Building My Very Own Geodesic Dome

September 1984

Tue, Sep 4
About Aug 20 I was thinking that it should be time for the health inspector to be doing my perk test so I called to check on it. The inspector said he would be out there probably within a week and asked about the property lines etc. He said I should have the house site staked out. I called the building inspector's office to find out what the setbacks should be so I could arrange to stake out the house. I was surprised to learn that the requirements included that the nearest part of the house to the road had to be sixty feet from that road. I had been planning to build much closer to the road than that so I had to change those plans. At the same time I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and have a surveyor come out and locate my other corners and at the same time pinpoint the fifteen corners of my house because I knew I would have trouble doing that accurately.

I called the surveyor and did manage to get there a couple of days beforehand to give the surveyor a copy of the land plat plus my blueprints so he could see how to lay out the house.

A day or so after the fact I went to Front Royal to pay the surveyor and to check out the work they had done. The bill was $180, a little more that I had expected. They were not able to lay out all the corners of the house because the huge brush pile left over from the clearing of the land was in the way. I knew that would be a problem. When I had the land cleared the site I had in mind was much closer to the road. When I learned of the setback requirements it moved the site right back to the area I had reserved for the brush pile. That points out the value of a little more careful advance planning. Still I was pleased. I finally knew the boundaries of the lot and most of the corners of the house were located.

By the end of August I finally cut the last of the studs that I had been working on for so long. Some of the angles didn't match well when I placed opposing pieces back to back so now I have the task ahead of me to fine tune some of the pieces using the sanding wheel. I set out a couple of days ago to correct the yellow pieces as much as possible. In the process I almost ruined a whole batch of pieces. When I took the blueprints to the surveyor I had copied several of the measurements I needed on a piece of paper so that I could continue to work while the surveyor had the blueprints. One of the measurements was something like 4'2 13/16". When I copied that figure down the 13/16 looked almost like 3/16. When I was then correcting the pieces I noticed that one piece seemed a little long so I corrected it to 3/16. Then for the sake of accuracy I decided to check all of the pieces. When it was turning out that every piece seemed to be about 1/2 inch too long I began to suspect something so I double checked the figures and discovered the error. Fortunately I had cut only the first piece and was just in the process of marking all the rest so only one piece was shorter than the specifications. Actually it was two pieces, a matched pair. I should be able to shim them up to size when the time comes.

Also during this time I received a call from a man named Charlie Cox. Mr. Cox was the owner of the house that was across the street from my lot in Front Royal and thus was my nearest neighbor up there. He made the generous offer of an electrical utility pole that he had in his yard. I could set up the pole and save the expense of one of my own to use during construction. He also asked about cutting up some of the wood in my brush pile for use in his fireplace. I had just been up to the brush pile with Stan and his chainsaw cutting some of that wood and quickly saw that there was more wood in that pile than I would be able to cut in a short time so I said he was welcome to all he could cut as long as he didn't take any I had already cut. He also offered to let me tie into his well if it would be allowed to run my water pipe under the road. That was an offer that intrigued me a great deal. The uncertainty and cost of digging a well is a great source of concern in a project like this and his offer was a chance for me to save a lot of money and risk. On the other hand cooperative ventures seldom work out as planned so the idea could turn out to be a sour one. Anyhow I am still undecided.

I made plans to go to the lot in Front Royal on Labor day and spend the whole day working on the brush pile, burning little stuff and pulling out logs. Then I planned to spend the night in a tent and go the next morning into town and speak with the health and building inspectors. I got up there about noon, set up my tent, went down to the lake for a few minutes, had lunch and then went to work. I worked about an hour and took a break. During the break a brief shower of rain passed through. It ended about the same time as my break so I rekindled the fire and went back to work. About the time I started my next break the rain started again. This time it was a real downpour complete with lightening, thunder and high winds. Of course, since my entire lot was on sloping ground my tent also sloped slightly. This made for a little bow in the roof on the upward side of the slope which soon collected a good deal of water. I got rid of that by pushing up on the roof at that point. During the downpour I was standing there holding the roof up when I heard a bolt of lightening which seemed very nearby followed by a loud clap of thunder. I quickly hit the deck, as if I would have had a chance to beat the lightening. Then I was up holding the roof up again noticing that my feet were getting wet. It seems that water was flowing under the tent and leaking up through the floor. I didn't know tents did that. The prospects for a very uncomfortable night loomed. Soon the storm passed and I was out again. First I went for dinner and then I returned to the brush pile. Even after that soaking I was still able to rekindle the fire although this time it took a good deal of effort and patience. But I eventually succeeded and was able to work without interruption until it was too dark to work any more. I then went to take a shower in the bathhouse. There was no light or hot water so I had the interesting experience of taking a cold shower in the dark. I wouldn't recommend that as the best way to take a shower but it sure felt good to get at least a little bit clean. Then I hit the sack. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring an air mattress along so it turned out to be a very uncomfortable sack. In addition, it rained off and on all night long so the night turned out to be every bit as uncomfortable as I had expected and more so.

I was up by 5:00 the next morning waiting until time for my appointment with the building inspector at 9:00. By 8:00 I was sitting in the health department waiting for the man who was supposed to be doing my perk test. He made arrangements to visit the site with me the next day to do the perk tests if it didn't rain. I figure that was a major accomplishment and made the whole trip worthwhile. By 9:00 I was visiting the building inspector. That turned out to be a worthwhile conversation also. He seemed to agree with me that a forty foot square deck would make an adequate foundation for the house. I also straightened up a few other little details that I had been wondering about. After that I decided that the site was too muddy to do any more work so I decided to strike the tent and come home. The rain was determined to take one last parting shot at me and it rained while I was taking down the tent. What a mess!

Sun, Sep 9
Wednesday the 5th found me up at Front Royal again to meet the health inspector. We went to the lot and started tramping around. It soon became apparent that I should have consulted the health department before I had the land cleared. The septic field required much more space than I had realized and much of that space was not cleared. Of course some of the cleared space was not even my property. That was a result of the fact that I could not stay around the whole time the lot was being cleared so the driver missed the line that I had pointed out. At any rate the inspector could not issue a permit because he could not really see the lay of the land so it was necessary for me to have more of it cleared. The brush pile was also in the line of sight making it necessary to have that removed before he could finish the work. He suggested that at the same time I have the back hoe dig the perk holes. That was a big disappointment.

I immediately drove down to Rappawan Excavating to see how soon I could get that little bit cleared. Tommy informed me that it required two separate pieces of equipment to do what I wanted. The caterpillar could clear the land but not dig the perk holes while the back hoe could dig the holes but not clear the land. Of course, there was the six hour minimum for the tractor which meant at least $240 just to clear a small section of land. I decided to rent a heavy duty weed eater and do it myself. I asked if Derflinger and Powell was as good a place as any to rent a weed eater and he said it was about the "onliest" place in town to rent one.

Thursday morning I was down at Derflinger's renting a weed eater. Mr. Derflinger seemed to think the blade of his weed eater might not handle the stuff I would be cutting so he gave me a saw blade to attach just in case I needed it. It took me about 30 seconds at the lot to realize that I needed the saw blade so I put it on. It worked pretty well. One of the problems with the clearing was the fact that a lot of the growth was grape vines growing way up into the trees. That meant swinging the weeder up over my head quite a bit which I am sure was a terribly poor safety practice but I did it anyway. I survived and after several hours I had cleared what I hoped was an adequate area enough to satisfy the inspector. After I had done that I had a little time and barely enough energy to start a fire and burn a little of the accumulated brush. I arrived back at Derflinger's a few minutes before closing and turned in the weed eater. It cost me $30. I figured it had been a pretty productive day.

Friday I didn't go to Front Royal. But something exciting did happen that morning. Toward the end of August I received a call from Timberline about the dome package. I arranged to take delivery of the material on Wednesday after I got back from Front Royal but that afternoon I called and learned that the driver was delayed on another delivery and couldn't make it that day. I arranged delivery for Friday morning.

Friday morning, actually almost noon a big semi pulled down in front of the driveway. I didn't realize they would send such a big truck. I asked the driver to back it into the driveway, which he did, although it did cause me a few anxious moments. Our street is very narrow and I wasn't sure it could be done. Buddy, Peter and Dave Fidler were there to help unload but the package was still too heavy for us to handle. We literally dropped it off the truck. It didn't damage anything. We opened the box and moved the whole thing into the garage piecemeal. But we got it in.

Friday evening I sanded the last of the studs I had been cutting down to their final shape. Saturday morning I was out at Front Royal again working on the brush pile. I pulled down quite a bit of brush and pulled several logs out of the pile. I think I can see some progress being made.

Thu, Sep 13
This week has been the week of the brush pile and it looks like it may be brush pile week next week too. The brush pile is in the way of everything and must be removed so that is what I have spent my time doing this week. On Monday Toney came out with me and we spent a couple of hours with him tending the fire and me pulling and hacking at the pile. I don't want to burn the pile as it stands because it would be too dangerous so I am pulling it apart bit by bit and cutting the logs for firewood and burning the little stuff. We noticed that Charlie Cox had cut up some of the logs over the weekend which was a help.

Monday night I had a vision. It said take a shovel to the brush pile. I did that on Tuesday and it helped a lot. I got more done on that day than on any day before.

On Wednesday Stan called and offered to come up again with his chain saw. I eagerly accepted his offer. He brought the chain saw plus his lopper, a hand saw and a grubbing hoe. All of those tools are proving to be very useful. We got quite a bit of work done on the pile that day.

Today, Thursday, I had the use of some of Stan's tools that he left with me and again they helped me do many things I otherwise could not have done. Again the day seemed very productive. However, after all those productive days it seems a little disappointing to look back at the pile and still see this huge monster. It makes me think I may be many weeks reducing that pile. I am hoping that as the pile gets smaller the finished work will become more and more noticeable and that the appearance of the work accomplished will become more and more noticeable.

Sat, Sep 15
Yesterday I went to Lowe's hardware and ordered the lumber I needed for the struts, the plywood sheathing, insulation and roofing materials. The bill came to over $3000.

Today I went to the pile. I attacked it with lopper and grubbing hoe. As I worked a lot of the dirt piled up on the heap came avalanching down. It was wonderful to see the pile growing smaller before my eyes with no effort on my part. By the time I had finished the pile was noticeably smaller. I am beginning to see the effect that I had hoped for which I shall call the jigsaw effect. If you ever noticed how the last few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle seem to find their places almost before you can pick the pieces up you know what I mean by the jigsaw effect.

I also spent some time today figuring out my finances. It appears that so far I have spent or committed about $8500. That includes the shell complete with roofing and insulation and the heating system plus land preparation. I still have to cover the cost of the septic system, plumbing, electricity, foundation, hot water, floors, interior sheathing, land and windows and doors. I hope I can do that for another $10,000.

Tue, Sep 18
Yesterday Toney went to Front Royal with me. He tended the fire while I worked on the heap.

Toney and I also took a few minutes out to use Stan's 50 foot tape to measure the distance from the edge of the house to the road. I was surprised to find that the distance was only 50 feet. If that measurement is correct the house is too close to the road and cannot be built there. I must double check the measurement and ask the surveyor about it. Surely he didn't make a mistake in the measurement. If he did all that money I paid them was wasted.

Today I went to Front Royal alone. I hacked for quite a while and was a bit disappointed that the pile didn't look any smaller than it did. Maybe I will feel better about it tomorrow when I am not so tired.

Wed, Sep 19
This morning a big truck from Lowe's Hardware arrived with the lumber to finish my strut package and the plywood to finish the skin. It was about 3000 pounds worth. I wanted to have him dump it so that it would slide into the garage or very near it. That was a mistake. As it started to slide I could see that it was going to hit the side of the house. There was no way I could stop it so down it came. I thought it was going to destroy the wall. Fortunately the damage was not great. The bricks got chipped up a bit and that was it. Toney helped me to move it all into the garage which by now is becoming quite full.

Stan went with me today to work on the brush pile. This marks two weeks since the health inspector was out and I had hoped to be ready for the final inspection by now. There is still a lot of pile but we have made significant inroads. Stan and I worked all afternoon and it was dark when we got back home.

Thu, Sep 20
Nothing much new, I worked on the brush pile in the morning and started to cut the lumber to size in the evening.

Dome 01Sun, Sep 23
Five of us went to the pile today as I had hoped. We did quite a bit. Buddy and I worked on digging the perk holes while Larry, Toney and Peter attacked the pile. I thought hacking on the pile was hard work but I soon discovered that digging 3 1/2 foot deep holes was even harder. We got two completely dug and one started. I figured we had done enough and resolved to call the health inspector.

Mon, Sep 24
I called the health inspector and he agreed to meet me out there on Thursday morning. Then I drove out to finish the perk holes. I managed to finish off the four main holes and I worked on the pile a little bit. Thanks to the work the boys had done on Sunday I was able to really make a difference on the pile. I decided to finish off the holes on Tuesday morning.

Tue, Sep 25
I finished digging the reserve hole as best I could. It was rocks and rocks. Finally, at about 38 inches I struck a rock that I just could not cut my way through. I quit hoping it would be deep enough for the inspector.

Wed, Sep 26
I didn't go to Front Royal today. Instead I tried to cut as much lumber as possible. I had been cutting a little each evening so by the end of the day on Wednesday I had cut most of the pieces to shape. I couldn't wait any longer to try to get a feel for what the finished dome would be like so I tried to erect a section in the garage. It was incredible.

Thu, Sep 27
I met the health inspector this morning and things worked out well. He said that since he could now see the lay of the land he could see that I had plenty of area for the reserve area right next to the main field. That meant I didn't need the fifth perk hole which I had labored so hard to dig. But since he approved the system I was just as happy anyway. He said he would write up the permit and mail it to me.

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