|Dear (name withheld)
You've brought me out of the lurking and
listening mode that I have been in for the last year. As
I have in years past, I must respond to this
"refried dome crap".
My name is Dennis Johnson. I am the
owner of Natural Spaces Domes in North Branch, Minnesota.
I have been designing and building domes since 1971,
started working for an architectural firm in 1961 and
started designing houses in the seventh grade.
Let me put some responses to the
letter writer's statements (his are shown in
I hate to wade into the
fray on this one, but I feel compelled. I've spoken
to Lloyd Kahn in person,
So have I - in the 70's, after
"Shelter" was published, I asked Lloyd to
publish a pro-dome response in his next printing. He
flatly refused to print any kind of a
"rebuttal" to his anti-dome diatribe.
and been to his self-built,
30-year-old, marvelously beautiful house in
California. He's just not an incompetent builder,
one building does not a builder
and even if he was at one
time new to building, he had lots of help--from both
competent and incompetent builders.
He didn't want to learn from the
competent dome builders
The truth, as always, is
The truth is never as complicated
His critics are correct in
asserting that dome techniques have improved.
Furthermore, many of the domes LK
designed were built by high highschoolers in the
sixties. They were just crappy crappy domes.
and he was their instructor
But keep a couple of things
in mind: 1) Lloyd Kahn's personal dome was beautiful
and reasonably well built.
well built should not have
reasonably for an adjective
It didn't have to leak
2) Buckminster Fuller's own
not until the elastomeric roofing
system was improperly maintained
as do many others to this
I built my house dome in 1975 - it
doesn't leak. Nor does my office dome, guest dome or two
shop domes. Nor does my beach dome on the Atlantic Ocean
during or after three hurricanes.
They can be made to shed
water, but they're all roof, and it's mostly
very wrong, the dome roof is almost
all steeply pitched roof areas. The only shallow pitch is
on the top pentagon where it is less than the typical
house roof pitch of 4 in 12.
Leaking comes naturally to
Leaking is a very un-natural trait
in the over one thousand domes with which I have been
involved. I would have to say that leaks come very
naturally to the amateur, inexperienced builder
installing a skylight in a conventional box house roof.
What's more, while many of
the problems of geodesic domes can be fixed, many
I don't have any
"problems" that can't be, or haven't
been, fixed in these thousand or so domes.
They are problems with
domes in principle.
The principle of the dome has no
problems. The "principle" of the conventional
box/rectangle house has many problems, some of which are
solved by bracing the rectangular shapes in a triangular
I don't drywall the interior
triangles of my domes. Drywall is not the correct
material in my dome system. I use T & G boards,
allowing for expansion and contraction. In our
system, T&G interior triangles can be installed
cheaper and faster.
If you are referring to the outside
of the dome, you should not be using paint as a roofing
material. If you are referring to the inside, we don't
paint the wood triangles and the rest of the walls are no
more difficult than a comparable conventional house with
I rarely design the same dome
inside twice. I don't have any problem subdividing the
interior into innovative, intriguing, inviting,
interesting, engrossing, exciting spaces. However, a box
is a box is a box - until you start adding some
"interesting" shapes to the walls or ceilings,
trying to get where the dome started.
and maintaining privacy are
all very difficult to do.
If I need to design privacy for
toilet/bathroom functions or for lovemaking, I do the
same thing as I would in a box house - you put up walls
or separate those functions you want to make
private. My 25 year old son and I currently live in
our double dome home which also function as model homes.
The design of these spaces allows us to maintain privacy
for all of our personal uses with little difficulty.
Sealing domes with anything
attractive remains a problem.
I guess you must not like what is
used on conventional box houses for roofing. At
least 95% of our domes use high-grade laminated standard
asphalt shingles, which most people consider
attractive. As I said above, our domes don't leak.
Sealing them is definitely not a problem.
And these problems are
really inherent to the design.
No problems and no problems
inherent to the dome design.
Furthermore, the much
touted benefits of domes have not yet appeared. They
are not labor saving (far from it),
We can frame and sheath a 2 story,
2000 square foot dome home in 2 days. Try that with an
on-site, stick-built box.
and they aren't
My daughter is buying a
conventional box (yea, I know, tell me about it! Kids
these days just don't learn!) for $250,000+. Not
Where do you get your data from?
Have you ever tried to really compare a dome with a
box? I will say that nothing is particularly
cheap unless it is made to be particularly cheap. That
kind of a structure usually has a short lifespan.
They probably don't resell
We've had domes resell within 1 to
2 weeks, some in 3 hours. We always attract more people
at the dome open house over the box open house. On
a comparative basis, domes resell as good or better than
They save some materials,
but the materials you must use must be of a higher
Wrong again on this generalization.
We save 60% of the framing lumber used in a box house. We
don't have to use high grade lumber to frame the dome but
the roof trusses used in box houses usually have to be
made from high grade lumber.
You must like all the waferboard
and flakeboard used on conventional box houses which,
when subjected to moisture, deteriorates and deforms.
Sometimes using a better material, like plywood, creates
a better structure - ask an engineer.
They are probably
light--but who cares?
WE CARE! - For our environmental
future - because of the drastic reduction in materials
that we have in our domes.
And they are usually
strong--but, again, who cares?
(within reasonable limits,
and outside Kansas).
Let's see, maybe you should talk to
all the people who are subject to tornadoes, hurricanes,
straight line winds, earthquakes, heavy snow loads and
the like. You have to get out of Kansas and visit the
Domes are for some people,
(Hi Carolyn!) and may be for you. But, oh, please be
That's all we ask as dome builders.
Get out and visit some good domes. Investigate. Almost
everybody that walks into our office and model domes says
"WOW, I'd like to live in one of these!".
has a lot to recommend it.
Not in my book - except for maybe
those magnificent structures of Frank Lloyd Wright. But
wait a minute - everybody says his roofs always leaked!
Of course, he did several designs
using domes. Those probably didn't leak.
Thanks for letting me rant - I
needed that to bring some sanity back into my life in
this crazy week.
Dennis Odin Johnson
Natural Spaces Domes
North Branch, Minnesota
I’ll respond to the 7 comments from George Oakes below. If my answers seem
a little harsh, I apologize. It just upsets me to see this misinformation still
From "Dome Builders Blues" by George Oakes.
In brief, these are the chief technical drawbacks. I discovered them all the hard way, so I know them well. It goes without saying that I did not anticipate any of them before starting:
He also wasn’t smart enough to figure out any simple solutions or ask anybody
- The only kind of insulation you can legally use in a dome kit is super-expensive, flammable, poisonous, and unbelievably labor-intensive to install.
Totally false – we’ve been using fiberglass and have exceeded every code
required minimum thickness since 1979. We have dome shells with 15”, 18”
and 21” thick walls and we are selling our domes cheaper than other dome
companies that use 2x6 walls.
- The very shape of the house makes it difficult to conform to code requirements for placement of sewer vents and chimneys.
Another absurd comment without any basis. Sewer vents and chimneys are
installed in the exact same way in a dome as they are in a conventional house.
- Domes are difficult to roof. And if not roofed exceptionally well, they will leak like a sieve.
Domes are more difficult to roof and it takes longer than a conventional house.
However, we use 50+ year shingles so you do not have to reshingle for a long,
long time. We have hundreds of domes roofed by many different shinglers and
if they followed our shingling instructions, they don’t leak.
- All building materials come in rectangular shapes off the shelf. They have to be cut to fit triangular and other non-standard shapes. Scrap from cutting -i.e., waste — ranges from about 10 percent to 20 percent, depending on the type of material, of what you paid for.
We solved the scrap issue back in 1979. We have less scrap than someone
building conventional houses. We also take the small pieces that we do get and
use them as part of our fuel source for heating 5 of our domes here in North Branch.
- Domes require about twice as much sparking tape and electrical cable as conventional houses of similar size. Cable costs quite a bit, and labor costs are doubled, too.
Again, another totally erroneous statement. The opposite is true – domes take
less time and materials when you are doing electrical runs in the dome shell.
- Foundations are critical. You can get away with a lot in conventional houses, but not with a dome.
That may be true but it is referring to the sloppy way they build conventional
houses. ALL foundations should be built correctly and accurately or you will
have problems with the structure above.
- Fire escapes are problematical, they’re required, and they’re expensive. Windows conforming to code can cost anywhere from 5 to 15 times as much as windows in conventional houses.
Where does this guy pull his information from – certainly not from somewhere
in the real world. We use the VELUX brand egress skylight in our second floor
dome bedrooms. The skylight costs $662 and the framing package costs $195.
A conventional house using a required size of egress window in a bedroom uses
a window that costs approx. $450 to $500.
- People who work in construction for a living do everything in modules of 4 and 8 feet.
Not really true at all.
- Neophyte builders — like me — think that swinging a hammer is what eats up the time. Absolutely wrong. It’s measuring, cutting and fitting.
He actually admits he doesn’t know how to build.
Smart builders — unlike me —
I’m sorry, but one of the opposite words for smart is “dumb”
plan all of their work around off-the-shelf materials to minimize labor expended in trying to make things fit.
Off the shelf materials have to be cut to fit the project being built. They do not fit
without cutting or adapting.