Monday, February 22, 2010

More tents to Haiti + New Blog Spot

Hello everyone,

We are now blogging at a new location: Please update your bookmarks and follow us as we blog about yurt, tent, and tipi uses, concepts, and innovations--we're also rolling out a video blog with useful how-to stuff.

Our latest posts is about our efforts to build more tents for Haiti relief. There is still big time need down there, particularly as the rains move in. Check out the blog to see what we're doing and how you can help.

Thanks and be in touch!
Sam Kigar

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

CYC Donates Tents to Haiti

Chris-- a friend from the Fulbright program in Morocco-- called me Friday before last. He said he knew some doctors who were headed down to Haiti. They’ve been going for years and had actually booked a flight to Port au Prince before the earthquake. Their pre-earthquake plan was to go down, stay at a hospital, and do some humanitarian work. When the quake hit, plans changed but they were determined to get down there. The hospital-- St. Damien’s-- was still functioning despite sustaining serious damages; but it no longer had rooms for the doctors. They needed some tents.

There was a catch: the doctors had been rebooked for the following Sunday, just three days later. Seeing as the Colorado Yurt Company doesn't stock light weight tents, I regretfully told Chris to go buy tents at an unmentionable big-box store.

Later that day I stopped by Colorado Yurt Company owners' (my parents') office yurt. Jennie, our marketing manager, was in there and the three of them were putting their heads together, trying to find a way to be of some use in Haiti. We often dream of sending tents to disaster zones but the logistical difficulties always seem insurmountable. The Haiti Earthquake is case-in-point: As multiple governmental and non-governmental organizations geared up, the airport in Port au Prince jammed-up. Without proper coordination we feared that the tents would end up in warehouse in Miami. When I told my folks about Chris's doctor friends, they were excited. These doctors were gearing and going themselves! They would sling the tents over their shoulders, fly them down, set them up, live in them, and then hand them off to locals when they were finished. And these docs know Haiti. The University of Scranton Medical Alumni Council has sponsored a trip through Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos ( for years. Logistically speaking, it was perfect. I called Chris back.

The docs' flight had been delayed again: Tuesday or Wednesday. It would be a stretch to build the tents by then but we got to work anyway. On Saturday my mom and dad drew-up the plans.

They decided on a simple design: six vertical poles, guy-ropes, and overall dimensions of roughly 7ft x 7ft x 7ft. All the poles would be of the same length-- 3.5 ft-- the verticals at the front and back would each be two 3.5' poles, fitted together. The exterior was to be a light weight synthetic material that could be rolled up to expose screen walls. The whole thing would fit into a duffel bag.

By close of business on Monday, we had worked out the design and the first tent was done.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Yurt Crew would finish the remaining four and they'd make it to the East Coast and onto the flight to Haiti by mid-day Wednesday. Or so we hoped. But by Tuesday morning are hopes were dashed. We got word that the docs had been booked on a flight from New York to the Dominican Republic at 6:00 on Wednesday morning. There was no getting the tents to them by then. Unless...

As the crew scrambled to finish the tents, my mom booked me a flight to LaGuardia in NY City with free miles that my father had accumulated. My plane flew at 1:40 PM. The last stitch went into the fourth tent at 12:55. We dashed to the airport. I told the United ticket agent our story and she checked the bags for free. I made the flight and landed in NY at 10:00PM. Chris had driven down from Scranton. We met, hugged, and handed-off the tents.

Then he rushed them across town to JFK where the doctors were checking in. The four tents made their flight to the Dominican Republic and overland to Port au Prince. They're now functioning doctors’ quarters. We’re told that after several rounds of doctors use them, they’ll be handed off to Haitian families for semi-permanent housing. The fifth tent went out on Fed Ex that afternoon and will find its way to Haiti with the next batch of doctors in the coming weeks.

As for me, I headed into New York City, met a friend, and a bar tender who bought me a few drinks for my efforts. I was back in Montrose by noon the next day, less than twenty-four hours later, tired but overjoyed.

The crew here showed remarkable skill and agility in learning to make a new tent and being willing to do so. Chris and the folks at Scranton University were 24 hour support in making sure we got the right tents to the right people. The United Airlines agent was a huge help. And, of course, gratitude to a bartender in Brooklyn! Working with these people and being able to help in Haiti, even in this small way, was a great privilege for us.

Haiti is by no means secure. People are still being pulled out of the rubble. Others are in need of food, water, and medical treatment. Disease is an emerging problem. I’m sure you’ve given or heard about plenty of opportunities to do so but some of my favorites are: Partners in Health ( and Mercy Corps (

There is also still a great need for shelter. In the New York Times, Niurka PiƱeiro, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, said, “Tents, tents, tents. That’s the word we want to get out. We need tents.” Colorado Yurt Company has the capability to make a modest number of tents. We are currently setting up a partnership with a relief organization that can put our tents to immediate use. Stand by for information on how you can help.

--Sam Kigar

Monday, January 11, 2010

Response to NYTimes, "Broadband, Yes. Toilet, No": Why not have both?

You may have already seen Sarah Maslin Nir’s New York Times article “Broadband, Yes. Toilet, No” (12/30/09) about an adventurous couple that moved their young family to a yurt in rural Alaska. The Higman-McKittricks are an inspiring example of a wave of folks who are moving to yurts, making nature a part of their everyday lives-- not just a holiday treat-- and staying connected to a broader community through the internet. It’s Back to the Land 2.0!

From a yurt-dweller’s perspective there are some great points in the article: I loved the concept that the amount of living space in a yurt expands and contracts based on need at any given moment. I also liked the fact that they have internet in the yurt-- this allows them to connect all the diverse bits of their lives, remain active, stay in touch, and get written up in the New York Times.

But, by focusing on this one couple, the article doesn't give the full picture of the yurt-living experience. Toward the end of the article Ms. McKittrick is quoted as having said, “I’m someone who doesn’t mind giving up some level of convenience for having an interesting experience.” Many bloggers found the story to be inspiring but said that the couple sacrificed more than is reasonable for your average NYTimes reader. The worst part? The frigid trek from the yurt to the outhouse. I can't argue with that. This begs the question: Is sacrificing convenience a pre-requisite for yurt living? Most definitely not.

There are plenty of good options for putting a bathroom right inside your yurt, even if you’re off the grid. Below are a couple of toilet possibilities that our customers have used with great results:

The Incinolet toilet is a good option for folks who are hooked into electricity, either from a power plant or solar. The toilet requires no digging and no water. It works by periodically incinerating waste, so all that's left is a small amount of clean ash. Below is a picture of our customer, David Stewart’s Inciolet:

One of my favorite toilet options (for homes of all kinds!) is the Sun Mar composting toilet. Sun Mar makes a couple of models-- some require electricity, some don’t. These toilets are self-contained and compact. Installing a composter in your yurt is as simple as fitting an outlet, similar to a stovepipe outlet, into the yurt wall. They are odorless and produce fertilizer that can be used in growing non-edible plants. The Colorado Yurt Company is now a Sun Mar distributor, so give us a call at 1.800.288.3190 if you’d like any information or to place an order.

Perhaps the simplest and most rugged option (but still a far cry from an icy outhouse) is the do-it-yourself composting toilet. These toilets are as cheap as $25. They require little more than a 20 liter bucket, a box to house it in, a seat, and organic material, such as sawdust, to aid in the composting process. The waste from these toilets is also processed into fertilizer. The only problem with these toilets is that you have to figure out a way to protect against freezing. Click here to read about this type of toilet at the Humanure Handbook. Here is an instructional youtube video on making such toilets by the folks out of Pennsylvania that make the "Loveable Loo."

This lovely bathroom with a homemade composter is in Everett Boutilett and Louis Johnson's Colorado Yurt in upstate New York:

All of these toilets can be installed in a yurt bathroom, which is built by constructing a few walls inside the yurt. The yurt WC pictured below is a literal closet but without the water:

By adding an energy efficient toilet, like one of these, to a yurt, you can have the “experience” without sacrificing a shred of "convenience." No subzero dashes to the outhouse for me!

Other parts of the Higman-McKittrick yurt experience struck me as not necessarily representative (albeit cool). For example, the fact that they have to walk an hour to town to take a shower. Even yurt-dwellers without grid-based plumbing find all kinds of creative ways to have plenty of water right in their yurt, but that's a subject for another post.

Happy New Year,
Sam Kigar