Living in a Dome Tent

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The project cost more than might have been expected, but one family loves their new tent home.

A warm “hello” to MOTHER EARTH NEWS from across the Pacific in New Zealand. We’re writing about Crazy Horse Mike Turcot’s “$6, three-hour dome” featured in the July/August 1973 issue of  MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Mike and his co-conspiratorial Umbrella partners got us so fired up with enthusiasm that we decided to build a “down under” version of his brainchild. Now that our model is constructed — even though we didn’t set aside the 81¢ for beer, and granting that we may have been pounding and sawing to a different drummer — we’ve christened our bubble “the $60, Three-Day Dome.” Of course, plastic and lumber are more expensive over here … and certainly never free!

Mike’s philosophy that a shelter should “respond to the whims of its makers” was readily endorsed by the Elinor and Emery branch of the Umbrella Conspiracy (that’s us). We used 10/1,000-inch thickness of plastic, 6 feet wide (as opposed to Mike’s 9-foot width) and dug our posts 18 inches down into the ground for more stability. Then we sticky-taped the laps because we wanted a more permanent structure that might last a couple of years or more. Instead of nails, El used fencing staples … first pushed through 1-by-1-inch-square pieces of leather or thin wood before “nailing” the plastic to the umbrella ribs.

Our dome is every bit as successful as we’d hoped, arid we’re having a fine ole time living in it. Rainproof, 24 feet in diameter and 12 feet high, the finished bubble has a smoke flap in the ceiling and a 12-inch, air-conditioning crosscurrent lift-up bottom flap around the lower edge (as Mike suggested). The top smoke flap is held down during windy days by a string or small clothesline-sized rope tied around a rock enveloped in one corner of the plastic flap — as in securing a tipi — and tied to a nearby tree. And — by the by — a substantial drainage ditch circling the bubble gives us cause for celebration when the heavy New Zealand rains start thundering down on us. For cooling in the summertime, we depend on the lush perimeter of trees surrounding our “moat.”

The $60 Three-day Dome is large enough — 500 square feet — to fit a couple of huge workbenches inside for our leathercraft and pottery gear, all of which can be easily moved through the 5-footwide doorway in sunny weather. We find the size of our dome adequate for ourselves and five children … as long as everyone is amiable!

One concept that helps us out space-wise is based on the Japanese lifestyle in housing: a different function is assigned to the same space during alternate portions of the day. (Readers familiar with the yurts of Bill Coperthwaite will recognize this ingenious space-saving idea. — MOTHER.) After breakfast ,when the bedding can be stored elsewhere, our “bedroom” becomes a play area for the children. The variations on this theme are endless, and the diversification of space-use has hidden bonuses — less time given to earning money for housing materials, elimination of unnecessary structural complications and conservation of precious land area — as well as encouraging our children to be creative in the use of their corner of the bubble.

Both Mike and MOTHER are due our grateful appreciation for teaching us how to find economical housing that brings us “outside the inside out.”

Elinor & Emery Jones
Northland, New Zealand