Post-Standard Article

Home Sweet Dome

Published: Saturday, June 26, 2010, 5:00 AM     Updated: Saturday, June 26, 2010, 1:06 PM
by Gloria Wright of The Post-Standard

Geodesic dome homes are energy efficient, use fewer building materials and don’t need much dusting because of the even air flow.

Practical considerations aside, local dome residents say what they love most about their homes are the soaring ceilings and feeling of open space.

“You have the feeling of almost being outdoors,” said Louise Lutz, of Tully, whose Wetmore Road home is situated to see the lights of Song Mountain Resort ski center.

Lutz and Joe Zader had their 40-foot dome built in 1990-91 after getting married. Each had a home — he in Solvay and she in Village Green Apartments in Baldwinsville — and they wanted a home that was theirs, they said.

“We went everywhere looking,” Zader said, “but there was always something wrong. So we decided to look for land and build our own home.”

A friend suggested a dome, and the design spoke to the couple.

“I’m not a straight line kind of person,” she said.

Steve George, of Otisco Valley Road in Marietta, saw his first geodesic dome at the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair, where the U.S. Pavilion was a 200-foot-high geodesic dome that was 250 feet in diameter.

“I went into that big dome and it was so impressive,” he said. “It’s one of those things that sits in the back of your head.”

The Montreal dome was designed by architect R. Buckminster Fuller, who patented the geodesic dome in 1954 and coined the phrase “spaceship earth.”

Fuller discovered that if a spherical structure was created from triangles, it would have unparalleled strength.

According to The Buckminster Fuller Institute Brooklyn, a dome is energy efficient, in part because:

Gloria Wright / The Post-Standard SPENCER GEORGE,11 (left), and his father, Steve, stand beneath a 15½-foot-wide skylight in their geodesic dome home on Otisco Valley Road, Marietta.”I wanted the skylight. I wanted something where you walk in, look up and go, ‘Wow,”‘ Steve George said.

Its decreased surface area requires less building materials.

Exposure to cold in the winter and heat in the summer is decreased because, being spherical, there is the least surface area per unity of volume per structure.

The concave interior creates a natural airflow that allows the hot or cool air to flow evenly throughout the dome with the help of return air ducts.
Dome kits can range in price from about $40,000 to $100,000 and more.Steve George said he uses 120 watts of electricity to heat his 40-foot-diameter dome: the equivalent of three, 40-watt bulbs.

He and his wife, Shelby, built the three-bedroom, two-bath house from a kit beginning in 2002. They hired a plumber and did the rest of the work themselves.

The house is made up of 96 triangles, with 18-inch-thick walls filled with insulation. The windows and skylights are triple-paned, argon-filled, low-e glass. There is radiant floor heating, with the water heated in an outdoor wood boiler.

Gloria Wright / The Post-StandardLouise Lutz and Joe Zader live in a geodesic dome on Wetmore Road in Tully. Their front window 20 feet wide and about 10 feet high and made up of eight triangular windows.
“It costs me nothing to heat this house,” he said.

The Georges decided to build a dome after attending a “dome-raising” in Connecticut. About 10 people — only one with building experience — erected a geodesic dome in a day.

“These were ordinary people, who had never swung a hammer,” he said.

Once the family had decided on a dome, George built a scale model, 2-feet across, and placed it on the building site to see which angle would best take advantage of the sun for passive solar heating, and of the moon.

“I wanted the moon,” he said, to shine through the 15 1/2-foot-wide skylight. “I wanted the skylight. I wanted something where you walk in, look up and go wow,” he said.

On Christmas, the full moon shone into the George home, illuminating their 18-foot-tall Christmas tree.
George, Lutz and Zader all described building a geodesic dome as “like putting together Tinkertoys.”

In a day, the frame of Lutz and Zader’s dome was up. They added extensions to the main dome, which house a plant room, a bathroom and a work room. The front window is made up of eight triangular windows stretching 20 feet wide and about 10 feet high.

The biggest problem George had building the dome was roofing.

“I called probably 30 roofers and they wouldn’t touch it,” he said. He watched as roofers slowed down, looked at the house and then kept going. Others pulled into the driveway, looked at the dome, and pulled back out.

He and his wife ended up doing it themselves, Shelby cutting the shingles with a large paper cutter like those in schools, he said. Once they figured out the pattern — points up first, points down, overlap — the work went quickly, George said.

Dome living does have its drawbacks.

The shape tends to create odd-shaped corners, closets and dead space. Figuring out where to put the refrigerator was a challenge.

Lutz and Zader built out a straight wall in the kitchen to hang the cabinets. The Georges have lived with a basic kitchen with little storage for the past five years, and now that they are familiar with how the space works, they are getting ready for a redo. They will have custom cabinets built.

Sound reverberates in a dome. Lutz said she can hear the television better in their loft bedroom than she can when sitting in the living room.

“It’s like the whispering dome at St. Paul’s (Cathedral),” in London, she said. “I don’t think I would like it if I had kids,” Lutz said.

George and his wife have a bedroom downstairs in the dome, while his children, Spencer, 11, and Kallie, 13, have bedrooms in a loft area that overlooks the living room. He can hear everything that happens in the children’s bedrooms, which can be a mixed blessing with teenagers.

On the other hand, he said, his inexpensive stereo sounds great, and movie nights “sound outrageous.”

Gloria Wright can be reached at or 470-3024.