Dome Sweet Dome

By: Louise Scoggins

With an initial swell of popularity in the 1960s, dome homes have been increasing in popularity over the years due to a number of benefits for home owners, including protection from extreme weather and rising energy costs. Generally there are two major types of domes in construction. Monolithic domes are made of one solid piece of one material in a dome shaped form (usually reinforced concrete or shotcrete). Geodesic domes are made of triangle panels joined together, and the structures become stronger as they get larger.

Although both are popular and said to be energy efficient, because of the nature of their design, monolithic domes may be less prone to some of the difficulties that can accompany poorly built geodesic homes, although modern construction techniques can address many of the design issues of the earlier dome homes.

Because of their concrete construction, monolithic have a high thermal mass making them up to 50 percent more energy efficient than traditional homes. With a reduced exterior surface area, there is reduced heat loss (or gain).

The nature of the arch structure is very strong. Steel reinforced concrete is built to withstand hurricanes, tornado's and earthquakes. In fact, FEMA gives these structures a "near-absolute protection" rating from the strongest category of hurricanes and tornado's. You may remember seeing a monolithic dome home in the news in 2004 when it withstood a direct hit from hurricane Ivan. Several reporters had weathered the storm inside the dome. Without angles, corners and flat surfaces for the wind to catch, lift and push against, the house survived the hurricane with minimal exterior injuries, but no structural damage. Several domes also survived Hurricane Katrina.

Fans tout the lower building costs, saying that owners can save up to 30 percent over conventional post and beam homes. However, depending on your location and your choice of finishing, saving money on construction may not be a reality. Saving money on your insurance is likely.

There are drawbacks, of course. Dehumidifying can become an issue with the air-tight nature of the building and some type of weather-proofing is usually needed to protect the roof. That said, dome homes offer many benefits: concrete does not rot, is termite and fire resistant. It can last for hundreds of years without cracking or requiring much maintenance at all.

For the sophisticated designer, the green-builder or those just looking for something a little different, the dome home offers a unique opportunity to increase your family's safety while decreasing your energy bills. And you're sure to stand out in the crowd. After all, there's no place like dome.

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