Posted in Features on October 15, 2008
Richard Buckminster Fuller invented the geodesic dome in 1947, and his hope was to implement solutions for some of the larger housing issues during that time. You might not be surprised to learn that those issues, which included energy efficiency, a wiser use of resources and a safe residence remain the issues of the twenty-first century. Yet, during the last half of the twentieth century, dome homes, biodome structures and other geodesic forms were slow to catch the public’s attention. Now, however, with hurricane and tornado onslaughts, floods, the inability for the average family to own a safe home for less and a willingness to try something new, the general public has caught on to this “dome home” idea.
Now, designers have planned dome homes, tents, personal mini-domes and fantastical structures that serve as beautiful homes, that save up to seventy percent on heating and cooling and that can withstand many “Acts of God.” While domes have their opponents, their objections - more often than not - have been overturned. Building codes, sound problems, privacy and weatherproofing all have been resolved through compromise, extensions, building in levels, and building with new materials. This type of home uses less material and labor and are suited to mass production. At the same time, as you’ll see below, dome homes are subject to individual flair. Additionally, these homes are friendly to the environments where they’re situated - true “biohomes” that connect people with the earth, if only to help save resources.
The list below contains examples of structures designed by specific companies, homes owned by private individuals, and temporary and permanent dome homes that are built with various materials and methods. One thing you might notice is that most of these homes are wide open to the DIY builder, so all you need is a bit of land in some cases to build a home. Although the homes are listed in no particular order, this does not mean that we favor one dome home method over another or one design above any other layout.
- Energy Structure: In the past, dome builders found it difficult to seal domes against rain. The most effective method to avoid leaks with a wooden dome is to shingle the dome. Energy Structures, Inc., located in Minnesota, has been in the business of building domes since 1980, and they use shingles in their design. This was the first dome company to design and manufacture the double-wall strut, known as the Energy-Strut® for super-insulated dome housing as well. Another complaint in the past was the fact that - since heat rises - the dome shape leaves a large volume that must be heated, yet cannot be lived in. Energy Structure homes contain a special “dome top heat recovery system” that recirculates the air and that saves energy and maintains a constant temperature throughout the dome. The site also contains pricing for various size domes for the DIY builder. The smallest 26′ dome runs about $24,000 including materials and labor. The 44′ dome can exceed $80,000.
- The Dome Home in Big Bear: If you’re unsure whether you want a dome home, you can rent this one to acquire a taste for multi-level dome home living. It’s located close to Los Angeles, California, yet that city seems a world away as you settle into this home’s ambiance. This spacious home comes with a conveniently attached two-car garage offers four private bedrooms (potentially five), three and one/half bathrooms, and has been redesigned and redecorated by professional designer/decorators - even a Feng Shui master. A unique, octagonal-shaped foyer, illuminated by vertically shooting spotlights, leads to a colossal living room with cedar-paneled walls that reach out to the pentagonal skylight windows, which light up the center of the house. You must call for current availability for rentals.
- Timberline Geodesics: Can you imagine owning a home like the one shown at left for about $37,000? You can, along with the cost of labor (unless you’re a DIY builder). The dome size is 35′, with two floors that total 1,994 square feet. Three bedrooms and two baths plus a garage makes this a perfect home for a small family. What makes Timberline homes unique is their plan for extensions from the dome. The extensions serve as space for the two downstairs bedrooms (or an office space), as well as the large kitchen and dining area. If you’re intimidated by the thought of building a dome home, Timberline makes it sound easy. All wooden components of a Timberline Dome are pre-cut and pre-drilled to exacting specifications, and color-coded to make it easy for unskilled people to assemble them with precision and confidence. Two people can complete the framework for even the largest dome in less than two days. The largest piece for a 45′ dome is a 10 ft. long 2″ x 6″, which is easily handled by one person. Timberline offers plans and construction images on their site.
- Good Karma Domes: How can you not live in a home that has good karma? These homes are perfect for the DIY builder, as the paneled domes come with triangles pre-assembled and color coded for easy construction. They take pride in their work, as their designs are straight from Buckminster Fuller’s original patents and tolerate only the finest tolerances. According to this company, Good Karma Domes have been calculated by many independent certified engineers and 3-dimensional space frame computer analysis and tested in real-life extremes; tornadoes and hurricanes. A failure point has not been reached. They also have an unusual set up for the financial options. Once you purchase a kit from Good Karma Domes, you become a reseller. So, anyone you send their way can net you five percent of that sale. They have many options for floor plans, and each one is priced differently. So take your time and browse, but don’t expect a price. You’ll need to call for that information.
- Dome Incorporated: This company manufactures homes for all uses, from small to large, from energy efficient to unusual. Their claims to fame include the patent for a connector for geodesic home structures, a steel frame, and the hurricane-proof geodesic home like the one shown here. They’re also known for their annual summer workshop, where attendees can learn how to design a shelter for any number of challenges. For instance, in 2008, the seminar challenge was to design a shelter for a family of that person’s choosing. That shelter needed to be ecologically friendly with very little impact on the environment. So, while you’ll discover little about this company on their site (but, plenty about the homes that they’ve helped to build through photos and plans), you can learn much about their focus through news about their annual retreats. Prices for the least expensive hurricane and extreme snow load home such as the one shown here run about $15,000 for the materials needed for a 26′ diameter 2v 3/6 Half Sphere.
- Sigler Residence: This dome home, located in Pensacola, Florida, survived Hurricane Ivan without a scratch. Designed by architect Jonathan Zimmerman, the home is constructed from air-formed thin shell concrete structures which are very similar to geodesic homes. But, these shells are more like ‘ballons’ of fiberglass-reinforced nylon or other fabrics that are used to form the energy-efficient structures. After that balloon is inflated, the inside surface is sprayed with rigid polyurethane foam insluation. Steel reinforcing bars are then tied into place against the insulation, and concrete is sprayed to cover the steel. Later, the balloon can be coated with the desired color or texture, and earth can be bermed against the structure. Zimmerman also is building one of these domes in Alaska, where he says it will survive an avalanche. This particular residence is a FEMA-funded project, and it’s for sale for $1,275,000.
- Eco-Dome: According to this site, when you learn to build an eco-dome, it’s an excellent way to prepare for building a much larger structure such as a three-bedroom home. The Eco-Dome is only 400 sqaure feet, but it provides the basics needed for expansion and, when finished, these homes are simply beautiful. The Eco-Dome plan is a part of the Cal-Earth educational and research program. It is an educational construction document developed to be used in conjunction with the Cal-Earth apprenticeship course. So, if you live in the area, you may be able to retrieve and build a plan that has already been approved for your region. An Eco-Dome package includes construction document blueprints, engineering calculations for the 1997 UBC / 2001 California Code, a specification, title 24 energy energy calculations, and the engineering record. Plus, you can get a documentary DVD and video showing step by step construction of the Eco-Dome. Price? $2,400 for a single unit and $3,200 for a double unit (800 square feet), including shipping.
- Kolb’s Dome: This dome was built with the help from American Ingenuity, a company that has been designing floor plans and manufacturing eco-conscious dome home kits since 1976. Their claim is that users can save up to seventy percent on heating and cooling bills, thanks to seven-inch thick rigid expanded bead polystyrene (E.P.S.) insulation. Plus the insulation is not interrupted by wood and there is no wood in the home’s exterior walls. The exterior of the dome is concrete that you paint with latex paint. This Kolb dome home consists of an A.I. 40′ dome linked to a 27′, two car garage. The garage first floor is 555 square feet with a 16-foot-wide overhead door and a 680 square-foot attic. The attic floor is fully suspended from the dome shell so their are no columns or supporting walls to interrupt the garage first floor. For the year 2003, the monthly average electrical cost for this home was $48.88. This cost included heating and cooling, well pump operation, hot water heating, cooking, laundry and sanitary. A home similar to this sold for $224,000 in 2006. Yet, an A.I. 40′ dome kit with entryways, dormers and skylights (about 2,000 square feet) costs about $30,000 for materials today.
- Hilltop Dome House: This dome home is one of Las Angeles’ unusual homes. Using ideas once promoted in The Whole Earth Catalog, this pioneering work of vertically-interconnected spaces defies domestic convention. Flexible live-work arrangements are accommodated within the lower levels, illuminated by a dozen skylights, earth sheltered and topped by a green roof for maximum thermal efficiency. The geodesic dome above shelters a vast interior studio volume for meditation, art, rehearsal, performance, or entertaining. The interior area totals approximately 1812 square feet on a site of nearly a quarter acre. The price, which was posted in 2007, was $799,000. See more photos at Curbed LA, including one that shows an incredibly crafted garage.
- Domes Northwest: The home pictured at left is a product developed by Domes Northwest. Note the extensions to the sides and at top. One previous complaint about dome homes has been sound - while the domes are acoustically perfect for musicians, regular folks discovered that a sound produced in one side of the dome could be heard throughout the dome. To counter this objection, extensions provide space that avoids that sound issue, as home offices, bedrooms, and other rooms that require privacy can be built into these additional extensions. Rooms like the one at the bottom of this dome home also provide additional opportunities for solar heating. Visit Domes Northwest’s site to view plans and more photos on their projects. This company takes into account the rising costs of various commodities, so their prices often vary. Currently, a 51′ diameter dome with three openings runs about $31,374 for basic materials. This Wisconsin home currently is for sale for $499,000.
- O2 Sustainability: We wrote about this project in our treehouse article, and it deserves another mention in this article for its earth-friendly and sustainable nature. It uses 100% sustainable materials and does not harm the growth of the host tree in any way. It will fit in any tree, single trunk, multi trunk or even multiple trees in a forest. For example, in the image shown here, the biodome treehouse at left (Interior Tension Canopy) and right (Rigid Exterior Canopy) can be connected by a swinging bridge. If heights bother you, the model can be built on the ground. Drawn, built and presented by 23 year old furniture designer Dustin Feider, these geodesic homes can be built with his help, including the lift system. Prices, however, are not as transparent as the “stealth model” shown in his catalog.
- Yurts: While not built in a traditional geodesic shape, a yurt is a biospace that connects the people within totally to the earth below. The circular design and spacious interior, the yurt - based upon the traditional Mongolian yurt - is conducive to both social activity and quiet contemplation. Modern day Yurts are self-supporting structures that are heated and cooled with the help of their aerodynamic shape. The Colorado Yurt Company, located in Montrose, Colorado, has an online calculator to help determine prices and sizes as well as options. For instance, a 24′ yurt (a little over 2,000 square feet) costs $7,570. If you live in the UK, you can contact Woodland Yurts for a nomadic tent. Their prices start at 900 pounds, or $1,568.67 USD, for a ten-foot rustic. The yurt shown here is a twenty-foot space located near Moab, Utah.
- BioHome: If you yearn for simplicity and the ability to get “off the grid,” then BioHomes may help you meet your goals. They offer every possible device available, including solar-powered toilets, to get you going with your geodesic framework, bubble windows, and insulation that won’t sag, shrink or invite mold, mildew or bacteria. BioHomes’ goal is to “contribute to being part of the solution” to a sustainable world. BioHomes’s pricing includes tubing. For instance, one-inch tubing for a 44′ biohome is $6,400 plus shipping and handling.
- Design Object: Talk about a personal space! This large inflatable “Chill Out” room was designed by David Sevoir in 2001, and it serves as a lovely space to relax both indoors and outside. This personal biodome is seven foot in diameter with thirty-one clear and white PVC panels. It weighs almost thirty-eight pounds, and it requires a compressor (available at most hardware stores for about $30-$40). You can seat up to two adults or three children in this private bubble, so you might want to share. Cost for this modicum of privacy? $400.00.
- Underground Dome: This New Zealand beauty was built by architect Fritz Eisenhofer, who wanted an energy efficient oasis that could withstand the windy coastal weather. He excavated and built the foundation for this home 12-feet below the surface. The home is comprised of five cement domes, and the largest contains the kitchen, living and dining areas as well as a swimming pool that is flanked by a tropical garden and a mezzanine sleeping area. Four smaller domes contain a study, bathrooms and the entranceway. The glass wall, seen here, catches the southern sun, and fans move that heat around the house. The underground atmosphere is conducive to acting as a heat sink, storing warmth for an even temperature twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year. This home must be priceless, as we’ve yet to find a dollar amount on its head.
- Shelter Dome Tents: If you don’t want to build a dome home, then take one on the road with you. These “YurtDomes” are lightweight and large, made with a strong, tear-resistant fabric and non-puncturing tarp fasteners and leak proof. These tents can serve as family living spaces, camping tents, emergency shelters, playrooms and more. These 14′, 18′ and 20′ Domes can be set up by one person in 30 minutes without tools. The Geodesic Dome that is ten foot in diameter and five foot high (75 square feet) is only $480.
- Flag Pond Hobbit House: Complete with claw-foot bathtub, this Hobbit home, located in Tennessee, was constructed by War Bonnet Construction. Mr. Ansel, the owner of the construction company, has been building domes and has completed 208 structures ranging from eight feet to 92 feet in diameter. Ansel completed this 1400-square-foot monolithic dome home in Flag Pond, Tennessee in October 2004. It’s earth-bermed, and it’s the second underground dome that Ray has built. The owners are fans of J. R. R. Tolkein and his characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so Ansel designed the front of this dome to resemble Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit hole. There’s no sign the owners are willing to sell, but a home such as this monolithic home can cost from $9,000 upward. Here’s an image of an above-ground monolithic structure, sans frills.
- Solaleya Home: Perhaps you would like a dome home that rotates for unparalleled passive solar energy capacity? Solaleya will help you meet that goal and more with their models that have been proven to be resistant to hurricanes and earthquakes. But, if you don’t want to spin like the earth in your home, you can choose a stable model or a “Transit.” The latter model can be added to a home to accommodate guests, to create a studio, etc. The twenty-five foot, three-level rotating model (about 6,307 square feet) costs approximately $534,000 in materials and $335,000 in total build out.
- Joshua Tree Dome: If you want to try out a larger dome home, this large 2500-square-foot geodesic dome sits on five acres with views from one of the highest locations in Joshua Tree, California. Situated very close to the Joshua Tree National Park entrance, this for-rent property is perfect for a family getaway,corporate retreats or classes. It has sleeping accommodations for twelve, with an 800-square-foot master bedroom loft, 30-foot ceilings, fireplace, beautiful wood interior, an all new hickory kitchen designed and built by Will Coon, with new appliances, and a large 360-degree wrap-around deck on the second story. A 2000-square-foot activity wing is attached to the dome, and this building includes a full kitchen, a 40-foot indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, exercise room, meditation loft, lounge area, and bar. The pool opens up to a patio with a barbecue and outside dining area that overlooks its own private valley. While we don’t know how much it cost to build this dome and its adjacent outbuilding, we do know that you’ll pay about $400 per night to stay here. But, this rate is for up to ten people, so break it down to $40 per person, which is cheaper than most motels we know!
- Zendome: This image reminds us of a mini Taj Mahal, with the reflecting pool and majestic illumination of the geodesic dome. This luxury, designed by Zendome in Germany, can enclose a floor space of 30 to 300 square meters. The dome allows up to three circular entrances, and domes can go together to form a ‘domescape.’ While these Zendomes appear delicate and ethereal, more than 1,000 kilograms can be suspended from the framework - so you can carry on with “the suspension of high-wire circus acts, compact cars, or animal cages, allowing for a new world full of possibilities.” The prices for these domes were not advertised, but we’ll wager they probably range between $500 and $1,000 USD.
- Steve Miller’s Ply Sphere: This dome home may remind you of children’s rhymes, fairy tales or your last flashback. Nonetheless, this home is viable, and Miller is a pioneer in plywood dome construction. Plywood domes are very profitable in the sense that the plywood sheets don’t need to be cut or modified. Secondly, the positioning of the sheets is advantageous for water impermeability.The basic building is inherently watershedding, and no shingles are needed. In fact, the shell is so strong that frames often aren’t needed. Read more about Miller’s concepts [PDF].
- Mountain View: This sprawling ranch-style home is nestled into the rolling hills located south of Pueblo, Colorado. Ray and Beth Merrell, owners, enjoy sculpted window openings and a three-season patio dome that frames a view of the nearby mountains. While this home, which was designed by Cloud Hidden, might not look as “in place” in the eastern mountains, the air formed, super insulated, steel reinforced, sculpted concrete home looks right at home in its arid surroundings here. Cloud Hidden claims that their homes are “the strongest, most disaster resistant, energy efficient, and artistic homes that can be built today.” Visit their site to view the spacious interiors in their designs.
- Xanadu: If you happen to travel somewhere near Sedona, Arizona, you might not be able to stop in the area to check out this rainbow-colored personal dome living space. Although the family that lives here wants to turn their home into the “Tour Home of the Future,” zoning laws have impeded their progress in that regard. But, you can visit the home’s Web site to learn more about their home and to view photos of the exterior and interior. This is a multi-dimensional monolithic concrete home that contains ten domes and that was originally designed and modeled after “Xanadu, The Computerized Home of Tomorrow” built in Orlando Florida over fifty years ago. Why did this family paint their domes the colors of the rainbow? To make them stand out! They’re definitely evangelists about these structures and want to spread the word.
- Ballan Dome Roundhouse: One problem with dome homes is that your neighbors may object to your taste and what that dome might do to property values. But, if anyone has answers to those questions and more, it would be Anthony (Tony) Clarke, an Australian dome home owner. Despite several, relatively recent occurrences of high winds that tore away roofs, blew away fences and uprooted trees, Ballan’s Council refused to approve plans for Clarke’s planned domes. Residents in that neighborhood had objected to the unusual, “igloo-like look” of the domes, but - after Clarke found a way around building codes - those same neighbors ask for tours and instructions on how to build these monolithic homes.
- Disappearing Dome: Paul and Barbara Stitt in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, built this state’s first-ever dome home. This is a 55-foot diameter, three-story monolithic home. And, to get around the “igloo-looking” objections, they painted it light blue. Sometimes, during a clear day, it’s easy to miss this house! Their 4000-square-foot home contains two garages and a housekeeper’s apartment (1,500 square feet), a living room, dining room, guest bedroom and bath and storage, laundry and a place for Barbara to grow orchids in the sun room. The cost for this dome home is unknown, but you can discover more about monolithic homes at The Monolithic Dome Institute.
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