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Building Your Dome

     The first question most potential dome owners ask is, “How much will my dome cost?” A feasibility study will answer that question. After the cost hurdle is crossed, potential dome owners typically have a series of questions that are not specific to any one dome building. We’ll cover those questions here, provide several ideas on how to get a dome built, and tell you where to get more information on getting your dome built.


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Q: What does a dome cost per square foot of living area?
A: There is no “standard” price per square foot; there are too many variables. As a rule, the larger the building, the lower the cost per square foot.

Q: What is the difference in cost between building a conventional wood framed house and a monolithic dome?
A: Our figures show that if we build a dome from the ground up through final completion, as opposed to just building the shell and allowing the owner to do the finish out, that the monolithic dome will cost approximately 25% more than the wood home. Many factors affect cost, not the least of which is the fact that we are not able to have a pile of sticks delivered to the job site and hire relatively cheap labor to nail them together into a blow-away, burn-away box of a house. It is a fact of life that quality is generally more expensive than flimsy, cut-rate production.

Q: Is it cheaper to build a large dome with two or three stories inside, than it is to build several smaller domes formed together?
A: No, it is not cheaper to build one large dome. It is just as economical to build several smaller domes to obtain a certain number of square feet of living area. Obviously, commercial and industrial domes will often be more economical when built as one large structure.

Q: What is the real energy savings of a dome compared to a well insulated wood or metal building?
A: It is not uncommon to save 50% of the heating and cooling costs of a conventional building. Whether or not peak oil is upon us is a moot point. Peak oil will affect the price and availability of energy from now forward. A dome home will be a major asset; not only is it very frugal with energy use, it can be built using
several separate domes connected by relatively inexpensive conventionally built hallways that do not require heating or cooling. The heating and cooling in extra bedrooms or living areas that are seldom used can be completely shut off to save energy when not in use.

Q: Can a dome be built anywhere?
A: Generally yes; but there are some things to keep in mind. Zoning ordinances might require that a certain percentage of a dome home’s exterior walls be masonry. The exterior of the dome can be covered in stucco, which is masonry. If the ordinances call for brick or stone, that can pose some serious problems since covering a dome with brick or stone might be impossible, or at least extremely expensive. Deed restrictions might create problems for a dome home; architectural control committees might pose problems if members don’t like the look of a dome. Building a dome in the county where there are no deed or building restrictions is ideal.

Q: Can a dome be built underground?
A: Yes, but unless you are expecting a nuclear blast close to your dome, there is no need to place one underground since monolithic domes won’t blow away in a hurricane or a tornado, they won’t burn, termites can’t eat them, they are highly energy efficient in and of themselves, and if someone is unlucky enough to crash a car into one, the damage will be minimal to the building (perhaps not to the car’s occupants).

Q: Are dome homes easy to finance?
A: No, they are not. Most home lenders require comparable sale data to set a value on the homes they finance; those data are relatively easy to come by through Realtor MLS systems for conventional wood framed houses; unfortunately, there are not enough monolithic domes in most locations for appraisers to get quality (if any) “comparables.”

Q: How can I finance my dome home?
A: There are two hurdles when financing the building of a home. First there is interim financing; that’s the money needed to build the house from the ground up. Then there is the permanent financing; that’s the money that will be paid back over a long term - generally 30 years. Interim financing is easy as long as there is a “take out” letter from the permanent financing entity. The interim lender, generally a bank, knows it will loan the money for a few months until the dome is completed; at that point it will be paid back the entire amount borrowed. Getting permanent financing is best done with a strong down payment - at least 20%, and preferably 30-40%; it is done with a very strong credit score; it is done with strong job and income history, and the prospect of the latter continuing for a long time. Some people have paid for the dome building with cash and have completed the interior with credit card or personal loans. Some folks have built a small dome and added future domes as funds allowed. Call us for ideas on your particular situation.

Q: Can I build a dome that looks like a conventional house?
A: Yes, to a certain extent; but the cost will be two to three times the cost of the conventional house.

Q: Can you build my dome anywhere?
A: We are in the Dallas area. The closer you build to our area, the less the dome will cost you. We will build anywhere in the continental U.S. Prices for buildings that you see on this web site do not include travel time. The cost is added to the price of the dome depending on the distance away from us.

Q: We don’t live close to Dallas. How can you help us economically build our dome if we are a thousand miles away?
A: We can do the feasibility study and give you a good idea of cost to build the dome. We can build just the dome; or we can help you contract out the dome to someone closer to you, and help you contract the other phases of construction; or we can guide you through the entire process, including helping you manage the project from start to finish. We will be happy to assist you on a consulting basis anywhere in the continental U.S.

Q: How long does it take to build a dome?
A: Much depends on size. The typical home might take a few weeks longer to complete - start to finish of the entire habitable building - than a typical wood framed house. A large, custom dome home won’t take any longer to build than a large conventional custom home. Large commercial and industrial buildings will take several months to complete.

Q: Can you help us build our own dome?
A: Yes, we can. Call us for more information.

Q: Do you have a brochure you can send us?
A: This web site is our brochure; we do not have a printed brochure to mail out.

Q: Do we need an engineer or an architect to draw our construction drawings?
A: Yes and no. If your codes require architect- or engineer-produced drawings, we can help you get the right people to produce the drawings; on rare occasions an engineer has to inspect the work as construction progresses. Most rural areas don’t require professionally stamped drawings. Large commercial and industrial domes need to be professionally engineered.

Q: Do you need special utility hookups for dome construction equipment?
A: Some of our concrete pumps require three phase electric service; we can do without it on small domes. We always need water service.

Q: Does the dome exterior need any maintenance?
A: The airform stays on the dome; it becomes the roofing and siding all in one piece. It should be painted no later than five years after construction to protect it from sunlight. It can also be covered with stucco or other approved finishes.

Q: Can we put a basement under a dome?
A: Yes, but it’s very expensive and not necessary. In areas prone to ground frost, the ring beam foundation simply has to be deep enough to reach below the frost line.

Q: Is it better to use a one piece concrete slab (a monolithic slab), or a ring beam foundation with a flatwork slab poured after the dome is completed.
A: Monolithic slabs work well with small domes; very large domes need a ring beam foundation with a separate slab. We’ve successfully done small domes with a ring beam foundation; you can get a much more level, better looking slab that way for projects that will have exposed concrete floors.

Q: What will the inside finish of the concrete dome look like?
A: On dome homes we like to finish it as if it were plastered. Large domes that are sprayed with a concrete pump have a rough finish.


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