Last fall, when winds raged to 109 miles per hour, Fairplay residents Keith and Sylvia Wortman noticed the stormy weather only from the pine needles hitting their front window. When residents on Fairplay's outskirts lost power for three days and nights in subzero temps, the temperature in their house dropped a mere three degrees.
The Wortmans live in a 4,000-square-foot home consisting of three rounded, steel-reinforced concrete domes molded together. Insulated by three inches of polyurethane, it is model of energy efficiency, durability and strength.
"By dome standards, it is probably considered a mansion," Wortman said of Bristlecone Dome, which is visible from Highway 9. A central, 47-foot diameter dome with two 36-foot domes on either side houses three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a sewing room and office. "It is comfortable and makes you feel comfortable but not lost in the expanse," Wortman said.
In addition to energy efficiency, dome homes have green appeal in that they require 50 to 75 percent less material to cover the same space as a square conventional house, according to the Texas-based Monolithic Dome Institute. They also meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency's criteria for near-absolute protection from tornadoes.
On Saturday, the Wortmans will join dome owners around the country in opening their house, 2066 Platte Dr., to the public. The annual Dour Tour is sponsored by the Monolithic Dome Institute, and showcases small to luxury dome homes from Idaho to Florida.
Keith Wortman first dreamt of building a dome home 33 years ago. "I was lecturing in Wisconsin and saw my first million gallon fuel or water tank," said the retired herpetologist. "Amazingly, as I drove past it, I saw a vision of a house that was safe and wouldn't burn and was low maintenance. I instantly started cutting doors in this tank in my mind and welding lips over windows and doors to shed weather. Over the next five years, I had transformed the tank not only in my mind but on paper into what it is today."
Five years later, he gave a lecture inside a Monolithic dome high school in Emmet, Idaho, and decided to pay the builders a visit. Though the dream would take several decades to materialize, the experience convinced him he was on the right track.
South Industries of Menan, Idaho, began construction on the Wortmans' house four years ago. It was built by spraying concrete into an inflated nylon form.
"I had some trouble convincing my wife that these bubbles would be a great home but she was finally convinced about the time we moved in," Wortman said.
Two and a half years later, the couple remains convinced of their decision. "This home was such a huge dream for me that to be living in it is glorious," Wortman said. "It is safe and quiet when a storm rages outside. I truly wouldn't want to ever move back into a traditional home."
Though thoughts of a round home might inspire decorating nightmares, Wortman insists the possibilities are endless. "I have seen a lot of these domes and no two are even similar," he said. For a multiple-dome house, the saddles between domes and curved walls enhance the home's beauty, and walls can go anywhere your heart desires, he said.
"The thing that will surprise you is that building in the round will give you more usable space for the dollar than building square or rectangular rooms," Wortman said. "I say that if you have a dream to build something that is comfortable, safe, low maintenance, beautiful and unique, then it would behoove you to tour our home and start dreaming about what your home could be."