Tipi Questions Answered: Can You Live in a Tipi?

Ahhhh, the romance and beauty of the perfect indigenous structure… a tipi. You can imagine staying overnight, camping for a week and maybe doing a meditation workshop in a tipi. But, can you actually live in a tipi?

This question is the essence of our company– our genesis in fact.

Earthworks Tipis started in 1976, when Dan and Emma Kigar decided to live in a tipi of their own creation. Something about their simple lifestyle resonated—soon their friends and mountain neighbors were asking Dan and Emma to make them a tipi of their own. The Kigars lived in their lodge for four years in Colorado and a couple of years in a cozy spot near Ann Arbor, Michigan while finishing college. They learned to make their lodge a comfortable and cozy home. At times, they used an open fire to heat and cook; other times they used a wood stove. They learned how to adjust the smoke flaps to let in the breeze and keep out the rain and snow. In time, they even brought a baby boy into the world.

Dan, Emma and baby Sam in 1985

So, what is the reality of living in a tipi? First, you should not expect it to be like living in a house. The elements are right on the other side of a canvas wall. The wonderful parts of that are the sounds, smells and feel of nature every day.

In the summer, you can roll up the side walls to catch a breeze for cooling. You will burn wood or have some other type of heat source in the winter. Whether you have a firepit, a woodstove, or gas heat you’ll want a liner. Not only does it create a draft for the smoke to travel up and out the top, but it creates insulation and privacy and finishes the interior. With a liner, you can also have an ozan or extended ozan… which brings us to rain.

The sound of rain on the canvas is a soothing, calming way to relax inside your tipi. But, there’s the hole up at the top (where the poles cross and the canvas wraps around). Yes. Rain can come in that hole. Usually, the water will travel down the poles and out behind the liner. Or, it will drip into the center of the lodge. To protect the bedding area from rain, we recommend the ozan or extended ozan. It’s a fabric canopy that hangs in the tipi- diverting rain off of the living area to behind the liner. It also helps hold in heat.

Tipi home in Colorado

We have customers who are living in tipis. A family in Idaho lost their home a few years ago. Since they had some land, they decided to shelter themselves with a 26’ Earthworks tipi. They say, “We got it up within 2 hours of that winter’s first blizzard and moved in on January 3 almost two years ago.  Thank you for making us a strong and beautiful tipi that has withstood all weather and has kept our little family protected.”

Interior of family tipi in Idaho

In Maine, another family has a home- but chooses to sleep every night in their tipis. They enjoy the sounds of the woods around them, the feel of the breeze through the tipi and snuggling under the blankets to stay warm in the winter (-25 degrees one night). Their commitment to tipi sleeping is something they feel very strongly about. They recommend it highly, saying, “Ever feel stress? You need a tepee. That’s what’s missing in your life.”

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