I've often been . . . not surprised; astonished would be a better description . . . by the number of people who build homes out in the country and then complain bitterly when the realities of country living intrude on their 'citified' expectations. A good example is a family that builds a McMansion near a farm (particularly something like a pig farm), then complains that the smells make their lives miserable. What did they expect - eau de Cologne? Another is people who build a traditional frame-and-siding or log-cabin style home in an area prone to wildfires, then bitch and moan after a fire comes along and destroys their property. It's a known risk in many areas, but they seem to feel as if Mother Nature has personally targeted them with malice aforethought. I've even heard of cases where families threatened to sue local fire departments or state firefighting authorities for failing to protect their property.
However, occasionally one reads of someone who has the right approach, and builds to suit his environment. One such report comes to us this week courtesy of ABC News.
John Belles said he was prepared for the inevitability of a wildfire when he built his thin-shelled, concrete dome in 1999 surrounded by dry fields in Okanogan County.
Earlier this week, Belles just happened to be working 30 miles out of town when he received a voicemail from a friend warning him about a fire approaching his home, he told ABC News today.
After shuttling three vehicles off his property, Belles said he realized he had to hurry as the fire was only a couple hundred yards away.
. . .
“I grabbed the hose, soaked my clothing down and doused the north side of the building as much as I could. [The fire] got close enough that it was super heated and getting uncomfortable out there in the smoke. I went inside, shut the door behind me and watched it move by.”
Belles said he waited out the flames for about a minute as the fire passed by his home.
“The fire just roared across my property. I could see the flames dancing up over the windows,” Belles said.
The only damage sustained was a service pole, which resulted in a loss of power.
There's more at the link, including a photograph of the smoke-stained (but otherwise undamaged) home.
Well done, Mr. Belles! That's the way to do it. I wish there were more homeowners like you - and I bet your local fire department will now use you and your home as poster children in how to build in fire-prone country.
Here's a video report from Oklahoma about another dome home that survived a fire there four years ago.
Monolithic domes are not only largely fireproof; they're also very resistant to earthquakes, and to severe weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes. I saw several that survived direct hits from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana, virtually undamaged. According to Wikipedia, 'the US Federal Emergency Management Agency rates them as "near-absolute protection" from F5 tornadoes and Category 5 Hurricanes'. I believe it. Those I saw often had garages in the form of a second, smaller dome next to the primary residence, connected by a concrete-covered walkway, making the entire complex completely fireproof. (The biggest had three domes: a big residence in the center, a smaller garage on the left, and a similar-sized dome for a workshop, "man cave" and guest quarters on the right. It was a pretty sweet setup.)
If I ever build a home in an area exposed to such hazards, I'll look very hard indeed at a monolithic dome design. It makes an awful lot of sense, particularly if one puts a cupola on top of the dome to let in more light. To cap it all (you should pardon the expression), it's no more expensive to build than a conventional house, and sometimes even cheaper. As for the 'disadvantage' of living in a round building, that's no disadvantage at all, IMHO. I've spent plenty of nights in traditional African mud huts, all of them round. One simply adjusts one's expectations to fit the building.