I want to build a Monolithic dome home! (I think)
July 26, 2011 5:45 PM   Subscribe

I want to build a Monolithic dome home! (I think)

We're planning on building a house and have a budget of 325-375,000. Found two 7.5acre plots in the mountains near Boulder, CO so the home we have about 200-250,000 leftover to build the house. Ideally we'd like it to be 1500-2000 sq ft. but I don't know if we have enough money to get us that far. I know about getting septic and well electricity etc. set up so the question is more about the type of house to build. I'm kind of leaning toward the Monolithic Dome design. Anyone have any experience building one/living in one? Any cons to know about? I've read most of the pros which is why I want to build one. And this part I'm sure is the biggest longshot: anyone know of a contractor near Boulder, CO who has built some? Thanks MeFiers!!
posted by no bueno to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Is waterproofing an issue? How about the concrete shifting when it gets cold and warm.
posted by no bueno at 5:50 PM on July 26, 2011

I have not lived in a monolithic dome, but I have lived in a geodesic dome, and though the design and construction is significantly different they both share this: SO much wasted space.

Ours was a pretty much open-plan design, so on the bottom floor, there was plenty of room. But there was a spiral staircase right through the middle of the room. In the upstairs bedroom, there was a good three feet of wasted space by the walls (well, not wasted, we used them for storage) because you can't walk right up next to an inward-curving wall.

And we didn't have air-conditioning or central heating -- I can't imagine what it would have cost to heat and cool that place. All the heat from the space heaters we DID have rose right up to the top, so the bedroom stayed toasty, but the bottom floor was like ice. The reverse was true in the summer: the bedroom sweltered, the bottom was comfortable with just a couple of blowing fans.

That said, it was a pretty neat house to live in, but if I were to build a dome house, it would definitely be a partial-dome set into a mostly underground or rammed-earth home.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:03 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't think we're going to have the underground option in our budget since we'll be in the mountains. I would love a basement and the natural temperature control is great but blasting rock is expensive. Thanks for the input though since I was wondering about wasted space.
posted by no bueno at 6:07 PM on July 26, 2011

How about an earthship? I think that there's one or two around Boulder. If you're in the Foothills they will be much easier to keep warm in winter. The guy who developed them lives in Taos NM I think. I knew some folks down there with one, they were very practical. I think the $/ft^2 costs can be kept quite low.
posted by carter at 6:08 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, on preview ;)

Actually, much of an earthship can be above ground, if you build the berm large enough. They can also be good on slopes.
posted by carter at 6:09 PM on July 26, 2011

And while I am being creative and spending other people's money, you can get some pretty fancy converted shipping containers too.
posted by carter at 6:09 PM on July 26, 2011

Not a monolithic dome, but I helped build 2 of these. They've both survived 2 earthquakes greater than 7.o magnitude and were dirt cheap and easy to build.
posted by buggzzee23 at 6:10 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The shipping containers are being considered as well.
posted by no bueno at 6:11 PM on July 26, 2011

My friends the Millers built a monolithic dome and love it.

They started with two domes, and added a third around the same time their son was born.

Their website hasn't been updated in ages, but it goes through the whole construction process.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 6:13 PM on July 26, 2011

How about a Palacial Megadome?
posted by ifandonlyif at 6:19 PM on July 26, 2011

Monolithic.com has a list of monolithic dome builders... some of them indicate they will travel.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:31 PM on July 26, 2011

Monolithic domes are great, and reinforced concrete holds up pretty well to everything. for any round home design you will have wasted space but creative use of built ins and room design can minimize this. The biggest problem with a monolithic dome is you have to get an engineer to design it (its called proscriptive code and the few companies that specialize in this type of construction will have a structural engineer they work with) and that adds significant cost over conventional building techniques that the building code is based on. A lot of banks don't like giving construction loans on non standard construction either so if you are financing you should look into that. Also building with rebar and shotcrete (how domes are built) is a special skill that has to be done right to get all the benefits of this type of home. If it isn't done right your home isn't going to work right either.

A couple of alternative technologies that will probably work really well and are much easier to build are Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) and Structural Insulated Panels (SIP). Houses built using this look very conventional (or not depending on architecture). With the ICF you get almost all the benefits of the monolithic dome without the weirdness in shape or construction. and SIPs are really easy to build with and the home goes up really quick. IF you are a motivated DIYer you can even build both largely by yourself with some family/friends help and just hire a contractor to do the foundation and the roof and the utilities. For both of these techniques there are several companies that specialize in it and can offer you a complete design/build package. For the climate in Colorado both of these will deliver substantial heating/cooling over stick built even when heavy insulated. They really are both superior ways to do it and if i ever manage to build my own home I am going with ICF as it results in a very solid home that is impervious to insects, water damage (structurally anyway) and very, very quiet on the inside. It is amazing what a foot of reinforced concrete will deaden. No more being annoyed by boom-boom cars or loud neighbors.

The biggest drawback to any of these three techniques is that the home is locked in and not as easy to renovate/remodel as timber frame. However with a well designed and built homes you don't NEED to remodel like you do with a cheap tract home.

The container homes are pretty cool but not what I would pick for a permanent main residence. They can rust, the have big solar gain problems (think of the metal slide at the park after being in the sun all day) and require very substantial rework to be livable except as emergency/remote shelter that is better than a tent. That being said with them you get a very sturdy home also impervious to most things (except rust) that is ready to go after getting dropped off the truck (unless you rework on site, and with that much work why not just build a more functional home onsite?).

The eco home idea looks really promising for the dry southwest climate (and the front range of the rockies have pretty much the same climate) and look to be really, really easy to build and reallly solid when done. You still have the weird form factor though. Looks promising for a quick, easy build using local materials. At first glance this might be my pick for an off grid home out in the middle of nowhere.
posted by bartonlong at 6:32 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also there's an ashram up by Gold Hill that has a geodesic dome. Maybe you could ask who built theirs?
posted by carter at 6:33 PM on July 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks bartonlong. I'll look into those as well.
posted by no bueno at 7:02 PM on July 26, 2011

Have you looked into the ramifications of having a dome home at resell time? (I know you plan on never selling, but...) When we were looking to buy a house last year, we were interested in a dome house (I believe it was geodesic, so again the monolithic v. geodesic may be a factor), but the various professionals that we mentioned it too (realtor, mortgage rep, home inspector) all seemed down on it. Our realtor said it was hard to value the home because there were so few comparable homes in our area to use as a gauge. Which made the bank rep uneasy. And the home inspector just seemed negative in general.

I don't know how much of that info was biased, because I don't trust any of these people for full impartiality, and we ended up getting much more interested in another house, so we didn't pursue it further. But, yeah, will it be a headache to sell later?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:16 PM on July 26, 2011

Before your build a concrete house, read Stewart Brand's book How Buildings Learn.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:46 PM on July 26, 2011

Oh boy I get to drop a link to one of my favorite online article/sagas ever!

Anyone considering building a non-square house should definitely read Domebuilder's Blues.
posted by ErikaB at 9:16 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

ErikaB's link sounds pretty damning. I can see how a dome is really not as much fun to live in as it is to dream about living in.

Me personally, I'm building in ICFs, next year. Quick, strong, super-insulated.
posted by wilful at 11:09 PM on July 26, 2011

Don't do it. My mother had geodesic dreams that turned into custom-beamed curves and angles. Where they sprang for custom, expensive inbuilts, the results are soothing, but unpractical. Where they did not — hundreds of square feet left festering without purpose for 20+ years now, awkwardly crammed with ill fitting furniture.
posted by mmdei at 11:18 PM on July 26, 2011

There is a big difference between geodesic and monolithic domes. Both will have the weird form factor issue for rooms and non vertical walls but the monolithic dome is one piece of reinforced concrete, not a collection of lumber at odd compound angles. The house itself is waterproof and can't rot and with modern spray foam insulation one of the big problems is gone. You will have problems with venting and moisture/odor control in a monolithic dome as the homes are really, really tight and don't breathe at all. You will also have same problems with ICF/SIP construction as they are equally tight, but the solutions are easier to implement. An important consideration for Boulder is Radon gas mitigation with all the granite bedrock (solutions exist but you want to build for it from the get go, not retrofit).

That articale from EricaB is right on for geodesic but not really applicable for monoliths. However finding a contractor is still just as tough because most contractors only here 'dome' not the rest.
posted by bartonlong at 9:10 AM on July 27, 2011

Response by poster: Think we're leaning more toward the ICF. Trying to contact a few dome owners to see if we could visit. Maybe open house a few that are for sale. Thanks everyone for all your help!
posted by no bueno at 8:04 PM on July 27, 2011

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