To start, the rounded shape makes dome houses more energy efficient than traditionally shaped homes, lowering both heating and cooling costs, Dana notes. Dome houses can also be built faster, using fewer materials and resources than traditional housing. Although some form of concrete is still often used to create a home’s outer shell, Dana says that there are also more sustainable options, including natural earth materials like adobe, bamboo, straw, or mud, as well as modern concrete replacements like hemp and mycelium.
Part of what makes dome homes so sustainable lies in their design. “The dome shape evenly distributes stress without supporting columns or walls, making them surprisingly strong,” adds Dana. This means that domes have the ability to withstand most meteorological and geological events, including extreme temperatures, wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires. Not having to frequently rebuild or repair the home cuts down on the consumption (and cost) of building materials, as well as the energy used during reconstruction, she notes.
Yet, despite these benefits, the dome’s secure place in pop culture, and a 1971 New York Times article declaring that “the dome as a home is catching on,” this housing model has never managed to go mainstream—at least not in the United States. After all, the houses that most Americans draw as children (and then dream of moving into as adults) tend to look rectilinear. In a 2014 column for CBS News, real estate journalist Ilyce Glink wrote that “the dome home is an oddity, and despite the great strides the industry has made in mixing in common architectural elements to smooth out the dome’s unique look, there is no hiding the distinct look of a curved building that the eye thinks should be square.”
Since launching her TikTok series on alternative housing, it’s become very clear to Dana that a lot of people are genuinely interested in more sustainable homes (including ones with domes), but have never been presented with them as a viable option. On top of that, she says that when you factor in the necessary permits, zoning, and insurance, these homes—that were meant to be affordable and accessible housing solutions—become inaccessible for the average person.
“As a history teacher, I think it comes down to a general lack of knowledge about these options even existing, as well as the stigma attached to dome housing and earth housing as ‘primitive,’” Dana further explains. Without the opportunity to regularly see and learn about dome houses, it’s easy for many of us to dismiss domes as either futuristic curiosities, or so archaic that they belong in natural history museum dioramas rather than present-day neighborhoods.
Along the same lines, the round design of dome houses also requires a massive shift in lifestyle—something American homeowners haven’t exactly embraced until recently. “The open space floor plan, while leaving room for creativity and customization, was unfamiliar in the U.S., although common elsewhere,” Dana adds. “If the dome is built out of concrete, the walls are harder to decorate, furniture can’t be pushed against walls as easily, and resale value was a concern.”