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Thinking of building a geodesic dome home.  RSS feed

 
Amedean Messan
pollinator
Posts: 928
Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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Hey guys! Well, its been a while since I posted anything here. My move to Florida is pretty much complete and I am loving my new job here in Melbourne FL. I even linked up with Rogers John who I met through Permies and he took me in a tour of his 2 acre developing food forest inside the heart of the city. He had so many bananas that he gave me an armful because he could not eat them all. Very grateful for his invite and advice and I hope we will keep in touch in a semi regular basis.

On other things, I am on the market for some acreage but where I could get 100 acres in North Carolina I can get only 5 here from the least choicest places. Its reasonably land locked so I have to settle for something more modest in size unless I want to commute from central Florida. With that said about buying land, I have been exploring houses which leads me to the title. I am not dead set on this idea as it is just that; an idea I am exploring! 10 minutes from my temporary apartment is American Ingenuity Domes (aka AI Domes) company. I will let their video speak more about their product.



So with some experience as a mechanical/structural engineer I find the design incredibly alluring. Hurricanes here have a rough effect on architecture which is why building codes are particularly rigid. I have the benefit of county officials here strongly invested in supporting its local businesses to have some leniency with the building code. In addition to that, transporting the kits would be no issue as far as expenses because I live here. The insulation value in the walls are at least R28+ on their medium to larger domes which is pretty good! I have read that they have had their domes withstand Hurricane Andrew and Katrina unscathed. I don't know how reliable their warranty is but they rate their product to withstand 220 mph winds. I have read mostly positive things about their customer service, but there were some semi critical reviews. None however were related to the product quality.

Either way, I am currently arranging the financing which is certainly a challenging task because it will require a construction loan for young pups like myself. Until I get that resolved, I am trying to look into my interior design aspects. Some images that caught my attention but I strongly lean towards open floor plan:



 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Amedean,

I would feel better waiting for others to speak on their views, but this is one form of architecture I see "pop up" every once in awhile that gives me pause.

1. Very little about the company or the materials in the build are either natural, traditional, nor within the realm of sustainable "permie" type concepts. Being a traditional/natural builder, I am letting my bias show a bit...sorry.

2. I have never seen a "geo" that doesn't develop issues after about 20 years, and after that, they tend to go down even faster...or most that I know of.

3. Having met "Bucky" back in the late 70's at a lecture, and following the "goe dome" stuff ever since, I have studied well the concept for over 40 years...Way more "cons" than "pros" and even Mr. Fuller himself kind'a gave up on them in the end as more "novelty" and "new age" than practical architecture. Romantic and interesting to look at aesthetically, but not as practical to facilitate as other vernacular forms of architecture for a given region. When folks do like them or promote them (like this company) I have always found them to be a bit over the top with there claims and fervor for the concept...

That's my quick 2ยข...sorry to be more con than pro towards the idea...glad to help if the project leans toward traditional vernacular for the region...

Regards,

j
 
Amedean Messan
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Posts: 928
Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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I appreciate your input as always. So far I am very early in my decision where I am developing a trade study. Most definitely will consider your suggestions which I appreciate. Particularly I am very curious about what you said regarding complications after 20 years with structural elements. I have not found any example to draw from where a dome had signs of deterioration but this could be due to the rarity of these homes.

I second the distaste for the lack of natural building materials. Unfortunately in Florida concrete is half-way near a requirement.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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The main complications are from leaking roofs, every joint is a peak/valley that leaks due to mistakes or aging of the shingles. I am sure they would have done better if completely coated in ice dam membrane or sprayed with something like truck bed liner as the roof. But then you have moisture build up because it doesn't breathe. Can't win, the design just doesn't account for moisture in the walls.

The other big one is you will never sell it. Banks won't finance one so 99.9% of the market can't buy it.

I understand the pros in relation to hurricanes. It is a definite draw. I think the monolithic domes would be better, but definitely not Permaculture. I still don't know what you do when the membrane wears out them. None of the domes lend themselves to repairs very well.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hey Amedean,

Our friend R. Scott summed the major issues up perfectly with these two sentences:

I am sure they would have done better if completely coated in ice dam membrane or sprayed with something like truck bed liner as the roof. But then you have moisture build up because it doesn't breathe. Can't win, the design just doesn't account for moisture in the walls.


With that, I can share the last few I visited, and I do believe one was in the Panhandle of Florida when I was still a kid myself. The issue is that silly roof. What makes "geo domes" cool...is also what makes then a...royal pain in the back side!! I have been in a concrete gunited bunker built one with two layers of concrete as bread and a poly foam sandwiched in between. Like most modern "I think" concepts of modernity, it sounds bombproof...that is until you have to actually live in it and breath....so then comes the "mechanical lungs" that all "airtight" structures have to have to function. Sorry, I am not big on depending on technology for each of my oxygen molecules...that's for space ships and I have been on submarines and don't care for living on them either...But wait...then this concrete "super geo" as it was called started to leak water on the windward side...owner spent thousand to find the source, builder insisted it was a "condensation issue" so wouldn't warrant any work, and suggest a more expensive ventilation/filtration system (a.k.a. mechanical lung) that he would be happy to install for only the labor fees...

That is just one example from over the years and after about ten bad accounts, I just stopped caring about details...because in short...they don't function as intended, as many elements of modernity in architecture don't. Modern humans get about one thing out of a hundred to actually work the way she/he "thinks" it will, and even then it is seldom the exact way as planned. This has probably been the way of it since the very beginning. That leaves us with vernacular systems, which I like not because I am "nostalgic," but because I am actually very pragmatic...I like things to...work...and I want a solid chronological history with empirical evidence that it does...

When I lived in Florida, and traveled with friends and others within the Native communities down on the "Alligator Alley" or around silver springs...we tended to live outside almost year round and the architecture reflected this. Kitchens tended to be in separate buildings because of heat and seemed more like a pavillion with a kitchen in it than an actual building. While sleeping and gather spaces had their own structure. The Creole architecture I grew to love and some of the first timber frames I learn about have a history in the Caribbean-Central America, and the Gulf that goes back over half a millenia. These can be found from Haiti to the Louisiana bayous. Because of the major storms as of late causing all the coastal damage, many "building experts" and the industries behind them have been pushing some of the most "hairbrained" concepts in architecture I have seen in my work around buildings. They have done everything from double wrapping things in plastic vapor barriers to getting rid or roof over hangs...all in the name of "I think" this is a better way...while Chickee and Palapa Vernacular Architecture (et al) go right on proving a better system of understanding.

I will close with this story, one I have told a few times here...Back in the early 70's we got smacked by a major hurricane, it was a 5 so that would have made it "Camille." This thing, if you found yourself in its direct path, was going to hurt you. It was taking out concrete and steel bridges, and everything else. So, like most things of the natural world...when it is up to throwing a "tantrum" nothing will stop it...Yet, on the outer edges of the storm, as modern building got there roof blown off and window imploded, we sat it all out eating dinner and saying prayers in the deep country area of "Black Water Bayou" in a "Bousillage" styled house that was over 150 years old. It had a summer kitchen (we lost the roof on that but not the Chickee style frame,) several old outbuildings, and what was called a "hurricane porch." This veranda was wide. Ten feet in the front, 6 on the sides and 8 in the back. The perfect kind of "wing" that today's architects insist will get ripped off in a major storm. Really? This was a major storm and it didn't get ripped off. Why? Because of the system and history of living in such places. The Creole,"Cochs," and related Natives new how to build for the coastal area and which ways worked to "weather" a storms, and which ways did not...

This house had cob infilled wall with spanish moss/hair fiber, and "tabby" lime plaster walls. It was about 40 by 40 in size (minus porches)and sat on either wood post I could see for the porch and brick plinth column for the main house. It was made of cypress and oak, with a shake roof, and heavy wood shutters. There was a central fire place of brick and coral stone (rare in that area and have only seen a few since then.) It had a big "hatch" in the back parlor room floor that led to a brick walled root cellar kinda space under the house...there was a tunnel off that, but we kids never got to see or go in it. Now for the preparation of the pending storm, all the window got opened, and the shutters closed, while someone on the porch dropped all the "weather boarding." Which seemed to be like large wooden boards or panels that hung from chain anchors of the outer porch frame and basically turn the porch into a pseudo outer room that ran all the way around the house. My mother said these kinds of porches had the purpose of not only comfort but security, in as such they allowed folks to go out at night, up off the ground where "critters be crawling" and also buffered the main house from sun and storms like the one that was about to hit. Up in the attic/loft these old trunks got opened and what appeared to be old retire shrimp nets got taken out and laid on the shake roof, which at the time I thought was a strange thing to do? That was until I saw my Grandmother go out to the flower beds on each side of the house and pull up what looked like old "anchor chain" as big as my skinny arm. There she, and others fixed guy lines to each corner of the poarch frame posts and then to this netting. I can remember during the heat of the storm a member of the collected folks there complaining that one corner of the roof would have to be repaired as it lifted up and slapped down many times in the storm, yet the frame didn't budge even a little bit. This house and it out building weather this category five and many others in it 150 years of life, including a fire after we move North a few years later. It wasn't until a developer came in that it was destroyed along with others in the "Quarters" to be replaced by modern track homes and condos. All built to better "building codes" and stormed proof...that is until they all got scraped clean during there second hurricane...

So, I say build vernacular, and forget the "dome home" concept, but that is just me and my luddite ways talken...
 
Mike Feddersen
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Mr. White Cloud, you seem to me a permies treasure.
 
Dillon Nichols
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Location: Victoria BC
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I really like the idea of dome houses, but kept running into anecdotal accounts of exactly the issue Jay brings up; the leaky, complicated roof. Several of the handful I've seen were tarped... The potential solution I was hearing about was an elastomeric roof coating, which I didn't much like the appearance of. At the time the condensation/breathable walls issue wasn't really on my radar, but now it strikes me as a major concern when the 'roof' is also all of the walls...


What about a many-sided roundish house, instead of a full on dome? Some of the benefits, less of the downsides. Deltec Homes sells kits. A Deltec roof on top of a rammed earth/earthbag/cobwood wall system might make an interesting compromise.


Monolithic domes are literally bulletproof... but even less of a natural building system. The thing that put me off these was the difficulty of repairing it or modifying it. The concrete inner layer would stand up to damn near anything, but the open cell sprayfoam insulation outside of that would fill up with water after the exterior membrane is punctured by debris in a storm.... then what? I think for the outer shell you're expected to just keep recoating with an elastomeric paint to prevent the shell from wearing out, but this doesn't really address damage. Also, as Jay mentions, you'd need mechanical ventilation, and you're at the mercy of the builder if/when you have problems.


Jay: awesome story, I kind of love the idea of going ahead and building a roof that will want to blow away, and then chaining it down! Regardless of building style, having beefy shutters and 'armor' on hand seems really sensible.
 
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