Efficient Living in a Geodesic Dome Home

The basics of geodesic building principles, and photos and floor plans of a lived-in geodesic dome house, are presented here.

| September/October 1983

More than 30 years ago, R. Buckminster Fuller (see "The Life of R. Buckminster Fuller: 1895–1983") received a patent for a system by which spherical structures could be formed from interconnecting triangles. Fuller's development mimicked certain geometric solids that occur commonly in nature and were described long ago by the Greeks. Old ideas, perhaps, but the synthesis of these concepts into a modern building system offers some revolutionary advantages over conventional, rectilinear construction.

The term geodesic—which literally means "great circle"—has been familiar to cartographers (mapmakers) for centuries as the word for the shortest distance between two points on the surface of a sphere. In itself, the word does little to describe a dome shell's system of imitating great circles with interconnected straight lines, all of which are triangulated to give the building tremendous strength.

Actually, several factors help increase the integrity of a geodesic dome home. The quasi-round shape transmits loads evenly through the structure and to the foundation, while the fundamental three-sided framework makes use of the strongest and simplest method of connecting structural members. Then gravity pulls the dome together, placing all the parts in compression (and thereby taking advantage of the direction of greatest strength in most materials).

A geodesic dome house has so much inherent structural integrity that it requires substantially less material than does a cubic structure. (A light truck can haul the parts of a 35-foot-diameter unit to the building site, in one load.)

A geodesic structure is also more thermally efficient than a rectilinear building with the same insulation and square footage. (Depending on how the interior is utilized, a dome may have 30% less skin exposed to the elements than would a conventional house of similar size.) And the polygons of the shell—designers use various combinations of equilateral triangles—can all be built from conventional, linear materials!

Many owner-builders have also recognized that—though the fancy geometric patterns on a dome may look intimidatingly complicated—geodesic structures are actually quite easy to build. The lengths and angles of the polygons all break down into a few essential shapes, and the framing can be prepared in advance. So, once all the framework and joints have been cut, domes are often built in a day.

Rob Pendell
1/9/2010 1:57:21 PM

A great source for geodesic domes of all sizes is the relatively new company Dome Guys. Dome Guys is a culmination of a number of people who've worked in the dome business and they have over 20 years of combined dome experience. Whether you're looking for an affordable living space or a modern event venue or shelter Dome Guys will have a geodesic solution for you. Check out their website at www.domeguys.com

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