Casual to serious
At one time, Joel Emerson, a professional, creative brick mason, jokingly told Debbie, his wife, that someday he would build her a brick igloo. In the years that followed, Joel learned about Monolithic Domes, and in 2003 he attended a Monolithic Workshop.
“I learned that a Monolithic Dome was the strongest, most maintenance-free building you can build for the money,” Joel said.
Since the Emersons live in Hayes, Virginia, they were also concerned about the growing frequency and severity of hurricanes and fires. Add to that Joel’s desire for a home that required zero painting and little maintenance and what started as a casual joke became a serious project – with a little modification: Joel’s original brick igloo became a Monolithic Dome enhanced with brick.
A brick stemwall
In 2006 Joel and his dad, the master mason who taught Joel, began the project. On a 20-acre site, they built a brick, circular stemwall, 52 feet in diameter and 12 feet high. For two master masons that process went well, but it included what would prove to be a serious mistake. Joel had installed the windows and doors into the stemwall.
A scary inflation
Unaware of a potential mishap, Joel and his crew attached the Airform to the ring beam atop the completed stemwall. Then they closed the windows and began inflating.
“Big problem – a disaster in the making!” Joel said. “I thought the windows were going to blow out. They bulged a half inch. I didn’t even know glass would flex that much!”
Joel turned off the fans, grabbed a phone and called Gary Clark, vice-president of Monolithic. Gary greeted him with an astonished, “You got the windows in? You aren’t supposed to do it like that!”
“I had to take two-by-fours and screw them to the outside of the brick wall, then put a wedge between that and the glass to keep it from breaking out,” Joel recalled. “I was scared to death.” But fortunately that worked.
Check those references!
All went well – spraying of foam insulation and installation of rebar – until it came to spraying the shotcrete. “We hired a very incompetent shotcrete contractor who left us with a terrible mess,” Joel said. “It cost $20,000 to hire plasterers to cover that mess, not to mention metal studs and sheetrock to cover the walls.” He now echoes Monolithic in telling prospective dome owners to always check references.
A coupling of present and past
This spring, the Emersons moved into their new dream home that has a living area of 2000 square feet. It includes a central great room, a foyer, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, laundry area and loft.
Joel said, “We used plenty of glass block to let the outside light into the innermost areas. This also gives a nice nighttime effect when the bed/bath lights are on. I also scalloped the corners of the bed/bath area to give the center section a more open feel, and I put in 25 brick arches.”
About the outside Joel said, “The accent brick around the windows and doors on our dome was copied from a church building (Abingdon Episcopal) less than a mile from where we live. This building is probably about 300 years old. So, in a way, we have an ultra-modern Monolithic Dome that has embraced the beauty and simple strength of the past.”