Bran and MoriaBran and Moria at their home 1976  and below after their addition in 2013

Bran and Morias Home 30 Years Later

Green Homes

In 1976  I sold my first  Green yurt to Bran and Moria in Ca. on Greenfield Ranch. I milled the lattice 2x2 frames from downed fir trees on my 54” head rig sawmill. I bought one of the first  Skill Battery (White) 12-volt drills.  l hooked it up to a car battery and drilled holes for 40d rail spikes and washers to pin the lattice wall and lattice roof frame pairs together. We ran a 1/8” galvanized cable thru the roof and wall frames at the top of the wall.  I set this up for them for $300 total including my wood, cable, and spikes. They did the rest and lived happily in it for decades. Moria still lives in her yurt as Bran left us a few years back to umpire softball games and to play horseshoes in the afterlife. They used cleaned carpets as a liner and safe foam in a case of cans for insulation and tree seal coating and some green paint to make their cozy hobbit-like yurt. Then years later they shake the roof and siding over the wall and used redwood bark as a perimeter for their stumps like entrance and perimeter foundation... Brilliant.

Needless to say, I have evolved these green designs,  sold my sawmill, sought-after sustainable lumber from local sawmills harvesting responsibly and developed an affordable hybrid green frame panel yurt.   Read below for the particulars and product development that has taken place over the past 35 years in California, and in Baja with green Hybrid designs.

Hopland green subdivision built in 1986 below left with earth-friendly materials and recycled newspaper fireproof roof insulation and fireproof ceramic finished O.S.B. from row cropped Aspen with resin glues as siding and sheathing with bamboo floors and old wine tank 2x  trim. Across the street from the Real Goods Solar Living Center. - David Raitt

Over the past 3 decades of building on 5 continents and in particular on the west coast of the U.S., we have continually sought to use greener building materials in the construction of our designs. We have built several homes for chemically sensitive folks. Non-off-gassing safe, affordable renewable building materials are here to stay and available at similar costs to conventional materials. The following examples of our standard product line provided a glimpse of the greening of the California yurt. No vinyl, no virgin timber unless reclaimed, no off-gassing glues, no sweatshop products, recycled roof insulation, sustainable re-growth framing material. Most of our products shy of our bamboo flooring are made here in California. Below a coast earth plaster cluster. Hopeland green village. GBCI # 10569454

Foundations: Michael Butler’s “Fast-Trach Foundations” have made a tremendous contribution to eliminating the use of above ground wood forms as well an above ground concrete on our polygon foundation configurations. This perimeter galvanized corrugated steel foundation which is capped and bolted into the perimeter rim of any given structure. In addition to saving resources, it also saves over 1/3 of the labor while allowing access under the floor framing for below floor plumbing and ductwork prior to installing the panels. Michael Butler Engineer pictured on left.

Framing Lumber: We have incorporated the use of re-growth sustainable #2 and better douglas fir for the core framing material of our structures. We do not use clear fir as it most often comes from virgin owl habitat trees like other yurt companies still continue to use.

FSC Certified Wood Products (The Forest Stewardship Council)
Available upon request as an option


The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international, non-profit organization that supports environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests.

Sheet Products:
As with the fir framing, we also stay away from plywood which in the clearer grades use urea formaldehyde glues which give off a gas. We use oriented strand-board made from re-growth sustainable aspen trees grown primarily in Canada over a 9 year period. This material uses a phenol resin which is a more stable resin based glue with less off-gassing Sturdi floor wood products from Weyerhaeuser Corporation which we feel is the best product out there. Commonly called O.S.B.(oriented strand board). We use this product in 4’x8’ sheet form both in our subfloors as tongue and groove as well in our roof decking. As square edge 7/16” in our wall shear assemblies under our various sidings.

Earth Plaster:
We have incorporated earth lime and straw and clay based finishes in some of our greener yurts. Vital Systems; a leading natural building company shares our factory property batches at our factory. We share our yard space in Ukiah. They apply with a plaster spray machine and by hand applied over the lath plaster mesh in layers.

Hardi-panel and #2 pine exterior siding
James Hardie from Australia developed what we at Vital Designs feel is the best fireproof paintable, stainable, exterior siding available on the market today. We use the sierra panel often pre-stained to look like re-sawn siding as Hardi-Panel. There is also a stucco panel as well. This fibrous cement 5/16” thick material can add shear, site applied with either screws or 1-1/2” roofing nails and can be used as shear. We prefer to site install over Tyvek house wrap and often over 7/16” O.S.B. shear panels. It has a 30-year warranty and will never split or degrade.

Another renewable siding we’ve been using in California and is grown in the sierra’s Sustainable #2 white pine reversible tongue and groove (one side with a re-sawn face).

We use this product in our interior ceilings with the untreated aroma and re-sawn look. We rarely scale or stain this material in the inside of the house. As an exterior, we often apply either a Minwax colonial maple stain or a Watco Danish finish oil either medium walnut or for a redwood look the fruitwood stain. Then we apply two or three coats of boiled linseed oil as needed over the life of the structure. Our winning combo is to use pine on the exterior horizontally from the floor up and the Hardi-Panel as a skirt to the ground with a matching stain, see the below picture used on our fern village yurts at Orr hot springs in the coastal mountains in the hills above Ukiah.

Straw bale bearing walls as well as non-bearing walls are labor intensive. This wonderful super insulated wall has a soft appeal. Bales provide both a cooler home in the summer and a warmer home in winter alternative to our frame wall systems. Our associate contractor, whom we share our shop yard, Vital Systems, provides these custom walls. Our clients often buy California yurts roofs systems to set on top of Vital Systems bale walls homes. If you have a rich budget and or a lot of time to put into this effort this may be for you.

Sod roof decks and into hillside roofs.
We are presently building a sod roof cluster on a hillside above Ukiah with a roof to roof transition stair and perimeter roof railing, as well as a floating deck floor, hang out area on the roof interconnect. We have been building sod roof systems in the United States for over 3 decades. Our oldest still in use is the sod roof solar village at Glen Echo Park in Washington D.C. I built this village back in 1972 for the American Crafts Council in our national park. We now incorporate the latest floating roof liner technologies and perimeter roof edge gutters/railings as well as automatic drip systems to keep your roof green. This roof is more expensive than our 50 tear elk fireproof shingle roof systems. Below right Pottery Sod yurt is 35 years old.

Solar applications on yurts.
Both solar hot water heating, as well as power generation systems, provide energy independence for many of our clients. We also have built many passive earth cooling systems which bring water cooled air through tunnels in the ground outside of the structure which is ducted into the yurt as needed. Our oldest system in Potter Valley has been providing a cool environment of cold healthier moist air for the yurt dwellers for over 20 years now.

One group was one of the early pioneers in the industry to use recycled borax impregnated newspaper (cellulose) in our pre-fab roof. We have used this system since the early 80s. This product is friendly to work with as well as to live with. Cellulose insulation will not promote mold or support flame and in fact from our testing will put out fires in your home if by accident the pine burns off the ceiling, the cellulose will drop and smother the fire. Cellulose provides a superior insulation in our standard R-40 roof panel assemblies.

We use formaldehyde-free encapsulated fiberglass insulation. A very popular insulation is the recycled denim borax impregnated “cotton touch” insulation we offer as an option for our wall and floor systems.

Bamboo flooring from 3-year growth timber bamboo is sweeping the nation as the latest and most earth-friendly flooring available today at a reasonable cost. Also, we have incorporated the use of man-made culture stone in house exterior facings as well as in interior fireplaces to diminish the use of our natural stones which we feel need to remain in our creeks and streams.

Using E.P.S. foam 3d panels with integrated steel mesh is a new and clever way to minimize the use of framing materials and concrete in panels. We often use these panels and coat them with light concrete for walls, roofs, decks as well as for cabinets and countertops. Visit our new 3d panel builder at

You can green your yurt as much as you can afford and have the time for. There continues to be a wonderful array of products emerging. We keep our finger on the pulse and are keen to explore on our prototype designs as to longevity and warranties that accompany and support these products.

Below recycled wine tank/shake siding from Stump bases. Local Sod Farms provide the green roof. Sierra Pine from sustainable forests and local Earth Plaster.

30-year-old Sod Covered Yurt in Mendocino

What about Green solutions on a policy level?

DR. STEPHEN Schneider

Dr. Stephen Schneider

Performance standards in California have been the lowest energy use and the lowest carbon dioxide footprint per capita. It’s a big footprint, but per capita, it’s the lowest in the United States. Europe and Japan are around California. So how could that happen?

“There’s always been a culture of public protection. California has had, for the last 40 years, rules, and these rules are very strict building codes on double pane windows and insulations and air conditions and refrigerators and lots of other things. The states have to set up an energy commission and the energy commissions set the rules. The U.S. must do this; the rest of the world must do this. It’s what we call the low-hanging fruit. It’s the cheapest way.”

STEPHEN Schneider is a climatologist, a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University and a 1992 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient. He has been in the trenches of the climate change battle since the 1970s and has advised presidents from Nixon to Obama on how to manage the threat posed by global warming. He is also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. His new book, Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Children, will be published next month by the National Geographic Society. Writer Jessica Lussenhop caught up with him to discuss the 350 concept – which refers to reducing our current carbon dioxide load to the sustainable figure of 350 parts per million—and more.

Comment: From David’s Son Bay Raitt
smart. very smart. I love the frame this guy puts around the environmental movement. I really like how he references all the widest dimensions of the space and then defines the terms we should use to decide with. inspiring to see someone starting to define the language for species-wide success in a rational way. we hairless monkeys might just make it after all.

How About the small footprint Mini Home. Not for everybody. Design and flare do play a role here as the below floor plan showing our latest low carbon home studio; in a rectangular format would be the size of 17’x17’x square room but with better use of the space in the yurt format. In the Baja and California low lands, you can spend more of your time outdoors on the deck which makes these units more viable. Stacked on top of each as a 2 or 3 story tower with an exterior spiral stair. This yurt can fit most any backyard. Affordable green with a small footprint.