Disadvantages of Monolithic Domes

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Sturdy, dramatic and easy to build, monolithic domes do have some downsides.
Sturdy, dramatic and easy to build, monolithic domes do have some downsides. (Image: brick dome image by Valery Shanin from Fotolia.com)

Monolithic domes are sturdy, energy-efficient structures that distribute stress throughout a domed shell rather than concentrating the stress at one point, as do conventional buildings. Used in building schools, churches, sports facilities, homes and storage units, monolithic domes look imposing but are relatively easy to build.

A monolithic dome's chief components are an outer vinyl layer called an "airform," an inner layer of polyurethane insulation sprayed onto the inside of the airform, then a final addition of shotcrete sprayed onto the polyurethane to provide structural support.

Despite their strength, speed of construction, versatility of shape and heat efficiency, monolithic domes have disadvantages.

Unsustainable Materials

The three materials used in monolithic domes are not the most environmentally products available. Vinyl and polyurethane are both petroleum-based and the latter emits toxins when it is burned. Shotcrete is lasting but has a large initial CO2 footprint.

Vulnerability of the Air Form

The airform is a delicate membrane which can easily become damaged by falling trees and vandalism. Once it is damaged, water could seep into the underlying insulation and become a big matted sponge. Steps could be taken to protect the airform with aluminum, but this can be expensive.

Poor Ventilation

The monolithic dome creates a tight hermetic seal, which is not always desirable given that activities like showering and cooking require dehumidification and forced air ventilation. To rectify this issue, a hole can be created in the center of the dome to circulate air.

Permits and Property Value

Building a monolithic dome may require special permits depending on the type of structure you have in mind. A monolithic dome for a greenhouse may not need a permit, but if you are building one for a residence or larger structure, check your city's ordinances for construction of such domes.

Furthermore, monolithic domes are not everyone's cup of tea. A home that is a monolithic dome may not fetch the highest price, given the idiosyncratic style. But as an addition to a conventional home, such as a pool enclosure or sheds, a monolithic dome could add to your property value.

Fitting Windows and Doors

Adding additional features to your monolithic dome could be challenging, as traditional rectangular doors and windows cannot conform to the shape of a monolithic dome (unless the dome is built on riser walls, in which case the doors and windows can be placed there). Round windows could circumvent this problem.

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