Sphere Cottage

When we heard the farm was going to be sold we decided to leave as soon as I could wrap up my work there. I wanted to give my domes a chance to survive in my absence. The plywood needed to be sealed, and the failure point experimentation came to an end as I framed the inside of the big dome.

In the spring I painted the domes. We drove to Vermont with our 1 1/2 year old daughter so I could work for some of my customers there for a few months. Then we returned to North Carolina. While in Vermont we had found 15 acres of mostly open land with full southern exposure that we bought. We packed up our things. We bought all the dome materials left over from my projects and packed at least a ton of locust posts at the bottom of the moving truck.

We arrived on August 2, 1997 in Calais, Vermont, and set up the geodesic tent, then a pointed dome outhouse, and at last the 18 ft. research dome for a kitchen. Construction on the house began Sept. 4. We were camping with a 1 1/2 year old not yet potty trained with cold weather coming fast. There were several 28 degree nights that month. Working full time was not possible. Based on my experience bending plywood into geodesic domes and spheres, I designed the biggest ball I felt was practical and oriented all the plywood sheets in the same direction, more or less; this makes the bending operation easier. This was important. I was working alone on a 28 ft. high sphere with a 9 ft. diameter footprint.

I plotted out the drill patterns with the sheets laid on the grass, maintaining accuracy the best I could in the field. There were many different drill patterns because of the vertical shingle orientation of the sheets. This method had the added advantage of providing rectangular openings for manufactured windows.

By October I was installing the metal vertex panels, windows and door, heating system and second floor; November the sheet metal ventilator, stairway and downstairs windows. We had given up camping in October and moved in with my mother, 14 miles away. In December, insulation (5/16" aluminized bubblepack) and sealing of the plywood shell with foam sealant. The rest of the winter my wife Cynthia and I did interior work, including plumbing, electric and interior walls and kitchen, and the 5' round plate glass south window.

We moved in the end of April, with much of the inside unfinished. The landscaping kept us occupied in the spring, but I managed to rig the vent in the top of the dome when the summer sun forced the issue. I coated the entire sphere with polyester resin to seal the plywood and make it hold the paint which went on in the fall. During the winter I sewed and hung the flame resistant canvas ceiling.

The sphere has done well. We found it necessary to raise the level of the ground around the base with a truckload of stone to protect the bottom from freezing. It is easy to heat despite the thin insulation- the deep air pockets on each side of the bubblepack, the meticulous sealing of the outer shell, and the streamline shape of the sphere are helpful. Interior circulation is excellent- the heater is a convection type with a flue 22 ft. long, but no ductwork. A thermoelectric fan sits on top of the freestanding heater and keeps the downstairs the same temperature as the upstairs. When the power goes out, which is often, our heating is not affected. Before we got the fan the downstairs would get cool sometimes.

In the fall of 2000 I installed several sets of large shelves and a computer desk on the bowl shape walls downstairs. Until recently we had boxes stacked in the way. Now we have some separation of space and our home seems much more roomy. The new ferrocement mudroom is a help too.

Cottage - Stage1

September 1997 This is the central foundation on which the 28 ft. plydome sphere will perch. Nine ft. long locust posts 8-10 in. in diameter are set in 5 ft. deep holes.

Working on unlevel ground is never the most convenient arrangement.

The integrity of the structure was apparent early in the process. I needed to have ample strength for a 28 ft. sphere on a 9 ft. base.

At this halfway point I installed the hex-pent frame of 2x4's and the second floor framework. The height of this thing was beginning to alarm us.

The plywood sheets are light- I was able to align a sheet with one hand and fasten a machine screw with the other. I would align a single hole, and then swing the sheet into position, pivoting on the first screw, and fasten the other screws near it.

Column from first floor to second contains pressure tank, water heater and breaker box.

Door opening is 3 steps above first floor. By now we are wondering just how high 28 ft. really is. Ball seems to be threatening to be taller than it is wide.


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Created: February 15, 2001
Last Revised: February 24, 2002
Steve Miller, 2001