Before that first shovel of dirt is ever turned
What’s involved in getting a Monolithic Dome home? Good question that has no single, standard answer for everyone.
But here is what the Monolithic Dome Institute’s (MDI) professionals suggest and recommend, roughly in the order in which each should be completed. We say “roughly” because we realize that, at times, you might be working simultaneously on more than one of these items. For example, you might be doing your preliminary research, looking for a homesite and reviewing various dome plans all at the same time. That’s okay, as long as you complete each task thoroughly.
I. Do the Preliminary Research
If you haven’t already done it, begin by learning all you can about the product you want: the Monolithic Dome. Our website www.monolithic.com is the best place to start. There you will find an extensive library of illustrated articles, frequently asked questions (FAQ), problem-solving discussions, a directory of architects and builders, and a catalog of construction equipment and reference materials.
That reference material includes books, such as Dome Living: A Creative Guide For Planning Your Monolithic Dream Home, Domes For Tomorrow Volumes I and II, and Domes and Uses, Vol. II. It also includes aides, such as Monolithic Dome Images, Information Pak and Video and descriptions of MDI’s Training Workshops and Conference.
II. Find the Land
The easiest way to find a homesite is through a real estate agency, land broker, developer or lending institution operating in the area in which you want to live.
And there’s also help on the Internet. The National Association of Realtors has a branch called Realtors Land Institute (RLI). On its website, RLI lists undeveloped property and farmland, as well as member land brokers in your locale. Farms.com maintains the link to Land and Farm with listings of residential and undeveloped land scheduled for sale or auction. Landbook.com may also be of help. It describes itself as “The Marketplace to Buy and Sell Agricultural, Mountain, Recreational, and Rural Real Estate.”
But there is no substitute for just plain gumshoe work. In other words, do your own looking and talking. The best deals are usually found by their prospective owners, so get out there. Ask everybody: your hairstylist or barber, the waitress, the banker, etc. Drive around and look for that weedy, neglected lot that is owned by someone out of town who would be delighted to sell it for a good price. It’s fun!
Click here to read more about Choosing a Site for Your Dome Home.
III. Research Your Desired Property
The broker, developer or whomever you plan to buy through will probably give you some documented information on your selected homesite, such as a plat or map, a survey and restrictions. But you must still do your own checking and double checking. Check with the county, check with the neighbors, check with the building inspectors. Check! Check! Check! It’s the only way to avoid disappointment and disaster.
Questions and research should include:
Can a home be built on this site? Will the site pass: a percolation test that determines soil drainage for a septic system; a soil stability test to see if the land can support a home; a drilling test for water? Generally, the County Agent, a local Ready-Mix company or major builder will know the soil characteristics of a homesite, so extensive site testing may not be required. But commercial buildings, especially large ones, necessitate soil testing.
Are there local restrictions or covenants that might delay or prevent you from building a dome home on this property? If there are and even if they no longer apply, get them removed or changed to your satisfaction before you buy. This might include asking for a rezoning and/or getting area residents to approve your choice of architecture.
How do you get property rezoned? In most areas, rezoning is done by a zoning board that usually meets once a month and considers your request after your application for a zoning change is published in a weekly, local paper for three successive weeks. This published application alerts the community, so that all interested parties have an equal chance to participate in the discussion.
In most cases, letting your neighbors in on your building plans is a good idea. Most people don’t like surprises, but really appreciate your efforts to meet them and show them illustrations or drawings of your dome home. Literature, available through MDI or printed off our website, that explains the design and benefits of a Monolithic Dome, also helps.
Besides local restrictions, is the property encumbered by state or Federal restrictions? Such encumbrances could include road restrictions that might prevent you from building an access road to your site. Or they could involve set back restrictions meant to prevent areas such as wetlands, lakeside or riverbank property from being developed.
How accessible is electrical power? Water? Roads? Sewer? Anything that is not already there and must be arranged for or installed means added cost and time. To avoid unpleasant surprises, thoroughly research all fees, costs, procedures and regulations governing the installation of power, water, roads, sewage, fire hydrants, etc. Keep in mind that some local bureaucracies will not grant a Building Permit unless plans for a septic tank are approved, in advance, by the Public Health Department.
IV. Plan Your Home
MDI has developed tools, currently on our website, that make designing your dome home easier, faster and, more importantly, thorough:
- “Catalog of Monolithic Dome Home Plans,” an online catalog of preplanned homes, one of which might fit your needs;
- “Online Evaluation,” an easily completed, automatic, online cost estimator that gives you a realistic idea of construction costs;
- “A Word Picture: How to Design Your Own Dome Home,” a thought-provoking article with questions and comments on just about anything you might be thinking of including in your dome. Don’t forget to complete the Questionnaire;
- “Affordable Home Feasibility Study,” gives you the information you need to make the all-important decisions regarding the planning of your home. While the Online Evaluator does not give design details, the Feasibility Study does. It generally includes a floor plan with elevations, notes, details and estimated construction costs.
V. Design Your Home
Options are available. You can choose from more than one hundred, published Monolithic Dome home plans, that range in size from 300 to 5000 square feet, in height from one to three stories, and in complexity from one to multiple domes. You can use a variation of one of these designs. Or, with the help of an architect or designer who is knowledgeable in Monolithic Dome design, you can come up with a plan of your own.
Monolithic’s staff includes professional, experienced dome-home designers. On our website, we also maintain a list of other designers and architects.
Regardless of which option you choose, your full set of architectural plans should include drawings for the dome structure(s) as well as drawings for plumbing, wiring and interior framing. Depending on regulations in your area, you may also be required to have your drawings stamped by a state-registered engineer (see IX).
VI. Obtain Loan Preapproval
Set a budget early. A good place to start is to get preapproval from one or more lending institutions. This can be done in several ways:
- It is recommended that you submit an application to at least four qualified lending institutions.
- You can contact a lender of your choice to learn your qualifying ability.
- In some cases, you can get a preapproval from your local bank. Armed with this information, you are in a better position to plan on how much to spend on the land and improvements and on the home.
VII. Obtain Financing
Once you have a loan approval, begin searching for the best interest rate. You can go online and search for mortgage companies or click for our website’s Lenders List. Monolithic constantly researches the lending industry, seeking lenders willing to finance domes.
Note: You do not have to use a lender located in the State in which you are planning to build your dome. You can do a nationwide search.
The next step involves completing the loan application provided by the lender you have chosen. It will ask for documentation that verifies your employment, income and general financial status. This verification can take 30 days or longer.
If you are a first-time home buyer, mention that on your application. Some lenders give first-timers special consideration.
VIII. Get A Building Permit
“Acquiring Building Permits,” one of our website articles, states that, depending on the area, getting a Building Permit varies from the sublime to the ridiculous. In other words, in some areas it’s easy and requires no or few inspections, while in other locales just about everything having to do with the home’s construction calls for a specific inspection and approval. MDI suggests you get a list of the inspections you will need, the fees for each, the time it takes to have each done, the procedure for arranging for each, and the approving signatures needed for each.
IX. Get Engineering Certification
Many jurisdictions require a stamped engineering document. In such jurisdictions, a licensed engineer registered with the State in which you will be building must provide and/or check the engineering and sign documentation verifying that action before the structure can be built.
The cost of officially signed and stamped engineering should be part of your construction budget. Such documentation is an extra expense because the engineering firm doing the signing and stamping is legally responsible for the structure’s stability.
Some jurisdictions allow vendor supplied engineering, that does not require an engineer’s official stamp. If that’s the case in your dome locale, Monolithic may be able to provide the needed paperwork.
X. Get the Proposal
Once you have your architectural drawings, you are ready to get your Proposal. Proposals are available directly from Monolithic or by choosing a dome builder off our dome builder list.
A Proposal includes all the components needed to complete your dome and the cost of each. After reading the Proposal, agreeing with its amounts and conditions, and signing it, return it to Monolithic with a 25 percent deposit. That deposit covers the cost of your Airform, engineering and start-up mobilization.
Once Monolithic receives your Proposal, we will give you two time-estimates: one for shipping your Airform to your location and the second for the start of construction.
XI. Hire A Contractor or Builder
On its website, MDI maintains a list of contractors and builders. But, MDI strongly suggests you research a contractor or builder before you agree, in writing, to have him or her do your construction.
Although included in our list of dome builders, a dome builder might be new and not have a track record. But it is easy for new dome builders to find conventional builders with whom they can work. In these cases, it is a good idea to let the conventional builder be the general contractor and the Monolithic Dome builder be a subcontractor.Items to check:
- Verify training and experience in building Monolithic Domes – Usually, just completing a MDI training Workshop is not enough. Experience, such as apprenticing with an established Monolithic Dome builder on a number of projects is necessary.
- Check References – Always check the references of the builder. The trust you both gain is invaluable. All financial institutions will require some kind of builder qualification. These regulations will vary depending on the mortgage company.
- Inspect a completed Monolithic Dome home – Take the time to actually visit and inspect at least two homes the contractor or builder completed. Arrange for an informal but informative chat with the owners.
- Verify the financial stability and credibility of the contractor or builder – Contact the Better Business Bureau, local real estate people, banks, etc. Do not allow work to begin without a written, signed, legal contract that you may want an attorney to review.
- Determine if your contractor has included the sales tax or will add it on – A sales tax, often called a use tax, can affect the ending price of your home. In general, contractors pay the sales tax; they pay it as they pay for the materials used to build your home; therefore the ending price of the home is not taxed. However, some cities and counties charge license fees to build in their jurisdiction.
According to Dome Sweet Home by Gonnella, Ostrowski and Hirst, "A good contract should include the following:
- date agreement is signed
- your name and address
- contractor’s name and address
- contractor’s license number
- copy of all pertinent blueprints, drawings, etc.
- designation of person who will obtain all permits and inspections
- all promises, guarantees, etc. made by contractor in writing, including a one year warranty
- starting and completion dates for all phases of work to be done
- appliance specifics including model number, color, size
- daily and final cleanup procedures
- payment schedule
- waivers of mechanics liens
- insurance information
- payment and completion bonds
- late completion penalties
- responsibility for final inspections, zoning/building compliance." (p. 104)
XII. Being Your Own Contractor
Acting as your own contractor may sound like an easy way to save money and keep control. But it’s far more complex than the person with little or no building experience realizes. It certainly is not an undertaking for people with limited time or a low frustration level. To do a good job as a contractor usually means you have to be there, onsite, almost always during construction. You will also be responsible for hiring subcontractors. That entails checking references and finding who is good at doing what needs to be done, and checking his or her availability and fees.
Then too, it’s more difficult to get financing for do-it-yourselfers, so that needs to be considered.
XIII. Select Interior Finishes, Appliances, Millwork, etc.
It’s fun and exciting. Shop your local stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, specialty stores to get an idea of what’s out there that best suits your needs and tastes.
Interior finishes include far more than appliances. This category encompasses hardware and knobs for kitchen, bath and utility room cabinets; light fixtures for all rooms; ceiling fans; bathroom and kitchen fixtures such as toilet, tub, shower, sink, faucets, towel and paper holders, vanities, etc.
Millwork is the term for door frames, baseboards, cabinets, fireplace mantles, stair banisters, crown moldings, etc. The type or kind of wood you choose, along with its design and stain, will affect the price of your home. For example, if you decide to put ornate, cherry wood crown molding in your master bedroom, it will be expensive. So consider the options and choose carefully.
XIV. Plan the Interior Construction
This entails the partitioning walls, electrical, plumbing, Sheetrock and all finishing touches. Remember that finding quality items at relatively inexpensive prices takes time and research.
Planning a construction schedule that includes multiple disciplines and workers can be tricky. Reliable, skilled professionals that do subcontracting work, such as plumbing, electrical, sheetrocking, etc. usually are busy people with very full work schedules. So your schedule must allow ample time for fitting these various subcontractors into your plans.
Keep in mind also that certain construction work must be completed prior to other work starting. For example, the plumbing and electrical must be in place before the Sheetrock is installed.
Quality finishing touches take time, usually six to nine months. But you don’t want the alternative: a rushed worker who does a sloppy job.
Mandatory building inspections also take time and are another factor that can delay your move-in date.
Generally from start to finish, a custom home takes about a year. Design and financing could add three to six months to that estimate. So be patient.
XV. Plan your Landscaping and Exterior Finishes
Because landscaping is so flexible and individual, these plans need a generous amount of personal attention. If you hire a professional landscape designer, tell him/her about your family’s lifestyle and exterior goals. Choose plants, trees and shrubs native to your area, and if possible ones that need little watering and care.
Curbs, steps, fences, walls, plants, pools, ponds, decks, lighting, trees, flowers and shrubs are all landscaping elements. They soften the exterior by providing visual variety and interest.
Your landscape design can be a three-part harmony. In music, that’s the pleasing arrangement of notes; around your home, it’s a combination of size, role and eye level (or what you see when you look straight ahead). Large plants and trees fix visual boundaries and provide canopy. Medium-size plants serve as screens and outline an area. Small ones, such as ground covers and flowers, supply color, pattern and texture (Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening, p. 51).
XVI. Use the “Start of Construction Checklist”
If you want your dome home built with the least amount of complications, follow the specific order of events in the Start of Construction Checklist.
That summarizes the first or preliminary steps for most people who want a Monolithic Dome home. It does take research, time and effort. On the other hand, the more time and energy you invest in these preliminaries, the more assured you will be of getting the Monolithic Dome home you want.
And please keep in mind that MDI is here to help. Call or email us with any questions or concerns you may have.
Note: This article was updated in March 2009.