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Building Your Own Dome Home vs. Having It Built

Image: Construction of Clark dome — This 3400-square-foot multiple dome home was built by Randy & Rachel Clark in Velpen, Indiana.

Construction of Clark dome — This 3400-square-foot multiple dome home was built by Randy & Rachel Clark in Velpen, Indiana.


Image: Construction of Cline dome — Mark & Valerie Cline built this 5300-square-foot multiple dome home in Austin, Texas.

I’m often asked, “Should we build our own dome home or have it built?” That’s a tough question and not one that I can answer for you, but here are some thoughts and suggestions.

I. Build It Yourself

Money

Many people think that doing something yourself automatically makes it less expensive. Sometimes that’s true. But when it comes to building your own dome home, it may not be.

Building your own dome home means turning yourself into a do-it-yourselfer. Can you afford to do that? Most do-it-yourself projects make very little money per hour. Compare the earning ability of the do-it-yourself project with what you earn at your regular job, including overtime pay you may be able to earn. Can you afford to become a full-time or even a part-time do-it-yourselfer, or might it make better sense to earn as much as you can in your regular job and pay others to build your home?

Banks and Lenders

Most banks and mortgage lenders absolutely hate do-it-yourselfers. Why? Because they often do not finish what they start. Few people carry a project through from A to Z, especially a huge project such as building a home.

Time

It’s not lack of skill but lack of time that often turns the do-it-yourselfer into a no-can-doer. Something like the plumbing and electrical done by just one, nonprofessional could add up to 240 hours. The construction of the entire house could take as much as 4000 hours. That’s a hundred 40-hour weeks or two years carved out of your life.

Think about how much time you are willing to devote to your project. Think about your banker or mortgage lender who wants your house done in less than a year, and think about your spouse and family. They might enjoy helping with the project, but sooner or later, they will want to do other things as well and they will want you involved.

Choices

Do-it-yourselfers often choose expensive materials and items. Only the top of the line and the top of the price list seems to suit them. I know a do-it-yourselfer who would not settle for painted base boards. He wanted maple — clear maple, not finger-jointed maple, and he wanted it varnished. Those base boards cost him at least ten times as much as painted ones would have.

Another do-it-yourselfer I worked with insisted on a tub that was 5.5 feet long instead of the standard five feet. Those additional six inches cost an extra $2000!

A long time ago I learned that I could choose a full set of light fixtures for a home that everyone would like and put them in for $100 to $200. But if I sent the owners to pick their fixtures, they rarely left the shop without spending $1000.

When Building Your Own Does Make Sense

If you think you would like to get into the dome-building business, building your own makes a lot of sense. You can practice on your own home, learn from your mistakes, and have something you can show prospective clients.

But if you are new at it, I would rather see you build a rental unit or two before starting on your own house. If you’re already a builder, be wary of imitating the Cobbler. He’s the guy who got much too busy making shoes for everyone else. Consequently his own children went barefoot. Many builders begin houses for themselves that never get finished.

If you don’t plan on making dome-building your business, then I suggest that you seriously consider having the dome shell built and finishing it out yourself. Reason: Constructing the shell takes a lot of practice for the first timer who understandably makes a lot of mistakes; it also takes expensive equipment and manpower, but you get little return for the investment.

On the other hand, doing the finish-out is usually most satisfying. The finish-out is the part of a house that really makes it a home. But again you must consider time and money.

Building in Stages

If you’re still bound and determined to build your own dome-home, I suggest that you build in stages. It’s relatively easy to build a small dome-home and leave proper openings for any attachment you may want — a playroom, gym, guest bedroom, mother-in-law quarters, indoor pool, etc. As you build, you get practice from one to the other. You may find that each new addition goes faster than the previous one. That kind of progress avoids getting discouraged or frustrated.

II. Having It Built

Hard-Nose Planning

Lastly, really do some hard-nose, realistic planning. When I say “realistic” I mean consider your age and stage in life and your lifestyle. Many couples get their children raised and then begin planning the building of their dream home. Almost invariably that dream home is still the one they dreamed of having while their children were small. They forget about considering their changed circumstances, and they still want their two-story dream home with its 3000 square feet of living space, although they no longer have any practical use for that much room — let alone a stairway to navigate in the years ahead when mobility is likely to decline.

Building a home takes a lot of time and a lot of money. Consider what it will be like to make those investments. Remember: you want to own the home. You don’t want the home to own you.