Hays Daniel and his family lived and worked out of yurts in the remote Yaak Valley for nearly four years, so he knows just how cozy and comfortable the structures can be, even during harsh Montana winters.
“My middle son was born in a yurt,” he recalled. The story of that experience will be saved for another time.
Since 2008, Daniel and his business partner Vince Godby have been building yurts and shipping yurt kits across the country. Their structures – modern versions of the ancient portable dwellings made of animal hides by nomads on the steppes of central Asia – can be found from Scotland to Hawaii to Evaro Hill. Now, they’ve decided to relocate to Missoula to take advantage of the city’s networking possibilities, and they are hosting a grand opening party from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at their new building yard, 101 N. Johnson St. There will be beer from Great Burn Brewing Co., food from Riversong Gourmet and music by Hardwood Heart. Daniel and his crew also have a full-scale demonstration model of a yurt on display.
Daniel and Godby built their first yurt out of necessity.
“We had no business plan,” Daniel recalled. “Our business plan was, ‘Hope it works.’ We were actually building yurts because we needed somewhere to live. And then we saw there was a demand.”
They officially established Shelter Designs in a hand-built facility outside of Troy, and as orders continued to come in from all over the world, they realized they were outgrowing their shop.
“We also felt our business had a larger role to play in the local sustainable economy,” Daniel said. “We thought Missoula was a good fit. It’s not that there are necessarily that many more potential yurt customers in Missoula, but everyone here knows everybody. You talk to someone and they might know a river guide in Arizona that could use a yurt. It’s all about networking here.”
After buying the old Western Sheet Metal building a year ago, the company has invested a lot of time, effort and money into cleaning up the site, improving its safety and collaborating with Riversong Gourmet on establishing a commercial kitchen. Daniel said he envisions many light manufacturing businesses becoming tenants in the six shop spaces available at the site.
“We are in a unique position to foster a center of local, handcrafted manufacturing and artisan businesses,” Daniel explained. “We’ve been talking to business owners who work with leather, machinists and one guy who builds skis.”
Shelter Designs currently has seven to eight employees involved in producing yurts, and the company ships about 40 structures every year.
No two yurts are exactly alike. The company takes custom orders, and workers build kits in the shop to send to customers at their location. Sometimes, they will travel to help build the structures, but the kits are designed so customers can do it themselves.
The handcrafted yurts range from 16 feet to 40 feet, and can be built with solid R-49 insulation in the roof, R-24 insulation in the walls, power infrastructure and a 75-pound snow load capacity. They cost between $6,000 and $22,000 depending on the options. And all the yurts have undergone a basic engineering analysis for snow and wind loading.
Daniel said he sees yurts as the eco-friendly living space of the future. The company’s Eco-Yurt incorporates local, sustainably harvested lumber and uses non-toxic tung oil as the wood finish.
“Part of Shelter Designs’ vision is the desire to be a positive force of change locally, regionally and globally,” he said. “While the idea that businesses can give back and enrich the community while making profit is not original, it has recently been coined ‘constructive capitalism’ by economist Umair Haque. While it may be obvious that a yurt’s basic design is meant to offer a low-impact housing option, Shelter Designs is taking the yurt to new levels of sustainability within the industry.”
For more information, visit shelterdesigns.net.