The dome house of Mike and Kathy Breitenbach, near Highway 234 and overlooking Sams Valley, was built with energy-conscious concepts in mind. - Jamie Lusch

Blending in with ... Nature's round

Most people, if they wanted to live in a dome house, might shy away from it because it would hurt a home's investment potential or be hard to sell.

Not Mike and Kathy Breitenbach. They built it for their own comfort.

On a 6-acre site with commanding view of Sams Valley, the couple created a futuristic luxury dome five years ago, featuring two stories, bamboo floors, decks, a two-car garage (inside the lower story) and rooms divided by 8-foot-high, curving, free-standing partitions that don't touch the ceiling. The side walls are vertical for the first 8 feet, then curve over.

Overhead, you hardly notice the dramatic arc of the ceiling, which brings "flow" to the home, says Mike Breitenbach. "You have a flow of air, of light and of feeling. It's a warm feeling. People who live in domes usually say they can't imagine going back to a flat, eight-foot ceiling."

The three-bedroom, three-bath dome, whose parts and instructions came from Monolithic Dome in Texas, is virtually indestructible and will still be standing after an earthquake, tornado, forest fire or hurricane, says Breitenbach.

This is because it's aerodynamic and made of steel-reinforced concrete. It's built by inflating an "airform" with an industrial fan, spraying 2 to 4 inches of polyurethane foam on the inside, attaching vertical Rebar on the outside and spraying it with concrete. Window boxes and doors go in before you foam it.

It's a simpler process than building a stick house but Breitenbach, an investment counselor in Grants Pass, says it cost around $590,000 — about as much as a regular house.

As for the sticky resale question, Kathy Breitenbach acknowledges a dome limits the potential market, but "we didn't build this for others. We built it for ourselves. We're interested in energy efficiency and the comfort of an open plan."

The couple consider the house to be "green," as it has bamboo (which is a grass, not a tree) floors and with its ultra-thick concrete-foam walls, it has a very high R-factor and uses under $100 a month in electric heat. The home is so airtight, it needs an air exchanger to bring in fresh air. Big south windows bring in solar heat in the winter.

The 2,500-square-foot dome is painted green-brown on the outside, to blend in with the surrounding oak-pine countryside.

Inside, the couple have made good use of open space and accented the home with tile floors in the bathroom and a granite counter and brushed metal appliances in the kitchen.

The painting of rooms is different, too. You can't just paint one room yellow and the next one green, because they all open to each other, so, says Kathy Breitenbach, you feather them into each other — a lavender bedroom blends unnoticed into an ice-blue ceiling.

Being inside a 45-foot circle, almost every room has a curving wall, something you learn to appreciate, if you notice it at all, the couple says.

The ceilingless walls would pose a problem with children, but if they have kids, Kathy Breitenbach says they would put ceilings on bedrooms for privacy and quiet.

Aside from its re-sale drawback, another challenge with the house is water. Rain doesn't drip into gutters; it runs down side walls, encountering doors and windows, where it does its best to get in. Some dome dwellers put eaves and gables over doors and windows, but they look strange against the sweeping curve of the home, says Mike Breitenbach.

Answer? Research, lots of it. Whatever you do to keep water out has to be done in the building phase, not later.

A dome is for pioneers, people who are different and like to conquer risks — and you hear it in the words of "domers" like the Breitenbachs as they describe how you don't notice that you're in a dome; you just notice a sense of space and flow.

"We built it the way we want it," says Mike Breitenbach. "We tried to build a house that's for us and that aspires to be environmentally friendly, is energy efficient, low maintenance and very comfortable. It has tremendous acoustics, too. My little computer speakers fill the house with music."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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