Nature-friendly research project becomes dream dome-home
Why and how do two interconnected Monolithic Domes, one with a diameter of 60 feet and a height of 22 feet and the second measuring 50 feet by 16 feet, begin as a research project and develop into an earth-bermed, spacious, dream home and attached garage?
Andrew South, vice-president of South Industries, Inc. and the happy owner of this home, said it all began nearly eight years ago. Two Menan, Idaho residents, Barry South, president of Dome Technology, and Randy South, president of South Industries, began researching and developing plans for a subdivision with Monolithic Dome homes that blended into a natural, rustic environment.
“Barry and Randy wanted these dome-homes to look like they naturally belonged there,” Andrew said. "They wanted the structures to minimize their effect on the landscape.
“Many areas have very tight covenants,” Andrew continued. “These building restrictions dictate just how much — or how little — you can impact the natural soil or the natural view. So Barry and Randy began designing and constructing nature-friendly dome-homes in a rustic subdivision called Rustler’s Hideout, just outside of Menan.”
Formed on buttes created by volcanic rock, Rustler’s Hideout includes breathtaking views of the Snake River and the surrounding mountains and valleys. And now it also includes several, nature-friendly, Monolithic Dome homes. The latest of these is the home of Courtenay and Andrew South, their four children and family pets.
Home of the Andrew South family
In photographs, this Monolithic Dome home appears to have been built on a stemwall. It wasn’t.
“It looks that way,” Andrew explained, “because it’s earth-bermed — built into a butte. The two domes — home and garage — have an integrated connector between them, and each has a large, front opening. To tie all that together, we spray-constructed a massive, concrete, retaining wall with angles and slight changes in elevation. That retaining wall holds back the earth above, so the dome is completely earth-bermed behind that wall.”
The dome’s living area of 3,200 square feet includes a master suite with adjoining bath, two smaller bedrooms, one full- and one half-bath, a library, family and living areas, a kitchen, utility room and an egress.
Andrew said the egress or passage way is really a small, fire-safe room that provides a connection between the dome’s two back bedrooms and the garage. Since those bedrooms are up against the butte, windows providing a fire exit could not be installed. To comply with the building code, the egress was included.
At first glance, on both the outside and inside, this Monolithic Dome appears at least two levels high. Andrew said that the dome’s height and the earth-sheltering help to create that illusion.
Clever touches in its interior decor enhance the illusion. For example, what looks like a wrought iron banister adorns the wall overlooking the family and living areas. But it’s strictly aesthetic. There simply is no second floor or loft.
Andrew credits Darryl Cunningham, project manager at Dome Technology and the owner of a neighboring Monolithic Dome home in Rustler’s Hideout, with those special, decorative touches. “Thanks to Darryl,” Andrew said, “we don’t have cookie-cutter style of fixtures or tile. Darryl did a lot of the finish-out, and he did a marvelous job. He has an artistic flair. He selected our chandelier, and he personally did a lot of the intricate tile detail. He used a variety of different building materials inside the dome — masonry, stucco, wrought iron and glass.”
This Monolithic Dome home has no air-conditioning. Andrew said, “Idaho doesn’t get hot enough — especially if you’re living in an earth-sheltered dome. In summer evenings, we open windows for natural ventilation. All last summer — our first in this dome — the interior never got over 72 (degrees Fahrenheit).”
While Idaho summers may not get too hot, Idaho winters certainly do get cold. “Our dome has radiant floor heat,” Andrew said. "We have a hot water heater in a closed loop system that pumps hot water through the floor.
“We are all electric — heating and lighting,” he added. “We run our system only at certain times during the week, usually at night and on weekends when the electricity rates are lowest. That means that we do not run heat during the day, which is just fine. The dome retains whatever heat is projected during the night and uses it during the day.”
During January 2008, Menan’s daily temperatures ranged from 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but that month’s electricity for the lighting, heating, hot water and cooking in this 3,200-square-foot home was only $270.
A neighborhood shelter
In early October 2007, a storm with heavy, wet snow drenched Menan. Andrew said that the leaves on the trees had not died off yet, so they collected this snow. Trees began breaking, falling and downing power lines. About 5,000 homes lost their power for about 14 hours on a very cold day.
“During those 14 hours, we didn’t drop in temperature at all,” Andrew said. “But some of our neighbors were not that lucky. In the first couple of hours, they lost over 10 degrees. So we had them come over to our dome-home. And we hung out here, very comfortably, until the power went back on.”
The legend of Rustler’s Hideout
The locals tell and retell many stories about Rustler’s Hideout. But the most popular version says that in the summer of 1883 cattle rustlers were hiding their loot on the east side of South Butte — an area with a clear view of its surroundings. The rustlers built a three-sided, wood shelter where they could sit and watch for the law. They kept the cattle hidden in a crater below the valley floor. But despite those precautions, eventually they were spotted, reported and arrested.