As the story goes .....
Growing up in the 70's I once visited a construction site with my father
I must have been around 10 or 12 years old . I can remember my father
and I looking at a dome being built somewhere in Western Pennsylvania.
My father would take me to various job sites he worked on and also let
me be his helper on the week-end projects he would do on the side. He
paid me well for being his helper and I also learned from a union
carpenter construction and carpentry. I didn't think back then I would
someday be building my own dome home some 30 years later.
In my 20's I started to get an interest in domes I have always wanted a
house I built with my own two hands and in researching house building I
came across the dome home again. Claims of 30% less materials, efficient
to heat and cool, open living space, simple construction with a shell
going up in a very short time and this could all be done by one person
or a team of friends. Way before the Internet I sent away from brochures
and information about building domes and dome kit manufactures. I dreamt
of owning some land with a stream on it no neighbors, wildlife and the
great outdoors a place that you can be free to do anything you want
without anyone around to bother you.
To make a long story short. I put a plan in motion in 1991 and in 1999
My wife and I purchased 20 acres of land in the laurel mountains of
Western Pennsylvania. 20 acres! to me that is a LOT of land I have never
owned more than a suburban lot of land where the houses I have owned
were about the size of the lawn outside. At any rate it is a lot of land
all woods and lots of rocks and I mean big rocks .We have cliffs, very
large boulders, boulders, small boulders, landscaping rocks, rock wall
size rocks and every size between sand and 1 acre size rocks. We are
located on the outskirts of the town Normalville Pennsylvania 15469.
There is a small community not far from here called Bear Rocks we are
thinking of naming our 20 acres Mo Rocks.
The day we officially owned this ground (we paid cash) we took a hike in
the woods eventually we climbed a hill and came upon a huge rock where
we rested for a while the view from there was very nice we could see
other mountain ranges in the distance and we thought this spot would be
a good place to build our house. It was about five or six hundred feet
to the township road in a strait line I would have liked to be further
in the woods but the view was good and we had to pick a place to build
so we marked off a 100 X 100 area close to this spot and hired a
excavator to clear some land off for us.
Since this property was 1-1/2 hours away from where we lived we figured
we 're not going to get much done not being at the job site . So we
purchased a used mobile home and bought another real crappy one that was
on our land and being the "city boy" I was. I did not expect what was
about to begin. First question from the excavator was did you want all
the trees and rocks in a great big pile or did you want me to spread the
debris around the perimeter for you? "um.. spread it out" I said "later
on we can cut the stuff up and burn it".
Next was utilities. Do your realize when you buy raw land you have to
buy a Utility pole, Septic and Water line? Not only that, you have to
install all of these things before you have running water or lights or
any modern conveniences. We moved in the trailer and lived with none of
these things. The first thing we had working was the septic then came
the phone, electric and eventually running water. We lucked out when we
bought this property it came with clean cool running spring water.
Locals without water for 100 years have been getting water from the
spring on this property. We ended up burying a 1000 gallon holding tank
and running about 600 feet of water line up over a hill. I use a torpedo
type deep well water pump encased in 6" PVC to push the water to the
house. The first few weeks we lived without electric and used a
generator and we hauled water from the spring to the house. It was the
first week of August and we did not need heat.
During the next 4 years I cleared out a site not far from where we first
thought of building the house. It was down one hill from the trailers.
It was more secluded than the original spot but I was willing to trade
the view for seclusion. After learning you really could not cut the
trees and rocks to burn them easily I planed the excavation site a
little better I cleared off the trees first and burnt many brush piles
before even thinking about getting a machine in to flatten out a site.
This worked very well when the last brush pile was set on fire the
excavator began and kept the fire going with the stumps he pulled out of
the ground overall I have no brush piles mixed with dirt and rock to
contend with after this excavation. Years had gone by since then and I
got laid off from work for a year. I spent most of my time sending out
resumes and clearing more brush from the top of the hill were the
original home site was to be. I was planning on using this area as a
lawn and garden area above the home site we excavated.
I landed a new job and we decided it was time to pull a building permit.
We knew this would require another septic permit and dug the required
hole for the soil evaluation to get the septic permit. When we called
the building department the inspector told us we would need a sand mound
system, site unseen! The laws have changed recently and all new homes
would be required to have a sand mound. They said we were looking at ten
thousand dollars to get it installed. Then we mentioned we had an
existing septic system and they said they could do a dye test for 75.00
we agreed then, to move the home site back to the original location on
top of the hill where I had cleared out for the lawn and garden area. We
called the excavator again and had him work the site to much
satisfaction we now had our original home site prepped for our dome home
and as an added bonus a second site for a pavilion and party spot with
running water because when I did the first site I ran water line to the
Since the original site was close to the trailers I had to cut in
another road to get equipment and supplies half of the road is an old
logging road and half of it I had to clear brush to connect it to the
job site. In the end it will work out as a looped driveway. When the
house is livable we will move the trailers and use where they were
parked as the main driveway.
In 2003 I laid out the foundation lines and had a backhoe dig trenches
for the foundation. The site sat like this for over a year and
eventually became a moat. Water accumulated in the trenches and in the
spring of 2004 we had a good supply of tadpoles to feed our pet fish
with. Eventually I rented a termite and cleaned the original trenches
out and made a drainage ditch for the water to run out of. Half of the
foundation will sit on solid rock while the rest of it is in clay type
July 2004 I started to prep the excavation to build forms for the
footer. We filled the spots of the footer with #3 gravel where it was
not on solid rock and compacted these area's with a jumping jack until
they were solid. Once the forms were in place we pounded vertical rebar
4' long about 1' apart staggered left and right into the ground until we
hit solid rock . In these places the rebar drove down 2 to 3 feet and
then the rebar was bent over about 4 inches below the tops of the forms
to make inverted J's .We tied the horizontal rebar to the inverted
crossed over J's. I do not know if this will prevent uneven settling I
highly doubt the solid rock is moving and thought if I could pound the
vertical rebar in to solid rock I would feel better about the rest of
the footer moving. Time will tell I suppose.
September 2nd 2004 the footer is poured and the wall lines are set.
Blocks to build the foundation walls will be delivered today. We are not
building a basement, our plans are to pour a slab and build out riser
walls with solid poured concrete block with stone veneer on the riser
walls and any exposed foundation blocks after the grading is complete.
We will build 40" high walls and pour a 6" or 4" slab after the
foundation is filled with compacted soil and a 12" bed of gravel.
All along I have not mentioned what kind of dome we are building after
much research we have chosen to build a Hexadome by Gene Hopster. For
several reasons we felt this is the way to go for us. I have at least 6
manufacturer brochures and information packets from the east coast to
the west coast. None of the "kits" are on our price range we really do
not have ten to twenty thousand dollars to put up front for a pre-fab
kit. We are building not only on a budget but as a cash only contractor.
That is, when we get money we put out the cash to buy building
This may sound unrealistic to some and yes we may borrow a few thousand
here and there but when we are done with our house we do not want to
have a 15 or 30 year mortgage and if it take use five years to complete
the house by living in a incomplete shell then that's what we will do.
We have chosen the Hexadome design over all the others because it seems
simple and cost effective for what we are trying to accomplish. I
purchased the drawings from Mr. Hopster 3 years ago and have made a
visit to a newly constructed Hexadome about 2 years ago we were happy
with what we saw when we visited this home and felt we can get the job
done on our own with a little help from our friends and family.