Renewable Energy: Homemade dome home

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117753141413476.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Dome home living/dining room.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117753124413262.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Jordan (left) and T.J. Pedofske proudly show us the glass block wall that they installed themselves.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117753131713474.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Pekofske family’s dome home exterior in Polo, Ill.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117753146319736.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Dome home juncture of ceiling and wall with Monk staircase at side.‘);

While it’s not the “Gnome Dome” of Menan, Idaho, Don and Ali Pekofske’s home in Polo evokes the same cozy image. The house, low to the ground, is 50 feet in diameter and 21 feet high. Its 1900 plus square foot first floor and 700-square foot second floor are compact, yet offer adequate living space.

After remodeling their previous home, Pekofske, a heating contractor, felt he was ready for the next step and attended a dome home construction class in 2005. At the end of the one-week class, he was convinced, sold his plane ticket, bought a truck and equipment, and returned home to build his home—“by ourselves,” he claims, “with the help of some friends.” Building began April 8; the family sold their previous home earlier than expected, and moved into their new, unfinished home June 15.

Upon entering the dome, a visitor can almost feel the silence. The Pekofskes assure us that a dome home is almost as soundproof as stormproof. They can’t hear their neighbor tilling his yard with a diesel tractor. But they do hear an occasional echo.

The only approval needed for the unusual home was that it was situated 15 feet from their neighbor’s lot line. They feel that in a larger city they would be expected to meet more criteria.

They chose the highest spot of ground on their lot for the home. Construction began with a circular concrete base and floor covered by polyurethane foam and more concrete. Rebars for the outer wall were placed every 12 inches around the ring; electrical wires and water pipes for in-floor heating are imbedded in the concrete.

Next, a PVC-covered nylon Airform was attached to the outer ring and inflated with a special fan. Since the walls and roof required constant, even inflation during construction, the house was entered through a double air lock. Polyurethane foam insulation was sprayed under the Airform. More reinforcing rebars were added throughout the foam. Several coats of a special concrete complete the dome. Eventually, the exterior skin, which now needs annual cleaning and which will deteriorate within 15 to 20 years, will be covered by concrete. All doors and windows are the same height and width.

The family planned the interior space by laying 2 by 4s where they envisioned walls. If they agreed, a wall was built. Needing more space for storage and play, they added a second floor reached by a Monk staircase similar to those used in monasteries. Son TJ scales the ladder-like stairs with amazing ease. He and his sister, Jordan, proudly pointed out the glass blocks which they set for bathroom walls.

An air-to-air heat exchanger warms the home when the outdoor temperature is above 28 degrees Farenheit. Below that, in-floor radiant heating served by one of two tankless heaters cuts in. An air exchanger with a heat recovery system provides fresh air. The electric bill averages only $75-$100 per month for the all-electric home. They feel that the only reason the house rated “only” 4.5 of a possible 5 Energy Star rating was the old kitchen appliances.

Dome homes were developed by David South of Idaho 20 years after he was enthralled by a presentation by Buckminster Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome. Dome structures for indoor sports can be as large as 1,000 feet in diameter.

Pekofske plans to build a 20-foot diameter family room addition attached to the main house by a breezeway this year.

The house will be offered as a field trip during the 2007 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair in August.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the April 25-May 1, 2007, issue

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