Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Site Visit by Monolithic Domes

 photo SoilSampleDrillingSmall.jpg
Before I start this actual post, I wanted to share the picture of the soil sample being taken a few weeks ago. Gessner Engineering has this machine on tracks which they take on the site and drill a 20 foot deep hole and take soil samples every 2 feet. I am hoping to get the report this week or next and get on with the design of the foundation.

We have scheduled the people from Monolithic Domes to come down and look at our site and do a site evaluation to be able to complete the floor plans. They need to see where the house will be located, where the water line will come in, where the septic system will be located, etc. Also they will need to make sure their work crews and equipment can access the site and if not, what we need to do to make it accessible. They will be coming in this Friday, December 30th. Once we get this visit completed I hope we can start making steady progress toward completing the home over the summer.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Staking out the actual house location

After a month of doldrums, I think things are again making progress. Last week we contacted a local engineering firm to do the soil analysis for the site, so teh foundation can be properly designed. We're using Gessner Engineering in College Station. They estimated that they could get to taking the sample this week and they would have the full analysis in about 3 weeks. Well, on Tuesday (the 13th) they did come out and bore one 20' deep hole taking soil samples as they went. I'll try to post a picture of the process soon. For the analysis to be valid we had to estimate where the center of the house would be, so I met our contractor, Brian, and we walked around and took a wild guess at a good location.

The next day my wife and I met Brian on the land and we spent an our pacing around, talking about the pro's and con's of various locations. We finally decided on where we were going to place things. It looks like that out of a dozen mature trees, we will only lose one of them (plus one big tree that is already dead) :( . It took Brian and I about another 30 minutes to actually stake out the area and mark everything. It turns out that we missed the center of the house by about 10 feet on our initial estimate to Gessner Engineering.

As far as a timeline is concerned. Right now it looks as if we'll start doing some dirt work just after Christmas and hopefully be ready to put up the foundation and dome in early February. That is about a month behind the earlier estimates, but I admit those were very optimistic anyway.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Meeting with the City

We had our meeting with the city. I expected us to go to someone's office and talk with a city planner, but we went to a conference room and had representatives from Utilities, the fire department, 4 different branched of city planning, and 3 or 4 more people who I am not sure exactly who they were. It was a big deal. Everyone was very nice and we had a good meeting. The big thing first, the city has no problem with a dome home and it did not even seem to cause them to ponder the issue. One of them asked if we had seen the concrete house on the university property from the 50's. We left a copy of the most recent drawings from Linda with them for code review. They should get back to us in a few days to a week. We did find out that since there is no fire hydrant in the area we will have to have a sprinkler system in the house which is a modified 13D type system (I'm sure that means something to some people).

We have to contact a different organization to find out about water service, but there is no sewage service, so we will definitely be on a septic system. We have a power line running directly on the front edge of the property and the utility person said we could either run power above ground or under ground. They would have to visit the site once we had determined the location of the house to see what each option would cost.

If we can locate the house within 100 feet of the road then we do not have to provide driveway sufficient for a fire truck to turn around on, so that has become an important issue all of a sudden.

We are zoned "AO - Agricultural Open" so a lot of real "city" ordinances do not apply to us. (for instance we will be allowed to park a vehicle on the grass) We will need to pull the existing "roadway" out for the driveway and lay a better one with a concrete culvert rather than the corrugated metal one that is in place now. The good news is that this means we can pick where we want the driveway a little more freely. Also the tree canopy above the driveway has to be clear up to 15 feet to allow a fire truck to approach when necessary. There are also particular requirements regarding size and radius of curvature for driveways.

They do want engineering drawing for the slab, including where a soil sample was taken and analyzed, and the dome needs the calculations like we had for the IO-30 and they have to have a engineer's seal stamped on them. sigh. Also, when doing the load calculations, does the engineering need to account for the load of the rock covering which will be placed on the outside of the dome. I did a quick estimate and guess it will be a 10-20 psi load depending on how thick we have the rocks.

We have 50' setbacks front and rear and 20' setbacks on the sides. There is a utility easement on the front and both sides, so we could not really have built in that area anyway.

When we told them that we hoped to have the shell in place by Christmas they seemed to think that was a reasonable thing.

We also got an address. We will be 2400 Bird Pond Road.

There is an 8" main running along the front of our property, so getting water is no problem and it can come in basically anywhere from the street side of the property. They want about 2 weeks notice to hook up a meter and stub off a water line for the house. There is no sewer service, so we will have to be on a septic system.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Final Concept Approval

We got the final concept drawings back from Monolithic Domes yesterday and everything seems to be reasonable. These last few were elevations/profiles of the interior spaces. Domes have this habit to curving and making headroom not nearly a plentiful as the plan drawings look, so I wanted to see some profiles and measure things out. We have added a little loft area to the kids bedrooms (about 80 sq. ft.) and we wanted to see how that was going to look. Today I'm going to reply to them that we want to see one more full set of concept drawings and then we can give the final approval and start this ball rolling again.

This also allows us to authorize them to begin work on the airform (the big balloon which forms the shell) so that we can stay on schedule with that. The production of an airform takes 4-6 weeks (mainly getting in the queue). We won't begin that until after we talk to the city engineers on October 12 and make sure everything is OK with the concept and find out what silly hoops we will have to jump through (we've been told that there will be none and I sort of trust College Station government, at least as much as I trust any large bureaucratic body). One big question outstanding is whether the city will require full structural engineering calculations for this specific dome or if the general calculations for the domes will be sufficient.

Once the airform is done (actually when it is close to done we can start) we will schedule a time for them to come out and begin construction. Hopefully this can be done within a few weeks of completion, but it might be a month or more depending on how many other jobs they have going at that time. We're still crossing our fingers to have a dome up by Christmas.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Estimates for Constructing the Shell

I think we have the design phase complete, at least in the structural context, and we have been given a quote for the construction of the main home dome and the secondary dome. They are expecting to get us the garage dome pricing on Monday and then we can look at our finances and make sure everything is a go with the process. Assuming everything looks good we will be giving them the green light to finish the construction documents for the dome by the middle of next week. They have estimated 4 weeks to complete the documents, so we should have them by late October, only a week or so off our optimal timeline.

Before we give the final go ahead for the construction of the airform, I want to have our meeting with the city on October 12th and make sure everything is alright with them and find out about the utilities and everything. We have been given repeated assurances that the city has no problems with a monolithic dome home, but I want to get that in writing before we commit that much money to a project that could be shut down by regulations.

Also, we want to cover the dome in natural stone and there is a person who did this on a monolithic dome somewhere else in Texas. The Monolithic Dome company is going to contact them and ask about cost, difficulty, and time for us and tell us what they found out. So far dealing with them has been a very good experience. This is not intended to be a sales pitch, but if you are considering building and are willing to consider something different like a dome, contact them and at least see what they have to say. You can also continue to follow this blog and see how our experience turns out. I plan on keeping this blog active to discuss how the home works out even after it is complete.

On other topics we have begun discussion of the driveway and the yard.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Starting the Detail Planning Process

We sat down this weekend and tried to make up for most of last week. Our son brought home a cold and it has migrated through the family, so last week was mostly spent doing damage control on the family and not planning for the future.

We did get a quote from Monolithic Domes for the cost of preparing the formal drawings. Once we get a final concept with a few section drawings of the interior we should approve that and at least have that process underway. They estimate 2 to 4 weeks to complete the drawings once they get started.

We also spoke to another general contractor and he seemed interested in the project. He has built a geodesic dome in the past and the interior work is very similar to a monolithic dome, just the shell construction differs. He wants to see the final drawings before he can give us a true bid, but he definitely sounded interested and knowledgeable about the process.

We took the latest version of the house plan (which is 99% correct in terms of room arrangement) and discussed the layout of the electrical switches and light fixtures. We placed fans and such. Our eldest daughter asked about an intercom and we agreed that one in the main house is unnecessary, but connecting the separate domes with one might be useful.

Finally we discussed the site plan and sketched out roughly where we think the house should go and the driveway and garage. It is very approximate, since we are working from an aerial image we got from Google Earth. It may also depend on the location of the city utilities and such which we'll find out about on October 12th. We did find the survey and the aerial photo teh city provided to us, so we can go and give a copy back to the planning and zoning board of the city to help them prepare for our meeting. Yes I know that sounds strange, but when you deal with city government you realize that one division frequently does not communicate well with another. Sigh.

This week we will turn our attention to the kitchen and dining room arrangement. Where to put the appliances and sink, cabinets, the island, etc. We also want to start thinking about floor coverings for the whole house.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We talked this afternoon and while we did not make a lot of progress with specific items, we did try to generate a list of the various details we need to reach some type of agreement on by the end of September. These are:
  • Switch, Lights, Fans, and Outlets
  • Flooring
  • Kitchen Cabinets
  • Bathroom Cabinets
  • Kitchen arrangement/Island arrangement
  • Window style/size
  • Driveway location and design
  • Back Patio/Deck
  • Swimming Pool (if we want one or not)
  • Front Courtyard
  • Inside Door style
  • Wall covering/finishes
  • Closet Builtins
  • HVAC vents and system location
  • Outside dome finish
  • Plumbing Fixtures
  • Cable, Telephone, and Computer(Internet) connections
  • Water Feature under the stairs
  • Outside Doors
  • Railing for Stairs and Balcony
Some of these items we need to go out to the land and look around, some we need to either go to a store and look or go online. As we make decisions I'll keep the blog updated.

More planning and decisions

Getting the house built still seems like it is a long way off, but on the other hand there are a LOT of things we have to do to get ready.  This afternoon we are going to sit down with a set of the plans and talk about boring things like where to put electrical switches and lights, ceiling fans, outlets, the kitchen appliances and their arrangement, etc.

We need to talk about floor coverings, kitchen cabinet styles, interior doors, exterior doors, windows, plumbing, HVAC, and lots more I am not thinking about I'm sure.

One of these days soon we need to go out to the land and start thinking seriously about where to put the house, the garage, and driveway.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Meeting with Monolithic Domes

Wednesday afternoon we meet with the designers at Monolithic Domes to discuss where the process is now, what we need to do to advance the process and what kind of a time line we might expect in a best case scenario. They were very helpful and explained where we are now. Below is a checklist that esplains what all needs to be done before starting the actual construction of a monolithic dome:
  • Land Acquisition – If you don’t have land, the easiest way to find it is through a real estate agency, land broker, developer, or lending institution operating in the area you wish to live.
  • Feasibility Study – It’s a detailed report including a floor plan with elevations, notes and basic cost estimates. We go back and forth until our design and your desires match.
  • Constructions Drawings – These are the drawings necessary for contractors to construct the Monolithic Dome and required subsystems (plumbing, electrical, etc.) as required by the local building authority.
  • Obtain Financing – Set an early budget. Once you have completed pre-approval and are approved for a loan, begin searching for the best interest rate.
  • Building permits, special fees and licenses, insurance – In some areas, these are easy to get and construction requires no or few inspections. In other areas, construction can require specific inspections and approval, soil conditions verified, lab tests arranged, Stamped Engineering, etc.
  • Property Corners – Should be marked and building location staked.
  • Roads – An all-weather road needs to handle heavy, concrete trucks, especially to pump location.
  • Sanitary Facilities – There needs to be a sanitary facility onsite for workers.
  • Site Preparation – It needs to be completed, including leveling and/or pad build-up. Fill, if needed, should be brought in and packed. Generally, the best form of fill is granular fill (sand or gravel).
  • Adequate Drainage – It should be provided and able to handle a major storm.
  • Special Embeds – These should be on site with locations designated, if needed.
  • Water Provided – Water is needed to clean tools and mix concrete. If it is not available at the site, you must arrange for it to be hauled in by truck or tank fitted with a pump.
  • Power – Construction power per Proposal must be onsite and turned on.
  • Refuse Disposal – Refuse disposal arrangements should be made.
  • Additional Grading – After the dome is finished, additional grading may be needed for driveways and/or landscaping.
We have the land already and the Feasibility Study has been completed. We should authorize the Construction Drawings near the start of next week. There were a few tweaks we saw during the meeting so we have one more cycle to give final approval of the concept. It should take about a month to complete the drawings. So if we start on them by mid September we should have them completed by mid October. A little bit later since we have set up a meeting with the city engineer to discuss the project and getting things like an address and utilities to the site on October 12th. I'd like to have the drawings in hand by my birthday on October 25.

Once we have completed the drawings the Monolithic Dome Institute will begin the process of fabricating the Airform (the big balloon that inflates). They estimate 6 weeks to complete the airform. During this 6 week period there will be site work being done on the land to get the foundation poured and all the utilities in place. That means that we would hope for a St. Nick's Day present on have the Airform onsite and ready to inflate and create the dome by Dec. 6th.

The process of creating the dome will take a few weeks, so if we are lucky we will have a completed dome in place for Christmas Day!

While the drawings are being made we are looking for general contractors here in College Station to do the interior construction and secure the various permits and such for us. We talked to one today and will be talking to a few others in the next week.

This will definitely be a grand adventure. Hopefully I can post pictures of the proposed dome next week once we get the final design from the company.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finalizing the Concept

We have spent the last few months talking with the designer at Monolithic Domes and I think we have finally arrived at the correct concept for the house and the rooms in the house. As expected it is gong to be larger than we anticipated. It seems like each time you see something that needs to be done, it requires making a tradeoff between space. Well, rather than make that tradeoff, you just make things a bit bigger to handle the increase.

Anyway, we have a meeting with the Monolithic Dome people scheduled for next week where we will give final approval to them for producing the construction documents and where we lay out a timeline for getting the dome portion built. The actual interior structure will be done by a local contractor (who we still have to find). The Dome people pour the slab, put up the dome and cut the openings for the windows and doors. This includes some basic electrical and plumbing work for the foundation and dome, but that is all. Then the local contractor comes in and completes the walls, floors, etc. to make it a house.

We would love to have the dome completed before the weather turns cold (like it ever does here in College Station) in December, so the local contractor could continue to work throughout the winter. We'll see if it can happen. There are all the pre-work things that have to happen like building permits, utilities, etc. that have to be in place before the slab can be built.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Slight Problem

We now have a slight problem getting to and from the land - roadwork is being done on the road (That's a good place for roadwork to be done, isn't it? ) and we can no longer get to the land from both sides. Hopefully the work won't take too long, and hopefully it won't be a problem!

I have been looking into how to get services to the property, like garbage service and recycling and phone and cable and water and so on. I do not yet have the answers but I'm woroking on it. I am looking forward to having it all finsihed and us living in the new home :-)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Final Design Revisions sent off (I hope)

The last revision we got back from the designers was very close. We did a lot of mirroring of the house to get the right parts of the house on the sides of the land we want. Now that we know the land this is feasible. In addition, we made a few cosmetic changes involving the placement of doors and bathroom fixtures. We also have started commenting about the exterior of the house to get a patio out back and a covered area outside the front doors. With any luck we'll get the revised plans back before the 1st of August and everything will be right and we'll be able to go on to the next stage and authorize the completion of construction drawings.

Now that this looks like it will all come together eventually, we have started looking at our current house and seeing what we can do to make it more marketable. We have started getting a handyman to do some wood work repair on the outside of the house (and some interior work as well) and are taking bids from painters to get the outside painted. I'm still not sure if we'll sell or rent the house, but with the market as it stands now, renting is looking better and better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The next revision

It's been a long time since my last post so I thought I'd post a short note. We got the fifth revision of the floor plan back from the designer last week and have returned it. I think we're getting close to having something we will work with. However, I feel that we are still falling into the designers bloat syndrome, where the easiest way to make it look right is to enlarge and add more space.

The changes we sent back in are minimal,so I am hoping we'll get what will turn out to be the final version late this week or early next. Maybe one more iteration and we'll have it conceptually ready. Then we get to have detailed plans drawn up and go out for bids to complete the interior of the house.

Then, once it cools off a bit outside, we will be starting to work on the lot and begin preparing it for us moving in. There needs to be some cleanup (from trash) and some cleanup done on the trees and scrub there. We also need to get a survey and find the actual property lines.

All in all things are still progressing, so maybe next summer we can move in.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

One more revision on the Floor Plan

Jari and I got the latest version of the floor plan from the designer about a week ago and we have been reviewing it. The latest revision was not what we were interested in, so we have used some of the newest features, but reverted back to the previous draft for the basic concept. We did, however, gain some good insight into exactly what it was we were looking for, and have begun to quantify some basic rules. Sometimes a design you are not happy with can teach you more than one that is very close.

The problem we are running into is that each time we realize what it is we don't like about the design proposed to us, we "fix" it by increasing the size of the house. I call this design bloat. We figure that if we have a big enough house that we can get all the features we want. While this is an approximately true statement, it is not a budget friendly solution. So now we are revising the floor plan and trying to not increase the net size of the house. Actually, with the next revision, I hope we will try to shrink the house. Right now we are certainly not empty nesters (we still have 2 little ones at home and another 2 or 3 who visit frequently) but one of these days (God willing) we will be, so designing a 10,000 square foot house is a bit of overkill (no, we are not that big, but you get the idea).

The big rules we have come up with so far are:
  • The Master Bedroom must be on the first floor
  • There must be a bathtub somewhere in the house (yes, one version had nothing but showers)
  • We really want a water feature under the stairs in the living room
  • Symmetry is very important
  • The library should have a window seat
  • The sewing/craft room should be on the first floor (along with the laundry room)
  • We have minimum sizes for the various rooms
  • We want a kitchen island
  • We want higher ceilings, probably 10', with copious ceiling fans

With these rules in hand, I think we can continue to hone in on the design we want and keep with the time table outlined in the previous post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We have the land

We have officially purchased 1.93 acres of land on Bird Pond road in College Station. The land is a mixture of trees and open grass, with a few very nice oak trees. There are a few piles of trash on it, which have to be cleared up and there is a lot of scrub brush type of stuff which needs to be cleaned up as well.

Now that we have the land, we just need to finalize a house plan and then locate it on the property. I hope we'll get that done within the next month, give or take. We just got the third iteration back from the designer today and will be going over it in the near future.

From there it will take another month to get final construction documents ready for us to go out for bids on the construction. While this is happening, we can have Monolithic Domes start making the balloon to create the outer shell. The process takes about 6 weeks to fabricate the balloon and then we get put in the queue for construction. So starting from today an approximate timeline would be:

  • Close on the land: June 1
  • Finalize design concepts: July 1
  • Generate Construction Documents: August 1
  • Acquire bids for the interior work: August 1-September 1
  • Construct the Balloon for the domes: September 15
  • Get in the queue for building the dome: November 1
  • Complete the Dome structure: November 21st
  • Complete the interior work: March 1st
  • Move in over spring break 2012!

This is probably a bit optimal, but it give you an idea of the time required to complete the dome home.

Here is a picture of the land:  photo MMW_Land_1.jpg

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More information about the property

Right now we are still waiting to hear back from the title company about closing on the land. I hope that is done soon and we'll have one step along the way completed.

Jari has been doing a lot of phone calling about things. The property is within the city limits and so will have city water supplied by Wellborn Water. However there does not appear to be a fire hydrant in the area, so we have to consider that when designing the house and more importantly the driveway. It has to be able to handle a full sized fire truck, but in weight capacity and in turning radius. yet one more thing for us to consider.

We do not yet know about whether we will have city sewer or if we'll have to run a septic tank. We also don't know about cable TV/Internet. Those are still on the find out list.

We do know that the city has no objections to a Dome Home, so that is a good thing.

There is no gas service in the area, so we'll need to use propane for the gas. That's sort of alright, since it is recommended that Dome Homes be all electric anyway. The dome seals so well that you run the risk of vapors building up and causing problems with gas. Implicit in this is no fireplace.

We are still kicking around the idea of setting up some sort of photovoltaic system to supply at least part of our power requirement, but that is still under discussion. I'll probably devote an entire post (or more) to that discussion in the future.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hopefully have some land

This weekend has been a very busy weekend. On Friday morning we left town to move my daughter's stuff back from her first semester of Graduate School. She is still up there for a week or two finishing up her job, but we got her furniture and big stuff back this past weekend.

The night before we left our real estate agent called and it looks like we have a contract on some land. Almost 2 acres of land in the area we have been looking it. There are a lot of trees on the land, some of them fairly large. The only water feature is a small creek bed running across the front of the property. it is dry most of the year (especially now) but does handle runoff during rains. The back edge of the property is about 3 feet higher than the front, so it drains towards that little creek bed.

Once we close on it we'll get a complete survey to mark the edges of the property and then we can look at contour maps and think about house placement. There are many trees that are WAY too nice to even consider taking out, so we may have to be a bit creative to locate the house amoung the existing trees.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Type of Dome

One of the first things we had to decide.  There are two major types of dome homes that are build today: Geodesic Domes and Monolithic Domes.

A Geodesic Dome is based on the concepts popularized by R. Buckminster Fuller back in the 1940's.  The basic idea is to take a sphere and approximate it with a series of triangular faces.  This is normally done by actually starting with an icosahedron (think a 20 sided die)  and then subdividing the edges and projecting the out on the circumscribed sphere.  These are somewhat easy to construct, but being exact is difficult due to the number of triangular faces required for a smooth dome.  If you are not very good then your dome will leak, causing both water damage problems and decreasing on the energy efficiency inherent in the dome shape.

About 30 years later David South designed the first Monolithic Dome.  Monolithic means one stone, and the dome is exactly that.  It is a dome shaped piece of concrete.  How you build that is the trick.  The process, in short, is to make it sort of like you make papier mache balloons.  You blow up a really big balloon (well, a half balloon actually) and the cover it with concrete.  In practice, you will cover the inside of the balloon (called an air form) with a layer of insulation and then spray concrete inside of that.  The result is a structure that is very energy efficient (the walls are rated at at least R60 insulation and is very durable.  Structurally they can withstand an F5 tornado or a category 5 hurricane.  I actually had these structures pointed out to me by a fellow co-worker many years ago, Hank Wigley.  Hank died in a car accident many years ago, but I still remember him.

Anyway, we have firmly decided on the Monolithic Dome concept and have made two trips to the factory in Italy, Texas to discuss the concept with them.

Setting the Stage

My wife and I have long dreamed/talked about building a dome home. During the last year we have finally gotten serious about the concept and are actually making progress on the design and securing land. It's not like the house will spring up in the next few weeks (or even months), but maybe within a year we'll have a new house.

The purpose of this blog is going to be documenting the process, the ups and downs, of the whole process. Initially the posts will be somewhat irregular as initially not a whole lot happens. We have already had our brainstorming time where we laid out the rooms and sizes we wanted and we have submitted that to the Monolithic Dome company and are in the process of iterating to find a design we like.

We are also looking at land in our area and hope to be purchasing some in the not too distant future. We actually made an offer yesterday. Once we get the land I'll certainly talk more about it.