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More about the Monolithic Dome Churches

Image: First Church of Religious Science of Hemet consists of two unique domes: the larger one (100’x 33’) that houses the sanctuary with seating for 300 and the smaller dome (80′ × 27′) that functions as a social hall.

First Church of Religious Science of Hemet consists of two unique domes: the larger one (100’x 33’) that houses the sanctuary with seating for 300 and the smaller dome (80′ × 27′) that functions as a social hall.


Cost

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but the Monolithic Dome comes close.

That’s because generally over a period of twenty years, savings in energy expenses equal the full cost of a Monolithic Dome facility. So, in effect, it becomes free.

Examples: In 1984, Maranatha Church of Mount Belvieu, Texas built two Monolithic Domes: 208′ × 48′ and 60′ × 25′. They recovered their construction costs in just thirteen years.

One Monolithic Dome school facility estimated eleven years for its construction cost recovery. And according to reports we get, other Monolithic Dome schools estimate less than twenty years.

Comparing Conventional to Monolithic

A Monolithic Dome church costs less, or about the same, to build as a conventional structure of the same size, with comparable fixtures, furnishings and equipment. But the dome could cost much less if the conventional church is constructed to meet Type II or Type II FR fire safety code designations because the dome is already Type II FR.

The steel-reinforced concrete of a Monolithic Dome gives it an innate ability to resist fire. In other words, fire resistance is a built-in quality – not an extra – in Monolithic Domes.

In general, Monolithic Dome churches have been finishing between $120 and $150 per square foot (2009 prices). But many factors can raise or lower that price: auditorium seats, commercial kitchens, television broadcasting lights, etc. Numbers given here can be distorted by other factors too: inflation of construction, prevailing wage states, experience of builders and designers, location (Northeast and California are more costly).

Construction Time

Once its Airform is inflated, much of the building of a Monolithic Dome takes place inside the Airform. Consequently, the construction process can usually continue regardless of weather or time of day, and costly delays can be averted.

Energy Efficiency

Regardless of climate, it takes 50% less energy to maintain a comfortable environment in a Monolithic Dome than in a conventional structure. Reason: The polyurethane foam insulation that blankets its concrete shell turns a Monolithic Dome into a thermal battery and an ultra-conservative energy user.

The dome’s roof is the major part of this thermal battery, so the underside of that roof must always be involved with the HVAC system. Any HVAC engineer who isolates the roof eliminates much of the available energy savings.

At times, architects hire HVAC engineers who do not understand or won’t listen to what we try to teach them. Those engineers usually order three to four times too much equipment and often isolate the thermal battery. In such a situation, we can guarantee that energy savings will be severely compromised. One such church, a large facility in Louisiana, has reported that its HVAC systems turn on and off very often; consequently, at least half of its savings are lost. For most months, the demand charges are more than the run charges. Nevertheless, that church still has a much more efficient building than other churches near them.

Simply put, Monolithic Domes require less equipment for heating and cooling; less energy to run that equipment; less maintenance, repair and replacement.

Energy Comparisons

The dramatic difference in energy needs between that of the dome and a conventional building is where the big savings are.

It is not possible for a conventional building to function with the energy savings of a Monolithic Dome. Such construction usually has much less insulation and much more air leakage than a Monolithic Dome. In fact, a conventional building cannot be sealed like a dome can. Even if such a structure is sprayed with three inches of urethane, it will not have a Monolithic Dome’s huge thermal battery. A Monolithic Dome is a micro-energy user!

On-going Savings

Because of their fire-resistance and disaster-surviving ability Monolithic Domes usually are eligible for much lower insurance premiums, generally 50% less than conventional structures.

They have fewer maintenance problems. Examples: roofs never need replacing or repair because domes have no roofs. Treatment for a termite infestation is never needed because termites do not like concrete. More insulation does not have to be added over time because the foam that insulates a Monolithic Dome does not wear away; instead, it seals the dome by filling every nook and cranny.

Serenity

That’s the prevailing feeling in a Monolithic Dome. Churches feel holier. Schools feel more secure. Homes feel more comfortable.

Monolithic Domes are quiet. Only a very small amount of outside sound penetrates a Monolithic Dome. One pastor found that shutting off the noise of the world outside was wonderful. Cars, trucks, buses and planes ceased to exist for worshipers inside the dome.

Safety

Monolithic Domes are safe and secure. They meet FEMA standards for providing near-absolute protection against natural disasters. Fire, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes pose very little danger to the dome’s occupants. Many Monolithic Dome facilities are designated community shelters.

Forty domes in the path of Katrina pointedly provided proof of structural superiority. New Life Family Church, a Monolithic Dome facility built twenty years ago in Biloxi, Mississippi, was hard hit by Katrina. But the morning after, parishioners removed the wet carpet and readied the structure for use as a hurricane relief center. Because of Katrina – that leveled many of its neighboring buildings – New Life Family Church became Biloxi’s second tallest building.

To dome or Not To Dome

Decide to like the dome or not. If you do not like the dome, do not build it. A Monolithic Dome has many advantages and reasons for building it. But none of them matter if an owner does not want a dome.

So, either build a dome or not — but do not adjoin it to a conventional building. Flat-roofed, cornered buildings are hard to marry to Monolithic Domes. Often the junctions leak, and boxlike buildings do not have the energy savings. When joined to domes, conventional construction often negates energy savings generated by the domes.

However as separate structures, Monolithic Domes work well as additions to existing churches, regardless of the original architectural style. Domes can be designed to blend with or complement rectangular or square structures.

Other Decisions

Always remember that the underside of a Monolithic Dome’s roof works as the major part of the dome’s thermal battery. If a building has a floor area of 2000 square feet, that battery will measure about 2000 square feet. Thus, we have one square foot of battery per square foot of floor area.

If a second floor is installed, the battery is automatically cut in half: ½ square foot of battery for each square foot of floor area. Other than losing some of the battery’s advantage, there is no harm done if the building is not used for mass occupancy. But if it is for mass occupancy – such as a church sanctuary – the loss may be larger or may necessitate more HVAC equipment. In general, we like to see single-story buildings. Then too, single stories have other advantages, such as no need for elevators or double stairs.

An attractive promenade can be created by circling a Monolithic Dome with a covered walkway.

Size

Monolithic Dome churches can and do come in many sizes and in single-dome as well as multi-dome configurations. Largest to date: Faith Chapel Christian Center, a mega-church complex of six Monolithic Domes. Its sanctuary has a diameter of 280 feet, a height of 72 feet, and an interior of 61,575 square feet with seating for 3000, classrooms and offices. Smallest: a single, 16.5-foot diameter dome for St. Paul Church of God in Christ in Italy, Texas.

Design Flexibility

The clear-span interior of a Monolithic Dome provides many options for seating arrangements, stage placements, choir accommodations, etc. Should needs change, the dome’s clear interior makes remodeling relatively simple.

Consider Multiple Domes

A Monolithic Dome’s energy efficiency is high; consequently, it really does not matter if you use ten buildings or one building to provide 30,000 square feet. Often multiple buildings eliminate the need for many interior partitions, sound partitions, other expensive interior finishes and equipment.

Multiple domes also make sense from a construction standpoint. If planned right, domes can be added as funds are procured and needs are encountered. This is a real plus, not often available with conventional designs. Generally, when more space is needed, conventional buildings are enlarged – consequently so is the surface area exposed to weather.

Stemwalls

Designing a Monolithic Dome with or without a stemwall may not be an easy decision. There are many issues: Using a stemwall is probably wise for a building with many doors and windows. But if the building is primarily for seating, a stemwall usually is not needed.

Generally, a stemwall costs more than a design that brings the dome to the ground. This often provides a lot of nearly free space. So the stemwall decision should be made after considering all alternatives.

True – the dome with a stemwall will look more conventional, and, in many situations, it is the best compromise. But never give up on alternatives. A fence or wall circumnavigating the dome can be designed to look like a stemwall, yet serve as an attractive, concealed storage area or drainage way.

Properly landscaped, a Monolithic Dome with or without a stemwall will look attractive and serve well. Today, we have many design elements that stand alone and are not terribly expensive, but that really enhance a structure. Demand some of them.

Constructing in Stages

Some churches have a fairly stable population base that stays about the same over time — usually a certain percentage of the area’s general population. Such congregations sometimes need a new church structure to replace an old one.

But a primary goal of other churches is growth. They might expand their membership of a few hundred to a few thousand in a relatively short time.

Sometimes such congregations commission a structure considerably larger than what its current population requires, with the idea of growing into it. Meanwhile, they leave much of the building’s interior unfinished until needed. Then, as growth progresses, it’s completed. Sometimes such a plan works well, but more often than not, multiple problems develop.

Consider building in stages: begin with a church for your present membership and expand by adding structures as needed. Obviously such a plan must include sufficient land for expansion. Otherwise, stage construction utilizing the Monolithic Dome becomes fairly easy.

Traditionally, churches have housed all or most of their activities in one, usually square building. Simple physics is the reason: A single square structure presents far less surface area to the weather than does a rectangular building or multiple buildings. Theoretically, that’s a way of keeping down the cost of heating and air conditioning.

But by using the same simple physics, a Monolithic Dome, with an interior that’s comparable or larger, presents less exterior surface to the weather than either a rectangular or square structure. The Monolithic Dome simply doesn’t care how much of its exterior is weather-exposed! Its heat loss through the shell is small enough to be ignored.

Therefore, a cluster of domes often makes a far better, more economical facility than one huge building. That’s because a Monolithic Dome designed just as a sanctuary does not require much finishing. But a structure that includes a sanctuary and areas for other activities automatically necessitates expensive, separating walls.

Constructing a cluster of Monolithic Domes in stages usually goes much like this: We begin by building a small dome that handles current needs. As those needs increase, a second dome is added – often as a new sanctuary – and the original one becomes classroom or office space. Later, yet another dome can be added and the second converted into a gymnasium or community center. Obviously such a design calls for some long-range planning that lays out the options.

Nevertheless, this system works extremely well for expanding operations and brings with it an added advantage: If the construction of new domes does not involve disturbing the existing ones, heating and cooling costs of the existing domes stay the same, but facility space doubles, triples, even quadruples.

Because a Monolithic Dome’s heat loss is so close to zero, it is not a factor that has to be added into the total equation. Monolithic has observed that snow melts last off a heated Monolithic Dome. In fact, the air in a dome sanctuary – when it’s full of people – often must be cooled even in the winter.

When it comes to designing a sanctuary, size really is important. People don’t like attending a church that has an empty-building feeling – nor do they like being too crowded. So it’s a fine line that requires careful thought and that assumes an even greater importance when mortgages are considered. A church that builds too big often ends up with a mortgage that is too big and has too many fixed expenses. It might be better to have the congregation bursting at the seams and recognizing its need before committing to an addition.

Selecting the Design/Build Team

Designers are an important, integral part of any construction. But they need experience. Obviously an architect or designer whose professionalism includes successful projects is an ace in the hole.

But sometimes new architects want to try their hands. This works well with novices willing to learn from the experts at the Monolithic Dome Institute and utilize its experience. On the other hand, a newcomer who does a runaway by neglecting to use traits and techniques of Monolithic Dome construction can – and usually does – create problems. In all likelihood, the resulting building will not be energy-efficient, nor will it generate energy savings.

The builder should also be experienced. Most experienced Monolithic Dome builders are members of the Monolithic Dome Institute and are listed on www.monolithic.com. That listing includes a few builders to choose from for big buildings and many more for smaller ones.

For privately owned projects, an architect and builder often work as a team. But for public projects, the architect generally does the design, and the construction goes to the lowest bidder.

Construction Management

Monolithic offers Construction Management, a service that acts as the client’s advisor during a project’s design and construction. Monolithic Construction Management allows the client to control the project and its cost; provides advice; does the day-to-day coordination and negotiation with contractors and subcontractors.

Note: Anyone planning a new facility – big or small – has many questions and concerns. Please contact us with yours. We’re here to help and can be easily reached: email@monolithic.com or 972-483-7423.

Free Evaluation and Feasibility Study

Monolithic offers a free service that evaluates plans. A church can also commission a feasibility study that establishes a preliminary program and a rough budget. Based on this information, a church can proceed, make changes or forsake the project.

Updated: May 22, 2009