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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Wow! houses: A dome in Annandale Acres

Charles “Chip” Emmons had always been a fan of Buckminster Fuller, the visionary inventor of the geodesic dome. So you could say the house he and his wife, Betty, built in Annandale in 2001, based on that concept, is truly their dream house.

Chip says a dome house has one-third more surface area and “the structural integrity is far greater than a rectangular house.”

The house, at 7221 Beverly St. in the Annandale Acres community, has 4,000 square feet, which doesn’t include the smaller dome containing the garage. And with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, it’s got plenty of room for Chip and Betty and their two dogs, Shadoe, a German pinscher, and Spirit, a Manchester terrier.

The kitchen and dining room are between the two domes. The ceiling in the living is 36 feet at the highest point. From the upper level, there’s a spiral staircase to a cupola on top of the dome.

They purchased a kit from Timberline Geodesics, a company based in Berkeley, Calif., that included the basic design and the framework, which arrived in three trucks. They hired local contractors to assemble it and build the interior.

The living room.
What Betty likes best about living in a dome house is the openness. Before building it, they lived with her parents and five dogs in the house her parents purchased in 1952 on the same one-acre lot where the dome house is now. Betty grew up there, attending the old Annandale Elementary School, Weyanoke Elementary, Poe Middle School, and Annandale High School.

She operates an insurance business from an office in the upper level of the dome house and is studying forensic science at Northern Virginia Community College in preparation for a career change. Chip, a former land surveyor has switched careers and is now a substance abuse counselor.

When they started thinking about building a dome house, they took the idea to the Annandale Acres Civic Association, even though there was no requirement that they do so. “Everyone was all for it,” Betty recalls. The neighborhood has a broad range of house styles, ranging from small cottages built in the 1930s to huge mcmansions.

Chip and Betty Emmons
Few contractors are familiar with dome houses, so there were some construction challenges, Chip says. The original design didn’t have the right “snow loads” for this area, so some changes had to be made, and the spiral staircase came in one single piece, instead of two as expected, so “that was a nightmare to install.”

Another last-minute change called for the kitchen ceiling to be lower than expected. An archway between the two rooms hides the different ceiling heights. That worked out so well, they incorporated arches throughout the house.

After they moved in, they discovered some unique issues with dome houses: Air handling is more challenging, so it’s been more difficult to keep the upstairs rooms cool enough in the summer. Domes are also harder to seal because they contract or expand when the temperature changes, so the screens on the kitchen window sometimes pop out. The acoustics are challenging, too, so the large speakers in the living room had to be mounted high on the wall.

All in all, though, they love living in a dome. “Being spacious is a big deal,” says Betty. “We found that when people come here, they are very comfortable, and don’t want to leave. People really seem to like the energy here.”

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