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Multi-dome house model.

Dome Homes
Inherently Strong and Disaster Resistant

      Dome-shaped houses tend to look either really good or really bad. Most dome homes are constructed with a single, large dome, which is then divided into many different rooms inside. That makes the most optimal use of the materials, encompassing the most square feet for the least amount of materials. If I were to build a dome house, however, I like the idea of creating a dome for each room, as shown in this model I built using balloons and paper mache. I believe that this style of dome home could be quite economical if the domes were mass-produced out of lightweight insulation, such as papercrete or expanded polystyrene (preferably recycled), then hauled into place, connected, and stuccoed over with cement, as proposed in my book, Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction. Perhaps one day...

Dome Construction Methods

Monolithic Domes
      Monolithic dome construction utilizes concrete, rebar, and spray insulation, often with an oversize balloon is as a form. Monolithic domes are inherently strong, and resistant to earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and even bombs, as was observed in World War II. Scroll down the page to learn more.
Earthbag Domes
      Earthbags are an amazingly adaptive material, enabling the builder to create any shape - from conventional straight-walled houses to circular domes, to freeform walls. Earthbag construction is ideal for warmer climates, with lots of thermal mass to moderate house temperatures between day and night. [Learn more...]
Earthship Tire Domes
      With earthship technology it is possible to build houses of many different shapes and sizes, including domes, from old tires packed full of dirt. These houses are often bermed into the ground on three sides to protect them from the weather, and sometimes the top is covered over with earth as well. [Learn more...]
Foam Domes
      The best way to mass-produce low-cost, high-efficiency, disaster resistant dome homes may be to manufacture the components from polystyrene insulation, then stucco over the insulation. A Japanese company, International Dome House Co., Ltd. is now selling dome house kits. [Learn more...]

Dome Living - book cover.

Dome Living
A Creative Guide For Planning Your Monolithic Dream Home
by David B. South with Freda Grones
Review by Thomas J. Elpel

      Dome Living offers a great look at the uncommon architecture of monolithic dome homes. Monolithic domes are made using large balloon like air forms. The air forms are usually sprayed on the inside with a seamless coating of polyurethane insulation. A grid of reinforcing rebar is put up inside of that, and sprayed with a thin layer of shotcrete to make a shelter that is incredibly energy efficient and highly resistant to natural or manmade disasters. The energy bill for a typical monolithic dome home is about 10% of the bill for a conventional house of similar size. Dome structures have proved impressively resiliant against earthquakes, tornadoes--even dropping bombs. While dome homes may not fit into every neighborhood, the reality is that if all houses were built like monolithic dome homes, then we would have very nearly achieved a sustainble (energy- and resource-efficeint) civilization already. Dome Living includes more than 115 house plans to give you lots of creative ideas to work with in planning your own monolithic dome home. ISBN: 0-9679171-0-7. 152 pages. 2000.

Introduction to Monolithic Domes

Modern Day Dream Dome Homes

No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff - book cover.

No Nails, No Lumber
The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff
by Jeffery Head

      Imagine a house constructed in less than forty-eight hours, without using lumber or nails, that is more resistant to fire, earthquakes, and hurricanes than any traditionally built structure. This may sound like the latest development in prefab housing or green architecture, but the design dates back to 1941 when architect Wallace Neff (1895 1982) developed Airform construction as a solution to the global housing crisis. Best known for his elegant Spanish Colonial revival estates in Southern California, Neff had a private passion for his dome-shaped "bubble houses" made of reinforced concrete cast in position over an inflatable balloon. No Nails, No Lumber shows the beauty and versatility of Neff 's design in new and vintage photography, previously unpublished illustrations, and archival material and ephemera. Hardcover / 176 pages. Princeton Architectural Press. 2011. ISBN: 978-1616890247.

Real Working Drawings
DIY House Plans with Free Software, Monolithic Dome Edition
by Robert Bissett

      Real Working Drawings takes the reader through all the stages required to produce a functional and attractive set of working drawings, with a special emphasis on monolithic dome construction. The prospective home owner will learn how to start with a pencil-drawn floor plan, build a 3D computer model and produce and publish a complete set of house plans. Working with the structural engineer, plan reviewer and contractor is covered, as well. The entire process can be accomplished on a home computer with free software available on the internet saving thousands of dollars.

Author Robert Bissett has been specializing in monolithic dome design for over ten years. He did the design development and working drawings for Dome of a Home in Pensacola Beach, Florida, which survived hurricane Ivan and was the subject of a TV special. He also did the design development and working drawings for the largest, high-end dome home, forty thousand square feet on four floors, part of a five dome complex. Paperback. CreateSpace. 2011. 148 pages. ISBN: 978-1461191117.

See also: Monolithic Marketplace

How to Build a Concrete Dome House
How to build the strongest, fireproof, tornado, and earthquake resistant concrete dome house
by Jan Hornas

      The title says it all! This little (38 page) book outlines the process of building a monolithic concrete dome with reinforcing bar and ferrocement. This process does not require a big, house-sized balloon, as advocated by some builders. Instead, the shell is constructed out of rebar and chickenwire, then ferrocemented, then insulated, covered with wire mesh, and ferrocemented again.

This book is by no means comprehensive. It offers a good sketch of the process, enough to experiment with on a smaller structure. The drawings are unsophisticated, but adequte for the purpose. How to Build a Concrete Dome House will not answer all your questions, but it will get you started!

Earthbag Building
Build a Home with Bags of Earth

      Sometimes new technologies facilitate very simple or very old technologies. In the case of earthbag construction, the modern polypropelene bag makes it feasible for even the novice to build a low-cost, enduring house from bags of dirt.

      The cool thing about earthbag construction is that it is such an adaptive material, enabling the builder to create any shape - from conventional straight-walled houses to circular domes, to freeform walls.

      Earthbag construction is ideal for warmer climates, with lots of thermal mass to moderate house temperatures between day and night. I'm not sure, however, how energy-efficient uninsulated earthbag construction would be in northern climates, where heat-loss becomes a major concern. I would love to experiment with this method of construction on an out-building some day!

Earthbag Building Basics

Overview of earthbag construction.

Time-lapse of building a straight-walled earthbag house.

Earthbag Building Books

Building with Earth - book cover.

Building with Earth
A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction
by Paulina Wojciechowska

      While developers around the globe are looking toward the industrialized United States in hopes of promoting American-style tract houses, shopping malls, and skyscrapers, our country's pioneering natural builders are looking in the other direction -- hearkening back to ancient traditions to create beautiful, affordable, and resilient dwellings of earth. Building with Earth is the first comprehensive guide to describe the re-emergence of earthen architecture in North America, where adventurous builders are combining timeless forms such as arches, vaults, and domes with modern materials and techniques.

      Using cheap recycled or salvaged polypropylene tubing or textile grain sacks, even relatively inexperienced builders can construct an essentially tree-free building, from foundation to curved roof. With ordinary barbed wire between courses for tensile strength, and with beautifully textured earth- and lime-based finish plasters for weather protection, "earthbag" buildings are being used for retreats, studios, and full-time homes in a wide variety of climates and conditions.

      This book will tell and show readers how to plan and build their own earthen "Superadobe" building. This book takes you back to the future: In rediscovering the origins of traditional architecture, readers are introduced to cutting-edge earth-based techniques now being researched for their potential in building durable dwellings for residence on the moon!

      Paulina Wojciechowska was born in Poland and spent her formative years in Afghanistan and India, fascinated by the region's age-old architecture created by artisan builders. Eventually she entered architecture school at Kingston University in Great Britain. After working in London architectural firms, she traveled to the United States and Mexico to study and work with the "natural," "alternative" and indigenous building methods and low-cost housing. She apprenticed with master "Superadobe" builder Nader Kahlili at the California Institute of Earth Architecture (Cal-Earth) as well as with straw-bale building pioneers Athena and Bill Steen at the Canelo Project.

Earthbag Building - book cover.

Earthbag Building
The Tools, Tricks and Techniques
by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer

With over seventy percent of Americans unable to afford a code-enforced, contractor-built home, there has been widespread interest in recent years in using natural and alternative materials for construction. Straw, cob, and earth can all be used for building homes and other buildings that are inexpensive, and that rely largely on labor, rather than high-cost, and often environmentally-damaging materials imported from from far away.

Earthbag Building is a comprehensive guide to all the tools, tricks, and techniques for building with bags filled with earth-- or earthbags. Acknowledged pioneers and experts in the field, the authors have prefected their "flexible form rammed earth technique" -- a reliable method for constructing homes, out-buildings, garden walls and much more. This enduring, tree free architecture can also be used to create arched and domed structures of great beauty--at home in any region, and in developing countries, or in emergency relief work.

This profusely illustrated guide first discusses the many merits of earthbag construction, and then leads the reader through the key elements of an earthbag building:

  • special design considerations
  • electrical, plumbing, and shelving
  • roofs, arches, and domes
  • foundations, walls, and floors
  • lintels, windows, and door installations
  • exterior and interior plasters
With dedicated sections on costs, making your own specialized tools, and building code considerations, as well as a complete resources guide, Earthbag Building is a definitive guide to this uniquely pleasing construction style.

Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer have been involved in the natural building movement for the last twelve years, specializing in affordable, low-tech, low-impact building methods that are as natural as possible. They developed the "flexible form rammed earth technique" of building affordably with earthbags and have taught the subject and contributed their expertise to several books and journals on natural building. ISBN: 0-86571-507-6. 257 Pages. 2004.

Ceramic Houses - book cover.

Ceramic Houses and Earth Architecture
How to Build Your Own
by Nader Khalili

      Khalili's classic, authoritative manual describes how to build arches, domes, and vaults with earth, as well as techniques to fire and glaze earth buildings to transform them into ceramic houses. This newly revised edition also provides insight into the latest response by building officials to Superadobe or earthbag technology (structures of sandbags and barbed wire), a patented system that is free for the owner-builder and licensed for commercial use.

      Nader Khalili's ideas on ceramic houses and earth architecture have been published by NASA and utilized by the United Nations, and have passed building and safety tests in California. This new edition is now in its fifth printing.

      Fine Homebuilding magazine said this of the book: "This is an extraordinary work. Though very much the personal expression of an impassioned visionary, Ceramic Houses is full of experiential advice, technical guidance, and encouragement to those who would join the author in his search for cheap, durable, attainable housing for much of the world."

      Nader Khalili, an Iranian-born California architect and author, is the designer and innovator of the Geltaftan Earth-and-Fire System known as "ceramic houses" as well as the Superadobe building technologies. He received his education in Iran, Turkey, and the United States, and has been a licensed architect in California since1970. In 1975, he closed his successful practice in the United States and Iran designing high-rise buildings and journeyed by motorcycle for five years through the Iranian desert, where he worked closely with local villagers to develop his earth architecture prototypes. His impressions have been collected in his book Racing Alone. Mr. Khalili serves as a consultant to the United Nations and is a contributor to NASA on construction technologies for the moon and Mars. He is the founder and director of the Cal-Earth Institute, Geltaftan Foundation--dedicated to research and development in earth and space architecture technologies for the moon and Mars.

Sandbag Shelter - book cover.

Emergency Sandbag Shelter and Eco-Village
Manual - How to Build Your Own with Superadobe / Earthbag
by Nader Khalili

      Emergency Sandbag Shelter is a must-have manual for every home, as an emergency guide. Now for the first time this book is made available to people around the world by its inventor, award-winning architect Nader Khalili, whose specialty was skyscrapers and who dedicated his life to teaching others how to build shelter for humanity. This book, with over 700 photos and illustrations, shows how to use sandbags and barbed wire, the materials of war, for peaceful purposes as the new invention known as Superadobe or earth-bag, which can shelter millions of people around the globe as a temporary as well as permanent housing solution. This affordable, self-help, sustainable, and disaster-resistant structural system is a spin off from Khalili's presentation to NASA for habitat on the moon and Mars, which successfully passed rigorous tests for strict California earthquake building codes. This book along with a small library of films and kits can guide anyone to learn and teach how to build a home or community.

Foam Domes
Quick Set-up with Snap-Together Panels

      The best way to mass-produce low-cost, high-efficiency, disaster resistant dome homes may be to manufacture the components from polystyrene insulation, such as is used for coffee cups, but denser. The domes can easily be stuccoed over after being assembled. A Japanese company, International Dome House Co., Ltd. is now selling dome house kits, and has erected hundreds of them in Japan, including about 480 of them at the Aso Farm Land resort village in Kyushu. Unlike traditional wood frame houses, styrofoam dome homes do not rot or attract termites, and the domes are highly resistant to earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The insulation includes a fire-retardant material, and is pretty much impervious to fire after being stuccoed anyway. The prefabricated panels weigh about 175 pounds and can be carried by two or three people and assembled in a few hours. Stucco mortar and paint are applied to seal the structure. The basic dome is 25 feet wide and 13 feet tall, encompassing 475 square feet. Special connecting pieces make it possible to join multiple domes into a single home. Learn more from the company website: International Dome House Co., Ltd. Here in America, USA Domes is now offering similar dome home kits.

Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
See also: Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction.

      Looking for life-changing resources? Check out these books by Thomas J. Elpel:

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit
to Reality
Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids

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