Monday, February 8, 2010

Gertee: houses made from scraps

Houses made from scraps
By Niki Raapana
February 8, 2010

You're looking at a disaster that used to be a livable house. Besides the wood, doors and windows, you also see curtains, beddings and other fabrics poking out. Where many people see only a trash pile, I see enormous potential. Why? Because even if the wood is singed and the fabrics have rips, I know that with just a few simple tools, a way to cut the wood and wash the materials, we have the makings for a little temporary house I call gertee.

scraps used for first 16' gertee, spring 2007

Gertees are basically standard yurts made from raw or salvaged materials. Unlike the Mongolian and Western versions (exquisitely crafted and covered in gorgeous fabrics), gertee is the budget variety. It utilizes many items that would otherwise go to the dump.

first 16' gertee, Mercantile campground, May 2007

A 16 foot wide gertee needs about 80 wall slats. If there are at least 20 2x4s in your mix (or fifteen 2x6s or eight 2x12s), these can be cut down into 1/4 inch slats. Even broken boards will work as your walls can be made as short as 5 feet. Pipe or other metals can also be used although not as easily as the wood. Short thin trees and bamboo work too.

first attempt at making walls, spring 2007

The walls slats are laid out like lattice on the ground and tied together at each cross. It takes 320 ties if you have four crosses on each board. The ties can be cut from scraps of string or fabrics. If at all possible, I recommend buying 400 8 inch plastic zip ties. Once tied together the walls slide together like an accordian and roll up for easy carrying.

first test of the 9' burnt spruce roof poles, spring 2007

A 16 foot gertee can be made with as few as 8 roof poles, more is better but not absolutely necessary. Poles need to be at least 9 feet long and can be as slim as a 2x2.

recycled construction plastic covers most of the 16'

The roof ring is by far the hardest piece to make. It may take more imagination than the rest of the parts, unless there is a carpenter handy who can fashion one out of leftover wood pieces and has a drill to make the holes. I've made one roof ring (my first) from a piece of metal screen that I curved into a circle, and I think teepee roof poles tied together might also work, although I haven't tried it yet. I also think a square roof ring may be okay. The roof rings we make for the gertees we live in now are 2' wide octagon shape.

recycled plastic roofcover before trimming

The door frame can be made of 4 boards screwed together to form a rectangle or a standard door with a frame can be used, even if the walls are shorter than the door.

plastic roofcover after trimming

The roof cover can be made from anything waterproof. I have used a combination of tent bottoms scraps, airplane covers and one time I used a slghtly ripped up sheet of construction plastic. Some sort of weatherproof glue is necessary if you don't have one piece large enough to cover the entire roof. Square tarps work perfectly.

24x24' recycled billboard cover before trim, 2009

Today I cover all my gertees in recycled 24x24' billboards, which are already fire, mold and UV treated.

stapling up interior wall covers, 2007

The exterior walls can be covered in pieces of fabric or plastic/tarps/canvas. The interior walls can be covered in screens, sheets, blankets and bolts of fabric.

upgraded scraps on walls, summer 2009

We've been living in our homemade gertees in interior Alaska for three years. While we've definitely improved on the materials we use to cover our roof and walls, we still keep a sharp lookout for useful throwaway items. The first 16' frame endured six moves and rebuilds. Our initial concern that the zip ties would slip too much was unfounded.

16' gertee pods, winter 2009

As for staying warm in a gertee… well, I'm in one right now (written on 1/24/10). It's a brisk 40 below zero outside and I'm sitting at my desk in a thin sleeveless dress, wool socks and my slippers.

recycled dollmaker fabrics over RadiantGUARD, fall 2009

I have RadiantGUARD foil insulation on all the walls and the ceilings plus an extra layer of R19 in the new addition. I have one long strip of canvas on the outside walls and this year I used the same canvas on the inside walls. I still use old blankets and scrap materials too.

exterior 16' bridal gertee, summer 2009

We have two gertees attached together this winter. The main gertee is now the kitchen with a wood stove in the center. The new room is the bedroom and bath and it has its own woodstove with the stack going out through the wall. With both fires going steady neither one has to burn too hot to keep it at around 68 degrees. Of course smaller fires means more work feeding them constantly, and a thermostat heater is on our wish list, for sure.

Cooking space out of recycled shelves
Granny's Oven made by the Amish

I just took a nice hot shower. My gertees have no plumbing so my winter shower is a 2 gal solar bag filled with hot water from big metal pots kept on our woodstove 24/7. I stand in a 2' metal wash bucket with a plastic shower curtain tucked inside it. Works beautifully.

summer shower gertee, 2009

While the gertee lifestyle is certainly not for everyone, we believe it has changed our lives for the better. The ability to eliminate many of the costs that come along with renting someone's four square walls has been a boost to our spirits and our creativity.

first gertee interior, June 2007

There is something very nurturing about living in a round room, once you get the hang of how to arrange the furniture. We now think in circles and "pies" and not squares and rectangles.

Gerteeville at Camp Redington, fall 2009

We're set up in a year round campground, have electric and phone (usually) and the rest we do for ourselves. It's been amazing to see what kinds of things we need and how hard it is to find some of them. Sometimes it hits us how we could be making things we've always bought, like rope, and now we make our own. Gertee has caused me to try things I never imagined I wanted to learn, like my chainsaw, which I started using to cut firewood but now have made 2 doors and all kinds of structural changes with it.

Me sawing logs, fall 2008

I have to say the best part of my gertee experience is the satisfaction of knowing I live in my own house I built with my own two hands. I own it free and clear and can change it anytime I choose (which is often because I'm an American middle aged woman).

original 16' foot frame, summer 2009

The best part for everyone else like me who needs a home is, Gertee is an affordable, livable option that can be modified to adapt to any climate. Green by natural design, yurts have a low carbon footprint and are a proven sustainable house; the Mongolians have been living in them for more than 3000 years without it destroying their environment.

gertee today, February 8, 2010

Our Gertee book is under development and will be available in April 2010.


Stop Common Purpose said...

Hi Niki

I think what you have done is brilliant.

Where did you get the idea for a gertee from originally?


the tent lady said...

Thanks John, I was inspired after I read an article by these folks in Maine who built a "weekend yurt." They cut trees and branches and tied them together. So when I found a pile of sticks for fencing at the lodge I was caretaking sumer of 2004 I decided to try tying one together. Then I covered it with old materials I found in the caches. It was three years before I tried it again.

FishTaxi said...

Very informative and beautifully written sister!

the tent lady said...

Well thank you sister, I appreciate that since you've been so honest in the past about how little you enjoy some of my other works. :) hugs!

iamdeb said...

I love your gertee! The benefit you have over me, who owns my house free and clear but would lose it as well as the land if I could not pay the taxes on the land upon which it sits, is that you simply pack up your house and move.

And, another thought: divorce taught me how painfully quick and easy it is to lose all one's possessions. I purposed to never have a wagon that could be loaded with more possessions than I could bear to lose.

I appreciate your political writings for the truth they present, but by your own admission if my participation only furthers the dialectic then I am content to live my life free of the concern for something I cannot hope to change.

If more people lived like you and I, there would be no need for the dialectic; we'd all be too tired!! :)