By MaryHelen Swanson
North Branch couple is taking the green life seriously and is enjoying
living inside a dome that is pleasing to Mother Earth in as many as 50
A view of the fireplace and second-floor railing. The rails are made
of wood from northern Minnesota. The rock for the fireplace is local
and the large hearth rock is taconite that comes from an abandoned iron
mine on the Minnesota iron range. Temperature in the home is constant
no matter which level you’re on. The home was featured on cable
television’s World’s Greenest Homes this fall. A film crew spent an
entire day at Bear Creek Dome for a 15-minute segment on the show.
Dennis Odin Johnson and his wife, Tessa Hill, have been dwelling in
their earth-friendly dome home since Oct. 13, 2007, the day they were
married in the spacious, bright great room.
The home, the pair noted on a recent visit, was finished only the day before.
Their emphasis on green and healthy living stems from the loss of loved ones from cancers.
The Energy Star 5 Plus Bear Creek Dome is named for the creek that
meanders through their rural North Branch property. And they named the
creek, too. It was while asking a local historian for the name of the
creek, they learned it was one of several in the area called Hay Creek.
Because the couple has observed bear near the creek, they renamed it
The beautiful home boasts 18-inch walls and roof that help maintain a
constant temperature inside, summer or winter, and provide an R value
of 55. They have installed two air conditioners, but never found the
need for them this past summer.
The dome shape uses 60 percent less structural materials to build than a conventional box house.
Insulation is formaldehyde-free fiberglass made from recycled glass and
some insulation is made from recycled blue jean material.
From the great room they look out triple-pane windows and overhead, the sunlight streams in from triple-pane skylights.
The positioning of the home on the property takes advantage of morning sun and eliminates the heat of the afternoon sun.
A unique sun tunnel in the ceiling over Hill’s second-floor office
brings extra daylight into the area, even on cloudy days. All light
bulbs are compact fluorescent.
The concrete floor has radiant heating. And it is stained, eliminating the need for carpet or other floor covering.
Johnson pointed out that all materials used are non-toxic. There are no VOC paints, stains or wood sealers.
They used mold-free sheetrock with no paper facing.
IKEA cabinets in the kitchen area were built with non-toxic materials.
The outside of Bear Creek Dome uses machine-hewn 2 x 6 “log” siding
with non-toxic stains. It will age naturally requiring minimal
maintenance. There are solar-powered accent and path lights. There is
no “artificial” lawn, and wildflowers and native habitat are protected
and encouraged in the yard. There is no asphalt driveway, either.
Johnson and Hill built the home using fallen and reclaimed wood,
including the white oak window sills and bathroom countertop, the entry
porch cedar posts and rough-sawn pine door trim, much of which is
gathered on their own 50 acres.
The white pine wall paneling is from their property (fallen wood, not
cut) and the white pine for the floors and stair treads was harvested
during the Co Rd 17 interchange construction project.
The railings on the second-floor are fallen cedar from northern Minnesota.
Most interesting is the kitchen island counter and shower walls lining.
It is reclaimed redwood from an 1890 Grainbelt Beer brewing vat. And
Johnson still has some left over.
Rock for the huge, central fireplace came from Boulder Creek at Harris,
but the large heart boulders are taconite stone from an abandoned
northern Minnesota iron mine. That brings a bit of his youth to the
home as Johnson is from the iron range.
Countertops are slices of banded taconite, polished to produce beauty
that rivals any marble. It requires no sealer like marble.
A whole-house water filtration system softens and process all water used.
And an air-to-air heat exchanger, which is required on all new homes,
constantly brings in fresh air and exhausts stale, moist air.
An area rug near the fireplace is made from recycled plastic bottles.
However, you will probably never find plastic bottles to recycle in their home as they also have their own soda-making machine.
Other unique aspects
In the living space is a large-screen television mounted on the wall
that swings around so it can be viewed from the master bedroom.
Johnson, an architectural designer for 36 years, saw to some unique features.
Like the Murphy bed in that master bedroom, that, when lifted, creates
a room that can be used for additional entertaining space as it is
right off the living room.
And there’s an infrared sauna in that bedroom, too, for taking the toxins out of your body.
“It’s 20 cents per sauna,” Hill said, “that’s better than steam.”
The recycling has even a nostalgic aspect as a dressing screen in the
master bedroom was made from wallpaper that was leftover from Johnson’s
bedroom in 1949. His mother saved the rolls.
And a dresser/vanity from Hill’s youth is quite comfortable in the upstairs guest bedroom.
“It’s good for the environment to use old things,” Hill said.
The counter top in the bathroom is made from fallen wood and the sinks
are two wooden salad bowls Hill found online. The tile is recycled
According to Hill, if you Google, you can find lots of recycled stuff.
Johnson advised that you have to do a lot of asking when looking for recycled items.
Their green, healthy living continues in the products they use. People
need to think about recycled products such as paper towels, napkins and
use non-toxic cleaning supplies, the pair said. And buy organic food as
much as possible, they added.
The green continues to the exterior of the home and yard where there is no blacktop or hard surfaced trails.
Johnson, noted that the building code changes that provide for
healthier living have been a long time in the coming. They came, he
said, from a bill his former wife, Senator Janet Johnson, championed.
Sen. Johnson passed away in late summer 1999.
“It’s taken this long for these things to come into play,” he said.
Natural Spaces Domes world headquarters is in North Branch where they
have nine domes including the new, certified Energy Star 5 Plus Bear
Creek Dome, Forest dome, office dome, two shop domes, Bear Creek Cabin
dome, and a few others. They invite visitors to come see that they
“practice what they preach” in green and healthy living.
For more on the Bear Creek Dome and Natural Spaces Domes, go to
www.naturalspacesdomes.com. or e-mail:
call (651) 674-4292.