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Monolithic Dome

                                                                    


Joined: Jul 10, 2010
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Has anyone studied the Monolithic Dome.
Here is their website: http://www.monolithic.com/

They blow up a balloon and build the hemisphere around it.

The claims are amazing:
1) energy savings due to insulation
2) Earthquake proof
3) Tornado proof
4) Fire proof

The list goes on and on. 

Apparently the spray on insulation can be made from soy.

The draw is the saftey and low cost.

Low cost because:

1) domes have low resale value that may translate into lower real estate taxes
2) Home owners insurance is cheap or not necessary
3) Low Energy costs to heat and cool.

Thanks for your ideas and input.















We live in Nashville, Tennessee, USA
www.permavations.com
Len Ovens
pollinator

Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1315
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  18
A number of years ago, domes were really popular.... For all the reasons you list. There were some books written... the dome books one and two that gave you all the stuff needed to build one. One of the authors of these books has a web site... he doesn't do domes any more and has recently stopped offering the dome books for sale. He feels there are just too many problems with them. True, with the monolithic dome, there are no seams to leak.... but that is really the only problem they solve. There are still windows to leak (all of your windows are skylights or require special wall shaping to make them vertical)... interior walls, cabinets.... well any woodwork, costs much more to install or make (they all have curves)... the left over scrap is a pretty expensive way to keep warm in the winter. Store bought furniture will not fit well or easily. Basically anything attached to the outer wall has to be hand fitted.

If you enjoy building your own stuff, and never want to be able to move your furniture around, it could be for you. Or you could make it big enough that all the furnishings are a distance out from the walls... If you have it open and put the kitchen as a pavilion in the center, you get around having to build curved mill-work.

There may be problems obtaining a loan... or selling in the future. The selling thing is maybe not an issue if the price is right and "hey this is what I want". A loan is only a problem if you need one, often land value will cover it.

I have looked at building a round house before (not dome, round with straight vertical walls) and getting the interior walls to work was not an easy task. I found that sqft in a room and usable room where two different things, What I could fit in a 10 by 10 square room... would not fit in a pie shaped room (or trapezoid) with more than 100sqft.

domes look really good but before you build, draw it out... fit your furnishings in it leaving space to walk. Try more than one arrangement so you know you can change things if you get tired of it.... or someone you love does. You may find that you need a bigger dome than rectangular home. Expect more or bigger windows if you want good light in your kitchen in the center. Round housing works well if you are doing a one room building and are just putting all furnishing around the wall with stove in the center like a yurt or tepee.

So, this not a domes are bad message. More of a you are treading new paths thing... the normal things a builder is used to may not work. Cob stuff would work. Think everything through before you spend lots of time on it. Draw it out.... go out in your yard (or a park) and do a mockup with string and see how it is to walk through it.... not a bad idea with any house design...
                        


Joined: May 26, 2010
Posts: 278
Location: Iowa, border of regions 5 and 6
I've been wanting to build a monolithic dome ever since I first read about them, almost a decade ago.  The problem with the leaky windows and doors isn't the problem it used to be, as they've figured out how to do on the domes what the stick-built houses have been doing for years, that is, flashing (to direct water away from the opening) and caulking every single seam.

The resell question is still valid; but if you can keep good records to show that for the past 10 years (for example) you've only spent $500 on heating and cooling, your house insurance is WAY down because the entire building is fire-resistant, and you won't have to pay to have the shingles replaced or the roof replaced because, hey!  There are no shingles or roof panels!

If you're worried about no straight external walls, there is a variation on the dome (I think Monolithic calls it an "Orion" model) where 8-foot sections of plywood are used to mold the concrete external walls, circling them together to form an octagon (at the minimum) shape, then pouring a ring beam on the top of those walls and inflating the dome there.  This gives you flat walls for doors and windows as well as sofas and beds, while still providing most of the benefits of a dome.
Len Ovens
pollinator

Joined: Aug 26, 2010
Posts: 1315
Location: Vancouver Island
    
  18
Muzhik wrote:
I've been wanting to build a monolithic dome ever since I first read about them, almost a decade ago.  The problem with the leaky windows and doors isn't the problem it used to be, as they've figured out how to do on the domes what the stick-built houses have been doing for years, that is, flashing (to direct water away from the opening) and caulking every single seam.

Ok, I have seen too many rotted out walls just below sky-lights ... maybe not leaks but condensation?

The resell question is still valid; but if you can keep good records to show that for the past 10 years (for example) you've only spent $500 on heating and cooling, your house insurance is WAY down because the entire building is fire-resistant, and you won't have to pay to have the shingles replaced or the roof replaced because, hey!  There are no shingles or roof panels!

actually, the original post seems to count low resale as a plus. It would be a matter of finding the right buyer. I personally think it is not right to let resale value stop someone from building what they want.


If you're worried about no straight external walls, there is a variation on the dome (I think Monolithic calls it an "Orion" model) where 8-foot sections of plywood are used to mold the concrete external walls, circling them together to form an octagon (at the minimum) shape, then pouring a ring beam on the top of those walls and inflating the dome there.  This gives you flat walls for doors and windows as well as sofas and beds, while still providing most of the benefits of a dome.


No, straight walls don't make that much difference, the rooms are still pie/trapezoid shaped. The home I was looking at building had straight section walls.... figuring out inside walls was still a real "art"(I was going to say hassle). It is not impossible, but it does take more time and in my experience wastes more sqft.

I am not dead against them at all, I am merely saying, Make sure everything fits before you build. Remember all the things you want to be able to do in a home and make sure you leave enough space to be able to do that. I am saying sqft values for a square home may not translate straight across... do the homework to make sure it is right the first time. Make sure you can find a contractor who is willing to build it if you need one.... not just the dome exterior, but the inside finishing too. Oh and at what cost. If it all works out... then go ahead. Inside walls of the same material as the shell may help to keep costs down too. A company who sells this stuff may not tell you everything... research their clients go and visit homes that were built a few years ago (5 or 10 would be best) and look for owners who built it. Ask them lots of questions.... it is worth the driving time/flight to do it.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
I have heard that the acoustics can be pretty dreadful. Having a rough interior, wall hangings and shelves would help break up the reflections.

We did our tiny cottage roof as a ferro-cement barrel vault. This too could have had bad echoing. I designed very carefully and the interior is very rough to help with this. The result is our home is extraordinarily quiet even though it is very small (252 sq-ft).

The other problem with the domes that I ran into when working on designs was how to fit square furnishings (e.g., fridge, stove, etc) into the round curves. My conclusion was to build things in as much as possible but that only goes so far. Even with our cottage, which does have a rectilinear footprint, virtually everything is built in. This saves on space and makes cleaning easier too. If I were doing a dome, which I enjoyed thinking about, I would go with lots of built-ins.

By the way, you don't have to go the Monolithic Dome Corp route. You can build your own out of ferro-cement, bags and many other materials. Here are two good sites to explore:

http://www.ferrocement.com/

http://ferrocement.net/

Here's our house:

http://SugarMtnFarm.com/cottage

Lots of links and pictures. Keep the cost low (we did $7K) and you don't need to get a bank loan.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
                            


Joined: Feb 10, 2011
Posts: 33
I looked into monolithic concrete domes several years ago when I was looking for an ecologically way to build a school.  The materials for a monolithic dome aren’t all that environmentally friendly- concrete and petroleum-based foam (soy foam is not strong enough).  These domes supposedly use very little energy to heat and cool, but I am not sure about this in a humid climate.  Since the insulation goes on the outside the concrete shell is able to absorb heat from the inside of the building and then that heat has no place to go except back into the building.  Geodescic domes built in Florida with panels consisting of foam sandwiched between two layers of concrete get unbearably hot during the summer.  You have to heat or cool the concrete before you can heat or cool the air inside the building.  A concrete building with no insulation in Florida actually uses less energy to air condition because heat that is generated inside can pass through the concrete walls to the outside.

But I found that the biggest problem with a monolithic dome is the cost of construction.  It is not a diy project because of the shotcrete used and shotcrete contractors in the Southeast are hard to come by and think themselves worth their weight in gold.  So a building that uses a fraction of the material and a fraction of the labor and a fraction of the construction time that a conventional building uses can cost you 2 or 3 times as much as a conventional building.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
Interesting about the cost of the pumps. Around here, pump truck plus operator is only about $600 a day and I can do a very large amount of work in that one day.

As to concrete being eco-unfriendly, that is a myth. Concrete is almost entirely local sand and rock. It takes very little cement to make the concrete. Read up on the difference between the two. Once made the concrete lasts centuries or even millennia. Contrast this with wooden structures and such that must be rebuilt over and over at a high cost.

We built our cottage for about $7,000. In addition to being inexpensive to build (out of masonry) it is also extremely efficient to heat and maintain.
                            


Joined: Feb 10, 2011
Posts: 33
pubwvj wrote:
As to concrete being eco-unfriendly, that is a myth. Concrete is almost entirely local sand and rock. It takes very little cement to make the concrete. Read up on the difference between the two. Once made the concrete lasts centuries or even millennia. Contrast this with wooden structures and such that must be rebuilt over and over at a high cost.


I've always heard that concrete is very energy intensive even if the materials are not bad for the environment.  And concrete's strength is based on how much time and money you put into making it.  Concrete for things like sidewalks and curbs here usually doesn't go more than a few years without cracking or getting chipped.  And it is not uncommon to find numerous and large cracks in the concrete floors in local Walmart stores that are no more than a year old.  Concrete is durable only when you make it like the Romans did.

Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
flaja wrote:
I've always heard that concrete is very energy intensive


No, it the confusion comes from concrete vs cement. Pound for pound, cement is energy intensive. BUT, cement is only one small component of concrete. Almost all of concrete is actually sand and stone. The cement is just the binder.

On top of that, concrete lasts virtually forever compared with wood and other materials. So even though it takes more energy to make initially that energy is spread out over time. A wood house is rated for 20 to 40 years. A concrete building can easily last centuries to millennia. That's a 10x to 100x longer time frame which makes the concrete much less energy intensive in the long run.

Concrete is durable only when you make it like the Romans did.


Wrong. The technology of concrete has advanced dramatically since the Romans.

The fact that some concrete isn't done well just means that some concrete isn't done well. Don't confuse that with well done work. The same is true of any project. A good wooden building will last several hundred years but most modern cheap wooden buildings fall apart after a few decades just like the sidewalk that is poorly done.
                            


Joined: Feb 10, 2011
Posts: 33
pubwvj wrote:
No, it the confusion comes from concrete vs cement. Pound for pound, cement is energy intensive. BUT, cement is only one small component of concrete. Almost all of concrete is actually sand and stone. The cement is just the binder.

On top of that, concrete lasts virtually forever compared with wood and other materials. So even though it takes more energy to make initially that energy is spread out over time. A wood house is rated for 20 to 40 years. A concrete building can easily last centuries to millennia. That's a 10x to 100x longer time frame which makes the concrete much less energy intensive in the long run.

Wrong. The technology of concrete has advanced dramatically since the Romans.

The fact that some concrete isn't done well just means that some concrete isn't done well. Don't confuse that with well done work. The same is true of any project. A good wooden building will last several hundred years but most modern cheap wooden buildings fall apart after a few decades just like the sidewalk that is poorly done.


How does concrete compare with things like rammed earth, CEB and strawbale in terms of manufactured materials used; energy consumption of the finished building and long-term durability?  You can make a cheap concrete that won’t last any time at all, but can you make cheap rammed earth, or does rammed earth have to be made in a certain way that makes it durable in order for it to work at all?

And there is one other thing about concrete that should not be overlooked: most of us do not own a concrete factory, but if you own a piece of land you stand a good chance of being able to use your own materials and labor to build something.  An ecologically sustainable building technique usually means you are not at the mercy of some big corporation.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
flaja wrote:
How does concrete compare with things like rammed earth, CEB and strawbale in terms of manufactured materials used; energy consumption of the finished building and long-term durability?


In dry climates with the right local materials the rammed earth will last fairly long but in others it won't last at all. I'm not interested in building a house that will melt away in a few years. I want hundreds to thousands of years of durability and low maintenance which is why I choose masonry which includes cement, a component of concrete, as a binder. In our climate and location cement is actually fairly locally available and the rest of the material (sand, pebbles and stones) are all very locally available making them an ideal choice. Being locally available is a big consideration.

For us concrete is local, ecological, low maintenance, durable and low energy. If you have to ship something in from far away then it's going to change the equation. I find it unfortunate that some people promote a myth of concrete being non-eco materials when the opposite is true. Don't be a slave to dogma.
                            


Joined: Feb 10, 2011
Posts: 33
pubwvj wrote:
In dry climates with the right local materials the rammed earth will last fairly long but in others it won't last at all. I'm not interested in building a house that will melt away in a few years. I want hundreds to thousands of years of durability and low maintenance which is why I choose masonry which includes cement, a component of concrete, as a binder. In our climate and location cement is actually fairly locally available and the rest of the material (sand, pebbles and stones) are all very locally available making them an ideal choice. Being locally available is a big consideration.

For us concrete is local, ecological, low maintenance, durable and low energy. If you have to ship something in from far away then it's going to change the equation. I find it unfortunate that some people promote a myth of concrete being non-eco materials when the opposite is true. Don't be a slave to dogma.

It is a myth that rammed earth is not suitable for wet climates.

There is a church made from rammed earth that has withstood South Carolina’s climate for over a century.

http://www.suite101.com/view_image.cfm/1378036

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Cross_(Stateburg,_South_Carolina)


Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
Funny how you quote me but then don't read what I said. We don't have the right materials locally for rammed earth so it isn't suitable for us. Go back and reread the text of mine that you quoted.

By the way way, the USDA is quoted as saying that a Rammed Earth house can be built for 2/3rds the cost of conventional framed construction. Nice but we built for about 1/10th of that so we're still doing far better.

It's all about choice. Rammed earth, with the appropriate local materials and climate, may be great but it is still a myth that concrete is anti-green. That was the topic.
                            


Joined: Feb 10, 2011
Posts: 33
pubwvj wrote:
Funny how you quote me but then don't read what I said.


If this is directed at me, it would have been nice if you had given me some indication of what I said that that as offended you so much.  However, you strike me as the type that is easily offended and thus need to be offended often.

We don't have the right materials locally for rammed earth so it isn't suitable for us.


I have difficulty believing this considering what I have been lead to believe about rammed earth:

http://arch.usc.edu/Programs/Research/RammedEarthConstruction

“• The soil mix needs to be carefully balanced between clay, sand, and aggregate.

“• A wider range of soils are suitable when a small amount of cement (6% of mixture) is added. “

http://www.panyaden.org/blog/earth-building-technique-rammed-earth/
“Almost every soil is suitable for rammed earth.”

By the way way, the USDA is quoted as saying that a Rammed Earth house can be built for 2/3rds the cost of conventional framed construction.


You trust the federal government?

Rammed earth, with the appropriate local materials and climate,


As the church in SC illustrates, climate is no great barrier to rammed earth.  A rammed earth building will not melt away in a few years just because it is in a wet climate.

it is still a myth that concrete is anti-green.


Again, I am not convinced of your claim.  Too many companies stand to make a profit by selling concrete for me to believe they are legitimately concerned about the environment.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
flaja wrote:I am not convinced of your claim {re: myth of concrete being anti-green}.  Too many companies stand to make a profit by selling concrete for me to believe they are legitimately concerned about the environment.


Gee, it's hard to argue with fanaticism. I'll let you go. I have not vested interest in convincing you one way or the other.
Scott Howard


Joined: Dec 05, 2010
Posts: 59
Don't forget about www.mortarsprayer.com.  You can buy your own sprayer and do it yourself! I use my sprayer for all my big earthen plaster jobs, and they are used to spray cement mixtures for ferrocement, etc.  I think biomimicry is the way, gentlemen.  The materials don't necessarily need to be high-tec, but they can be.  The important part is the total life-cycle costs of a building, right?  Its funny because that requires a lot of speculation.  Most people these days can't prove many of the things that they commonly talk about.


Need more info?

www.earthenhand.com

Earthen Hand Natural Building

"If everyone makes a difference, the world will be different."
                          


Joined: Aug 10, 2011
Posts: 1
Location: Pueblo, CO
I live in a monolithic or thin shell concrete structure and would not give it up for the world!  It is everything and more that people say about them.  You can check out how we constructed ours at: www.mountainviewdome.com  Needless to say they are or have a different curb appeal but all that goes away once you are inside. 
John Abacene


Joined: Oct 07, 2010
Posts: 114

I like the idea, but as it is, a little too expensive for me, but being not only a tightwad on low income, but also trying to be cleaver, I had an idea...
I am not intimately familiar with the inflatable structure sometimes used to make these, but lets say you got two rolls of moderately heavy gauge plastic sheet, cut off two identical rectangular pieces, one on top of the other, and used good tape, like "Pipe Wrap" to seal all the way around, except for one spot where you have a piece of 3" PVC pipe and a valve, and in it in turn, some nipple or valve that can be hooked up to a very small compressor. First, something is used to basically inflate this new big bag, and when full, the vale is turned off to keep the air in, and the small compressor is used to somehow keep it filled to tension.
Maybe somehow affix something like burlap that is synthetic, to hold the mix sprayed onto it in place.
Then you spray the mix onto it just like the 'pros', and make some odd semi-rectangular shell.

Does this sound like it would work?
Michael McKinley


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 7
    
    1
Someone above mentioned the Mortarsprayer site; it has the design you need to create the forms used by Monolithic. For smaller structures you can use Tyvek. Larger structures can you recycled billboard vinyl. A 50 foot dome uses about $750 worth of billboard vinyl, $3500 worth of basalt rebar, and less than 40 yards of shotcrete. $1200 for a compressor, or rent one, $265 for a mortarsprayer. My research makes me think the pro spray foam people charge me about $.25/ board foot above the cost of DIY foam, that seems really cheap for doing a less than pleasant job. There certainly are pitfalls, but do the research and you will be surprised.
Michael Martin


Joined: May 24, 2014
Posts: 10
    
    1
As well as making the distinction between concrete and cement (an ingredient of concrete), it should be noted that there is a tremendous difference between cement materials. Almost all cement used today is based on Portland cement made from kilned lime. It requires large amounts of energy and releases as much CO2 by weight as the weight of cement produced. By contrast, magnesium oxide cements have superior compressive strengths, abrasion resistance etc. and require only a third the energy to produce, plus they actually draw down CO2 from the atmosphere as they cure, resulting in carbon neutral or even carbon negative concretes.

We at One Community are in the midst of researching these materials for a construction project of three domes in West Virginia, slated to begin next March. One will be earthbag construction and another will be some type of non-Portland cement. We will gather comparative data in order to compare the performance of both, and open source it all on our website.

For those interested, more at: www.onecommunityglobal.org
Brian Knight


Joined: Nov 02, 2011
Posts: 535
Location: Asheville NC
    
    9
Sounds like an exciting project Michael. I wish more people would go through the time and effort to build comparative structures and document the performance. Curious where in WV you guys are doing this as it wasnt obvious from your site.

As for the assessment of MgO vs Portland, I think its the un-renewable transportation fuel that is the bigger part of the equation. Aggregate and sand being equal, the distance and mode of transportation is likely to have a bigger impact than the calcining energy of either cement.

Ive got serious issues with the notions of a building material having a positive impact on free CO2 in the atmosphere. The monthly, un-renewable energy costs of a home or building are measurable and have an enormous impact on sustainability. A building component material's reduction on free CO2, not so much.


"If you want to save the environment, build a city worth living in." - Wendell Berry
Michael Martin


Joined: May 24, 2014
Posts: 10
    
    1
Brian, sorry for the late reply. I did not see your post.

The build in WV is about ten miles west of Romney, W.V. ( a county seat IIRC)

I agree about the transportation costs of construction... these are often not properly taken into account when looking at sustainable building issues.
Brian Knight


Joined: Nov 02, 2011
Posts: 535
Location: Asheville NC
    
    9
Thanks Michael! My comments about transportation were directed at the sustainability aspects of MgO versus Portland based concrete. Seeing that concrete is only 10-15% cement (MgO or Portland) the fact that MgO calcining energy is 1/3 of Portland's is small albeit delicious potatoes. If said MgO was transported a longer distance or if the coal used to heat it was transported by truck instead of rail then the more sustainable choice could be the Portland.

Presumably, MgO concrete would be made in the same plant as Portland so the coal transportation energy would be equal. Concrete plants are smart about how they acquire their materials. The plant processing the MgO could be obtaining it in less than efficient means so any environmental savings could easily be wiped out by the difference in calcining energy.

To put it the short way, MgO concrete uses 1/3 less energy than Portland concrete for only 10-15% of its ingredients. A difference easily wiped out by other factors.
 
 
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