Aug 5, 2023 - Climate

Illinois' connection to disaster-proof dome homes

overhead view of dome home

Photo: Courtesy of Christian Volpe

More people are talking about dome homes and disaster-proof designs as a solution to climate threats.

Why it matters: Experts say increasing extreme weather could give mass-market appeal to dome structures, which are relatively cheap to build and resilient against hurricane-force winds, Axios' Cuneyt Dil writes.

What they're saying: Natural Spaces Domes, a Minnesota-based company with customers across the country, has seen demand surge in recent years. Owner Dennis Odin Johnson tells Axios he's doubled his staff and expects to sell around 40 domes this year, up from 20 last year.

  • "Our clients are looking for something different, and they're attuned to climate change," Johnson says.

Zoom in: The shape certainly stands out in Somonauk, about an hour from Chicago, where owner Bill McVay said he recently listed his 4,000-square-foot dome for $475,000.

  • "The wind just goes around it," McVay tells Axios, referring to the property he and his partner, a late radio psychic, had built in 2002.
  • They wanted to "stay off the grid as much as possible," and found the home's energy efficiency and then-secluded location especially appealing.

The big picture: With fewer flat walls and its round shape, domes can weather severe winds and heavier snowfall while using less heating and cooling energy than a conventional house, Johnson says.

  • Also, the entire exterior can be built with fire-resistant material.

The intrigue: The geodesic dome structure was popularized by famed 20th-century inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, who lived in a Carbondale dome while working as a professor at Southern Illinois University.

By the numbers: A completed dome is generally 5-to-15% less expensive to build, requiring 60% less lumber than a standard house of the same size, according to Johnson.

  • For an average-size dome, completed building costs range from $350,000 to $450,000 in rural areas, with costs up to 50% higher in cities and suburbs, he says.

Details: Other perks include low-maintenance living. "There are no gutters to clog or surfaces to repaint," reads an advertisement for the home McVay got from Domespace, a Canadian company that once viewed its fleet of spinning domes as "the homes of the future."

  • "It is virtually impossible for the roof to leak, as it has no valleys and ridges," the flyer reads.
Share who say they were displaced in the last year because of a natural disaster
Data: Census Bureau; Map: Axios Visuals

Roughly 2% of people in Illinois say they were displaced in the last year because of a natural disaster, per the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

  • Nationwide, the average is 1.6%.
  • Louisiana, Oklahoma and Florida saw the highest share of disaster-related displacement among U.S. states, the data shows.

What's happening: The threat of climate change-related disasters is a big factor driving up consumer costs and putting insurers out of business in parts of California, Florida, Louisiana and elsewhere, Axios' Andrew Freedman and Nathan Bomey report.


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