DIY Ferrocement Domes and Vaults

Passive solar ferrocement vault
Passive solar ferrocement vault

“The “Green” movement has its roots in the late 60’s with the “back-to-the land” movement—-when people really started to think not just about alternative life styles but different methods of building—-including sustainability. It could easily be argued that the father and mother of the back-to-the-land movement were Helen and Scott Nearing. They started “Living the Good Life” in 1932—a logical reaction to the Great Depression. (Is this starting to sound like déjà vu all over again?) Prior to Helen and Scott there were various other societal breakaways from the Shakers & Quakers to the Pilgrims—-but these were more religious than geo-political—-but nonetheless some of the early “green roots”—-if only in attitude.

By the time an idea becomes mainstream, trendy, or common, it has usually had its roots planted at another time—-growing, mutating and blossoming into its current form.

My own roots as a builder began in 1971, living off the land in rural upstate NY, in a Ferro-cement dome—-and I was a huge fan of Helen and Scott.

Eventually my house designs evolved into what became commonly known as “Passive Solar”—-where passive (non mechanical) construction techniques were used to improve the energy efficiency of the home. These approaches, among other things, included more insulation, and orientation of the home to take advantage of the sun—-which would result in increasing the amount of windows in the path of the sun, while decreasing them elsewhere.

Think of the house as an extremely well insulated bubble sunk into the ground far enough to be in contact with the point where ground temperature is constant. What this “Insulated Bubble” approach does, is create a scenario where when it comes time to heat your home, your starting-point temperature is never going to be below 45° F—-the constant ground temperature. Most houses in Syracuse, NY, at some point in the winter, will frequently have to be heated from a starting point of -23° F—-the outdoor (ambient) temperature. The amount of energy required to heat a home from -23° F to +72° F (a 100° difference) is MUCH, MUCH more than from +45° F to +72° F (a 27° difference).”

Seattle Area Home

3 thoughts on “DIY Ferrocement Domes and Vaults”

    • This sort of thing was becoming popular when I was a young man during the oil crisis of the 70’s. There was no Internet then of course. Mother Earth News was the best source of information, plus some books. These formative experiences set me on a lifelong path of learning about natural building.

  1. Another early pioneer of environmental awareness and steel boat building construction, was Gilbert Klingel. Gilbert was the father of one of our board members, Marcy Benouameur.

    The book Inauga, published in 1937, was about Gilbert’s 1930 scientific voyage out of the Chesapeake Bay, heading to the Bahamas through a 10 days storm.

    Here’s a link to the book with some neat old pictures.

    Gilbert Klingel shares with Fabre and a few other naturalists a rare ability to describe the life of a restricted area in terms that invest it not only with fascination but with rich meaning.



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