Local couple among first to construct yurts in S.D.

MARLON OVERHOLT is constructing three yurts on his small acreage south of Madison. The round structures are a modern adaptation of living quarters developed by nomads in Mongolia.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for one local couple, it created an opportunity.

Sue and Marlon Overholt were working a craft show at Fort Ransom State Park, located in the Sheyenne River Valley of North Dakota, when they saw a round, hutlike structure the park was renting out for lodging. Called a yurt, it included a full kitchen and bathroom and was available year-round.

"In 2017, we actually rented it for a weekend in December. It was six below and we ended up turning the heat off," Marlon Overholt said.

That began their love affair with yurts which is currently coming to fruition on their small acreage south of Madison.

Earlier this year, Overholt pulled a flatbed trailer to Cottage Grove, Ore., and picked up three from Pacific Yurts, Inc. They are being assembled on platforms behind his shop.

"For the nomads of Mongolia, this was their home," he said, providing a historical context for the structures, which look like squat grain bins that have been covered with a tarp.

"The original Yurt was intended to be mobile. What we have is the modern yurt," he said.

As far as Overholt knows, there's only one other yurt in South Dakota -- near Lead. However, they are a popular structure elsewhere in the nation.

"On the West Coast, there are hundreds of them," he indicated.

Overholt said that bringing yurts into eastern South Dakota is typical of the decisions he and his wife have made.

"Sue and I think outside the box," he said. "We've done that ever since we've been married. We didn't do anything the traditional way."

The couple is originally from Ohio. They first became acquainted with South Dakota when Sue was working on her Ph.D. in meat science at South Dakota State University. When she completed her degree, she began to work for a pharmaceutical company, first in Los Angeles and later in North Carolina.

"We decided to start a business, so we came back to South Dakota because this is where we wanted to raise a family," Overholt said. That was 18 years ago.

They bought their current acreage sight unseen and moved in, starting a cabinet shop -- Dakota Fixture and Cabinet Co. Sue also started Susan Solid Surface Specialties, making cutting boards, game boards and other items.

"What she does is utilize the waste. It's kind of a green business," Overholt said.

The yurts were appealing for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons are practical, such as their affordability. The website for Pacific Yurts, Inc., indicates a 30-foot yurt, like Overholt's, starts at $12,350. Upgrades such as glass windows, insulation liners and the snow and wind kit cost more.

The yurts are also durable.

"The way ours are set up, they can withstand 140-mph winds, and the roof will hold 25 pounds per square foot," Overholt noted.

The wind resistance comes in part from their shape. Because the yurts are round, the wind goes around them rather than pushing against them. In addition, the rafters are reinforced with a system of cables.

"Cables in the rafters keep them from corkscrewing in the wind," Overholt explained.

The weight-bearing capacity of the roof is enhanced by the cables. However, another upgrade the Overholts chose also contributes. They have 2x6 rafters rather than the more common 2x4 rafters.

Over the summer months, they focused on exterior construction.

"We would have people stop on the road and watch us," Overholt said.

The yurts were assembled on platforms which involved literally standing lattice bales upright and unrolling them. The roof is comprised of 50 rafters held in place with a compression ring and a 3/8-inch tension cable.

The Overholts also chose to reinforce the structure with perimeter blocking. All of the wood is Douglas fir.

That basic structure is then covered with an insulated liner and vinyl cover.

"The insulation they use is the insulation used on the International Space Station," Overholt reported.

Each yurt will have running water and electricity. Each bathroom will have a shower, toilet and small vanity. The kitchenette will have a refrigerator and sink, but no stove.

"Each yurt will have 200-amp service like a regular house," Overholt said. The yurts will have electric heat provided with a series of small heaters around the outside perimeter, and a 50-gallon water heater.

The interior design of each will vary to some extent, depending upon the use. One, for example, will have two bedrooms for guests to use.

"The interior is completely up to the individual," he explained, indicating that Pacific Yurts, Inc., offers a great deal of flexibility. "We decided to make it simple and easy for everybody."

Currently the interior walls of one yurt are framed. Over the winter months, it will be finished. Rather than install flooring, the Overholts plan to sand and finish the platform. They also intend to leave the yurt open to the rafters rather than install a ceiling.

"The beauty of the yurt is seeing the structure," Overholt said.

Thus far, many who have stepped inside have been impressed. With two windows and a tinted dome, the space is light drenched. The round walls and open rafters give a sense of spaciousness even though the yurt is only 30 feet in diameter and 706 square feet.

"Most people, when they step into them, they feel a calm feeling come across," Overholt noted.