Dome sweet dome

Forest Ranch couple live an eco-friendly lifestyle in their unconventionally built home

Ron Kaufman and Marti Leicester built their dream home in Forest Ranch back in 2007. The geodesic dome comprises many eco-friendly features, including skylights to make use of natural light.

Ron Kaufman and Marti Leicester built their dream home in Forest Ranch back in 2007. The geodesic dome comprises many eco-friendly features, including skylights to make use of natural light.

Photo By Nick Dobis

Ron Kaufman and Marti Leicester reside in a roughly 2,200-square-foot home resembling a rebel base from Star Wars, but the couple’s futuristic-looking Forest Ranch abode is actually a geodesic dome with eco-friendly features.

“We have always tried to be energy-efficient,” Leicester said. “Ron absorbed that idea and put it in a house, which is really neat.”

Prior to building their geodesic dome, the couple lived in a loft in San Francisco near the Bay Bridge. After experiencing a few earthquakes, and with increasing insurance rates, the couple decided to move to Butte County, where there are very few fault lines.

Kaufman, 72, and Leicester, 60, have been married for 25 years and are both retired. Leicester used to work as a manager for the National Park Service, and Kaufman, whose hobby is building, worked in many nonprofit organizations including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. When coming up with a design for a home, the couple wanted to build something that was not only structurally sound for earthquakes, but also fire resistant, since the five-acre lot they purchased is in a wildland area.

Kaufman was searching for house designs online one night when he found American Ingenuity Domes.

“We made the choice to go with them because it was what we were looking for structurally,” he said. “It was also energy-efficient and low-maintenance.”

The domes can resist up to 250 mph winds and can survive strong earthquakes, according to American Ingenuity’s Web site. The dome received the highest Energy Star rating attainable. Kaufman says there are roughly 600 of these homes in the United States.

After about 14 months of construction by a local contractor, the couple moved into their dome in May 2007. The total cost, which included the cost of the land, came to approximately $800,000.

“We know that it would be worth less now if we were to sell it than it cost to build it, especially since the housing market has crashed,” Leicester said. “Building an eco-friendly house is always going to be expensive up front, but we built this house on a principle of being more green, and we know it will be worth it in the long run.”

Geodesic domes may have unusual space configurations compared to a conventionally built house, but the structures have all of the comforts one would expect in a comfortable home.

Photo By Nick Dobis

There are actually two domes, one for the house and another, smaller one that serves as garage. They are linked by a covered hallway.

Standing outside the domes, it’s hard to imagine how the soccer-ball-shaped structures could possibly be homey on the inside. Once inside the main dome, however, it becomes apparent why the couple love the place. From the triangle-shaped windows, the sun’s light shoots through and covers every odd surface.

The first story of the main dome has a kitchen, bathroom, living room and patio room with windows on all sides, and a master bedroom and bathroom. The second story, which is largely supported by aircraft cables that hang from the ceiling, has a guest bedroom and bathroom. The garage, which is where they keep their Prius, has an upstairs activity room, where the model of the home Kaufman built four years before construction still sits.

“Almost every room in this house has a unique shape,” Kaufman said. “The geometry determines where to put everything; we don’t get to move walls around.”

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but we like it,” Leicester added. “The neighbors were not sure at first, but they like it too. We often see people at the top of our driveway who are curious, but are often too reluctant to tour the house. We are usually open for people to do so.”

Whatever one’s opinion of the house’s look, there’s no questioning its eco-friendliness.

The concrete used to build the house is highly insulated with expanded polystyrene foam, which is fire resistant. The dome is equipped with 10 skylights, reducing the need for indoor lighting during the day. The living room and kitchen floors are made of marmoleum, a surface made from renewable resources like linseed oil. The kitchen cabinets are bamboo, and the stairs, trim, window seats and baseboards are a product called Evergrain, which is made up of 50 percent high-density polyethylene (mostly recycled milk bottles) and 50 percent wood fibers (mostly old wooden pallets). The couple also has a crossover pump, a device that captures the cold water that cycles when waiting for water from the hot faucet to heat up.

On top of all those benefits, the dome is heated by geothermal energy. The system is also separated in four sections throughout the dome, so the levels can be easily controlled.

Despite their enthusiasm for their home, Kaufman admits that domes like his will not catch on anytime soon.

“Rectangles are easier to build; builders for the most part only know how to build rectangles,” he said. “It also won’t be the solution to the world’s problems, but it is a great idea if you have the money up front.

“The best part of living in this house is the comfort, and watching the light hitting all the angles,” Leicester offered. “It’s certainly not a boring house.