No place like dome Family finds alternative to cookie-cutter ho

Saturday, August 17, 2002

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Dome homes aren't for squares.

It takes a special kind of family to build a home that looks like it's going to launch off into space, but geodesic dome owners seem to be the ones that are getting the last laugh.

Sharon and Chris Evans recently traded in their turn-of-the-century farmhouse, complete with walnut banisters and oak floors for a geodesic dome that took two days to erect.

The couple looked at domes for years, said Sharon Evans, an elementary school guidance counselor. "We bought our first dome book in the '70s."

The Evanses were looking for a unusual place to live for many years. They started out by looking into buying a log home, but they found that they were too expensive per square foot. Square footage is important to the Evanses, considering that they have five children, two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren. Although only two of their children still live at home with them, they need plenty of room.

Chris Evans ended the family's search for the perfect home, when he found an article in a Popular Mechanics magazine that mentioned geodesic domes in the Arctic. The article talked about the dome's energy efficiency and structural strength against the elements.

"They were starting to become en vogue, a unique method of housing," he said. "And we looked at them ever since."

Built in two days

A little over a year ago, the Evanses made the final decision to build a geodesic dome home amid 85 acres of property in a secluded country setting in Savannah. After picking a dome company, they started working on floor plans.

Footings were poured in January, and on two days in early April, 12 of their closest friends and relatives and a site supervisor contracted through their dome company, helped build the home.

The basic foundation of a geodesic dome can easily be set up. The homebuilder picks a design and decides on a company, which then sends out a kit that usually includes a dome shell, dome extensions, triangular skylights, blueprints and specialized dome hardware. It is up to the dome builder to finish the dome themselves or contract someone to do it.

Chris Evans says a dome can cost about 35 percent less in materials and construction than a conventional home of comparable size, if you hire the right people to help finish it. If you do it yourself, overall costs decrease by 50 to 65 percent, he says.

"Finishing the dome is time-consuming and difficult," Sharon Evans says.

'The rooms are weird'

And it's not for everyone.

"I like it, it's different," says Ryan, the Evanses' 24-year-old son. "I'd never want to live in one, though. The rooms are weird."

Harold and Carole Johnson of Savannah, Mo., have become comfortable with their geodesic home over the years.

"I like the energy efficiency and practicality of it," says Harold Johnson, an insurance agent. "And it's somewhat unique."

The Johnsons built their dome in 1983. It is 42 feet in diameter, 19 feet tall and has 2,000 square feet of usable space.

In the late '70s, the Johnsons were concerned, like many people, that energy prices were on the rise. They wanted to build a home that would be energy efficient and unique. Initially, they considered an underground home, but the land they owned was not suited for it.

They decided that geodesic domes "were the most efficient structure that we had run across."

Like the Evanses, the Johnsons ordered a dome kit and put up their home in two days with the help of their two sons, friends and family.

"In many respects our dome is pretty conventional inside," says Carole Johnson. "Some are more open, but ours is more divided because we knew we were going to have two teenage sons that were going to need their privacy."

According to domehomes. com, the cost of a basic dome is anywhere from $35 to $48 per square foot. This adds up to between $70,000 and $96,000 for a basic 2,000-square-foot dome. Any additional costs for finishing the dome depend on the owner's preferences.

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