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Could a geodesic dome straw bale house with waterproofing be feasible in the American midwest?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 13
Location: River Falls, WI zone 4
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cat chicken rabbit
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Hey y'all!  I have an idea I've been bouncing around for a while, but there are some flaws with it and I'm not sure it is worth taking further, so I'm going to try and draw from your knowledge a bit!

So there's this series of videos that documents the building of a straw bale geodesic dome in Israel.  I want to try something similar - a small straw bale-covered geodesic dome, except the structure would be built from wood - but I have some problems (and possible solutions).

- Problem: the ground freezes in my area.  Idea: rubble trench foundation under the bale walls, topped with a heavy rot-treated wood base for the bales.  (Wood because I don't want to pour cement and because it is abundant where I live.)  Question: is it a good idea to support something like this with such a foundation?

- Problem: I might want a mini loft.  Question: would I be able to build this right off of the geodesic dome structure, or would I have to make it a separately supported structure?

- Problem: the big one.  Water, water, water.  I don't live in Israel.  I live in good ol' Wisconsin, where the gods dump their extra snow and where we get over 30 inches of rainfall a year.  Naturally, an earthen plaster dome could not hold up in this place.  Idea: I coat the plastered exterior of the dome with an elastomeric waterproof coating, install a vapor barrier under the floor and walls such that moisture does not rise from the ground into the bales, and possibly install a dehumidifier (or run a rocket stove all winter to suck humidity out).  Thus, the humidity within the bales would remain close to that of the interior air (or however that works).  Of course, there are a number of possible problems with this idea.  A small hole in the coating could spell disaster.  If the interior humidity was too difficult to keep down, the bales could rot.  I might not know how any of this humidity stuff works.  Question: would I want to extend the vapor barrier between the bales and the foundation and "merge" it with the elastomeric coating so that the bales and interior spaces are essentially within an envelope of climate-controllable waterproofing?  Has anyone ever tried something like this?  Is this a colossally stupid idea, or is it worth a shot? 

- Problem: a little bit of a different one - I don't want to deal with building codes.  They make me feel ill.  Question: in your experience, how lax are building codes in theory/in practice in unincorporated communities?

- Problem: drilling wells is environmentally unfriendly.  Question: assuming the waterproofed dome was a feasible idea, would it be stupid to harvest, filter, and store the water that runs off the roof for use in ordinary plumbing situations?

Thank you for your consideration!
 
pollinator
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I too loved the idea of a geodesic dome right until I realized that they were not that practical and had lots of potential problems .
As you correctly identified in my opinion water collection would require a novel solution. That's engineering speak for WTF do we do . ?
A box is much simpler although I admit not as attractive solution.

David
 
Heather Petersen
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Location: River Falls, WI zone 4
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David Livingston thanks for replying!  So what are some of the other potential problems with geodesic domes themselves, aside from water issues with the strawbales?
 
David Livingston
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I had a look in our records and came across this previous discussion
https://permies.com/t/46608/Thinking-building-geodesic-dome-home

Lots of info there
Basically looks good and in the desert fine maybe

David
 
pollinator
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How about a nice boxy strawbale house inside a geodesic dome greenhouse?
Hold down your greenhouse plastic with taunt nylon rope/webbing/paracord and grow vines up the outside for summer shade.
Spray the inside with water soluble paint for more shade, rinse/wipe it off when things get cold. Maybe chalk in water?
Diatomous earth?

Just an idea.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1628
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I like William's idea about the geodesic greenhouse outer envelope, though the hot, humid four-season hothouse that some would employ would cause issues with any straw bale construction, or at very least require extensive humidity controls. There are some issues I can see with your approach, though, Heather.

I think it would be helpful to know why you think a geodesic dome is a good shape for a house for you, considering the climate.

I also wonder if you have checked out the history of building in your area. Do you know what the predominant forms of shelter were before the European arrival? Looking at these, and at what was built and discarded over the years after Europeans arrived, might give you some really good clues about designing a structure to fit your needs that is better suited to your particular climate.

Geodesic dome houses are inconvenient for the same reason A-frame houses with really steep roof pitches are inconvenient: when we try to fill these structures with furniture, we end up with lots of wasted space, and not enough vertical walls against which to place furniture. So you either end up with furniture unanchored by placement against or with reference to walls, or you end up building internal walls, but that both wastes the space taken by the wall and the space you're cutting off to make it straight, leaving you with awkward crawl spaces and haphazard storage areas.

Geodesic domes as a structural shape only benefit you in terms of efficiency of heating. In the American midwest where you are, how cold does it get in the winter?

In addition to this, building materials mostly come in long, straight pieces or 4' x 8' sheets, and are usually flat in at least one dimension. Finishing materials are designed to fit these parameters. This suits geodesic dome building not at all.

Imagine trying to cut 4' x 8' rectangular sheets of glazing of any real substance into hexagonal panels to fit your greenhouse structure. Unless you're using flexible, transparent house wrap, which is unlikely to wear very well or for very long, it would probably prove to be a very wasteful process, costing a lot just on that basis.

Now imagine that happening through every stage of your geodesic straw dome house build.

As to some of your other points, treating wood to withstand soil contact by modern industrial methods is a toxic process in most cases that only lasts the life of the wood product because after it leaches out of the wood foundation and into your soil, it is free to rot away like any other wood. Treated wood is usually avoided as much as possible by those eating food out of the soil they grow.

By comparison, cinderblock is more durable, more insect and fire-resistant, and won't leach literal soil poison into the ground. In addition, they can sometimes be salvaged whole from a demolition, or can be purchased used for a discount, in some situations.

Isn't the American Midwest where the common complaint about the summer is that it's not the heat, but the humidity? We get that in Toronto, believe it or not, due to the humid continental climate, and I wouldn't try building a straw bale structure here, either. All that humidity will get at the straw, unless you take extensive or toxic measures, which defeats the whole point of using a relatively cheap renewable as a building material.

So I would probably suggest rammed earth, but compressed earth block is also good, and some would advocate earthbags. If you have a lot of structural lumber and don't have anything better to do with it, you could look at Paul's WOFATI idea. I actually love the WOFATI concept, but I will do it with rammed earth and/or compressed earth block, and/or maybe earth bag, depending on the situation.

Back to the geodesic greenhouse as an outer envelope, there is a product being used to house a educational and recreational biome project in the UK (like a zoo, but for different biomes around the planet), which creates a geodesic greenhouse by inflating hexagonal panels of a UV-stable flexible transparent glazing. This, in my opinion, is the best idea to ever be applied to geodesic domes. If they were affordable enough, a family could simply drop one over their farmhouse, barn, and surrounding yards, essentially enclosing their zones 0-2, perhaps even 3. You could keep a constant humidity and temperature, and although it would likely still be too humid to be appropriate for straw bale, any enclosed structure would instantly be buffered from severe weather and changes in temperature, reducing maintenance costs and extending the life of materials otherwise worn down by exposure to the elements.

Good luck, in any case. Let us know how it goes.

-CK
 
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in the midst of moving and saw this thread. so lots of typos for you to sift through
=)
will shaer a bit of information for you to further research:

Geodesic Quonset.

if you think about it, this is similar to first nations' Longhouse, which was around eons ago.
check out book ,native american architecture.  book by easton. available used online.



Check out Geodesic Quonset online. i got plans online.
there is a free followup book online somewhere, just keep searching for it.

https://www.bing.com/search?q=geodesic+quonset&pc=MOZI&form=MOZSBR


PJ HAfer,  who designed & built, did  his out of 1x6 diimensional lumber.

I am  dreaming of doing this with bamboo, similar to Longhouse, to cover  over
many types of structures for all the above reasons you  mentioned in the
original post. to protect sturcture, for winterized Yard to play and grow in.
I call it  the Dome OVerhome, as it is an"overcoat' for structures =)


to somehow insulate the northern side.

ALSO, there is a greenhouse film called F CLean or F clear. they have covered
commercial greenhouses and covering the geodesically shaped Eden Project in Wales with this product.
and it has been on for over 25 years and shows no signs of degradation.

https://www.agcchem.com/products/specialty-materials/f-clean-greenhouse-film

is different from other films in composistion, needs to be tensioned for use.


there are varying degrees of allowing sunlight in or shading completely. so the
'shading fclean can be used over the home for shade, and teh fclean which lets in more
light can be used in the areas where that is desired

the manufactureres are looking for new markets. so maybe permie folks can
entice them to bring this to our niche market!

happy trails on your adventures.
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I have often thought about ETFE as glazing. I hope, when I am building my own giant greenhouse envelope, that it is available and affordable for use here in North America.

The geodesic quonset design is much better in terms of materials use than the geodesic dome, but it runs afoul of the same incompatibility with the standards to which the building industry complies. Everything is square or rectangular and flat. The structure part is the easiest to deal with, as it's only really building a skeleton out of sticks, and in the absence of specialty hardware like hubs into which the structural members socket, all that's required is competence doing relatively complex compound mitre cuts to get the angles right. Everyone can do that, right?

Cladding, though, for such structures is still going to prove wasteful. The quonset variant will be easier, unless it isn't wrapped with something flexible. If it's necessary to cut the glazing or cladding into panels fitting the hexagonal shapes, there's no real benefit.

Geodesic structures are a lovely idea with few practical benefits considering the constraints of manufactured building materials, in my opinion.

-CK
 
Gail Moore
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so,chris and others, what type of framework do you prefer for
a quonset style /round top shape for this idea
for an envelope of some sort over a dwelling, or shed or barn,etc?

and why do you prefer that, for discussion sake?

i have lived in numerous substandard dwellings over the
past forty years. and  have just moved into, yet, one more of them.

how can we empower ourselves to create protection for the home
with  a larger footprint than the building itself.
to have outdoor living & playing/workshop/storage
around the dwelling?

this is so important, because much more than two billion folks
live in, shall we say, less than nurturing housing.
protecting the dwelling from weather is a PRIME PRIORITY for me.
as much of the world's housing stock is in the process of
disintegration/'composting' right before our eyes.

and we are expected to pay power companies $$$$$$$ for the pleasure
of blowing heat through the walls of unheatable dwellings. what a great
money making scheme for someone.

One idea i have been toying with for a few years is to build a framework of posts
around the structure so that insulation can be placed between the building and the frame. so
that the dwelling can be superinsulated on the outside. and all that is protected from weather.

then use that frame as support for whatever becomes the "overcoat" envelope.
overcoat is a loose term for the outer protecting structure. i like the sound of it.

I have also thought about Gambrel roof style. just building a 'gambrel  roof' as the
entire Overcoat structure. with dormers, as needed to create greenhouse area, more ways of getting in
light air and views. etc etc.


thank s in advance for your thoughts and ideas. f/size][size=18]

GAMBREL-ROOF-SIDE-VIEW.jpg
[Thumbnail for GAMBREL-ROOF-SIDE-VIEW.jpg]
 
Gail Moore
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Quote:
overcoat is a loose term for the outer protecting structure. i like the sound of it.

oh , let me clarify/correct myself.

i meant to say i like the term "overhome" as a outer protecting structure.
 
Posts: 52
Location: NW KS/NE CO State Line
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Vis a Vis code compliance in an unincorporated community. 

The simple answer is "does your county have a code inspector?"  If the answer is yes, then you might need to deal with it.  If no, then "who's going to inspect it?" 

On a similar note, I don't think they normally mess with temporary structures.  And some of the buildings at Ft McCoy are exactly that, even if they were built in WWII. 
 
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Hi Heather (and everyone else),

I would like to take a moment to echo the concerns expressed by other in this thread and in some of the references people have included.  While domes are super cool shapes, they probably cause more problems than they solve (especially in the long run).  While straw bales are a fantastic insulator, they have to be installed properly, especially in a wet climate.  I would encourage you to reconsider both; perhaps an arched structure would be a suitable compromise . . . https://CruxHomes.com ?  Now that I've gotten the shameless self promotion out of the way, if you have your heart set on a dome and straw I would like to offer the following:

Try not to think in absolutes.  If you want to insulate with straw, that's great.  Especially if it's sourced locally, it has the lowest embodied energy of any insulation that I know of (i.e. energy to manufacture, package, transport, etc.). It doesn't have to be the only insulation you use.  Moisture is a concern in your area, you could use a different material for the bottom three feet of your building to mitigate that risk.  Even modern manufactured insulation still saves energy when you look at the entire life cycle of a building, especially if it's used sparingly.  Diagnosing and repairing water damage or a mold infestation has a carbon footprint too.

If you want to have the cool factor of a dome, it doesn't have to be your whole house.  Perhaps you could have a geodesic gable or dormer which utilizes half or even a quarter of a dome.  Just some food for thought.

Check out Earthships if you want some cool factor that's less climate sensitive.  I'm personally a big fan of tire bale construction because it recycles so much waste (http://www.dirtcheapbuilder.com/Articles/Tire_Bale_Home.htm for instance).  I hope that helps!

Cheers,
CJ

P.S.  I almost forgot.  Even if your new home won't get inspected, you probably still have to get a septic permit or possibly a well permit.  Those are easier to deal with then the full building inspection process.
 
Posts: 404
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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That Israeli place was interesting
Kibust tourism
 
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HI Heather. I think its totally feasible. One just has to be smart about the construction process. Are you still interested in Geodesics? I live in Waukesha, WI. And last year I invented a new way to build geodesic domes. I'd be very happy to work with you and send you a kit for free. Let me know! Cheers!
 
We noticed he had no friends. So we gave him this tiny ad:
podcast 400 - Rocket Oven
https://permies.com/t/89416/podcast-Rocket-Oven
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