Geodesic Dome Homes – Pros and Cons

Homes can be built in almost any conceivable shape and size, stopping only at the limits of your imagination. But it’s no secret that certain shapes are more conducive to a structure than others. Although many homes and buildings have unique and original designs, the vast majority of them share a common characteristic – their faces are planar and rectangular.

Planar building designs are by far the most used, but geodesic dome homes have also partaken of popularity since back in the 60’s and 70’s. There are numerous benefits to dome homes, which are simply homes constructed into the shape of a dome – Geodesic dome homepartially or completely. They are unique in appearance as well as construction methods. Following is a list of positive attributes going for geodesic homes:

  • Sustainability. Due to the strength of an arched surface as opposed to a flat one, dome homes are considerably stronger against natural disasters – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, even fires. Obviously, the materials with which the structure is made out of has a lot to do with it, as well as the method of construction.

Certain manufacturers build what’s called monolithic dome homes using a technique that incorporates an “airform” around which the structural elements are added to stiffen the dome. The airform is inflated to establish the dome shape and size, and polyurethane foam, steel rebar, and a cement-based finish are applied from the inside. An exterior coating is applied on the outside to complete the structure.

A monolithic dome is a dome that is constructed in “one piece” such as the one detailed above, as opposed to one that is a joined network of many triangular or hexagonal planes. (Visit Monolithic for details.)

  • Energy efficiency. Heat is both lost and absorbed through surfaces that have direct contact with the outside. Being that domes have the smallest surface area for a given volume, this essentially provides better insulation. Smaller surface area equals higher R-value due to less surface area through which thermal energy can be transferred.
  • Eco-friendly. Dome homes are extremely green in terms of cost, building materials required, and future maintenance and upkeep. This goes hand in hand with the above two points. Because the sphere has the greatest volume given a certain surface area, it stands to reason that it also is the most economic to construct in terms of size and available budget.

A dome home uses roughly 50% to 75% less materials to construct than a normal home the same volume – taking into account various internal walls and such to adequately brace a non-dome structure. And because the dome design is extremely resistant to winds as well as seismic activity, it has a comparatively long life, needing very little maintenance. – All collaborating to make it a very green home.

Disadvantages and Drawbacks to Dome Homes

  • Not as much usable space. This is perhaps the biggest disadvantage going for dome homes – the fact that for all the volume it has, the actual usable space within this volume is limited. Crescent-shaped space is lost behind furniture pushed up against the dome wall, as well as a lack of headroom along the peripheral boundaries.
  • Both initial construction and future additions are reliant on custom materials due to a dome’s unique shape. The outer shell for example, often being a network of triangles, requires large amounts of irregular-shaped triangles that in most cases must be cut from rectangular materials. Any future improvements – additional walls, etc – joining with the dome wall must be customized to follow the curved contour.
  • Higher plumbing and electrical installation cost. Electrical circuitry, plumbing, and other utility cables, are typically installed throughout the maze of walls and ceilings of a house. But due to a minimal amount of internal walls within a dome home, all such wiring and plumbing must take a significantly longer path, adding to the needed raw materials and man-hours.
  • Many joints equals many potential weaknesses. Unless it’s a monolithic – meaning a “one piece” – dome homes have many seams. Such domes are susceptible to water and moisture damage via each of these seams, as well as attack from the sun. Some designs utilize an overlapping system of faces which will ideally protect the joints from the rain, but remains partially vulnerable to thermal damage from the sun.
  • Due to a monolithic dome’s extremely sealed nature, they are known to even be too well sealed. This translates into potentially humid, damp, and stuffy environments. Dehumidifiers are a must for monolithic domes unless you live in an extremely dry region.
  • Dome homes are not the best option for those who are hoping to resell sometime in the future. As you may have guessed, this type of design is a rather niche market for the few, not the many. As such, potential buyers will also be limited.
  • Social disadvantage. Not that this matters necessarily, but neighbors may perceive a dome home as an eyesore due to its “Starwars-like” appearance – especially when nestled right in the middle of a row of model home type houses. This can also be directly linked to the above point on resale difficulty.

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