Nestled in Decorah’s picturesque Canoe River Valley is a home unlike most.
A two-story wooden yurt, built and owned by 73-year-old Craig Mosher, snuggles up to a steep hillside of natural prairie and woods.
Unlike traditional, portable yurts used by the nomads of Central Asia for thousands of years, however, Mosher’s modern yurt isn’t going anywhere. Neither is it made with canvas, felt or animal pelts like what might come to mind when you hear “yurt.”
Mosher, a retired Luther social work professor, built the round, 12-sided wooden structure, deck and two car garage 10 years ago after finding the perfect piece of land on 7.5 acres of prairie and woods for just $35,000 in 2006 — a bargain for something just seven miles from town, though Mosher suspects it’s worth much more now.
It took five years to finish building his 900 square foot dream home with an incredible view of the valley.
Everything, including a kitchen, living space, office, sleeping loft and small full bathroom are crammed into a 450 square foot room on the first floor. One might expect the space to feel cramped, but it doesn’t. It’s both cozy and comfortable.
“I really like the round space,” Mosher said. “There’s almost a spiritual quality to it ... It feels so complete and comfortable.”
Without a supporting pole or beam dividing the room — the structure is held together by a tension cable circling the ceiling — the space feels larger than it is, especially with the domed 12-foot ceiling. At the peak of the dome is a skylight, which along with the south facing wall of windows flood the home with natural light and heat from the sun.
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Living a sustainable lifestyle is critical to Mosher, who realized years ago that “we’re running out of resources” and “simply cannot go on” using them at the rate that we are, he said.
His home is powered by solar panels and heated by a wood-burning stove fueled by wood he chops himself from his backyard.
With such a small space, quality insulation and having the home’s northwest side pressed against a steep hill to block the wind, though, “it doesn’t take much,” he said. In fact, usually the sun streaming from the windows keeps it warm enough on it’s own. A small propane tank serves as a backup, powers the “on demand” water heater and small stove. Since Mosher lives alone in the yurt, there’s also little need to use much energy.
When guests visit — like his four children and 11 grandchildren — they stay in the basement suite, which also features another full bathroom.
As for decor, Mosher keeps it simple and straight forward. Pictures of his family and a map of Decorah hang on the wall, small wood sculptures and other trinkets populate windowsills and desks. Much of his furniture is antique or handmade by himself, his father or his grandfather. Books pile around the room, as he spends much of his time reading. And when he’s not reading, he’s writing.
After retirement this May, Mosher decided to start writing a book of his own about rebuilding sustainable small towns and the importance of living modestly — growing your own food, making your own clothing, using renewable energy and supporting a local economy, for example.
“We’re going to need to repopulate small towns because we’re not going to be able to support big cities anymore,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to live this energy intensive lifestyle we’ve been living.”