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DIY Modular Backyard Guest Tent House
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April 14, 2021 20 min read

In this article:
  • Pros and cons of various backyard guests tent cabin options.
  • How to use a Bell tent to share with friends & family.
  • Step-by-step process on how to set-up & furnish a canvas Bell tent site.
  • Tips on hosting and promoting a glamping businesses.
diy modular backyard guest house.jpg

Sooner or later as a homeowner you come to a brilliant realization: Hey, I can put a little guest tent house in the backyard. Maybe just for family or friends to stay in, when they visit? Maybe just to tool around and have fun with? Or maybe even to rent out a guest house to strangers for extra income?

And then comes the next moment of genius: Hey, I bet I could even build it myself!

Sound familiar? Perhaps this isn’t you, but a loved one? Or a neighbor? Sadly, even the best ideas can turn into nightmares when they become acted on. And building your own DIY backyard guest tent cabin can quickly turn into a costly, time-consuming, energy-sucking project that is way more work than you anticipated.

But the idea is still genius - it’s just the whole building-a-house thing - no matter how tiny - that can overwhelm most people. This is why we are strong believers in putting up a bell tent as a modular backyard guest tent house. It’s an easy DIY project, it’s flexible and modular, and it’s actually pretty cheap, considering you could be completely furnished and ready to go without spending over $3,000.

diy backyard guest house.jpg

Best of all, you can find all sorts of uses for a guest tent cabin, whether it’s for family visits or friendly get-togethers, or to start a legitimate Airbnb style nightly rental side business.

And at any point, you could pack up the bell tent and take it on an epic road trip or camping adventure. Can you do that with any other style of guest house?


Bell Tent vs Tiny House, Yurt, Container, and DIY Guest House

bell tent vs yurt tiny guest house.jpg

The appeal of using up some backyard space for an add-on structure is undeniable. At first it starts with wanting a fun playroom, maybe a man cave or a she-shed, or just an entertainment hut. And then there’s the pitch for a workshop, or an office, or just a place where you can get stuff done.

When you’ve gone through all the fun excuses for a backyard tent house, you then move on to more practical reasons. Like, hey, maybe our parents can stay here when they visit? That way they could make it an extended stay, without overextending your patience inside your home.

But most likely the best reason for building a guest house is because you could actually make extra cash renting it out to visitors. Think of it like an Airbnb, except with more privacy for you and the guests. There are even websites already in place for you to start advertising your backyard oasis to travelers looking for an affordable and unique place to stay.

Costs of DIY Guest Houses and Backyard Yurts Add Up

When you start to research the costs and challenges of guest houses, however, all the potential income is quickly dwarfed by the up front expenses. You need to hire a contractor, file for all the necessary permits, and purchase all the materials, all of which can grow into tens of thousands of dollars in no time.

Of course, you could do something more DIY if you have the time, but if it’s your first backyard guest tent cabin, then chances are you’ll run into unexpected expenses as well as barriers. Meanwhile, your backyard is a mess and you’ve got potential water and electric issues to deal with in your home.

Photo by  Andrea Davis  on  Unsplash

PHOTO BY ANDREA DAVIS ON UNSPLASH

Yurts make for a fantastic alternative to solid structures, and you also don’t have to deal with the hassle of permits, property taxes, and a permanent structure. All it takes is a solid foundation, and you could probably install the yurt yourself. But, they’re still a little expensive. If you’re paying $15,000 for a yurt, you better have a business plan in mind because that’s quite a big loss if you only get a renter a few times per year.

With a yurt, you also can’t easily remove and re-use or re-sell it if you change your mind later down the road. A yurt platform can be as substantial as a normal house foundation. There are plans for building your own platform (like below), and that’s a great option if you’re good at woodworking, but newbies might want to seek help or buy a prefabricated system.

Bell tent platform rendering (ask us for the plans)

BELL TENT PLATFORM RENDERING (ASK US FOR THE PLANS)

A bell tent, on the other hand, requires nothing but a flat area in your backyard, some furniture inside to make it cozy, and if you’d like, a little furnace to make it warm. Your in-laws can use it, your friends visiting from out of state can use it, you and your family can use it. And if you get the traveler’s itch, you can quickly pack it up and bring it along for a camping experience that is more like a yurting excursion than a little cramped tent campout.

And it costs about as much as a pimped out iPad. Which is fun but no one is ever going to pay you to rent it. Which brings us to...

Renting a tent out in your own backyard

If you’re thinking about buying a bell tent, you probably already have a list of reasons why it would be useful - or just plain fun - in your life. But adding a potential income source really seals the deal.

backyard tent rental

Not only can a bell tent in your backyard bring you easy, passive income without you having to do much more than simply own one, there’s also the added benefit of travelers arriving at your doorstep. If you want to keep to yourself and don’t dig conversation with strangers, ok, that’s cool. But for many of us, the possibility of sharing coffee and stories with a few kind adventurers every once in a while - in your own back yard - seems like a real nice perk. Plus the fact that they’re paying you for the privilege.

Ok so what does it take to rent out your backyard? First, you need a bell tent, a spot to place it, a little creative DIY spirit for decorating and making it warm and cozy, a way to advertise it online, and a toilet. But we’ll get to all that in just a moment.

Capitalize on the Growing Glamping Trend

First, ask yourself an important question. Would anyone actually want to stay in your backyard? Do you live in a desirable place that’s near a popular destination, or alternatively, a remote location that’s far from cities and hotels?

You don’t have to be in a particularly busy area to make a backyard tent rental worth it. Some towns have short periods of high demand for beds and backyards, like college campuses during game nights, or areas near festivals. Or maybe your property lies along a scenic route, where there are more passing visitors than there are lodging for them.

3D Tour of our Fernweh Tent.   Click to Experience.

3D TOUR OF OUR FERNWEH TENT. CLICK TO EXPERIENCE.

Today’s travelers are looking for unique experiences as they seek ways to invest their limited vacation time to explore new locations, and many are looking to glamping or backyard guest houses as a way to fulfill this desire. More and more glamping accommodations are popping up to rent, but these rentals are not keeping pace with the ever-growing demand.

With a little up front work and an affordable investment (check out our Life inTents Bell Tent), you can capitalize on the growing glamping trend by sharing your property with adventurous travelers from around the country.


Step-By-Step Guide to Getting Your Tent Ready to Share With Others

Select a Backyard Spot for your Bell Tent Rental

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If you have a choice, try to find a location that is flat, private and “Instagram-able” for your bell tent placement. Yes, we’re serious about that last part.

The most important criteria is to identify a fairly flat piece of ground to set up the bell tent - you don’t want your guests rolling off their bed when they sleep. Trees logically provide good shade from the hot sun, but they are actually an enemy when it comes to long-term set-up of canvas bell tents. Sap, debris, and bird droppings will fall onto the roof and are difficult to clean and encourages the growth of mold and mildew. So, we suggest keeping a distance from trees if possible.

bell tent backyard rental spot.jpg

Water drainage is also important to consider when placing selecting your tent site. Will water drain away from the tent with the placement you are selecting? You will want to avoid setting up in locations where water gathers or runs through, so that your tent and guests are able to avoid mud and puddles.

If the grade of the land is up to snuff, then hopefully you can visualize an appealing background composition that enhances photos of your tent. Your visitors will love to share their adventure with their own networks, so fun and attractive backyard glamping photos will do wonders in helping to book you more guests in the future.

If you are considering multiple tents, then take into consideration the privacy of each site. The beautiful thing about sleeping in a tent at night is that it lets in many sounds from nature – both near and far. To account for this, set up multiple tents as far away from one another as possible. It is also a best practice to avoid having tent doors facing each other so that your guests aren’t forced into inadvertent peeping during their stay.

Prepare the backyard guest house tent site

Start by trimming back any grass, branches, or plants that could interfere with your set-up or guests. Once the space is clear you will want to think about the bell tent foundation that it will be placed upon.

Next, grab a metal rake and shovel to level the ground where the tent will be placed, taking care to remove any sharp debris that is present.

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To help with water drainage we would suggest laying down some finely ground rock, such as decomposed granite.

If you want to go the extra mile you can build a wood bell tent platform deck to set your tent up on. This not only looks great, but it virtually guarantees a flat surface and comfortable barrier from ground water.

Finally, suggest taking extra precautions when performing a long-term tent set-up and use a bell tent foot print tarp to help create a protective barrier between the dirt, rock, or wood foundation and the tent.

How to Set up a Bell Tent

Bell Tent Tarp

Take a little extra time and pay special attention to the finer details while setting up the bell tent.

Make sure that the floor is pulled tight as you insert the ground stakes to eliminate wrinkles on the groundsheet. Double check that the groundsheet zippers are securely covered by the canvas to prevent unwanted rainwater from seeping and getting your guest’s belonging wet.

Finally, tighten the guy lines to create smooth out the canvas of the tent walls and roof to encourage rain to drain off and away from the tent. We suggest regularly double checking these elements on a weekly basis!


For a detailed guide, check out our article on Bell Tent Setup, or watch this video below:

Now it’s time to give your bell tent rental some character, comfort and charm by choosing the furnishings and decorations. Pick a design style that you’d like your furnishings to match (i.e. boho chic, country western, rustic, elegant and modern, shabby chic, etc.) and go shopping!

The most important decision that you want to make is the beds. Decide on how many guests you will want to open up reservations for, and whether or not you anticipate that families will be welcome.

For example, our 5-meter (16 foot) bell tents can hold up to 2 queen beds or 4 single beds. So decide on the bed configuration that you want to go with that matches your anticipated guest needs. Of course, the more beds you include, the less room you will have for complementary furnishings. Certainly, make sure that you select a comfortable mattress, since a good night sleep is the most important aspect of overnight hospitality.

Outside of the bed and linens, here’s a short checklist of other important furnishings to consider including in the bell tent:

bell tent solar power

Power up the bell tent

Fortunately, in today’s world there are many options for providing your guests with electrical power. At minimum you will want to offer a solution to recharge phones so that they can take pictures of your amazing tent and share them with the world. Here are some power solutions to consider:

  • Rechargeable power bank charger (20,000-30,000 mAh USB charger or an all-in one solution)

  • Rechargeable portable power station (like this one that has an optional solar panel)

  • Run an extension cord and power strip directly from an outlet

If you decide to go with rechargeable power stations or a powerbank, consider offering these as an add-on. That way you can check these items in and out and make a few extra bucks.

Prepare your Backyard Tent for cold and wet weather

Some bell tents have a stove jack

It is good to anticipate temperature swings that nature brings so you can help keep your guests as comfortable as possible.

For chilly evenings, a simple solution to help guard against colder temperatures is to include a few extra blankets that they could use in the bell tent when temperatures drop. But you may also want to consider a heat source.

Small propane heaters can work well in bell tents, and most come standard with safety features that will shut them off if they tip over or oxygen levels get depleted. You could also go all out and install a wood burning stove in your bell tent so that guests can stay extra cozy.

bell tent summer beach.jpg

The daytime during the summer months will bring with it sweltering summer sun that is difficult to combat inside of any tent. Even with the screened windows and doors open, a breeze is sometimes hard to come by. Fortunately our double wall tents allow you to roll up the lower walls to allow more air in. But you may consider adding a rechargeable fan to your tent to help encourage the airflow.

We also offer a bell tent fly that can be set-up over the top of the tent to help regulate the internal temperatures within the tent. Once installed, the fly creates a layer of air between the tent that helps to keep the tent cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. As a bonus, the fly will also keep your tent roof clean from falling debris!

As for rain, we’d recommend helping to keep your tent floor and rugs clean by including a boot tray that will encourage your guests to take off their muddy shoes in the tent, and an entry mat so that they wipe their feet before entering.

Provide entertainment options to Backyard Renters

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Your guests will likely be happy to pass the time with conversation and reflection from their adventures, but anything you can do to help facilitate some extra fun will certainly enhance their stay.

We suggest adding a few books and magazines that they can leaf through during down time. Including a handful of games such as playing cards, a cribbage board, Exploding Kittens or Cards Against Humanity, which is especially nice for rainy days.

You will also want to curate a list of local destinations that your guests can experience outside of their campsite. Print out a booklet that includes local hikes, sights, shops and experiences that your guests could consider while they are on their vacation.

With the overwhelming nature of the internet and its million rabbit holes to get lost in, visitors who are seeking out backyard glamping are most likely into the analog, simple, and personal experiences that come naturally with a backyard tent rental. So, pump up the analog, simple and personal experiences!

Prepare the bathroom

The restroom isn’t a sexy amenity, but it is critical to attracting and keeping a fully booked reservation calendar. If you only plan on having guests every few months or so, you could get away with letting them use a bathroom inside your house. But there will be times where you’re not at home and your guests need to go, so having a toilet solution will be important.

Toilets

Depending on the infrastructure that is already in place or that you will to invest in, bathrooms can range from rustic to luxurious. Given that your guests are camping, you won’t need to go overboard here, but you do need to be mindful of comfort and privacy. Here are several options that could be implemented:

backyard-toilet.jpg
  • Stand-alone plumbed bathroom with running water

  • Composting toilet

  • Outhouse with 4 foot hole dug into the ground

  • Incinerating toilet

  • RV Toilet

  • Share your home or office toilet

No matter the route you go, make sure that you have enough toilets and that they are placed close enough for a midnight run. If you don’t have the luxury of have an onsite sink with running water then we’d suggest including wet wipes and hand sanitizer for your guests.

Showers

A hot shower is one of the best parts about camping, because you come to appreciate it so much more when it’s a luxury. Having a shower available will encourage your guests to stay for multiple evenings. If a fully functioning bathroom isn’t an option straight away then you could consider a few alternatives:

backyard-shower.jpeg
  • Propane tankless water heater shower with privacy structure

  • Solar shower bag with privacy tent or structure

  • Partner with a local gym to obtain day passes


    Building a backyard shower solution can take a bit of work, especially if you want it to function in all seasons. So we don’t recommend jumping into a bathroom and shower unit until you’ve outgrown your initial, simple tent setup.

    And during the times when your guests don’t have a shower solution in the backyard, you may find that the current hot water sources meet the guests needs adequately. Maybe giving your guests access during a certain part of the morning makes sense, or maybe the local gym is perfectly fine and saves you a lot of money and time in the long run.

Develop a plan for coffee

glamping coffee

Helping your guests to fuel up first thing in the morning will provide them with positive, lasting memories of their stay. Or at the very least, they’ll remember you as a decent human being who enjoys a good cup of coffee.

You could go all out and come up with a breakfast offering, but at a minimum we’d recommend giving your guests some caffeinated beverage choices in the morning.

Providing a hot cup of coffee or tea could be a bit tricky if a wired kitchen and plumbed sink isn’t onsite. Here are some options to get around this:

  • Propane stove + French press + gallon of water

  • Personal sized wood burning stove + coffee percolator + gallon of water

  • 12V Electric Kettle + Pour over coffee bags + gallon of water

  • Provide iced coffee in a cooler


Whatever path you choose, remember that a beverage is only as good as the vessel it comes in. So make sure to provide a mug or cup that represents your backyard tent experience well. For example, a fancy porcelain tea cup may not be entirely appropriate for a glamping experience (or maybe it is?). We’ve got some Life inTents camping mugs available if you’d like to build your backyard guest house experience around our brand.

Create a guest oasis

Sleeping in a bell tent certainly is magical, but your guests will want to spend some time relaxing in some shade, or viewing night time stars. Creating a communal area where your guests can sit, relax, and socialize will enhance their stay. Here are some items that you could include within this oasis:

backyard-guest-house-fire-pit.jpeg
  • Sitting area

  • Shade

  • Tables

  • Fire pit

  • Lawn games

  • Lighting

Try to make this oasis “instagramable” by including a unique feature, design, or amenity that is worthy of your guests talking about and sharing with their network of friends and family.

If you are accustomed to reading reviews about lodgings, guests love to mention the *one unique thing that is unmistakably tied to the place, and memorable. Otherwise, most reviews will look nearly identical to every other lodging review.

What special feature could you create in your backyard oasis? That’s entirely up to you, but it doesn’t have to be spectacular. A very comfortable fire pit area for night time socializing would be a unique draw to your backyard tent rental. A game of Bocce or horseshoes would certainly make it into guest reviews. Or even a backyard swing, vegetable garden, or a shaded sitting area where guests could socialize and reflect.

Market your backyard guesthouse

hipcamp glamping business

Now that you’re at a place where your backyard guest tent is ready for rental - even if it’s not 100% complete or fully developed - it’s time to put it out in the world. As with anything on the internet, you get what you put in, so the more time you spend on a community engaging with others, the more likely others will engage with you and your rental.

But it’s also important to be patient and take it slow. With marketing, or sales, or outreach, or whatever you want to call it, you can easily rack up hours doing some kind of work, but it doesn’t mean you’ll see results right away.

The nice thing with backyard rentals is there are already communities out there that are built around this concept of DIY guest houses. Before Airbnb, this might have been a foreign concept to most people, but now the idea of renting out a portion of your property to visitors is well understood.

Hipcamp and Glampinghub are two other sites that offer a place where you can list your bell tent rental. There are already many listings that have done the hard work of trial and error, so it’s helpful to see what’s already working with other tent rentals and try to replicate the successful aspects.

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If you’re keen on maintaining a social media account, Instagram continues to be an immensely popular destination for travelers and guest houses. Because Instagram encourages sharing beautiful images versus spamming with promotions (i.e. you can barely even post web links), it’s conducive to building a real, niche audience who shares your vision.

Finally, a place of lodging is only as good as the reviews that guests leave behind, so make sure to have a good review procedure in place. Whether you choose Google Reviews, or Facebook, or platform-specific reviews such as Hipcamp or Glampinghub, you want to make it super simple for guests to figure out how to leave a review before they check out.

And while you’re at it, you should also think about what you’ll do if you happen to get a bad review. Hint: you want to address concerns and show that you’re on top of them, rather than let bad reviews look like they’re ignored, or worse, attempt to delete or hide them.

Set your prices

While you’re researching other tent rentals, you’ll also want to start thinking about your prices. Adding up your expenses is a good way to figure out what your bare minimum must be, to break even on your tent guest house. But you also want to make sure you’re in line with what travelers are expecting to pay for a night in a backyard in your town.

If the idea of taking in loads of guests day in, day out sounds like another job, you may want to set a minimum night stay. You may lose out on a few visitors who only need one night in your backyard, but it could mean the difference between making a profit versus maintaining a side hustle that takes more work than you ever expected.

Identify Guest Check-in and Check-out procedures

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One of the mainstays of a seasoned lodging destination is the smooth check-in, check-out, and cleaning procedure. The first few times you get a renter, it’s perfectly natural for there to be hiccups. But after a few months into your operation, you shouldn’t have visitors struggle to figure out where you’re located, how to get into your backyard, what to do once they’re settled in, how to deal with the unexpected, and how to check out quickly and smoothly.

At the same time, there’s nothing worse than arriving at an overnight rental after a long day of travel, only to find a 10-page document that spells out exhaustive instructions for what should be a simple and peaceful night in a cozy tent.

When you’re first starting out, it’s helpful to go and checkout what others are doing. In addition to looking at the policies and procedures of other online rental listings, spend a few nights at other backyard guest house rentals and take notes on what you like or what you’d want to improve in your own operation.

Guest communication

backyard guest phone numbers.jpg

Outside of the actual stay, there can actually be quite a bit of back and forth communication with guests leading up to their visit. Some guests are planning an elaborate trip that requires some very specific windows of stay, while others want to leave room for flexibility and last minute change. How open you are to either of those types of travelers will determine your style of communication with them up front.

As with any kind of business, we believe it’s important to spend less time writing long emails and encourage guests to pick up the phone and call you. There’s a whole lot more humanity and less misunderstanding in a 5 minute phone call than there is in a series of drawn-out emails. A Skype or FaceTime call might even be better.

Then, after your guests have arrived, you’ll want them to have an easy way to contact you - or someone you’ve asked to manage your rental if need be - should there be an emergency or a need to contact you. Of course that’s easy if you’re in the main house - the guests can simply knock on your door. But if you’re out, it’s good to provide guests multiple ways to reach you.

And if you’d like, a guestbook can encourage visitors to share some of their most poetic and intimate thoughts during their stay. It’s a way to connect visitors with others who pass through this exact same place, possibly months or years later. And it’s a nice way for you to enjoy some of the reflection that occurs in your backyard. A guestbook is a precious, positive little treasure book and we think it’s one of the best parts about having your own backyard guest house rental.

Housekeeping Plan

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If you’re offering your guests bed sheets and towels, prepare for laundry, and loads of it. You may also need to store a lot more backup sheets, in case you get a buildup of laundry before you can tackle it. And then you’ll want to figure out when and how to clean up after your guests, and prepare for incoming guests if they’re arriving the same day.

Housekeeping may not be a big issue if you only plan on renting your backyard a few times a month at the most, but that could change if you have an unexpected busy season. It’s a good idea to line up someone to help you with housekeeping, like when you’re at your day job, or out of town, so that your tent rental operation can continue to run smoothly even without your absolute attention.

Protect yourself

Every good party has a backup plan

EVERY GOOD PARTY HAS A BACKUP PLAN

Of course with any business, there are always unexpected challenges that come up. When you’re dealing with weather, travel logistics, people, and your private property, you want to make sure you’re properly insured in case something goes bad.

It’s a good idea to call your home insurance company and ask what you need to do to make sure your property is insured against damage caused by - or to - paying guests. There’s always a little line between personal and business liability, so you want to make sure there are no surprises with your home insurance company.

Second, you may want to setup an LLC and purchase business liability insurance, to keep everything separate from yourself in case something happens. The alternative is to continue being a sole proprietor and have all the finances and insurance and claims go through you as an individual, which works fine until the day it doesn’t. You don’t necessarily have to have everything figured out right away, but as your rental starts to grow, it’s a good idea to envision a worst-case scenario and get protected properly.

If you only plan to have a few visitors a year, you might think all of that protection is a little bit too much all at once. The good news is, listing services like Hipcamp do offer you a little bit of insurance or protection, in case there are disputes between you and guests. But it never hurts to get more insurance than you anticipate using. You can always reduce your coverage later as your operation gets more streamlined.

Conclusion

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Wow, that’s a lot that goes into renting a simple bell tent to a few visitors, isn’t it? Don’t worry, it’s completely up to you to decide how you want to run this little backyard business. It’s your backyard, and your bell tent, and each market is completely unique. So who knows, maybe your tent doesn’t need to follow any of the guidelines above, and still be a complete success?

Maybe you prefer the allure of visitors finding your backyard oasis through word of mouth, rather than an online listing. That way, the magic of your hidden location becomes something that visitors share intimately with other travelers they come across. How’s that for going “off grid?”

Or maybe you prefer to own a bell tent for your own adventures, and only put it up for rental occasionally during times of the year when your town sees a lot of visitors? Do you really need established protocols if you’re only going to pitch the tent a few times a year? Probably not. But you do still need a way to market your tent.

Or possibly the backyard tent becomes something that you only share with your extended family and friends who come to visit for a night or two? If so, you probably don’t need to worry about business liability insurance, or a backyard portable bathroom, or emergency contacts.

But the point of the modular bell tent is it can be any of the above things, or none of them. You can choose to do whatever you want with a little home that can be rolled up in a duffel bag. It’s incredibly freeing, and potentially profitable, but mostly it’s just pure fun.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the guestbook. You’ll treasure it for years to come.

Questions? Comments? Pleaseget in touch!

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. We then donate 100% of our earnings to theNational Coalition for the Homeless! We all win.

Brandy Lamb
Brandy Lamb

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