How our Monolithic Dome home keeps out smoke from rampant California wildfires

Comparison of Wellville mountains before and during smoky days

Pictures of the Wellsville mountain range taken from my office window in March (left) and today (right). The smoke is from the many wildfires in California. Today is not as bad as yesterday, at least we can see the faint outline of the mountains.

Dave South

As I look out my home-office window I can usually see the Wellsville mountain range. It’s a beautiful, living view that changes nearly every day with summer heat, fall colors, winter snow, and spring blossoms. Today, I can’t see the mountains at all. The whole valley before me is covered in smoke.

Wildfires raging in California are spreading smoke across the west. Northern California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah are all affected. We live in northern Utah — in Cache Valley — only a 45 minute drive to the Idaho border. The smoke here is bad. We are at red level air quality at 91.9 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air.

The interior of the ERV.

The interior of the ERV. Exterior air is drawn in (upper-right vent) and passed through the passive energy recovery core (center). Interior air is drawn in (lower-left vent) and also passed through the core. By the time the exterior air enters the house (upper-left vent) and the interior air is pushed out (lower-right fan and vent), the incoming air is within a few degrees of the interior air temperature.

Dave South

When we built our Monolithic Dome home, Arcadia, we had an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) installed. An ERV pulls air from outside while expelling air from inside. The two air-streams pass through a box that pulls heat from one stream and exchanges it with the other — hot air brought in is cooled by air being pushed out. The ERV provides fresh air without losing energy — an energy recovery ventilator.

Arcadia is air-tight. The general contractor had it measured and our infiltration is less than a hole about the size of a dryer vent. Honestly, it probably was the dryer vent. There are no drafts in our home. That’s why we wanted an ERV. It keeps our air fresh, without losing energy, and we get to control how and when we ventilate our home. We monitor our CO2 levels and the ERV keeps it low.

Yesterday we could feel the effects of the smoke. We were coughing and had a tickle in our throats that wouldn’t go away. It was worse for my daughter who has asthma. The ERV has a large-particle filter and the incoming air is put through our HVAC system and its filter, but it wasn’t enough.

We decided to shut off the ERV.

Relief. We aren’t coughing. Throats are clear. Yes, we have to live with our air getting a bit stale, but it’s still better than bringing in red air that makes us sick. Our Monolithic Dome home works for us. It gives us the option where many homes do not.

The sun stayed dim all day yesterday, it felt like the eclipse on the same day three years ago. The sunset was a wild, brilliant red. Today, it’s a little better outside. I can see a faint outline of the mountains. The weather forecast indicates the smoke will shift and we will get a reprieve, hopefully by Sunday night. When it’s clear, we will turn the ERV back on.

Fire crews continue to battle hundreds of fires in California. We pray that lives will be saved, homes protected, fires brought under control, and the firefighters are safe throughout this ordeal.

As for us, we have yet another reminder as to why we love living in a Monolithic Dome home.

Sunset

It sure makes for pretty sunsets.

Amy Elizabeth Photo

Update

It’s Monday and the air quality is much better. A bit of rain came through and made a big difference. On Sunday, the smoke was terrible and our house was getting pretty stale, plus the CO2 was too high. I had an idea. I went to Home Depot and bought their most advanced HVAC air filter. It claims to hold an electrostatic charge — not unlike an N95 mask — that would filter smoke and viral particles.

I installed it on the HVAC, turned the fan on so it would run continuously, then turned on the ERV. Since all incoming air is put through the HVAC system, it had to run through the new filter. I’m happy to report that it worked! No coughing. No sore throats. Soon the house was smelling fresh and our CO2 went back down.

The option to filter all incoming air is another bonus of our Monolithic Dome.