Image courtesy Kevin Shea
Dome Sweet Dome Home
In the 1960s and 1970s, counterculture was all the rage, and newfangled geodesic domes fit that anti-mainstream vibe. Many people viewed strong, eco-friendly, inexpensive domes as the homes of the future, and they were ready to ditch traditional right-angled, squared construction for triangle-based houses.
The benefits seemed obvious. Spheres enclose a maximum of space with a minimum of materials, and they don't require interior supports. Their aesthetic appeal for many people is undeniable; the high ceilings and open feeling can make them attractive, and it's easy to build lofts inside for partial second-floor space.
The spherical design results in highly efficient and effective air circulation in both summer and winter. Less surface area makes these buildings less susceptible to temperature changes, and thus, inexpensive to heat and cool as compared to rectangular homes. The aerodynamic exterior means cold and warm air flows around the structure instead of forcing its way into the interior.
They are so easy to assemble from kits that do-it-yourself types without construction experience can assemble color-coded kits in just a day or two with the help of friends. These kits may include wooden struts or metal alloy parts, but either way, the components are lightweight and don't require cranes or other high-powered equipment.
Yet some of the advantages of dome homes also translate into disadvantages. The same shape that makes for efficient airflow means sounds and smell travel throughout the home, too, meaning there's very little privacy and a lot of potential for annoying, amplified echoes. Similarly, light bounces around domes, meaning a single small light can wake up everyone in the house.
Interior curved walls are major challenges when it comes to construction contractors. Everything from insulation, to plumbing, and electrical conduits must be carefully reconsidered in a round home, and because standard construction materials are made for rectangular homes, dome components are generally more expensive. What's more, some contractors refuse to even work on domes because the frustrations and costs are too high, and profits too low.
Even furnishings can be problematic. Couches, tables and beds are all made to sit flush against flat walls. Put them in a sphere and not only do they look out of place, but they also waste much of the wonderful extra space that spheres impart.
Waterproofing is another hurdle. Flat roofs are easy to shingle so that they shed rain. But the many triangles and seams in a dome home are another matter altogether. Water intrusion has spelled the end of many a rounded home.
These days, dome kits are still popular with hobbyists and the sustainability-minded. Many companies, such as American Ingenuity, Pacific Domes, Timberline Geodesic Domes, Oregon Domes and Natural Spaces Domes all sell dome homes and plans. The complications and drawbacks of domes, however, may prevent them from reaching the kind of popularity of years past.