When Ben Katner and his wife Ari bought their Illinois Monolithic Dome home in 2010, they knew it wasn’t completely up to their standards. Now, eight years later, they are remodeling to make the home as they would like it.
The home was built in 2005 by a builder who attended a Monolithic dome builder workshop. This individual had difficulty obtaining financing for their project, and it was lost to the bank. The home was finished in a hurry that the builder “kind of slapped some things together, literally,” Katner said. Ben and Ari bought the home from someone who was flipping it.
Their journey to buying the home also led to difficulties in securing financing for the home. They were eventually able to get it through a local credit union. As for their reasons for buying the home? “We kind of bought it for the property,” Ben said. The family had horses and wanted room for their animals. “We’ve always been interested in alternative housing,” Ben recalled. However, they were not aware of Monolithic Domes at the time.
As for the remodel and repairs needed at the time of purchase, “when we bought it, we knew we wanted to remodel it,” said Ben. After five years of living in the home, they knew it was time and realized they could get more from the space. There were some things they wanted and other things about the house they were tired of. Plans were drawn up in the winter of 2015, and the remodel got off and running.
The family bought a 38’ travel trailer in March 2016 to live in while the home was remodeled. It was parked by the garage, and they used the garage as the living room. The family lived in that arrangement from March 1st until December 1st of 2016.
To get started, Ben said, “Basically, in March, I started dismantling the house until it was down to the dome structure.“
One thing he worked on was the shotcrete, which, according to him, was not finished very well. He spent two months resurfacing the dome, which is a 50’ diameter oblate ellipse, by hand and used 220 bags of 90-minute setting compound and 80 buckets of joint compound.
He also smoothed the floors and reframed the window jambs by hand. “I pretty much did everything myself except for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC,” Ben said. He also built curved cabinets for some of the rooms. All of this has been done with 90 hour weeks. “It was a big project,” Ben stated.
The family moved into Ben’s parents’ house for the winter and then were able to move back into the house in April 2017. Now, he’s just working on non-essential finishing touches. “We’re still struggling with the HVAC,” he said, which he is now redoing himself. The windows are bringing in water, which he is currently working on fixing. “It’s still an uphill battle, but we’re committed to it,” he stated.
During the first five years, the family lived in the home, they heated the home with a forced air furnace, even though the dome was equipped with radiant tubes in the slab. During the remodel, they installed a high-efficiency propane condensate boiler to heat both the radiant floors and domestic water.
All the ceilings were framed at 7’6”, rather than 8’, and used 2” x 6” joists, rather than 2” x 8”, on the upstairs floors. This created more storage space around the perimeter and the feeling of a full second story, even though the dome is only about 17’ tall.
Two key design changes that Ben stated made a huge difference moving all the bedroom closets away from the dome and into an interior framed wall, creating a standard closet shape. The other was moving the staircase into the center of the dome, giving adequate headroom at the top of the stairs.
According to what they know, this home is the first Monolithic Dome home built in Illinois. It has 1,900 square feet as well as a loft with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The property has 3.3 acres, with plenty of room for the family’s horses.
Overall, Ben and his family are pleased with the home and how the remodel is turning out. “We were able to get everything in here and make it all work together,” he reported. “We’ve had a really good response to the design.”