A major part of our annual New Year’s party is a large-scale construction project. The past three years, we’ve been building Mongolian-inspired gers, circular, portable tentlike structures designed to withstand high winds and heavy weather. We do this in part because it’s fun to build gers, in part because it’s useful to have additional sleeping space when 40 people come over to stay the night on New Year’s Eve.
The first ger we built was an aesthetic success, but failed pretty profoundly after a few days of use – and, more importantly, a few days of snowfall. Ultimately, the roof failed catastrophically. (If you’re interested, I wrote an earlier photoessay on this ger, titled “Behold the Power of String”) Last year, we started from scratch and built a ger that had far better walls and insulation… and the same problems with catastrophic roof failure, despite being built of far sterner stuff.
So we started from scratch this year. Taking lessons from Monica Cellio’s excellent ger guide and making some fairly major modifications, my friend Nate and I spent a full day engineering the toono, the central roof ring of the ger. We ended up with a pair of plywood doughnuts linked together by 48 spacers (cut from lengths of 1×2) and 24 wedges of wood, which hold the rafters at a 30 degree pitch. It’s held together with an ungodly number of wood screws, but is strong and surprisingly light. We then turned 24 six foot lengths of 1×2 into rafters, cutting the tops at a 60 degree angle (to fit into the toono slots at the correct pitch) and cutting a notch into each with a rasp so they’d latch onto the bottom ring of the toono and resist pulling out.
We attached this roof to last year’s walls (patched in a few places with duct tape) with heavy twine, attached last year’s walls (made of reflective foam insulation) and roof cone, used yet more duct tape to seal holes and leaks, then put on the canvas covers sewn three years ago.
A little climbing rope over the top and around the circumference and we were ready for a plywood floor, covered with tarps and blankets, power brought in via (grounded, grond-fault protected) extention cord, and this year’s key innovation, Christmas lights, thoughtfully strung by Sara.
Following with our New Year’s tradition, seven of us slept in the ger the night of December 31st. It was surprisingly warm with all of us inside – probably around 8-9 C, in contrast to the outside temperature of -5 C, and completely impermeable to the wind. Three days – and two modest snowfalls – later, the roof is completely intact and shows no sign of twisting or slumping, and the interior is completely dry. Charmingly, there are icicles hanging off many of the rafters, suggesting that the heat of people staying inside has been rising, melting snow and then refreezing the water into ice – outside the ger, which is where we want it.
All in all, a great success, and a wonderfully positive way to start 2006. Here’s hoping your year is off to a similarly good start.
Update: My friend Beth has a nice Flickr set of Ger photos, with a special focus on the toono, the center ring of the roof.