A Nevada man says his invention is the answer to some of our environmental problems.
Edward B. Dilley Sr., 57, doesn’t pay a utility bill. He feeds on the bounties of nature on a mountaintop in northeastern Nevada, near Elko.
Yet he is no hermit. No wizard. Nor is he a self-created Robinson Crusoe. He is a man with a mission to make the Earth a better and cleaner place than it is today. And to achieve his aim, he has created what he calls the “BioHome.”
“BioHome is a closed housing system where you can recycle your water, grow your own food, generate your own power and purify your [own] air,” Dilley says.
Confirming his claims is difficult, as there is considerable secrecy surrounding the BioHome. Dilley’s Web site (www.BioHome.net) shows a photograph of a single BioHome. It looks like a cluster of large, mud igloos with small, round windows on its surface. In reality, he says, it’s a group of geodesic domes with polyurethane foam sprayed on them. Dilley has been living in a BioHome for the last year, though he started working on it in 1997.
“It is environmentally and ecologically sensible and conservative,” says John Martinson, technical adviser at Tilted Planet Productions, Dilley’s video production company that now caters solely to Project BioHome. “It [a BioHome] consumes modestly, not wastefully. That sets it apart from virtually every other technological assemblage that our society uses.”
The genesis of the idea of an environment-friendly lifestyle, however, took place a couple of years before, in 1995, on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.
“I wanted to pull water out of air,” Dilley says. “So I came to UNR looking for someone who might have similar interests. John Martinson, at that time, was working on a project funded by NASA called Space Garden. It was about how one would grow a garden in outer space. So John and I linked up, and we built an environmental chamber, which was a foam dome. So right here on campus, we pulled 12 gallons of water out of the air in 24 hours. We even made an Airwell Survival Kit that could pull water out of air.”
Dilley began building on the idea of a closed housing system. Drawing inspiration from varied sources, he finally conceived the present design of the BioHome.
“Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome was one of the critical inputs,” Martinson says. “Polyurethane foam as used in the domes designed and erected by monolithic constructors in Italy, Texas, was another. But using polyurethane foam as the only structural material in the construction was our innovation, when we built the dome on campus.”
Another innovation was the use of “water windows,” Plexiglass spheres, or “bubbles,” filled with water and antifreeze that allow light in but minimize heat gain and loss. “The idea of the ‘water-windows’ was mine,” Dilley adds.
Dilley is confident about the durability of his home. He says it’s almost as strong as a “Scottish castle.”
“I really don’t know that,” responds Martinson, “for it hasn’t been tested. I would love to see a hurricane come to the place where the dome is to learn how the dome would respond when subjected to it.
“At this time, my speculation leads me to be optimistic because when a hurricane comes to a conventional house, it frequently separates the roof from the walls and the walls collapse. Now, there is no roof or walls in a BioHome. Fuller’s geodesic structure is incredibly strong and likely to resist hurricane forces. Besides, the structure is tied down to a circular concrete foundation. To blow the dome away, one would have to wrench it off the foundation, which is quite unlikely.”
In the morning, the interiors of the BioHome are illuminated with mellow light coming through the “water windows.” At night, one can put on the electricity generated by a wind generator and a solar panel during the day.
Insulation is not a problem, either.
“We measure insulation with R-Factor,” Dilley says. “In a conventional building, the R-Factor is R-19 in the walls, R-28 to -30 in the ceiling. In a BioHome, the insulation is R-90. So my son once heated the entire BioHome with two 12-watt hair-dryers.”
“What we are talking about is a highly efficient structure that does not need a lot of power to heat and cool it,” he adds. “When the BioHome is done—maybe it never will [be] in my life, because I’m always adding things and changing things—the inside temperature should stabilize around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter what goes on outside.”
Dilley aspires to purify the air inside the BioHome with the help of a “green room,” built on the sunny side of the house, where he would grow plants—and his own vegetables. As for purification of water, he already uses an Airwell solar distillation system—another of his inventions—that operates on the principle of solar-powered evaporation to purify used water from impurities and bacteria.
“At the beginning of the last century, solar distillery was the most promising technology on the planet,” Dilley says. “When you use solar distillery to distill water, it removes all impurities from the water other than anything that is air borne, like anthrax, radiation—that kind of thing.”
For sanitation, the BioHome has a solar toilet that converts human waste to usable methane and prepares it for composting.
“The solar toilet requires no plumbing, no water,” Dilley says. “The solar toilet works fine in any outside temperature. All you need is sunlight for a little while. It functions in the same line as the BioHome.”
Today, anyone wanting to build a BioHome can do so easily with Dilley’s help, he says.
“Project BioHome has reached a point where it is a kit home,” he says. “You buy the components off the Web site. I go out as a consultant to help you with it. The BioHome can be tailored to one’s need. Mine is just one of the many different shapes that it can be done.”
The main reason people should buy into the concept of the BioHome, Dilley says, is that it puts a stop to the continuous depletion of natural resources.
“Our power is going up, and we have blackouts—those kinds of things. The system is overloaded,” he says. “The only way around this is to close the system down entirely at home; have the home process and do whatever it needs to sustain life within.”
The main issue with the BioHome seems to be its unusual look. Despite the low construction costs—around $30-$35 per square foot, as opposed to the conventional construction cost of $150 per square feet—people tend to be averse to adopting a new architectural form.
“The reason why people call it ugly is that it is unconventional,” Martinson says. “A good Architectural Digest or Home and Garden magazine shows what goes into a beautiful [conventional] home. If a person is willing to pay for that kind of complexity, then BioHome is not meant for him. It is an aesthetic judgment. The BioHome offers the aesthetics of simplicity. Just simple, clean curves.”
But whether the home is what it purports to be is anyone’s guess. In contrast with other entrepreneurs, Martinson says he has his customers sign a confidentiality agreement. Why he would do this is not clear, since most businesspeople crave publicity for their products. And he would not disclose the location of homes so photographs could be taken. The photo accompanying this story was supplied by the company.