If the dome-home is a solar house, where are the solar collectors?
The dome-home, really called Eicosahousra, is a solar house and was built with that intention solely. There are many types of solar houses, but this one is referred to as a passive solar house. In the tradition of K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) I decided that this was the way to go. Back in ’78, when this project began, they were actually building solar houses on turntables so they would follow the sun. Others were trying active solar houses with collectors made of basically glass and plumbing so they could trap the heat energy of the sun and then transport it to a storage tank. Since this type of solar system entailed plumbing, glazing, and then expenditure of energy to pump the water through the pipes, as well as providing for an antifreeze within the system, so you wouldn’t lose it to freezing temperatures, I decided to go the way of the VW bug, simple and anyone can do it philosophy. I used to have 10 of those bugs in my backyard and they pushed me around this world for about 25 years for just about nothing. One drawback was the dirty fingernails.
So there are no solar collectors per say. The whole house is a solar collector. It accepts the sunshine through the south facing windows and then I trap it in water and use wood in the stove for my night time heat source. Wood is also solar since the trees capture the energy from the sun chemically and transform it into molecules of sugar and then cellulose (wood). It is always happening as long as the sun shines and check this out – since the planet earth is two-thirds water most of this process of photosynthesis is happening in the top centimeter of the oceans. Most of our oxygen comes from this plankton, so in essence the oceans are our scuba tanks and the plankton is our oxygen. Another reason for getting into solar and getting rid of fossil fuel delivery from far away, especially from the mid-East, is that on the way over to the land of the free that oil gets spilled and chokes off our oxygen supply, for the oil floats and blocks the sun from reaching the plankton.
I am working on getting photo-electric panels which will sit on the greenhouse roof and make electricity which will be fed back into the grid, i.e. the power company, and make my meter run backwards. It will cost me around ten thousand dollars and that is not an incentive for me so I’m waiting until the government gets serious. It would take the dome-home to a new quantum level! Add a grease car and I’d be a serious autonomous liver.
Will banks loan you money and give you a mortgage to build a structure such as yours?
No. There is such a thing as a construction loan where the bank will give you installments as they see the progress of the house but they really want convention, for here is where the security is, and if they loan you money they also want to tell you what to build in their best interest.
I was an outlaw builder for 18 years, not having a CO (certificate of occupancy), but I paid for everything as I went along, doing most of my building during the summer months. I was a teacher so I had the summer off and spent it building my dream with the money I saved during the school year. I found property 8 minutes away from the school, made sure it faced south and proceeded as in addition. Now I’m in the cat bird seat with no mortgage and have been living in the dome-home since 1988. Recently I put bronze letters set in stone in the floor work of the log room as you walk in the front door, the saying “PAY AS YOU GO”. Avoid the mortgage and you too can retire early. Pedantic is not a handicap it is a blessing!
How much did the dome-home cost to build and how long did it take?
It took me 6 summers to build and that is about 12 months spread over 6 years. It was slow going but it was pretty much a solo effort, although I would rent out a student over the summer for the going rate. The advantage of going slow is that you have ideas develop as you go along. You also incorporate exactly what you want in your house. Your house becomes your personality. I see they are calling this feng-shui now.
I used to keep records of all the lumber and receipts from all the cement and sundry items I used, but I think I tossed them when I realized they were all relative to the time period when they were purchased. If I was to guess, I would think anywhere from 50K to 120K (fifty thousand to one hundred and twenty thousand dollars) but as any home-owner knows it never stops. This is due to entropy as your structure slowly falls apart. e.g. the roof needs shingles because it has been 20+ years.
The relativity of money is true. I bought 2.6 acres of property in Tuxedo in 1978 for 9K and now it is worth half a million, without the house. I guess because they’re not making any more of it.
Are dome houses hard to build?
No. People come to the dome and look at the inside and see all the triangles and, if they have any carpentry skills, they see a nightmare of angles and chamfers. A common response is “what the hell, how the f__ did you cut all those pieces” but actually it is easier than a conventional house. I never built a house or even had woodshop in high school and I did it by myself. Now they even have kits which make me drool. Google geodesic domes and you’ll see plenty. They brag of being able to build one over the week-end.
Remember that when you buy you are paying at least double but you are also purchasing the experience and know-how of all the mistakes that were made prior to today. e.g. I made my hubs (91) out of electrical conduit and had to have them cut with a special saw. I was improvising for there were no hubs in 1982 when I began the dome part of the project. Now you can go to workshops and they provide a paint by number type system for dome erection with pre-fab hubs better than mine, although mine are fine, but it is like the ATM machine being invented too late for I used to wait in line to get money.
To reiterate – no, domes are easy to build. Once you see one, with the owner, you will believe.
How big is the dome-home (Eicosahousra) and any other pertinent stats?
Domes can be built to any size. Bucky Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, wanted to cover Manhattan with a clear one in order to conserve energy.
There is a book called Domebook 2 which is very hard to find. Even when you find it you can’t purchase it. In the land of capitalism it is hard to believe that they won’t sell you a book but the belief is that geodesic domes were supposed to be the homes of the future, but when the math and the lumber materialized the creature, something went awry. People must have blamed the book publisher for incorrect stats, for the creation of a geodesic does require some math and the strut lengths are all based on computer read-outs. It worked fine for me and I built my dome skeleton on the other side of town in my back room and brought the struts out in the back of a VW bug.
The dome has 160 triangles, 6 different size struts (I used 2by6s), and 91 hubs. The diameter is 40’ and stands 20’ at the center. It is a half-sphere dome and is a four frequency dome, meaning that if you go in any direction from any pentangle to another pentangle you will count four struts. This frequency aspect is little known except to geodesic dome people but it is important because it makes your dome triangles smaller the larger the frequency. The pyramids are actually a one frequency dome. They don’t look so spherical do they? But if you connect the triangles of the pyramid by their mid-points and then do it again on the smaller triangles and then take a straw and put it inside the pyramid and blow it up, shazaam! a geodesic dome.
The reason for wanting more smaller triangles is so one can make use of standard building materials which come in sizes like 4' by8'. If your triangles are too big you won’t be able to fill in the triangles with a plywood skin or the roof of the dome.
What does Eicosahousra mean?
The name of the house is eicosahousra. The eicosa comes from the Greek number twenty, for this dome-home has 20 sides on the bottom, meaning 20 struts on the bottom of the dome. The hous is English for house and the ra is for the sun god Ra, so, in review, a 20 sided house of the sun. This distinguished my creation from all the other dome-homes.
How much wood do you burn in a winter?
4 to 5 cords and decreasing. Every year I improve on the insulation and tightness of the structure, as well as the trapping of the sunshine. Imagine if I could eliminate the burning of wood altogether. It would save a lot of labor but also the labor keeps me fit and in touch with the environment.
The dome is at 42 degrees north latitude and it gets into single digits Fahrenheit every winter but rarely goes below zero. It does get cold in the dome but you have to live the dome, meaning using different areas at different times of the year. It is not a 68 degree balanced all around house, not by a long shot. This causes problems because most people are spoiled to their heat needs and most people unknowingly are used to complaining, for some reason complaining has come to be a yardstick of intelligence. So people that visit in the winter often complain of cold. I tell them T.I.O. this ain’t no bourgie palace.
People ask me if I have air-conditioning for the heat of the summer, missing the point of the solar house and its objective of energy conservation. It’s funny how we live in such a complex world and we don’t know about it. “You don’t know what you don’t know”. There is no AC at the dome, although I could get it, but it seems to be profligate. Downstairs it has never been over 81 degrees Fahrenheit, so you live the dome and hang out there. My bed is upstairs so you have to wait ‘til after 10 to be within a reasonable comfort zone, but cooling I’m working on too. Cold is what kills though, not heat. Heat from the climate just makes you skinnier, a battle we all are waging.
Did you have a hassle getting building permits?
Yes. The locals in the town told me to take a walk the first time I requested building permits. Fortunately I have a brother, who is a lawyer, who took them to task and literally told them to tell me what I needed to complete my dream. The building permits were forthcoming. It helps to know the building inspector and the zoning board people. If they know you and they like you they will help you. I was pretty new in town and was a teacher so I had some credibility but not in the building trades.
The hardest part of the whole journey was the red tape of city hall. I don’t envy your future bureaucratic b.s. but the building part is fun so there is that yin and yang thing going on.
Won’t the cordwood rot?
No. The cordwood is just wood which almost every house is made of. It just looks different because it is not processed into planks and boards. Other houses don’t rot do they?
Rotting is a natural process caused by the bacteria and fungus in the soil. These tiny creatures feed on cellulose (wood) and cause it to deteriorate or rot. The solution to preventing this process is to keep the soil away from the cordwood or your 2by4s. Just to give you an idea, there are over 10 billion bacteria in a teaspoon of soil. I once heard in a college course that if one species of these bacteria, that recycle the leaves and dead wood of the forest, as well as all organic debris, disappeared, life on earth would go extinct, for nothing would be recycled. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Water also causes rot so keep the water off of your cordwood. I found that out by building a prototype 13’ dome and used cordwood to support it. Whenever it rained all the rain that fell on the dome washed down onto the cordwood. All the logs rotted out, so when I built the big 40’ dome I put a skirt around the bottom of the dome, that being the top of the cordwood kicker wall so when the rain came down the side of the shingle covered dome it went out about 28” and didn’t touch the cordwood. It’s been about 20 years and so far so good.
Insects are always looking for a place to live but I was told they don’t bore into the edge of the cordwood but only in the side, meaning through where the bark was. I have seen little piles of sawdust at times but nothing a little putty or even Raid couldn’t solve. If you’re in the rainforest I can’t advise you. I’m in the temperate deciduous forest and I used mostly hardwoods especially oak and ash, although I have 13 different woods in my cordwood wall. Use oak it is unbelievable wood.
I’m so crazy with the wood that I feel bad throwing it into the fireplace for warmth. It keeps you in touch with the natural world, which is really a bonus, but no one will understand you. I always say to people who find me eccentric that I’ve been walking backwards my whole life, and lovin’ it.
Once this web-site is operational I know there will be a myriad of questions from you through my e-mail so I will continue to update this FAQ section as well as inform you as to new projects at the dome. e.g. I was planning a curtain system this morning for the eagle, in order to retain heat in the ponds after the sun sets in the winter.