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Old 02-17-2017, 09:45 PM   #1
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Default Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

Yurt forum,

Are you an experienced yurt enthusiast that wants to help improve the lives of Mongolians living in yurts?

My name is Jesse Buckingham and I'm working with a team out of Stanford's Design School (as part of Design for Extreme Affordability: Design for Extreme Affordability) and an NGO (Gerhub: GerHub) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to develop a cleaner and cheaper way for people in Mongolian's Ger (aka yurt) communities to stay warm in the winter.

We want to better insulate the yurts used in Mongolia to reduce coal consumption and improve the terrible air pollution in the main city. Can you help us?

Our team is new to yurt construction. Do you know best practices for insulating Gers? Do you know where most of the heat is lost? Do you know what the most cost effective insulation methods and materials are?

We would love your assistance. If you're willing, send me an email and / or reply to this thread and we can set up a phone call, or even a coffee if you're near the Stanford campus (Palo Alto, CA)!

Thank you in advance for your support.

All the best,
Jesse
jbuck at stanford.edu

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Old 02-20-2017, 08:28 AM   #2
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

I suggest you speak with Yves over at Groovy Yurts. He works with many Mongolian yurt builders and knows quite a bit about them. He is generally more than happy to answer questions and is very passionate about traditional gers.

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Old 02-20-2017, 12:14 PM   #3
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

Sain baina uu? It is an interesting concept. Although I don't think you will find much better and cost effective insulation for the gers than... the existing felts made in Mongolia. Felts do not only insulate the ger, but adds to it strength and allows it to breathe. The way it is built, it is difficult to change it with anything else without changing the ger's properties.
In the capital people are too poor to make new layers as they would do on the country side. But adding a few layers would be best. Possibly adding house wrap could help while not compromising the breathing. Adding carpets and curtains (wall hangings) on the inside perimeter will block a layer of air and add insulation.
More than anything, the heat source has to be improved. There has been already a few initiatives to improve the traditional stoves that are usually designed for animal manure. You can find some good (Mongolian made) versions working with coal at Naarantuul, but often too expensive for people living in the ger districts. In my opinion, improving pollution will go through sponsoring those people with these existing solutions.
In the Slenge province they produce bricks from saw dust and it seems to offer much better and cleaner properties than coal.
Myself and my colleague Chuck (who is finishing one year of living in a ger in the Northern District) are available for any question.
Warm regards and Happy Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian New Year) :-)
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Old 02-20-2017, 01:46 PM   #4
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

My experience this winter living in a traditional yurt, albeit not from Mongolia, is that the amount of insulation is not the most important (beyond the first few layers). Rather, reducing the amount of air infiltration.

With just the equivalent of R7 insulation, you'd only be loosing around 5k btus through the walls & roof (5 wall/6m/20 ft yurt with 6 ft walls). Yurts are designed brilliantly to minimize surface area for their enclosed volume. However, the thing that's freezing me right now is draftiness--I could feel moderate drafts on my feet near the inside perimeter (until I changed some platform details) & I can see the top flap moving a bit in strong winds (ie, toono opening a little, letting out heat). The door also doesn't seal well against the frame. I'm probably loosing something like 15-30k btus from air leaks when reasonable air turnover would only take 2-4k btus...

Particular yurt design features probably make a big difference in terms of draftiness--a lip on the platform edge against which a tensioned band can compress & seal the outer layers. An air-tight platform, preferably insulated. Lots of tie-down loops on the top flap for even tensioning. A single-piece outer canvas to reduce potential gaps. Weather stripping in the door frame; double layer doors? Silicone boot jacks for the chimney (seals stovepipe plus prevents canvas/felt burning).

One really odd quirk--if you insulate & seal up all the yurts, you could actually create more pollution. If people don't change their stove as well, they'll have to damp them down to a smoldering fire just so they don't roast. And because yurts have little thermal mass to buffer temps when not burning you could get long, overnight smoldering fires that are especially nasty. Mind you, this is rather pessimistic. But changing burning habits to prevent air pollution is difficult--just look to problem places in the US, and we started changing 20-30 years ago...
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Old 02-20-2017, 04:02 PM   #5
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

While it sounds like people trying with good intentions, I wonder if it actually will help... or harm. Often when well meaning people get involved to 'improve' things, certain cultures and traditions get obliterated. Mongolia has already been witnessing this at a rather alarming rate. My hope is that you have a good anthropologist in the team and that you would seek out Peter and Muegel Andrews and run this idea by them and read their work on the subject. They are most likely the biggest non-mongolian contributors to have spent their lives preserving ancient Mongolian customs, wisdom and traditions.

In closing; Yurts have been working for the Mongolians for over 2000 years. It might behoove us to consider them the experts who could help us...
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Old 02-20-2017, 05:22 PM   #6
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

Every post above is full of wisdom based on real world experience, and heartening to see. I agree on all counts. That said if us four were over there actually looking at the yurts in question, and we had a good budget, perhaps some real improvement in heat retention could be made without trying to reinvent the yurt. Hard for us to try and improve yurts over there without actually being there to see them in person. Regardless, good luck to you.
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Old 02-22-2017, 03:29 PM   #7
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

I agree with everyone too especially the problem with shutting down stoves. While it does create a slower longer heat, it really does add to pollution.
Rather than try and improve the yurt, you might consider directing your attention to a more burn efficient stove.
Rocket stoves are very good and fuel efficient with wood. I am not sure if they would create enough heat in their climate, but they are very good. I aim to build one for a greenhouse so I can grow year round.
I did hear of a person doing a rocket stove in a yurt burning wood, but never heard the result of his test.
I am not sure if you can use coal as a fuel in a rocket stove, but if you could utilize the principle of it, that would be a a real improvement. The beauty of wood fired rocket stoves is they are almost completely clean burn and you use way less fuel.
My two pennies worth.
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Old 02-22-2017, 07:42 PM   #8
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

Good post Richard.
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Old 02-23-2017, 01:20 AM   #9
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

Thank you so much for your response! We would love to talk to you to learn more. My number is 650 619 2221. I tried giving your office a call today, but must have missed you. Is there a good number to reach you on. We would love your advice!
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Old 02-23-2017, 01:23 AM   #10
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Default Re: Assistance for Stanford students redesigning the Mongolian Ger?

Thank you so much for your response. This is very helpful information!
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