Caribbean Homes and Lifestyle Magazine
Nevis Dome featured cover story, Spring 2008 Edition
Nevisian Geodesic Dome House: Make A dome a Home 17/09/07
Whilst driving through Nevis I glanced upon a sight that compelled me to pull over and rub my eyes in disbelief. Could this be for real or was the local moonshine taking a greater effect (the morning after!?!). Before me stood what resembled an oversized Inuit igloo. A white and blue construction resembling something I had last seen on a Canadian Arctic documentary, but surely this was out of place here in the relentless heat of the Caribbean’s mid-day sun?
To confirm my sanity, I walked up to the dome, touched it and when satisfied it did indeed actually exist, Janie and I knocked on the door. Inside we met local Nevisian residents Pippa and Paul Diamond who relocated from Canada. From there on we stammered out some of the questions that sprang to mind and here are their answers.
1) How and why was your decision made to build a dome house in the Caribbean?
Before we had even moved to Nevis we decided that a prefabricated home would be ideal so that we could have our home erected in a cost effect and timely fashion. When we investigated traditional pre-fabbed homes manufactured in Canada, it became apparent to us that they would not be able to withstand the rigours of hurricane force winds. It was at this point that an architecture professor we met at a cocktail party suggested that we consider the dome homes of American Ingenuity because they were not only prefabricated but were also designed for Florida and its hurricane season.
2) Being such a unique structure, how has your home been accepted into the local environment by other residents?
We have noticed that there is no middle ground in people’s opinion of our Dome. People either love it or think its weird. Our neighbours like it and think it is interesting. Many passers by do not realize that it has two levels (plus a semi-basement), or normal interior walls and many assume that is is very hot. They do not take into account the many windows that we have and that the dome’s triangular panels are each made up of concrete lined with 5 inches of insulated foam. The interior is actually quite cool by Caribbean standards.
3) Do you feel there are any drawbacks to the building system?
It was difficult for us to get a local contractor who was willing to take on the project because they are unfamiliar with the design. The contractors who did provide us with quotes either produced figures that wildly over-estimated the cost to build or grossly underestimated the build cost.
4) Was the installation of your home a simple process?
Yes, once the contractor and site manager got an understanding of the building manual, things went relatively well. I do not think that any of the issues we had to make decisions on during the building process were specific to the dome. They were issues one would face on any home construction site.
5) Were there any technical difficulties/hurdles to overcome?
Yes, there were, but they were all as a result of us making alterations to the original plans provided. Any technical issues were handled via conference calls between our contractor and the manufacturer and adjustments were made accordingly.
6) What is your future plans for the dome?
We plan to add a screen dome which would be accessed through the living room’s sliding doors. The screen dome would enclose a patio/BBQ/lounge area and plunge pool.
7) What do you feel are the major benefits of your home?
As mentioned before the built-in insulation keeps it cool, it was erected relatively quickly and it is unique. Having survived a category-3 with no damage, it has delivered what was promised.
8) What words of advice would you offer to others contemplating this form of design?
Make sure you have a good builder/contractor who can think creatively and is up for a challenge. Don’t make last minute alterations to the original plans/pre-fabbed design. All the the changes we made for a particular benefit, created problems/challenges to be solved. Again, this is not unique to dome construction and occurs when you deviate from any house plans.
9) A last word on the dome?
There is a local bus tour guide driver that often stops at the top of our driveway and we can see tourists taking photos of our dome. I have no idea what the tour guide is telling them but I am sure it must be something along the lines “This is a house built by two Canadians who were so homesick for Canada that they built an igloo to make them feel at home”
Dome-tastic Facts 1-10
1. Philosopher, inventor and mathematician Richard Buckminster Fuller named the Geodesic Dome in 1948. It is said to be the lightest, strongest, most cost-effective structure ever devised. Fuller advocated “There is no energy crisis,” he said, “only a crisis of ignorance.”
2. The Monolithic Dome Institute asserts that domes use 50% less energy per square foot than regular houses.
3. The Pantheon in Rome, a concrete structure built nearly 2,000 years ago, still stands with its dome roof intact.
4. The Eden Project in Cornwall, England is presently the largest geodesic dome structure measuring 180 feet (high), 328 feet (wide) and 656 feet (long).
5. The founder of American Ingenuity (maker of the Nevis Dome House), Michael Busick, manufactured and built his first concrete dome in 1976. Since then no American Ingenuity Dome has suffered any structural damage due to hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes.
6. American Ingenuity domes have been given a 5+ Energy Star rating, the highest rating given by Energy Star, the United States government program to promote energy efficient consumer products.
7. The spherical shape of dome homes facilitates natural airflow generate more even temperatures, reducing air stratification and maximizing overall interior comfort.
8. Dome houses are ideal if you can live in remote locations, they can be run on alternative power sources, these include solar hot water heaters and photovoltaic panels.
9. Caribbean Tropical Igloo Homes Ltd. Builds a dome residential housing development in Runaway Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica. The first homes under construction weathered Hurricane Dean in 2007 with no damage.
10) Today there are many companies that sell both dome plans and frame materials with construction instructions designed simply enough for owners to build themselves.