Part 3: From Mansion To Yurt

Apr 29, 2014

"My Address Is" is a Utah Public Radio series exploring Utah issues associated with how and where we live. This is part 3 of 6.

When you walk into Steve Hatch’s home your eyes are immediately drawn to the ceiling where a four-foot clear dome collects the light like a magnifying glass. Hatch lives in a small yurt he built in this tiny town near the Idaho border.

His new living space is a drastic shift from what he was used to. Just a few years ago he owned a $350,000 home and earned a comfortable living. But all that changed when he lost his job in the aerospace industry where he had worked for 36 years. On top of that he divorced and the value of his hillside home plunged when the housing bubble popped.

Steve Hatch is seen on the front porch of his yurt in Portage, Utah.
Steve Hatch is seen on the front porch of his yurt in Portage, Utah.
Credit Matt Jensen

Unemployed and armed with what was left of his retirement, he moved into an apartment in Brigham City and quickly decided he needed to find a cheaper solution.

“I only had $60,000 to spend total on this project so I had to figure out a low cost way," he said. "I explored mobile homes but their cost would run me nearly $100,000 by the time I finished up."

He decided on a yurt — a sort of semi-permanent rounded structure with latticed walls and a domed roof held in place by a compression ring at the center.

“As you see a yurt from the outside and you walk in, I think you’re immediately impressed by how much space there is,” he said. “Living in the round is kind of a unique experience. It kind of changes the way you view a structure. It’s just a nice feeling inside. Most people that come into yurts feel that feeling.”

Hatch says his new 731-square-foot space is plenty big and it’s changed the way he thinks about a home and what goes inside it.

“I’ve realized that we need much less to get by on than what we’re using,” he said. “And when you simplify you realize there’s things you don’t need anymore.”

Hatch had spent his career building things. He worked in the machine shops that supported the space shuttle program so he was used to crafting things with his hands. Building a yurt seemed like a simple enough task but there were hurdles.

“When I first started to build the yurt I had lots of questions and didn’t know where I was going to go," he added. "I asked people and I couldn’t get answers so I had to solve them on my own.”

The experience even prompted him to share what he learned along the way in a book about typical yurt construction.

“The book is kind of a narrative about how I went about solving these problems with the idea of helping other people,” he said.

We step outside and Hatch shows me some of the features of his home. If he wants to change something — say move a window when the light changes — it’s easy to do.

After a lot of planning and preparation, the yurt went up in just three days. His one-acre lot is big enough for him and his horse and comes with mountain views on all sides.

"It’s close enough to Idaho to breathe the Idaho air," he quipped.

Yurts have thin walls but are surprisingly energy efficient. Cold air stays out but sunlight and the sounds from outside come in.

“It’s pleasant to live here and the thinner walls allow you to hear nature,” he explained. “In the night you can look up through the dome and see the stars. You feel close to nature living in this yurt.”

Hatch says his new arrangement is working perfectly and if something changes down the road, he can pick up and move if he needs to.

“Who knows what the future will bring,” he said. “But it is easy to move. It went up in three days, and I bet I can take it down in three days.”