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Geodesic Dome Building Overview

The American Ingenuity geodesic dome shell kit is designed with unique and practical materials. Ai developed simplified, effective construction techniques, invented a component panel and created a home which offers the ultimate in energy efficiency, strength and practicality. Ai has been in business, with the same owners, since 1976 and has domes in 47 states and thirteen foreign areas.

Whatever size floor plan you seek, whether for a modest starter home or a grand estate, American Ingenuity domes are flexible enough to adapt to your conditions.

Some of Ai's stock floor plans can be viewed by clicking on Stock Plans.  To receive via email other stock plans, please call Ai's office at 321-639-8777.

American Ingenuity's new DVD that has 18 minutes of narrated video and 426 construction pictures for $2 plus $1.71 mailing costs.  To order click on  Online Store.

Building plans include the basic drawings for the dome that are needed when you acquire a building permit. The plans are composed on our computer aided drafting system as stock plans, or custom plans based on your individual requirements and design. Some of the pages are a 3-D elevation and a 3-D perspective view. These plans include all the structural drawings, show the placement of the electrical outlets, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures; however, they do not have the electrical, plumbing, HVAC layouts. We have found if the layouts are included, then the inspectors require the subcontractors to follow the diagrams when usually the subs like to do their own layouts. To learn more click on Floor Plans.

Where can I see one of your finished domes? Ai only has facilities here in Florida where it manufactures the kits. Ai has sold domes into 47 USA states and thirteen foreign areas. We would like to have model homes throughout the country but it is not economically possible. If we had models throughout the country, Ai would need to triple the price of its building kit.  There are over 700 American Ingenuity Domes throughout the country but they don’t belong to us and we can’t extend invitations to see them. To learn more click on Visit our Dome Offices.

Only a few of our dome owners allow us to give out their name and telephone number and it is likely that the closest one to you will be 4-6 states away. Ai promises the dome owner that we will not take advantage of their courtesy and we will only give out their name to those who are serious and knowledgeable of the information in our planning kit and on our web site. That way they are not answering basic questions that we can answer or are contained in the literature or on our web site. Ai has also promised to not give out the dome owner’s address to assure that they will not have surprise visitors.

Dome Finished Costs:

The finished costs on the domes depends so much on where you live, what the labor costs are in your area and what price points you select for your windows, doors, cabinetry, flooring, bathroom fixtures, kitchen appliances, lighting fixtures, etc. You can ask at your local hardware store or ask a local contractor what the finished price per square foot is running for a conventional house. That is approximately what it will cost to finish the domes (if you do no labor yourselves), because everything in the interior is standard whether it is a conventional house or a dome house....plumbing, electrical, lighting fixtures, bathroom fixtures, flooring, kitchen cabinets, windows and doors, etc. are the same. Basically you end up with a super-energy efficient, super-strong home for about the same price as a conventional house. To learn more click on Ai Dome versus Stick Built.

About 40% of our clients assembly their kit, many with no construction experience. The Component Panels, Building Plans and Assembly Manual come marked with numbers and letters. If you do not have the time or do not want to assemble the dome kit, we know of independent working consultants that travel around the country assembling the dome shell using your or your contractor's laborers.

Using three to four good laborers and depending upon the size dome and type of hoisting mechanism you use, shell assembly to the stage of having one layer of concrete in the seams and on the building options (Kit with two entryways and four dormers) can take from 9 to 16 days. Once you decide on your floor plan, we can estimate the number of days needed to assemble the shell (cupola, entryways and dormers take longer to install than triangles). To learn more about this service click on Kit Assembly Consultant.

You or your contractor hires local conventional subcontractors to do the conventional jobs like forming and pouring the slab, plumbing, electrical, framing, etc. Ai figures you should not pay some one to come in from out of state to do work that your local subs can perform.

Prior to the Kit Assembly Consultant supervising the dome kit assembly, our clients had to hire a contractor who generally had never assembled an American Ingenuity Dome before.  As a result the contractor would need to over-charge because he did not know how long it would take or what problems would arise.  The Kit Assembly Consultant works directly for you as an independent subcontractor and can provide you with references for previous Ai domes built.  Using this consultant will assure that the temporary wooden rib system and your building kit is assembled correctly and in a timely fashion.  You or your builder hires concrete workers who mix the concrete to the special recipe and trowell the concrete into the panel seams and onto the entryways and dormers.

Hiring the consultant for one week can save you two weeks or more of shell assembly time.

The consultant works for $295 a day plus travel costs. These costs include travel from his Florida home base to the job site and a return to his home base at the completion of the job.  

Sorry we do not give out the name of the Assembly Consultant.  He is on a job site and cannot be disturbed.  If you are interested in utiilizing the Consultant, please call our office at 321-639-8777.

Contact your local Home Builder's Association for the names of contractors and subcontractors in your area. American Ingenuity maintains a list of dome owners, contractors or subcontractors who have assembled Ai dome shell kits. To view this list click on Builders & Assemblers.

A helpful web site is rsmeans.com They provide construction manuals, construction estimating CD's, etc.

The following is a quick overview of our kit contents and our building process to give you an idea of what is is required in building an American Ingenuity dome prior to the purchase of your personal dome. When you purchase a dome shell kit from us, the full "Assembly Manual" is included and is much more extensive and precise.

The American Ingenuity dome building kit includes one entryway and all the panels to assemble the dome shell. The triangular and riser panels are preconcreted, insulated and have wall board. The dome shell kit package includes: Triangular Panels, four foot tall Riser Wall Panels, Entryway Panels, Galvanized Steel Mesh, Concrete Fibers, Two Concrete Admixtures, Reinforcing Tension Wire, Concrete Bonding Agent, Connecting C-Rings, C-Ring Pliers, Cans of Expanding Foam, Metal Dispensing Gun for the expanding foam and the Assembly Manual. To learn more about the Kit Contents click on Contents. To learn what is not included in the Kit click on Not Included.

The interior wall board on the riser and triangle panels consists of Georgia Pacific ¼” DensDeck Roof Board adhered to the E.P.S. with nonsolvent latex adhesive, cement and perlite. It employs fiberglass mat facing instead of paper on both sides of the board. The core is silicon treated gypsum providing excellent moisture resistance, fire resistance and adhesion properties.  It won’t harbor spores that create sick homes. One square inch of this adhesive will support 10 pounds. A square foot (144 square inches) of the board weighs less than 2 pounds. In other words there is much more holding power than needed. DensDeck roof board is a patented nonstructural glass mat-faced, noncombustible, water-resistant, treated gypsum core panel. To learn more about this board click on georgiapacfic.com

For freedom and flexibility of design, you can select additional building kit options which are determined by your choice of floor plan. The options include: additional Entryway Panels (garage, high profile, or standard), Window Dormer Panels (first floor and or second floor), Door Dormer Panels (first floor and or second floor), Skylight Panels, Cupola Panels, Link Panels and R-36 Insulation.Within the entryways and dormers, on site you build a 2x4 wall to install your locally purchased doors and windows. To learn more about the Building Options click on Options.

No interior items are included in the kit except for the interior shell wall board. We believe you should not pay shipping on items you can purchase locally such as; plumbing, electrical, framing, flooring, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, stairs, fireplaces, windows, doors, etc.

The basic building process consists of placing the preconcreted insulated panels, overlapping and locking the steel mesh with "C" rings and concreting the seams and options. There is no need to concrete over the entire dome exterior. Only the panel seams and the building kit options are concreted on site.

Once your kit is assembled, the wall board on the interior of the dome shell is ready to be finished similar to the method drywall board seams are finished. There will be a 1/2" gap between the panels that allows you to insert some of the electrical wiring without cutting the interior board. Although to accommodate some electrical wiring, grooves are cut through the wallboard and the EPS to allow for the insertion of electrical wiring.  Expanding foam is used to fill the groove and then the surface is finished with tape and joint compound or with a plaster/cement mixture.  Call Ai at 321-639-8777 for further info.

A Brief Description of Ai's Building Options and other items

Standard and High Profile Entryway panels for the 30-48 domes, utilize 3 1/2" E.P.S. wrapped in steel mesh, are preconcreted on the underside surface and have a precast trough on the outer edge. You place rebar into the trough, fill the trough with concrete and concrete the outside surface. The openings under the entryways are framed in on the site to fit your choice of locally purchased standard windows and doors.

Garage Entryways for the 22' and 27' domes, utilize 3 1/2" EPS, but are not wrapped in steel mesh or concreted.

Window and door dormer panels consist of 3 1/2" E.P.S. wrapped with steel mesh ready for on site stucco. The openings under the dormers is framed in on the site to fit your choice of standard windows and doors that you purchase locally.

To learn which domes come with which building options; i.e. second floor single opening window dormers or door dormers, standard entryways versus high profile entryways versus garage entryways, please click on Building Options or call us or email us.

Non-opening skylights are preinstalled in triangular component panels. A skylight consists of two pieces of ¼" thick tempered glass (like car side window glass) about 46"h x 50"w with ½" air space. Desican is installed between the two pieces of glass to keep "sweating" down. Gas between pieces of glass does not stop sweating. The skylight provides over 8 square feet of glass. We put together the glass panels at our factory. A triangular hole is cast in the component panel where the skylight sits on a ledge. Aluminum strips, stainless steel screws and black weather stripping are used to install the skylight. The skylights can be removed by removing the aluminum strips, screws, etc. The skylights are available in Clear or Reflective.

Link: Link panels consist of E.P.S. insulation and are not concreted or wrapped with steel mesh.  Link prices vary depending upon the width and length of the link and whether you order the link panels with wallboard.

Domes are connected together with a Link made of the same materials as the dome panels; E.P.S. insulation. The Link connects to the adjacent domes in the same locations as an entryway or sometimes a door dormer. The thickness of the EPS in a Link is usually 7" when it takes the place of an Entryway and 3 1/2" when it connects like a door dormer. The width of the links depends on the size of domes and whether they are connected like an entryway or door dormer. The length of the Link varies from 2 ft. to 10 ft. Because the riser wall is a standard 4’ high, all domes will match each other despite a difference in diameters.

Cupola: Is the "cap like" item that can be installed on the top of the dome.  Ai does not recommend a cupola due to the cost of installation and need to purchase five windows.  The windows allow for hot or cold air to come in the dome, thus increasing your heating and AC costs.

Its purpose is to give additional headroom for a third floor loft in the 40' or larger domes. The topside exterior of the five panels of the cupola and the underside exterior of the overhang (eave) are prefinished steel reinforced concrete, while the topside & edges of the eave are stuccoed onsite.

The top five insulated panels of the dome make up the cupola top with our overhang panels added on site. We recommend that you build the cupola only if you want a third floor loft. The cupola is a way to add height to the top center of the dome and another way to have opening windows. With the installation of a cupola, there is enough headroom in the 40' and larger domes to have a third floor loft.

Hot air and moisture will rise to the top of the dome. If you build your dome without a cupola, we recommend installing a vent at the peak of your dome in within an interior second floor wall for ventilation. The electric fan vent has the added advantage of being easily controlled with a switch or timer. You can purchase vents used in sailboats that are quiet. The vent fan is installed in an interior wall near the top of the dome to exhaust the moisture and or hot air. The ducting for the vent fan runs through the interior walls and if need be in the floor joist to exit under a first floor entryway. That way there is no hole in the top of the dome to protect from leaking. Or you can install a Heat Recovery Ventilator  in colder climates.

Does a copula change the structural integrity of the geodesic dome? In hurricane areas you would want to have shutters over the cupola windows. The cupola does not weaken the rest of the dome, but the cupola is more vulnerable to wind loads because it sticks up at the top. In high winds the overhang panels could come off; although in 30 years the eaves or overhang panels have never come off any of the Ai domes. Because the overhang panels are nonstructural if they did come off, they would simply be replaced after the storm.

Interior Framing: The interior framing of the dome is built much like conventional housing and can be either wood or metal. Some of the second floor can be hung from the dome concreted seams by suspension rods allowing for very "open" first floor plan designs. The American Ingenuity dome is capable of supporting a large amount of weight, including the 2nd floor, from the concrete dome shell. This weight is suspended by threaded steel rods which anchor into the concrete seams and extend vertically down into the dome. Over 3,000 lbs. can be supported by a 5/8" threaded rod suspended in one of the concrete seams. To learn more click on Interior Finishing and Framing.

Suspension Rods: The location of the suspension rods is determined by your floor plan selection. The Building Plans will show the suspension rod's positioning. The suspension rod with nut sets on a 3"x 7" steel plate, which is embedded in the concrete seam. The seam is reinforced with #4 rebar & two layers of galvanized steel mesh. The second floor can support at least 40 pounds per square foot, the same as other houses. We can easily design for a more demanding second floor load such as for waterbeds, whirlpool tubs, spas, libraries, etc.

Electrical and Plumbing: Almost all of the electrical and plumbing will be contained in the interior frame walls and installed in the same manner as conventional housing. To install electrical wiring in the exterior dome walls: simply cut a groove in the E.P.S insulation and wall board, insert the wire, use spray foam in a can to fill the groove and finish the wall like you would do conventional sheet rock with joint compound and tape. To install electrical boxes, conduit or plumbing pipes: cut the E.P.S. insulation and wall board slightly larger than needed, insert the box or pipe and fill in the opening with spray expanding foam. The spray foam will harden in about half an hour, holding the box or pipe secure. To learn more click on Electrical and Plumbing.

AC/Heating Ducts: We leave the AC ducting diagram to your subcontractor, but generally the ducts run through interior walls, in the second floor joists and or behind the second floor knee wall. The vents are either in the interior walls or in the floor of the second floor. To learn more click on AC/Heating and Fireplaces.


Click on picture below for a full size view

 

Foundations: Your dome can be built on your choice of foundation including: concrete slab, raised wood floor, stem wall or pier foundation, full or partial basement, stilts or pilings. To learn click on Foundations.

Because of the reduced surface area of a dome and its thin shell construction, our domes weigh less than the average house, but are remarkably stronger. American Ingenuity domes are considerably lighter than a concrete block house. A finished 27' dome shell weights about 25,000 lbs.; a finished 48' in diameter dome weights about 42,000 lbs.

You do not have to build the dome on a certain soil type. Sand or rock are the easiest to build on and clay may be the most troublesome as it expands when wet. If your neighbors needed a soil sample before they could build their conventional house then you may need it too. Or if you feel something abnormal, ask your builder or neighbors. Because we cannot evaluate your soil suitability from here, you would need to consult with someone locally about the suitability of your topsoil. Possibly a building department or soil's engineer.

Your dome foundation does not require anything more than 2000 lbs. per sq.ft. soil bearing capacity. Basically if you can build a regular house on your soil, you can certainly build a dome. What is unusual about the foundation is the shape and rebars are designed to come out of the foundation and are concreted into the dome riser wall seams. Always use a vapor barrier with your slab of 6 mil. plastic sheeting and 6" x 6" steel mesh.

 

Shipping: The above photo shows a building kit loaded onto a semi truck ready for shipment to the client. The domes behind the truck are two of our factory domes, a 48' and a 45' with the 60' dome not pictured. For more info click on Shipping.

Support Systems: On the smaller domes 22' and 27',' we recommend a "radial support" method to prop up the panels during the kit assembly. On the larger domes 30', 34', 36', 40', 45', 48' and 60' we recommend the use of the temporary "wooden rib system" which is illustrated by the photo on the right. The rib system consists of your own 2x4's (cut and drilled to our specs) and steel hubs on loan from American Ingenuity to erect a free standing geodesic framework. A deposit is placed on the hubs and is refunded to you when you mail or UPS the hubs back to Ai.  Ai can purchase the 2x4's, cut, drill and paint them and ship them on the truck with your dome kit.  Pricing varies depending upon the 2x4 cost.  Please call our office, 321-639-8777 Monday through Friday 9-5 eastern time for pricing.

During Assembly additional supports are used to brace the steel hubs, to brace panels, to brace both sides of the riser panels and to brace the entryway and door dormer panels.  The "Rib System" dictates the exact panel placement. For more info click on Rib.

Once all the seams and building options have been concreted with the first layer of concrete, the "Rib System" is removed and recycled into the interior framing and the hubs returned to us. 
  

Panel Assembly: The panel assembly process begins positioning of the four foot high riser panels on the floor and then assemblying the rib system. Apply a caulk under the riser panels to seal them to your foundation. Plumb the risers and fill any gaps between them with E.P.S. insulation wedges or expanding foam.

Then overlap the steel mesh from adjoining riser panels, lock the mesh with C-rings every 4", apply the first layer of special formulated concrete following the concrete guidelines for watering down all the premade concrete around where you are working.  Do no get concrete on the panel's flat bonding ledges or the sloping bonding ledges...only partially cover the steel mesh.  Your first layer of concrete is thrown through the steel mesh and fills the seam area behind the mesh. Two different tension cables are inserted on the locked mesh in two locations.

Once you apply one layer of concrete into the seams and onto the entryways, dormers, cupola, etc., you or your workers come down the dome from the top and apply a second layer into each of the seams using a bonding agent between the coats of concrete and on the flat bonding ledges and the sloping bonding ledges. (bonding agent comes with your Ai dome kit). The new concrete must be kept moist to allow for the concrete hydration. The Assembly Manual that is shipped with each kit gives specific guidelines for concrete application and mixing.

 

Panel Concrete: The panel concrete is a special formulation containing synthetic fibers and liquid admixtures. We ship these same fibers and admixtures with your building kit. These ingredients improve the concrete's characteristics, create super toughness, extend durability, make concrete impervious to water, give higher tensile and compressive strength, provide elasticity for expansion, improve freeze protection.

The concrete in your dome out performs other exteriors because of its specially developed formula. Because of its exceptional composition, it actually gains strength over the years. Locally, you purchase bags of Portland Cement (type 1 or 111) and sand (any sand normally used in either concrete or masonry) and add in the fibers and admixtures per the recipe in the Assembly Manual. The concrete is mixed with a mortar mixer NOT a cement mixer.
  

Hoisting Mechanisms: The typical method for lifting the panels is by crane or transverse forklift. Monthly rentals on transverse lifts also called Boom Lifts, Horizontal Boom Fork Lifts, Roofing Lifts, Shooters are available from National Rental Chains.


 

 


These photos illustrate the use of planks on the exterior for filling and finishing seams and concreting the options. You install the panels and trowel concrete into the seams. The first layer of concrete fills the seams up to the steel mesh. After all the seams are half filled with concrete, then a second layer of cement is trowelled into the seams.  Seam concreting is done one row of panels at a time.

 


Planking: This first photo illustrates exterior planking to allow for easier concrete work. The seams above are unfinished. To finish the seams with the second coat of concrete, start at the top of the dome and work down. This will allow you to practice on easier seams and ones that are less visible and any spills will not be on finished work.

Seam Finish: The concreted seams are usually finished in one of two styles:

Start at the top of the dome and work down. This will allow you to practice on easier seams and ones that are less visible and any spills will not be on finished work. The concrete seams are usually finished in 1 of 2 styles:

1. Flat: The quickest, highlights the geometry, the least cost and least labor intensive. The concrete fills the seam up to the edges of the prefinished concrete of each panel and is screeded to a flat surface between those panel edges. When complete there will be two concrete edges along each seam where the panel concrete meets the concrete that fills the seam. The edges of the concrete panels can be used to screed the flat surface making this the quickest method of finish, the lowest cost with the least labor.

2. Rounded: requires the most skill to be consistent but like the flat seam it can be completed with two coats. The concrete is mounded in the seams and shaped to create a rounded transition between adjacent panels. This method should be used when a rounded appearance is desired.


Additional supports under the steel hubs are required to hold the weight until all the seams and options are concreted. Then the extra supports and temporary wooden rib system are removed. The dome shell is self supporting. Interior walls and second floor joists are conventionally built.   

The left photo illustrates a conventional interior wall covered with drywall.  The photo on the right illustrates how the opening under the entryway was 2x4 framed and insulated with E.P.S.(waiting for 1/2" x 1/2" steel mesh & stucco to be applied).  Above the standard entryway is a door dormer. 

Past Ai clients have found it difficult and expensive to purchase steel mesh locally; as a result the steel mesh used to frame in the entryways and dormers can be purchased from Ai and added to your Parts List.  A Parts List is a page within American Ingenuity's official Dome Building Kit Order Form...that lists the items that come with the Ai kit at no cost and lists items you can purchase from us....for example the suspension rods and top and bottom plates that help support the second floor, extra cans of expanding foam (20 ozs), 1/2" x 1/2" steel mesh, 1" EPS in 4'x8' sheets, etc.

Since 2003 Ai's building kits come with the interior wall board (Georgia Pacific Densdeck roofing board) already adhered to the triangles and riser panels with cement and perlite. On site apply joint compound and tape to finish the seams between the wall board or fill the seams with a mixture of cement and perlite. On site the wall board is primed with two coats of primer.

In summary, there is now no need to plaster or apply dry wall board to the shell interior because the triangular and riser panels come with 1/4" DensDeck wallboard.

 
 
An owner/builder is finishing her concreted seams with a sponge. The seam sponge finish matches the panel texture.
A finished dome prior to painting. This is a 34' dome home connected to a 22' dome one car garage.
 
 
A 40' dome before painting.
Use latex house paint.
 
 
The above dome is a 34' in diameter built on a full basement. Behind the deck railing is a standard entryway that was framed in on site to accept a door and window. This dome was painted a blue grey; however, you can paint your dome any color tan or moss green, etc.
Another finished American Ingenuity dome. The dome on the left has a standard entryway framed in to accept six small windows. The wall under the second floor dormer contains two small windows. And the cupola on top was framed in to accept five opening windows.

Painting the American Ingenuity Dome:

The component panels do not come with any paint on them.  Ai. does not add any color to the concrete.  On site you concrete the seams so if we painted the panels or added color to the concrete it would not match your painted seam concrete.  The concrete shell is painted with two coats of latex paint after the entire kit is assembled.
  • Stain is not used because stain will not seal the concrete.  
  • The painting of the dome includes a concrete primer and two coats of good quality latex paint.
  • Use a latex paint that has a satin finish; which is a finish in between flat and semi gloss.   Any porous area that water will penetrate; paint will also soak into and seal. 
  • The dome can be painted any color, tan, green, blue, etc. preferably a light to medium color to reflect the sunlight.   
Around 1948 Latex paints became the first water-based alternative to oil-based paints.  Many improvements have been made but perhaps the most significant is the introduction of Acrylic Resins.  Paint of 100% Acrylic is more resistant to ultraviolet rays, retains its color longer, is less prone to chalking, retains its elasticity, is more alkaline resistant and can be cleaned up with water.

It is not difficult to paint the dome….there are no soffits or gutters to have to deal with.  You know when to repaint the dome when you rub your hand on the paint and it chalks.  The dome is either spray painted or the paint is rolled on.    

Typically the American Ingenuity dome is repainted every 4-5 years, it depends on your personal preference. 
  • Clean the dome prior to painting by pressure washing and killing mold with bleach/water mixture.
  • The sides of the dome can be painted using an extension ladder and paint roller on a pole or sprayed. 
  • Yes you can walk on any of the domes.  If you do not have a cupola, install an eye bolt in the top of the dome to tie a rope through.
  • To paint the top of the dome you can stand on the dome with the rope tied to your harness.
  • To access the top of the dome you either climb out a cupola window or put an extension ladder to the top of a second floor dormer and then walk onto the top of the dome.
The main reasons American Ingenuity selected latex paint are because it is readily available, economical and easy for the beginner.  Specialty paints like epoxy are unable to stretch and the epoxy paint can "in some areas" crack and allow water to pass through.  Also any paint that would have a high gloss would highlight flaws in the seam finish.  A paint that would withstand UV light or last longer would be advantageous but keep in mind that it is much easier to paint a dome than a conventional house.

 
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