How To…

Sometimes folks who like the look and shape of a Monolithic Dome and really would like one hesitate. They begin worrying about the finishing and upkeep of a nonconventional structure. For that reason, Monolithic maintains this How To Section. It includes articles that deal with construction-related issues, such as a “Start of Construction Checklist.” Other articles give detailed descriptions for doing the finishing, such as framing the dome’s interior, installing an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV), and cleaning an Airform. We frequently add topics to this section and work hard at keeping all the information easy to understand and current.

A letter from Cascade Domes

Two 15’ ecoshells built by Cascade Domes as part of a stage for a local music festival.

We love to hear from dome builders around the world! It can be hard to build a new business, but the dome building business is definitely worth the time and effort. Recently, we heard from a relatively new dome building company in western Canada—Cascade Domes. Read advice from owner, Steve White.

Laying out a Prolate Ellipse

Often we are asked how to lay out the foundation for a prolate ellipse. Some people want to have their Monolithic Dome home shaped as a prolate ellipse. One reason people might want this design is because they have a narrow lot and need to squeeze the dome in the middle to make it fit. Sometimes they want the length of the dome to be longer so they get more of a look of what is on the outside of the building.

How to load Monolithic eBooks on a Kindle Fire

Installing a Monolithic ebook on your Kindle Fire is easy.

Installing a Monolithic ebook on your Kindle Fire is easy. I have listed the steps in this article, but the best way to read these steps is by clicking on the fist image, then using the captions to give the step-by-step instructions.

Cleaning our Monolithic Airform

The Ecker’s dome home before they began washing their Airform.

As my wife and I prepare for future exterior work on our Monolithic Dome, and to keep up with recommended Airform maintenance, it’s finally time to wash our Airform again.

Insulated Footings: Thermal Break for Monolithic Domes

Joey is taping off the area just above where they intend to spray foam to avoid getting any overspray on the airform. They have dug a trench around the footing about 10 inches deep that will be insulated.

Generally, in the US, footings are not insulated. By not insulating the footing, we have a place where cold can enter our houses. Monolithic Dome builders may need to consider insulating footings of Monolithic Dome homes to provide a thermal break and reduce chances for condensation and/or mold growth.

Mixing the Strongest Shotcrete

When I started building Monolithic Domes, I wanted to know how to make the strongest possible concrete. How much and what kind of cement, water, rock, sand, admixtures, etc. should we use? I went to the Portland Cement Association for advice. I asked other shotcreters. Over the years, I have tried every mix we could think of.

Polyurethane Foam Application

Rebar Hangers

It is imperative that you, the dome owner/builder, understand the basics of foam application to monitor the process and look for potential problems. This article describes the foam application process and could be given to a foam contractor so expectations are clear.

Steel Rebar Placement in a Monolithic Dome

Workers attaching hoop rebar to rebar hangers

It’s important to understand why we use rebar (reinforcing steel bar) in concrete. It’s used to absorb tension forces in concrete, since concrete has very poor strength as a tension material. So correct placement of rebar is essential.

Spray-in-Place Concrete Fences: How to Get Just the Look You Want

Spray-in-place security — Fence with washed aggregate surface

Monolithic has a 25-page manual that details the start-to-finish steps for building an attractive, permanent and economical concrete fence. It comes with diagrams and photos of the construction process and includes a discussion of shotcrete and concrete design mix.

The Foundation: Using an Integrated Floor System

Airform Ready

When it comes to building a Monolithic Dome’s foundation, do-it-yourselfers have a choice: they can contract the concrete work, or with able-bodied help they can tackle the job themselves.

Starting a Monolithic Dome Construction Company

Applying Shotcrete — Workshop attendees get the opportunity to spray concrete on a Monolithic Dome during one of our Workshops.  The first layer of shotcrete gets sprayed on approximately 1/2" thick.

Starting and operating a Monolithic Dome construction company is a challenge. It is not for the faint of heart. But how else can you have the sense of accomplishment you get from building such fine structures, using your own skills? Your efforts will benefit others, and you will leave a legacy of buildings that will be used throughout the next millennium.

Exterior Window Treatments: A Primer

Side shapes and arch shapes

When designing your dome for residential or commercial use, it’s worth thinking through multiple construction possibilities early in your planning. Floor plans and fixtures might take up the bulk of your time, but an often overlooked issue is the dressing out of your exterior windows.

Considerations for Arched Window Bucks in Airform Augments

Side view of augment showing height difference of window buck — Left Image: Poor profile shape due to size of buck and interior air pressure.  Curves exaggerated for illustration.  The buck was made to fit a hypothetical window.
Right Image: Augment appears more square from the side view due to the increased height of the buck.  In this case the larger buck has been made to fit tight in the Airform augment just inside the window seaming.

So after all the back-slapping, hand-shaking and fan fair during the Airform inflation, you’re finally ready to get down to the business of interior construction. From inside, you’re admiring the eye-catching, organic shape of the inflated Airform and the ethereal translucence as the sunlight filters through fabric, when a contractor derails your train of thought.

Patching Airforms

A Tear in an Airform — This is an example a patch being glued onto a tear in an Airform. Cut the patch and prepare the area.

When dealing with something as “delicate” as an Airform (Airforms are as tough as a boot but because of their weight they seem delicate), rips and holes will happen. The best way to deal with these problems is to be prepared for them. This article reviews a few of the things you can do to fix such problems.

Metal Cladding For Domes: The Why And The How

Bruco — Metal cladding comes in a variety of colors and makes a durable, protective coating for a Monolithic Dome.

Why would someone want to cover a Monolithic Dome with metal cladding? David South, Monolithic’s president, says, “Metal cladding is an arrow in the quiver – a problem solver – that’s especially useful when things get really nasty.”

Blistering – Taking Care of a Common Problem

Blistering on a Monolithic Dome is usually minimal because of the materials used. Nevertheless, at times blisters will occur. Each time the sun gets hot on that same spot, it increases the size of the blister as the vapors expand.

Installing Augment Frames

Attach Stakes — 4. Attach the stakes on the exterior through the Airform and into the window buck. Get the bucks plumb and level.

In a Monolithic Dome, an augment is an extension of the Airform. That extension creates a vertical surface, beyond the curve of the dome, where a door or window can be installed. A smooth augment is achieved by properly planning the Airform.

How to Attach an Airform

Preparing Ring Beam — Rebar is bent over so that the Airform can be slid over the rebar and attached to the footing.

The Airform is a highly engineered fabric structure that should be handled with great care. Many factors enter into its attachment to the concrete foundation.

A Monolithic Anchor Point Provides Safety

Anchor Points

Tasks such as cleaning, repairing, painting or covering the outside of a Monolithic Dome often means workers must climb to the dome’s top and move along its curved roof. For working atop any Monolithic Dome, a correctly installed, permanently set Monolithic Anchor Point is the simplest and most secure.

Airform Handling and Repairs

A Monolithic Dome Airform — It’s a highly engineered fabric structure that must be handled with great care — especially while the Airform is being transported, spread, attached and inflated.

An Airform is a highly engineered fabric structure. Because of its expense, extreme care should be taken not to damage it. The most likely time to damage the Airform is while transporting it to the job site; spreading it; attaching it; and inflating it.

How to Build a Monolithic Dome

Step One: Foundation

Monolithic Domes are constructed following a patented method that requires a tough, inflatable Airform, steel-reinforced concrete and a polyurethane foam insulation. Each of these ingredients is used in a technologically specific way.

Determine HVAC Needs For A Monolithic Dome: An Engineer’s Advice

Gordon Cuthbertson, owner of Cuthbertson Mechanical Engineers, of Mesa, Arizona and Ontario, Canada, was a skeptic. When Gordon first got involved with Monolithic Domes about four years ago, he, like so many others, had a hard time accepting and believing what the Monolithic Dome Institute (MDI) says about the thermal mass capability of its structures.

The Monolithic EcoShell II

The Monolithic EcoShell II — The EcoShell II is a  super-strong structure that can withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fire, termites and rot.

In the United States and other industrialized nations, an EcoShell II can serve the same purpose as an EcoShell I: It makes an ideal, durable and low maintenance garage, workshop, grain storage, small warehouse or shed. Nevertheless, some people feel that the EcoShell II is an improvement over EcoShell I, since its construction system allows Shotcrete to be applied to the interior of the Airform. This difference does not seem like much to some; others think it makes EcoShell II’s construction process more technologically sophisticated and therefore more appropriate for a nation with a developed economy.

The Monolithic EcoShell I

The Monolithic EcoShell I — The EcoShell I is a super-strong structure that can withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fire, termites and rot.

An EcoShell I is a super-strong structure that can withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fire, termites and rot that has different uses. In industrialized nations, particularly those with temperate or cold climates, such as the United States, Canada and Great Britain, uninsulated EcoShells make an ideal garage, small warehouse, grain storage, shed or workshop. But in the developing world, most of which has a tropical or equatorial climate, EcoShells can provide permanent, secure, easily maintained and – most importantly – affordable housing.

Interior Framing

Interior Framing — Interior framing in a Monolithic Domes is not that much different than in conventional buildings.  We have wood studs for the exterior that have been insulated with polyurethane foam, and metal studs for the interior walls.

Once the Monolithic Dome shell is in place, we need to divide the interior into rooms. Our suggested method for this is to use steel studs and sheetrock. You can use wood studs but that interjects a material that is flammable and subject to termite damage. If the walls of the house are simply separators, you can use light gage steel studs and simply put them in place.

Choosing a Site for Your Dome Home

Monolithic Dome overlooking a Pond — The easiest place to build a Monolithic Dome is on a nice flat piece of land with good drainage. But a Monolithic Dome is so versatile, it can be constructed on a limitless number of sites.

Choosing a proper site for a Monolithic Dome is both simple and complex. Obviously, the easiest place to build is on a nice flat piece of land with good drainage, but a Monolithic Dome is so versatile it can be constructed on a limitless number of sites. You can put it on a mountainside, a valley or even over water. No matter where you build, be sure to take advantage of your property and sight lines.

Cleaning the Airform

The Airform — Over time, our not-so-clean environment makes washing the Airform a necessity.

At times it is appropriate to clean the Airform, before or after the building is completed. This may be necessary because of dirt accumulated during shipping or construction, or from our not-so-clean environment.