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frequently asked questions - dome homes

Geodesic Structures

Architectural Options


Geodesic Structures

Who invented the geodesic structure and for what purpose?

Buckminster Fuller, a philosopher, mathematician, engineer, historian and poet, invented the geodesic dome. One of Fuller's lifetime quests was to build designs to do more with fewer resources, foreseeing an eventual shortage in housing for humanity's growing population. He observed problems inherent in conventional construction techniques, as opposed to the ease of construction and indigenous strength of natural structures.

Interested in creating a structure analogous to Nature's own designs, he started to experiment with spherical geometry in the late 1940s. He patented the geodesic dome in 1951. Today geodesic domes are recognized to be the most efficient building systems known.

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Why do geodesic structures conserve energy for heating and cooling?

The answer again lies in the shape of the geodesic structure. The lower the total outside surface area (walls and ceilings) the greater the efficiency in energy use for heating and cooling.  A dome has approximately one-third less surface area to the outside than a box-style structure. The amount surface area exposed to the elements has a much greater impact on energy efficiency than insulation values. Additionally, heat loss from the foundation of a home is generally more dependent on perimeter length than floor area. A dome, having a smaller perimeter/square footage ratio than a box-style home, will lose less heat from the foundation.

Efficient airflow inside that dome adds to the energy savings further; the curved surface of a dome provides a natural circulation of internal air.  Outside the dome, the shape of the dome provides an aerodynamic effect; wind passes over the dome with less resistance. In comparison, a box-style structure provides a flat barrier to wind, creating positive wind pressure with air infiltration on one side, and suction, or negative wind pressure, with internal air exfiltration, on the opposite external surface.

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Is it true that geodesic structures are very strong and can withstand earthquakes and severe storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes...?

Geodesic structures have shown themselves to endure through severe storms and earthquakes, due to the strength of their design. Geodesic domes have been used successfully for Antarctica radar towers with up to 200mph winds for over 25 years. Geodesic structures also increase options for placement on rugged, steep terrains. 

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Why are geodesic structures so strong?

The nature of the spherical design provides strength because the stress is shared evenly by all the points of the structure. The dome shape allows environmental stress such as movement from an earthquake or wind or stress from snow loading to be evenly distributed throughout the structure. The geometry of the triangle offers additional strength to the dome shape.

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What other advantages do geodesic structures offer over conventional structures?

Interior advantages of the dome include greater freedom of floor plan design, cathedral ceilings, evenness of light, heat, and sound distribution. Domes display superior light characteristics as spherical shapes tend to amplify light while rectangular shapes tend to absorb light; in many cases it is actually brighter inside a dome without any interior lights turned on than it is outside. Acoustical advantages include more even sound distribution and approximately 30% less outside noise infiltration.

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Architectural Options

What design advantages do geodesic homes have?

The dome shell offers many exterior possibilities. Because of the distribution of stresses in the dome shell, up to 50% of the lowest ring of triangles can be removed. Most kits offer five potential openings that can then be replaced by extensions to create specialized rooms. These openings, along with the upper portion of the dome shell being near a true round, make it possible to create ideal placements for solar and view advantage.

Interior advantages of the dome include greater freedom of floor plan design, cathedral ceilings, evenness of light, heat, and sound distribution.  In addition, geodesic owners note a less-definable quality of well-being inside their dome homes.

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What kind of foundations can be used with the dome kits?

The type of foundation best suited for residences is determined by the terrain of the land, the type of soil, and local building codes. The foundation of a dome differs only in shape from that of a conventional house. Vendors offer standard foundation plans for concrete slab, crawl space or full basement.

If you have a unique foundation need, such as the side of a steep hill, or a dome that will have some conventional building extensions, structural engineers and architects can design a foundation that will work for you.

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What are extension kits? How can they be used?

Additional space can be added to the dome’s main floors by extending outward from the dome. These extensions can be placed along any of the dome’s five natural openings.

Extensions can be used to adjoin domes, build entryways, solariums, dining rooms, covered porches, and the like, and to expand existing rooms. Extension kits range in size from 4 feet to 16 feet for standard dome sizes.

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Can I join two domes or join a garage dome to a home? What is involved?

Most often, two domes or a garage and a dome can be joined using extension kits depending on the manufacturer.

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What is a riser wall? What is its function?

Dome riser walls are an architectural feature unique to domes. When used, they raise the height of the dome to achieve more usable area in the loft and to increase the potential height for entryways. Riser walls generally range from 3 feet to a maximum of  8 feet high.

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What is a cupola?

A cupola is an easy-to-add dome top option that can enhance the natural light and ventilation in your dome. It offers the possibility of a small, third-floor retreat, with a 360-degree lookout view. You can use a ladder, conventional stairs, or a spiral staircase to gain access to the cupola room.

To add a cupola, threaded pipes are fitted into special threaded connectors, raising the cupola portion of the roof up to three feet. The pipes form a near vertical plane at the top of the dome, allowing for the use of conventional windows.

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What options do I have for windows?

There are many choices in window design and selection available for a dome home.

The first option is skylights. Individually or clustered, skylights maximize the usable space in any panel. Triangular skylights maintain the graceful shape and highlight the unique architectural structure of a dome.

Standard, conventional windows can be used in a dome when they are framed upright in the lower sections of a dome, or in a dormer. Conventional windows are generally less expensive than skylights.

A third option is conventional shaped windows that are especially designed for use in a sloping roof. These can be readily adapted for use in a dome home.

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Can I put skylights wherever I wish?

Skylights are the easiest window option to install, as they do not require special construction of dormers. Skylights can be placed on any panel of the dome. Take advantage of special views, or maximize the use of passive solar energy by following the path of the sun.

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Is there a limit to the amount of skylights I can use?

Most domes are engineered to accommodate an unlimited number of skylights. Check your local building code for requirements on how much of your structure can be glazed and if there are resulting insulation requirements.

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What is the difference between a 3/8 and a 5/8 sphere dome?

These fractions refer to the sphere division of the dome. A 3/8 sphere dome is 3/8 of a full sphere of the dome’s diameter and a 5/8 sphere dome uses 5/8 of a full sphere of the dome’s diameter. Consequently, a 3/8 sphere dome has a lower profile than a 5/8 sphere dome of the same diameter. 

A 5/8 sphere dome easily accommodates  a second floor or loft. Using special ledger hanger systems, the ledgers for a second floor or loft can be suspended from the horizontal plane of the sphere, with no need for additional load bearing walls or supports.

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Can I have a loft or second floor in a 3/8 sphere dome?

Yes, you can have a loft or second floor in a 3/8 sphere dome, using load bearing walls.

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What is the smallest dome diameter on the market? What is the largest?

The standard dome diameters are 24 ft., 30ft., 35 ft, 40 ft., and 45 ft., divided at either a 3/8 sphere or a 5/8 sphere. These sizes are used in our standard floor plans and are also available for use with custom floor plans.

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I live in a cold climate, and I need a higher wind and snow load rating. Can I meet this requirement with a dome home?

A standard dome shell uses 2" x 6" lumber. A heavy-duty connector system may be used with 2" x 8", 2" x 10" or 2" x 12" lumber to increase snow- and wind-load capabilities. This also allows for more insulation and higher R values in extremely cold climates.

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