There's no doubt that Michael Goodwin's new home is the most unusual one in Lion's Head, Ont. On a quiet, bungalow-lined street in the small Bruce Peninsula town, his house stands out because it's capped by a bulbous concrete dome.
On its own, the dome would stick out like a sore thumb, but the conventional wings on either side help it blend in - somewhat - with the surrounding bungalows.
The house is entered through one wing, which also contains the bathroom. An artist specializing in driftwood sculpture, Mr. Goodwin has set up his workshop in the other wing.
The central dome is a combined bedroom, living room and kitchen.
But why live in a concrete dome?
Mr. Goodwin laughs, whips out his harmonica and begins to play. The sound reverberates, bouncing off the curved concrete walls and ceiling, and the effect is undeniably impressive.
"It was always in the back of my mind to build an adobe brick house," he says, relaxing in the dome, surrounded by his sculptures.
Prior to building the dome, he'd been living in an 1860s-era house in Southampton, Ont., on Lake Huron. One day he got to talking with a local café owner, Sunny Cushnie, who had recently returned from a dome-building workshop and was getting ready to build one of his own.
A modern method of building domes cast in one piece, or monolithic domes, was developed in the 1970s by David South and his brothers, who are builders in Italy, Tex. Mr. South was inspired by the geodesic domes promoted by the visionary Buckminster Fuller, and started investigating new dome-building techniques.
Monolithic domes begin with a concrete slab platform that defines the shape of the base.
Then, a custom-made inflatable nylon shell, made by Mr. South's company in Texas, is blown up. Polyurethane foam is sprayed on the interior and a rebar frame is put up. Then a specially mixed concrete called shotcrete is sprayed on in layers, tapering from about six inches thick at the base to about 2-3/4 inches thick at the top.
The exposed surface of the dome is the nylon shell, which can be covered with paint or other surfaces such as stucco or metal cladding.
Mr. Cushnie and his friend and business partner, Collin MacLeod, had travelled to Texas to learn about domes and have since started Great Lakes Dome Co. and erected seven of the concrete structures.
Environmental concerns are a big part of the attraction of monolithic domes.
Mr. MacLeod, a carpenter from Hamilton, says erecting a concrete dome produces little waste, compared with conventional house building.
Once built, the foam creates a tight seal, preventing air leaks and making the heating system energy efficient. The concrete also has great thermal mass, he adds. It absorbs heat and holds onto that heat very well.
Mr. Goodwin's dome in Lion's Head, which is bright and dry, even on a particularly dismal, rainy spring day, took about seven months to build, including a six-week break and delays as builders and local tradespeople took on other work.
In total, the project cost about $180,000. That includes $25,000 for the 100- by 180-foot lot, and about $10,000 for the septic system. The two solar hot-water units on the roof, which feed into the in-floor heating system, also are included in that figure.
The cost of building a dome home is comparable with the price of custom-built homes of a similar size, though maintenance and energy use are usually cheaper, dome builders say.
Mr. Goodwin chose his Lion's Head location because land in Southampton does not come cheaply. He also wanted to be near downtown, where he can walk to his morning coffee and shopping.
His new house is a five-minute walk from the main street in Lion's Head, and, though it's early days yet, he says he's happy, although his work is still tied to the art community in Southampton.
Mr. Cushnie and his wife, Rebecca, and their three children also live in a dome house. Their two-dome structure in Southampton comprises a main dome with a 40-foot diameter, and a smaller one that is 24 feet in diameter. Including a loft in the main dome, there is about 1,250 square feet of living space.
The main dome includes four bedrooms, two bathrooms, the kitchen and the living room. There's an office and another bathroom in the smaller dome.
The Cushnies, who moved in four years ago, are enthusiastic supporters of dome living and say they have no complaints.
"It just feels like a house that you move into, like any other house," says Mrs. Cushnie. "The couch fits fine against the wall."
If there is a drawback, it might be acoustics. While they're great for Mr. Goodwin's harmonica, it's easy to imagine the echoes building as the children play. But the interior walls in the Cushnie dome help to dampen that.
There isn't anything unexpected about living in a dome, Mr. Cushnie says, though he adds, "I never thought we could have tobogganed off it, but it's excellent for tobogganing. We go dome sliding all the time."
As for Great Lakes Dome Co., they've got their sights set on bigger prizes. After years of working for developers building massive subdivisions, they're ready to cut in on that business. "We are trying to break into that scene and become big developers," says Mr. Cushnie.
A year ago they were advertising plans to begin a dome home subdivision in Tobermory, Ont., a town at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. But that project is on hiatus because of a land claims dispute. In the meantime, they've been surprised by the level of interest in monolithic domes.
"We expected to do more promotion and educating," says Mr. MacLeod, who is already planning his own dome home for a lot in Oliphant, Ont., a Lake Huron cottage community. "It's almost scary how many people are already educated and waiting."
And sure enough, the phone rings. It's someone who has sold his house in Scarborough and wants to get a dome of his own started in Southampton.
Special to The Globe and Mail