Note: We first published this article in our Spring 2000 Roundup. Quoted dollar amounts are from that time period.
A significant reduction
Can the annual premium for homeowners insurance on the same Monolithic Dome structure for the same coverage drop from $800 to $174? “Sure can, and did,” says Don Tuttle, who, with wife Shirley, built a Monolithic Dome home in Shamrock, Texas just a little over a year ago.
Shamrock, a rural town of about 2500 on Interstate 40, ninety miles east of Amarillo, bills itself as Irish City, USA, the site of an unforgettable St. Patrick’s Day Celebration each spring. Legend says that Shamrock got its name in 1898 when a direct representative of St. Patrick decreed that a spot in Texas be named Shamrock, and then mysteriously transported and planted a piece of the Blarney Stone there. A more factual version states that the town got its name from an 1890’s railroad site and post office called Shamrock.
All that, however, is just an amusing side note. What’s of interest here at MDI is how and why the Tuttles got a reduction of more than $600 on their homeowner’s insurance.
The Tuttles’ experience happened in Texas, where the Texas Department of Insurance regulates the Texas $37 billion-a-year insurance industry. But MDI believes that what the Tuttles did and the results they got could be duplicated to some significant degree by Monolithic Dome owners in other states.
The Tuttles’ 2,600-square-foot home consists of three domes: a 37-foot diameter dome for the kitchen and living areas; two 24-foot diameter domes for bedrooms, bathrooms and office. The fourth dome is used as a garage.
Don says that the insurance company that covered them during the building of the domes decided to drop them after the first year. He unsuccessfully tried to get an explanation for the drop. He says, “The reason was something like – how would you fix the dome should a car or something run into it and knock a hole in it?”
A shopping we will go!
Puzzled but determined, the Tuttles went insurance shopping. After several calls, they found one agent willing to insure the domes, but at an annual premium of $800.
So, the shopping continued, until they contacted Noel D. Walton, who has owned and managed Eastern Panhandle Insurance Agency in Shamrock for twenty-one years. “We really do try to help people,” Walton says. "Don and Shirley are our neighbors here in town. I just didn’t think it was fair or right for their structure to carry any kind of rate comparable to a conventional structure.
“Our main exposure here in Shamrock is hail loss to the roof, and they’re not going to have a hail loss to the roof because they don’t have a roof,” Walton continues. “Their fire risk is potentially zero. They can have a grease fire, or smoke damage, or a dishwasher overflow. Other than that, they don’t have much exposure; there’s more potential hazard to the contents than the structure.”
A State Board evaluation
In most areas, when homeowner’s call asking for a price quote for coverage, insurance agents ask certain key questions about the structure’s size, age, construction materials, and location. Based on the materials used in its construction, a home in Texas usually falls into one of four categories: frame, stucco, brick veneer, brick.
Since a Monolithic Dome fits none of those categories, Walton contacted the Texas Department of Insurance for a risk evaluation of the Tuttle residence. “That’s part of their function,” Walton explains. “If you have a unique risk – a structure that’s not your conventional risk because it doesn’t fit the established categories – you request the state board to send an inspector out and give that risk a rating.”
The Tuttles, armed with blueprints and construction data, met Willard Goss, a Texas Department of Insurance representative. Walton recalls Goss’ visit. “He (Goss) was very interested in the construction,” Walton says, “and he reviewed all the information Don had ready for him. I thought that Goss was extremely surprised at the structure. Well, once you walk in the door – it’s a very warm structure. I felt like it kind of embraced you.”
Based on Goss’ physical inspection and evaluation, Walton wrote the Tuttles’ fire coverage at 60% of the brick premium. “Since the brick rate is best or lowest for residences, the Tuttles pay 60% of the best rate,” Walton says. For extended coverage, or damage such as windstorm, hail, hurricane, etc., the Tuttles pay just 10% of the brick premium for the structure and 20% of the brick premium for the contents.
Advice: Seek an agent who cares!
Walton thinks that a Monolithic Dome owner seeking insurance coverage should begin by looking for an agent who really cares, and who will go the extra mile to get the necessary coverage at a fair rate.
Richard Baker, an Inspections Department Manager with the Texas Department of Insurance in Austin, echoes Walton’s advice. Baker also suggests that Monolithic Dome owners insist on having their structures evaluated as “noncombustible masonry” and seek help from a state regulatory agency if necessary.
That strategy worked for the Tuttles in Shamrock. The Monolithic Dome Institute thinks it’s good advice and a workable plan for just about anywhere – and that’s not Blarney!