The Dome 2002 1988-2022: 34 years of making "saving energy" a lifestyle


Once upon a time there was a teacher who had a dream. Just a movement of electrons behind his forehead, which became his life objective, his legacy, his masterpiece, his contribution to the world. 

Imagine a house that was built using indigenous materials and used the available energy from the sun for heat. Put together by a single parent with 3 kids, existing on a meager teacher’s salary ($7,600 in ’73 - $63,000 in ’98, you do the math). Wouldn't this be my biggest lesson of all, and not to a small crowd of students, but to an energy starved world.
For sure it was the environment that defeated the dinosaur and opened the door for the mammal; which changed from mouse to lemur to ape to Darwin, who changed everything with his theory. You might say that evolution discovered itself. And for sure it was the times that I lived in that shaped me. 

Now think back to 1976. Yes, we were standing in lines at the gas stations (just in case you weren't born yet). So being a science teacher who taught in the real world, in lieu of the book one, I gathered some students together, bought some wood and glass and built a solar collector to see what was out there. It was a simple sheet of plywood with sheet metal on one side and glass doors. It was about a foot deep. It cost $450 to construct. 

We put the solar collector on the front lawn of the school and faced it to the south. Inside was a thermometer and my crew were taking hourly readings and recording them in a notebook. On the back of the collector, in large letters, was written“FREEDOM FROM OPEC”. The first day it was there it was sunny out so I figured maybe I’d get some instantaneous gratification. Sure enough a student had told me the thermometer had melted. I told the student to bring it to me and to my chagrin and joy the surrounding plastic body of the thermometer had curled up like a piece of taffy. Then and there I knew the data on solar energy was true. I was convinced that I had to build solar. 

I started building small wooden models of houses, mostly conventional salt boxes, so I could gain maximum surface area, so when I oriented it to the south my sunshine harvesting would be most efficient. Then, in steps Skippy, a physics student of mine, who had built a small geodesic dome out of paper. He told me to put a book on top of it to test the strength of the model. I did so and the result sent me spinning 90 degrees off my course. 
The benefits of using a geodesic dome for my solar abode were many. The dome accepts the sun from many angles in lieu of one, which a flat collector would, receiving solar energy only when it is perpendicular to the surface, losing much sunshine in the morning and the afternoon when the angle to the flat plate collector (in my case the whole side of the house) would be lost to reflection. A curved south side would be accommodating to the apparent curved path of the sun in the sky. 

Other benefits include strength of structure. Geodesic domes are the strongest structure known to man. Try the experiment of squeezing a raw egg with the palms of your hands. I was amazed to see a picture of Hiroshima after the bomb had been dropped, to notice a dome in the rubble being the only thing standing. 

Less is More – Geodesic domes give you more area of living space for less building materials. More bang for your buck. 

No interior supports in a dome, so your living area becomes wide open. This is why all the new sporting arenas are domes, so there are no obstructed views of the events. The creator of the geodesic dome, R. Buckminster Fuller, says this even has psychological effects to your consciousness because there are no corners, your ceilings are your walls and this enables the mind to be less constricted, more capable of expansion. If you do visit the dome you can check me out and see if I’ve evolved to somewhere else. To visit the dome-home (eicosahousra, named due to its 20 sided configuration, eicosa is Greek for twenty, hous is for house and ra is the sun god of the Egyptians) go to the information button on this web-site. 

Due to the roundness of the dome it does not confront the wind like a conventional box house, but allows the wind to flow around it. A flat house acts like a sail which catches the wind. This causes loss of heat. During high winds, you will hear the wind chimes ringing outside, see the trees bending and the leaves dancing but will not hear the creaks and moans of a box house. 

The glazed (glass) triangles of the dome facing south offer spectacular panoramic views of the environment as well as the night skies. Every clear night as I retire to my loft I eyeball the phases of the moon, Orion in the winter, and the planets. It connects me to the ancients as well as to the world. 

During the day, especially in the winter, if it is sunny, the temperatures in the area of the dome where the sun is pouring in will reach temperatures upwards of 100 degrees. For example, I just left the dome at 11:30 am on march 7, ’06 and it was 90 degrees. So warm is it in this area that I’ve introduced banana trees, as well as ponds of water with fish, turtles and even frogs. The frogs proved to be a bit annoying in the spring with all of their mating calls. 

I guess you will have to come here to really grok the dome-home but allow me to now explain how it collects sunshine and thus heat. 

Imagine you cut a basketball in half, for the dome-home is half a sphere. There are other types of domes, namely 3/8 and 5/8. Now put that half of a basketball with the flat side down on a flat surface. Now pretend you have a magic wand, ala Harry, and touch the half basketball and make it 20 feet high and 40 feet in diameter across the flat side. Now go inside and take out your compass and find south. 

With your wand cut away the south wall of the basketball. Start about 13 feet up and cut straight down. Then try to cut in the shape of an eagle (the one on the 25 cent piece) an opening. Your opening will be about 22/160 or 14% of the total dome, plenty for solar input. 

Since the dome is composed of 160 triangles, it was easy to glaze the ones on the south in the shape of an abstract eagle, a lot easier than you with your wand. 

So now you have a basketball with a large opening on the south side. Fill in the opening with glass and let the sun shine in. 

Oh, by the way, this half a basketball is sitting on a 9 foot cordwood wall. Cordwood is as it sounds, split logs one uses for the fireplace. But someone, back in the pioneer days, had an idea that cabins could be built with trees that had been cut and split, not in long lengths ala Lincoln logs, but rather like a cord of firewood. 

So picture this. You build a foundation out of cement. Mine was a 120 foot circle. This keeps the cordwood off of the ground. Very important, due to the fact that one teaspoon of topsoil has over 10 billion hungry bacteria in it. This is the main reason why wood rots. 

Now take your split wood ( I used 4 to 5 cords for my wall), and bake it for 2 to 3 years outside in the sun. This removes the ambient moisture; and then use it as a building block. Gluing all the logs together with cement as you build up. Mine is 9 feet tall and took one summer to build. I cut my logs 18 inches in length using all different shapes, i.e. triangles, half-moons, circles etc. The R value for hardwoods is 1.25/inch and at 18 inches that is 22.5. Not bad for something growing on your land. The dome-home is located 30 miles north of NY city and the trees here are mostly hardwoods, oak and ash predominantly, although I have 13 different types of wood in the cordwood wall. 

I hate to leave you hanging, if you made it this far, but I can see that a web-site doesn’t do justice to my eicosahousra (dome-home) project and I have to face the inevitable. I’m going to have to write a book, so I can include sketches and pictures. 

So, if I can exit here, and hope that these words have inspired you enough to visit the dome. 

If your quest is for autonomy, you are on the right track. If you desire to perfect the environment come hither, the dome is a beacon for the future. And if you’ve seen the movie Instinct with Anthony Hopkins, dominion ends at the dome, there are no takers here. I built this dome for you!