Sketch copyright © 1997 Richard Servideo

Lessons we have learned

If you don't have an engineering background, involve an architect.
Structural issues and visualizing the head room near the shell walls are unique in a dome.

If you have a wooded lot, you will loose 3 to 4 times as many trees as you think necessary.
Excavating equipment need a lot of room to operate and move earth and rock around. We spent a month turning a secluded wooded area into the surface of the moon. The more trees you take out before the excavator shows up, the neater they will be. If they start pushing standing trees around, other trees that aren't in the way will get knocked down too. Trenches to water and septic take out more trees.

If you are planing to build a dome yourself, expect to spend a lot of time.
We have done nothing else for 6 months and are just now weather tight. My 4 weeks vacation was gone by the time we had the plywood on the shell. (we did construct our own foundation too, out of poured in place foam blocks)

You need a large pool of friends and family to help.
There are times you just can't do it all yourself. (long boards, or heavy lifting).

If you need to sell your current house to get the money to proceed,
plan on renting a place to live while you build.

Get some staging (scaffolding). Especially with a 5/8 shell.

Multi level floor plans require more staging or breaking it down and re-assembling it often.
With our front 2/3 and back 1/3 split level like design, each row of triangles we put together, we had to move the staging up a level (ie. take it apart) and then back down. Working around stair openings is also interesting. Make sure you get staging wheels

If you are afraid of heights or standing on staging,
find a friend or hire someone who isn't, or get over it. With a dome, you are putting on the second floor roof before you build the second floor deck.

Use Fir plywood, especially on the floors.
Until you have the shingles on, your roof and floor are going to get WET. And if you are doing it yourself, it will be a while before you are ready to shingle.

Learn to cut compound mitre angles.
On rare occasions you get to cut a 90 degree cut.

Definitely buy a shell kit.
You don't have time to cut all those compound angles. And factory cut pieces fit together much better.

Buy a power framing nailer
You can't hold yourself on the shell skeleton, steady a stud or sheet of plywood, hold a nail and swing a hammer all at the same time. If you have help holding the board, you still need a nail gun. I tried renting one at first, and ended up paying for it twice.

* Be sure to install any ledger hangers before you start the plywood sheeting.
It is a lot easier to tighten the bolts with access from both sides.

Start the plywood sheeting of the shell from the top
That way, you can use the struts and studs of the triangles below the one you are sheeting to stand in as you go down. I saw this described on the Timberline page and found it very helpful. If you start at the bottom, you have to build roofing jacks and planks as you go up. As my roofers found out, this is tricky and time consuming.

If you have kids and they are old enough to help, involve them.
They will have fun, feel like they accomplished something, and if you don't, you will never see them.

I would recommend hiring out
the foundation footings, basement slab, and roofing. These are jobs that require skill and special tools. If you get them wrong there can be problems (expense) later, and you will have plenty else to do anyway. I am not there yet, but I may hire out the sheet rock too. A professional can do it soo much faster. (We are there, see Hanging & Taping below.)

Use lots of rooging membrane (ie. Grace's ICE & WATER SHIELD®).
There are a lot of valleys on a dome with extensions and dormers. be liberal with the membrane. Also use it wherever the pitch of the roof begins to shallow out (ie the top pentagon or cupola roof and probably the next ring of triangles too).

Roofing a dome takes a while
Even the professional roofers I hired underestimated the job. Granted they were working in 10 to 20 degree F weather, lost time to Christmas and New Years, ice storms and snow. Had to work around our 5 extensions and 2 dormers. The triangular skylight groupings also challenged them. The job took 2 guys 8 weeks elapsed time. They said if I built another one, don't call them.

Test fit your skylights before you start roofing
It is easier to adjust the curbs before there is flashing around them. Remember there needs to be space for the flashing and maybe the ice & water shield up the outside of the curb that the window will need to fit over.

If you plan a drive in basement, plan where to put the snow
In a northern location there is lots of snow to push around in the winter. Make sure you know where you are going to put it as you plan your lot layout and landscaping.

The added height to the roof created by a drive in basement adds to the challenge of roofing the dome
In the area of the garage extension, a 40 foot extension ladder only reaches to the second row (out of 5) of triangles. The roofers are finding the need to be creative with their staging and roof jacks. (Glad I hired out the roofing)

To raise windows to the cupola, remove the sashes
We removed the operable sashes (glass and frame) from the window units we were putting in the cupola. The the unit's frame was easily hoisted to the cupola with a rope and installed in the rough openings. Be sure they stay square as you install them. We then handed the sashes up through staging person to person and re-inserted them in the now installed window unit frame.

Icynene Foam is an ideal product for a dome
The foam gets in all those hard to reach places like inside and behind the hubs. You don't have to cut hundreds of pieces of fiberglass or rigid foam to fit the triangular stud bays of the dome shell. Since it sticks, we were able to spray it under floors for sound deadening. There is very little odor. My 2x8 shell is now R-30 and my 2x6 extensions are R-23. The gas fireplace (40,000 BTU was keeping the place (40 ft 5/8 dome) at 65 with an outside temp of 25. (update 2/16/98 - outside temp -18 F inside 60 F - wow!)

Vents and flues in a dome require special planning
Poking holes in your roof is a little trickier with a dome. You can't just cut through and head off the main struts. And the farther toward the outside of the floor space you go, the steeper the roof exit angle.

For the gas fire place, I used a direct vent system. This system exhausts the hot gases and brings in combustion air thru the same tube. It can exit the building on a verticle wall, so I poked it thru the bottom of the second row of triangles.

For the oil boiler, I used a Power Venter. I heard lots of conflicting advice on their merits. It boiled down to, if you install and maintain them properly they will serve you fine. Installation can easily be done wrong. Proper maintenance involves replacing the fan motor every 5 years. The nice thing about a power venter is that you can put the vent almost anywhere (but not too close to a window). I put mine in the rim board just above the foundation sill plate. This avoided finding a location for a masonry or metal-bestos chimney.

Interior stud walls that contact the dome shell have compound mitre angles on top
Since the shell is curving as it goes up, you need to meet the curve with the stud walls. Here is the procedure I used for interior stud walls:

This process is a bit tedious, but it saved having to figure out the two angles on the tops of the studs. Since most stud walls will cross several triangles, there are many angles to figure. The angles at the top will be different for each triangle.

With my 5/8 shell, I had several 12 & 14 foot studs to install this way. So, once again, you need a tall ladder, or staging to work the top of the studs.

Hanging & Taping the dry wall is challenging
We spoke to several dry wall contractors and found none in our area with dome experience. They all are used to box houses, and the game is "how fast can I get it done". The dome looked time consuming so they either said "no thank you" or bid real high. So, we ended up hanging the dry wall ourselves. Although it was more time, it gave us more control over how the sheets were installed. Since we are already living in the house, we are going room by room, to make it easier to work around our stuff.

We did locate a taper who agreed to a "by the hour" job. He introduced us to a new tape that is ideal for the joints between the triangles in the dome shell. These joints are at just enough of an angle that there will be a line, but not enough to allow the trowel to ride the bend and produce a straight line. The new product is called "Straight Flex" and is a plastic joint tape. You apply it like regular tape, but it has a preformed crease down the middle. You apply the joint compound just over the edge but not in the crease. This way, the plastic crease is your corner. It is paint-able and produces nice straight corners.

Drywall now comes in 54 inch width
When cutting drywall for the shell triangles, you end up splitting a triangle into a right and left half. For most of the triangles, each half can be cut from a standard 4 foot x 8 foot sheet of drywall. In my 40 foot shell, one size of triangle had a 104 inch base. So each of the two halves had to be more than 4 feet wide. The new 54 inch wide sheet worked great for these triangles. Without them, you need to cut three pieces of drywall for each triangle, instead of two.

If you live in your house under construction you will be constantly moving or working over STUFF! We brought in just enough to live (camp out) but we are still moving things from room to room as we go from studs to drywall to tape to paint.

High, vaulted, spaces are striking and dynamic, but you have to be able to get there to hang drywall, tape, and paint. Constructing the walls was easier because you could work thru the studs from the other side. Once the drywall is in place, there is only one way to get there. Our master bedroom has a wall that meets the shell 22 feet off the floor. The master bath has a similar high ceiling. In both rooms we were fortunate to have room for staging to get to most of it.

A dome allows you the freedom to do anything you want inside. Be sure that what you design can be built. (ie. you can get there to put it together)

Yes, you can hang things on the interior shell walls. In our 5/8 shell, we have even hung kitchen cabinets on the exterior triangles. You do have to be creative with shimming and cleats, but dome builders are creative people anyway.

On the upper floor (equivalent to a 3/8 shell) we have closet shelving on the interior shell walls. We used deeper shelves lower on the wall, and shallower ones as we worked up.

One year anniversary of the hub and strut erection. It is amazing how much we have done in one year. At the same time, it is supprising that it has taken this long.

One reason may be that when you build your own house, you question and and redesign things as you go. Juliette and I have had many discussions on how we would like something to look, or work. Especially finess details. These can take a lot of time. A builder would have just built it according to the print and been done with it.

There are a lot of details. But you appreciate each one as you complete it. Even the little things like a mirror in the bath room to shave by that isn't wiggling on the nail it is hung from. Or bigger things like a sink with running water in the kitchen. It is amazing how much we take for granted when we buy and move in to a builder constructed home.

The Formica floating floor installation is not as easy as the video suggests

Build in lots of closets and cubbies. Domes don't have attics.

And we are still learning. Stay tuned.

This site created and maintained by Ted Horton (ted at hortondome . com)

All information and photos in this site are Copyright © 1997, 1998 Ted Horton.