Richmond Times Article

Couple Building Energy-Efficient Dome Home

Carl and Debbie Beckleheimer work on the geodesic dome house in King William County they are building.
Published: June 26, 2010

When some people get the urge for a change of scenery, they paint their living room fire-engine red or knock out a wall or buy new throw pillows.

Carl and Debbie Beckelheimer decided to build a geodesic dome house in the middle of the woods all by themselves.

“I wanted to build something that we could say, we did it,” Carl Beckelheimer said recently as he and his wife toiled in the summer heat in what will be their energy-efficient — yet slightly unusual — home on 6 quiet acres in King William County. The large dome structure that rises above the trees is beginning to take the shape of a home both inside and out.

Designed for energy efficiency, geodesic dome homes were popular decades ago. Today they are more mainstream in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Beckelheimers, who’ve lived in Sandston for the past 20 years in what Carl Beckelheimer calls a “regular Cape Cod,” spent six to eight months working with Minnesota-based Natural Spaces Domes to come up with the right floor plan for their house.

The main part of the home will be the large dome area. Three extensions will protrude from its sides for the entryway, the kitchen and the master bedroom. The main floor will be roughly 1,850 square feet. A second floor will feature another bedroom and bathroom, and a spiral staircase will lead up to the cupola, a small space with windows on all sides that crowns the top of the dome. There’s also a walk-out basement.

The house is structurally sound thanks to the series of triangle-shaped segments that make up its skeleton, Beckelheimer said. The main part of the house will have 16 inches of insulation inside 18-inch-thick walls and the extension walls will be more than a foot thick. Lots of skylights will allow for natural light. The home is positioned to catch the morning sun in the kitchen, and then as the sun moves through the day it’ll come through the rest of the skylights and windows around to the backside of the house. The setting sun will be seen through the master bedroom.

Solar thermal heat will warm the basement floor as well as their hot water. Much of the interior will be spruce wood rather than drywall. Natural air will be circulated throughout the house at all times thanks to a specialized ventilation system.

Carl Beckelheimer, an energy manager for Virginia Commonwealth University, said the cost of the dome house is about a third of a custom-built home and uses 30 percent fewer materials.

The Beckelheimers started working on their home in March 2009. They work most weekends and whenever else they find time, and they hope to be finished for the holidays this year. The only contractors they have hired so far were to clear the land and pour concrete footings for the foundation. Occasionally, their three children will help out, but most of the time, it’s just the two of them.

“There’s a great amount of satisfaction doing something like this by yourselves,” he said. Though as he climbed a ladder up to a wood rafter and prepared to go out onto the roof of what would be the home’s master bedroom, he joked, “at least that’s what I’ve been told.”

King William County building official John Bull said the Beckelheimers’ home didn’t present any problems during the building approval process because it already had engineered plans.

“We like that,” Bull said. “When they’re engineered, you can’t go wrong.”

Carl Beckelheimer said his inkling for a new home started about two years ago “when I went out into my backyard and could not see the stars.” He said he’s always liked the dome homes and found some land for sale in rural King William.

“We got a wild hair and decided to build one,” he said. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”