Harford man builds dream dome house

June 13, 2004|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Guy Thompson stumbled across a geodesic dome home while taking an architecture class in 12th grade at C. Milton Wright High School. "And it stuck with me ever since," recalled the 30-year-old senior software engineer and lifelong Harford County resident.

"It was something different, not as boring as a plain old box house. Structurally, it's a lot stronger because it's triangles. Plus, it's supposed to be more energy efficient," Thompson said.

What began as fascination with residential dome structures became a goal for Thompson, who after graduating from the Johns Hopkins University nearly a decade ago moved in with his parents to save money - to buy property and build a geodesic dome home, similar to the ones he'd studied in high school.

If all goes according to plan, by early September Thompson will be moving into his dream dome - a three-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot, 45-foot-tall structure on a 4-foot riser wall with a cupola and extensions, surrounded by 3.4 wooded acres in Forest Hill.

The process has not been easy.

Uneven floor joists delayed the raising of the dome, which was initially set for May 22 and then rescheduled for June 5. Other construction delays pushed the date from June 5 to the next week.

Construction woes aside, Thompson acknowledges that the greatest challenges have been finding land and a bank willing to help finance the project.

Thompson researched various dome home companies and settled on Oregon Dome Inc., a panelized dome-kit manufacturer based in Veneta, Ore.

"I knew I was going to build a dome home, which limited the choice of properties. Some people didn't want to sell to me if I was building a dome home," Thompson said.

"I didn't bother to look at places with community associations, figuring they probably didn't want a dome home in their community. It just doesn't go as well as with other, traditional houses," Thompson said.

"They aren't considered conventional houses, which makes finding a bank very difficult. And if you don't have good credit, getting a dome home is not in the cards.

"If you go and say, `I'm going to build a dome home,' most banks say, `Sorry, can't help you.' Since it's not a conventional house they can't resell it, so they're not interested," Thompson said. "I found one bank, but the rate was at 7.5, when most of the rates were below 6 percent."

Even with construction half completed, Thompson has not secured a loan. "I think I've found one, but that remains to be seen at this point," he said.

Inventor R. Buckminster Fuller patented the geodesic dome in 1954. Fuller is most noted for his 20-story dome housing the U.S. pavilion at the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal. Years later, Fuller designed a dome two miles in diameter that would enclose Midtown Manhattan in a temperature-controlled environment and pay for itself within 10 years from the savings of snow-removal costs alone.

Today, plastic and fiberglass "radomes" house radar equipment along the Arctic perimeter, and dome weather stations withstand winds up to 180 mph. In Africa, corrugated metal domes have given shelter to families for $350 per dome.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 300,000 geodesic dome structures - including a 265-foot-wide geodesic dome pavilion at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Florida, a 360-foot-high domed shopping center in downtown Ankara, Turkey, and a 280-foot-high domed civic center in Stockholm, Sweden.

Other than a nearby church with a dome roof and salt sheds that are geodesic domes, Thompson's dome home is unique in Forest Hill.

Thompson purchased plans for the home from Oregon Dome, which also provided the roof panels and exterior walls.

"The big difference is there are no real exterior walls; it's all roof. And instead of having siding, it's basically all roof shingles," said Mark Kappus, president of Kappus Construction Inc., a certified Energy Star builder that oversaw the project and built the interior and floor system on site.

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