same typeface as “The Hobbit Movie” scrawled on the top. I started composing an email to the company asking for a quote and shipping cost and how soon we could get and so on and so on.

Darcie, finally couldn’t take my insanity over finding a tiny stove. “What do people use for ice fishing shacks or campers? There has to be somewhere we can buy a small stove locally.” She’s always so logical.

“Yea, ok, whatever, I’m busy,” I replied as I composed my lengthy email to the Hobbit stove guys.

Meanwhile, she started searching Rona, Home Depot, and Canadian Tire. You know, boring places.

“What about this one?” She asked.”It’s only 19″ deep by 26″ wide. That might fit nice.”

Oh, um, that’s actually pretty nice. And it would totally fit given that the yurt is a circle the width didn’t matter as much as making sure it was not too deep.

Sure it didn’t have a squirrel embossed on the side and it wasn’t a super cool Scandinavian company. But it was only 800 bucks and there were two in stock just down the street at Canadian Tire. Good ol’ Canadian Tire. You can’t go wrong! 10 minutes later this affordable little non-Scandinavian stove was in the back of our truck.

Now I like fire. But putting together a chimney made me a bit nervous. As with everything else we’d been doing… I had no idea what I was doing.

I’d been sent instructions with the yurt on how to install a fireplace and chimney system. And the instructions with the fireplace were also quite thorough. I needed to get good quality double-walled stove and chimney pipe. I didn’t want to mess around buying something cheap.

I decided to go to a legit fireplace shop. They’d know what they’re doing, right?

Wrong. They’re idiots! I, at least, watched some YouTube videos on how to put together a chimney pipe. You would think these guys would at least be able to have an intelligent conversation about it. I went to the shop and asked the fellow if he could confirm the components I needed. “Uh, ya, I guess that’s it.” That wasn’t really the vote of confidence I was looking for.

I bought the stuff even so and set off to put it together. As I unpacked the boxes, I quickly realized that I was missing the pass through for the wall and support base and brackets for the chimney (I’d specifically asked for all of this). The next week I went back. “I’m pretty sure I need these support brackets,” I said. “No no, you’ve got all of the stuff you need,” he replied, making me out like I was the idiot. Not wanting to seem like an idiot (in case I was), I took the wall pass-through and left.

This time, I decided to try and put it together like this guy had suggested. Really there was no turning back at this point. I measured it out and cut a whole through the yurt wall. Well, I guess that’s the point of no return, I thought. I started putting the pieces together… frick. As I started to hoist the chimney pipe (about 8 feet tall and roughly 40 lbs), I realized, as I’d suspected, that there was absolutely no way this is going to be self-supporting. I’d watched YouTube for goodness sake! And YouTube said I needed support brackets. It also really did, there was no way this would hold. So I taped the hole shut and went back to town. Again. Third time.

Finally, last weekend we got the fireplace and chimney installed. It wasn’t easy. But nothing seems to be easy around here. Still, having that first fire in the yurt, all of the difficulty and the weeks of trying to figure it out, just melted away…




(Originally posted September 15, 2014)


Paint it Black

I love black. Black is the new black, I say. The white door on the yurt was just not flying. We debated about painting some kind of mosaic of fish and swords and skulls, but in the end decided that a black door would be best. You just can’t go wrong with black.



(Originally posted August 28, 2014)

Building the Yurt

We’d just come back from a super relaxing six days at Besnard Lake, SK. In fact we were so relaxed that we decided to come back a day early. Any more mellow and we were worried we’d lose the drive for putting up our yurt, which we were supposed to be picking up the day we got home. The following morning we drove to the local yurt delivery company (at least I think that is all they deliver). A man in a neon yellow jumpsuit questioned me, “do you know how big this thing is?” I had a pretty good idea – 8’x4’x7’ and about 1000 lbs. Bingo, he said. I’d brought my trusty rusty truck and trailer along to do the job. Getting the huge crate onto the trailer was a feat of engineering prowess and a bit of improvisation on the part of the young forklift operator. I was a bit worried when he started using the points of the forklift to jab and push the crate and also when the bottom support bracket snapped off send a metal strap flying into the air, but hey, he got the job done. We secured it in place and away we went. Ready to getting yurting…


We drove out to our shop and I got to work opening up this massive box.


As we started to dig through the box and lay stuff out on the floor I had an overwhelming sense of dread… I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t know how to build a yurt! What kind of fool am I to think I can just build a Mongolian house in 3 days… Who do I think I am? All these thoughts were running through my head and I felt in over my head. Again.

Oh well. Too late now!

The next day, my dad came out to help me finish the cursed foundation, which entailed laying the radiant insulation and installing the plywood subfloor. I know, it sounds like an easy job. But man, it takes forever. 5 hours later it was done.


Day 2, was the day that we asked (begged) some friends and family to come out to help us. We bribed them with beer and hotdogs, and you know what, seven people showed up! Ha! Suckers!

Darcie and I got up early to try and finish the flooring. We had bought some $1/sqft tile and laminate flooring from the left over stuff at one of the flooring places in town. People always buy too much flooring so if you need a small amount of tile or other flooring for a laundry or bathroom floor (or yurt, naturally) then ask these companies. They’re happy to get rid of it and there was a lot of good options. Anyways we had hoped to get the flooring done before everyone showed up, but by 1:00pm we were still working on it. Frick. How were we going to get this yurt up by tonight?

I had read the lengthy 25 step manual of installing the yurt twice through the day before and felt as prepared as I could be. But by early afternoon we were yet to start step #1. Finishing the floor was pretty much insane. John (Darcie’s dad) laid on the grass and used my jig saw to cut the laminate floor following the circular plywood I’d cut the day before. He then cut all of the tiles into a rounded edges by hand. We nicknamed him Popeye for obvious reasons. Darcie laid and mortared the tiles. Dad and I laid the laminate. And Scott and Ryan (our helpers) cut and fastened a skirting with 5/16” plywood around the perimeter of the base. Everyone had a job. Including my mom who documented and photographed this whole process. Finally Step #0 was done.



Step #1 involved installing the door frame to the base. Immediately everyone started saying how this should be done. Darcie and I were the only ones that had read the manual so we had to tell our parents to listen up… You know how parents are. The door went on square and level. Neat! Maybe this whole yurt thing won’t be that bad.

Step #2 was installing the lattice. This was pretty fun. It was all rolled up in a tight little bundle that we all wondered how to could possibly be stretched out to 45 feet. But with us pulling along its length, after bolting one side to the door frame, it stretched out beautifully. There. Walls. Done. Hell ya. Now onto the (not) fun part. Raising the rafters.


Step #3. The rafters are very pretty 2.5” round Douglas fir beams. There is a cut out on one side and a peg on the other. The peg was to theoretically insert into the centre ring and the cut out was to sit on the airplane wire that we’d strung around the top of the lattice. Ryan and Scott climbed a ladder each holding the sides of the ring with their arms outstretched above their heads. Meanwhile the rest of us idiots tried to maneuver the beams into the ring trying not to knock Scott and Ryan off the ladder or hit any of us in the face with the beams. Sounds chaotic? It was. There was also a lot yelling and swearing… “No put it here.” “No over here!” “No this one!” “Oh shit!” Look out!!” Let me remind you that Darcie and I was the only ones that read the instruction manual. However I would say that the manual was a little bit overly optimistic on the ease of putting these up. “The peg should slide easily in when you have the correct angle.” Well, I guess we’re morons because we never found the correct angle. We ended up having to hammer the ends of the posts in place. Fortunately we only had two posts fall. Neither of them hit anyone but both took a nice chip out of our freshly laid floor. By the time we got the last rafter in place it was 5:00pm and everyone was tired, sore and ready to head home. And now the the yurt was starting to look like a yurt at least.


Darcie and I, worried about a chance of overnight rain or that the humidity from the river would wreck our floor, decided to keep going. Who needs food and water and rest? Not us. We kept working. Turning on flood lights when the sun went down, we installed the inner posts for snow/wind protection (which you can see in the above photo), laid the inner liner on the roof and walls, insulated the roof and walls and lastly, hung the exterior liners. At around 11:00pm we put the door back on and threw a tarp over the dome opening of the roof. There. We were going to sleep in the yurt. We had been motivated all day to be able to sleep in the yurt that night and dammit we were going to do it.

We dragged our sleeping bags and air mattress from the tent and put it inside. Just then the wind started to come up, whipping the tarp against the roof and wall. Hmm maybe earplugs would help. I went back to the shop to find some… Two ear plugs. Ok well I sleep on my right side and Darcie sleeps on the left. We each got one. Needless to say our first sleep in the yurt wasn’t the best despite being incredibly tired. At 5:00am I got up and took the tarp off. The sun was already shining and birds were chirping. There was barely a wind but I guess it doesn’t take much for a 20×15 foot tarp to get blown around. I went back and laid down. I looked up through the centre ring to the sky above. Woah. It hit me. I’m laying in a mother trucking yurt! That we built! “Darcie look at this yurt!” We watched the sky through the centre opening. Not a moment later a passenger plane cruising at 30000ft peacefully passed across our view leaving a majestic stream of cloud behind it. Wow. What were the chances of that?! We waved to the plane from the comfort of our yurt.


Although we felt close to being done we still had 7 or 8 steps left. Fortunately my parents were coming back to help. This was all the finishing stuff now. We had to first lace the roof and walls together with the “nylon rope provided in your materials kits.” Ummm, where’s the rope? Ok, there’s no rope. Well, then let’s do the next step, “use the zip ties to secure the inner lining to the airplane wire.” Cool. Oh wait, where’s all the zip ties? Frick. I called my parents and asked them to stop and pick up these supplies in the meantime, Darcie and I went to work evening out the outer lining.

The outer lining is a beast. It’s a heavy canvas/vinyl material that’s 8’ tall and over 45’ long. You want it to be symmetrical all the way around so that the windows all line up nicely. Really there’s no easy way to do this. We measured it out and figured we needed about 13 inches of excess on either side. After three tries we got it evened out. Sweet, now it will be super easy for my dad and I to lace the roof and walls. Piece of cake. Ya, not so fast.

To be honest, I have no idea how this happened, but we effed it up big time. Once my parents arrived I explained what we had to do. Each of us lacing zig-zag style from the back to the front. My dad doing one half and me the other. This wasn’t easy work. But we made it around, stepped back and thought, Oh shit. It wasn’t even close! There was 19” of overlap on my dad’s side and 7” on my side. It looked terrible. One window was super far from the door and the other was ridiculously close.

“Nope, I’m not doing that again. No way. It looks fine,” my dad tried to convince me. Um, it looks horrible, I said. This is not acceptable. We have to get it right. I don’t mind a bit of the Wabi-Sabi look, but this was just crap. Ok, how were we going to fix this without pulling the liner completely off and redoing it totally. We decided to start at the door this time. We knew there needed to be a 13″ overhang of excess material on each side. So Darcie’s job was to hold the liner and make sure it stayed at 13″. Dad and I unlaced the liner sequentially, took up the slack and relaced, while my mom made sure everything laid evenly between the door and where we were relacing.


With our fingers crossed, we finished the lacing and measured it. 13.5” on one side and 12” on the other. Fuck it. Close enough.

The last big thing to do was to install the dome. This made me nervous. It was 5.5’ diameter and fairly delicate plexiglass. The way to do this was to stand on the ladder through the centre opening while my dad stood on the outside and gently reached it up to me. I had to lean across the roof with my tiptoes on the ladder to just barely reach it. Installing it then was the next trick. I had to get the springs and bolts secured to the centre ring. The springs are incredibly strong and it took all my power to pull them into place. It was also about 32°celsius, but the dome amplified this immensely. I was completely soaked in sweat after 5 minutes. I could barely hold onto my tools.

Lastly, we evened out and lined up the inner lining with the outer and secured it in place with the zip ties my parents brought. We then used tuck tape to secure on the seams and screwed the wall liner to the skirting.

Done. Hell ya. We got ourselves a yurt.




(Originally posted August 18, 2014)

Dreaded Yurt Platform

Now that we’d decided we were going to be Yurt livers (at least temporarily) and had purchased the said Yurt, we needed to build the platform in preparation for its arrival. I looked up a few plans for elevated decks online and thought it best that I just ask the supplier if they had a standard plan. It did not take long before I realized that building a decagonal deck out of 2x8s was going to be more challenging that I thought. I went to the hardware place and purchased the lumber that was recommended in the “Lumber Purchase List” – how handy! We took the plans and lumber out to the Land, laid everything out and looked over the plans. I must admit that I hadn’t looked that closely at them before. After a couple minutes of looking at them this way and that, cocking my head, squinting, holding it closer and further, I finally said, “What the f@#k is this!?” First of all, it was a decagram! Why would I build a decagram!? That has 10 sides! Why not just build a square?! Secondly, the plans were seriously lacking basic structural – there were 36” gaps between joists in some areas. I’m no construction expert, but I’m pretty sure that 16” is kid of standard spacing. Also, there was no step-by-step instructions on how to put it together – not like Ikea at all. It was essentially just the shoddy final plan… how to get there? Well, you figure it out. Although it took multiple extra trips to the lumber yard for extra wood, footings, deck supports, bolts and screws – I was able to complete the platform – a Decagram Platform, I might say – in four days. And it was level. And it was a goddamned decagram!





(Originally posted July 31, 2014)