Texas builder calls his domed homes disaster-proof

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  • slim jim

    Official News Guy
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    Mar 18, 2008

    Posted on Sat, Mar. 29, 2008
    Texas builder calls his domed homes disaster-proof

    Star-Telegram staff writer
    Auntie Em dropped her work and came to the door. One glance told her of the danger close at hand.
    "Quick, Dorothy!" she screamed. "Run for the cellar!"
    ITALY -- We all know what happened.
    The black funnel dipped from a roiling sky and picked up that Kansas farmhouse.
    Dorothy might have avoided the fright of her life, and subsequent trip to a faraway land, had she and Toto lived in an energy-efficient, disaster-resistant, steel-reinforced-concrete monolithic dome.
    April marks the start of tornado season.
    Texas averages 137 twisters each year, more than any other state, according to the National Weather Service.
    While no place is immune from violent weather, David South lives in what he believes is the safest community of dwellings in Texas. He says his five-bedroom home and every small domed rental house along Dome Park Lane are built to withstand the force and fury of tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes.
    "These things will take rifle fire," South said of the igloolike structures, not that anyone has shot at him.
    South is a 69-year-old resident of this small town south of Waxahachie and the global-thinking head of Monolithic Constructors Inc.
    Motorists on Interstate 35E can't miss his manufacturing building, which is a row of seven connected domes. South decorated the entrance with a large pair of eyes and a smiling face and mounted "antennae" -- two flexible black vinyl drainpipes -- on top. With its undulating roofline and pairs of cowboy boots painted along one side, the building resembles a 240-foot insect larva.
    South playfully named the structure "Bruco" -- the Italian word for caterpillar.
    He says his monolithic (one-piece) buildings meet or exceed Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines for structures that provide "near-absolute protection" against natural disasters, like Texas tornadoes.
    FEMA defines the term in its manual Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters: "Near-absolute protection means that, based on our knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a shelter built according to this guidance will be protected from injury or death."
    "The dome shape certainly is favorable for minimizing wind forces," said Ernst Kiesling, a professor of civil engineering at the Texas Tech Wind Science and Engineering Research Center and executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association. "But we don't use the term 'near absolute protection.' I couldn't make that claim [about South's domes] without more knowledge about the degree of debris-impact resistance."
    Other people are sold on the promised durability of South's design. He has built multipurpose centers for the Italy and Avalon school districts. The domed gyms double as community disaster shelters. He sold the airform "balloon" used to build the shell of a luxury home in Pensacola Beach, Fla., that withstood Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
    A Missouri woman's ordeal is testimony to the safety of domed housing.
    In 1957 a tornado destroyed Romain Morgan's small frame home outside Kansas City.
    She suffered glass cuts and a fractured skull as she lay in the rubble under the weight of her fallen refrigerator, her arms wrapped protectively around her 10-month-old daughter. She felt lucky that she and her family survived.
    During the late 1980s she was living in Texas on Padre Island when Hurricane Gilbert hit.
    "Weather seems to follow me," she joked.
    Morgan had seen photographs of monolithic domes like those South constructs for use as homes, churches, gyms and storage facilities. After deciding to move back to the Midwest she stopped in Italy and visited South, who has put up domes in every state and more than 40 countries. In 1995, with his assistance, she built a 1,720-square-foot dome home near Halfway, Mo.
    On May 4, 2003, a tornado swept across the rural community.
    Morgan remembers her granddaughter's words as the child looked wide-eyed out a bedroom window.
    "There's a funnel in the yard!" she cried. "It's here!"
    "It sat right on top of the dome -- I don't know how long -- and then rolled off into the woods," Morgan said, picking up the story.
    The twister snapped trees like matchsticks and then careened toward a highway, where it tore down a nearby motel, killing a man and wife.
    "I had no damage," Morgan reported. "Just one piece of trim on a side window was torn off. I had a Realtor ask me how much I would take for my house. I said 'nothing.' I won't sell it. The feeling of security is incredible."
    South, an Idaho native, built his first monolithic dome in Shelley, Idaho, in 1976 and patented the process three years later.
    The structure features a concrete ring foundation. An airform made with nylon/polyester mesh is inflated, and 3 inches of polyurethane foam are applied to its interior. The foam serves as the base for steel reinforcing bar. Shotcrete -- spray-on concrete -- is applied to the interior surface, and blower fans are turned off after the concrete is set.
    "Concrete is extremely heavy. Plus, the egg shape is nature's strongest shape," South said. "Since the structure is curved, there is no place to concentrate the pressure."
    South is president of the Monolithic Dome Institute, which offers workshops for those wanting to learn how to build these structures.
    Among those coming to Italy to attend a five-day training session in April are people from Canada, Nigeria and Romania.
    South sees domes as the future of housing in Third World countries and an option to apartment renters looking for affordable housing. He built 78 units on the outskirts of Italy, most covering 314 square feet, which he rents for $110 a week, utilities included. He also offers a four-plex -- a dome divided into four munchkin 200-square-foot living spaces -- for $75 weekly.
    All the units are rented, and 56 more are scheduled to be built this year.
    South said the construction cost of a single-family monolithic dome is about the same as a conventional home with the same size interior. Domes, however, require only half or less energy to heat and cool, he said.
    Not everyone, South admits, finds domed houses aesthetically pleasing.
    "They're not for the average Mrs. American housewife."
    Some folks in town, he said, "wish I had gone somewhere else to build."
    But the author of a book titled Think Round is here to stay -- as are his domes. "Look at the Pantheon," South said, referring to the famed domed temple in Rome. "It was built in 126 A.D."




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    Mar 7, 2008
    Parker County
    I have an engineer friend who built (actually he's still finishing the inside while they're living in it) his own two-dome concrete house in Wise County. Did it all himself except the concrete pump truck; no mortgage, paid cash for everything along the way. It certainly appears to be indestructible by anything short of a bunker-buster bomb. The thing is so air tight that it is a problem ventilating it for fresh air.
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