Living In A Geodesic Dome Home

Kevin Shea is a retired New York City firefighter with an unorthodox home. He lives in a 93,000 cubic-foot-geodesic dome, equipped with solar panels, a wind turbine, and a geothermal system. The home is on the grid, but outside the box.

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IRA FLATOW, Host:

Up next, Flora Lichtman is here with our Video Pick of the Week. Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: What have you got going for us today?

LICHTMAN: We are not in your backyard. This is a home tour like you've never seen before...

FLATOW: All right.

LICHTMAN: ...I'm pretty sure. We go to Long Island, Calverton, Long Island, which is near Riverhead and visit Kevin Shea, who built himself a geodesic dome to live in. This dome is a home.

FLATOW: A dome home. And he built it out of a kit, is that right?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, he built it out of a kit. So he's...

FLATOW: Is that the way you...

LICHTMAN: In 1993, he says, he is thumbing through Popular Science magazine and he gets to the back, and there are these ads in the back. And he sees an ad for a geodesic dome kit.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: And for $11,000, you can build a dome that is 44 feet tall, 70 feet in diameter, and that's like 93,000 cubic feet. It's huge. It's very hard to get a sense of the scale until you actually see him climb the rope that he has going from the floor to the ceiling in the middle of the dome, which you can see on our website.

FLATOW: At SCIENCE FRIDAY. Go to our website. There's a Video Pick of the Week at sciencefriday.com. His neighbors were not very happy.

LICHTMAN: His neighbors were not happy. I mean, he's - the best part is we drive in with Kevin down his driveway. And that before we turn in, it's just - it looks like regular sort of white picket fence suburbia. And then you get to his driveway and it's this kind of mushroom-shaped, forest green, windowless, from the back anyway, dome. And they were, ,you know, this house does not belong here was the vibe from the neighbors.

FLATOW: But - and he's also made it very energy efficient, right?

LICHTMAN: I mean, Kevin Shea amazed me. You - he takes green to another level. So we've got here a solar array, a wind turbine, geothermal system inside he's brewing biodiesel in a shed in the backyard. There wasn't even time to get into that.

FLATOW: Wow.

LICHTMAN: And then, you know, just he reuses materials. He's got a garden made of 800 tires and fiber optic cables crushed up and turned into an artificial lake. He's really come up with these neat solutions and neat uses of stuff.

FLATOW: Unless you think he was some sciencey geek, he was a firefighter for 20 years, right? New York City firefighter?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I mean, this is the makings of a full-length feature, I think. But he's a firefighter in New York City and when - and was injured in 9/11 and so ended up retiring. And actually, his firefighter buddies helped him build this. And he said, you know, the interesting thing about getting a kit for a geodesic home is it's made of these triangles, right? So if any of the wood is slightly off, warped, you have a big problem once you get around to the other end of the circle.

FLATOW: Oh, yeah. I'm thinking about this.

LICHTMAN: So they have like tons of people sort of pulling things in line. It sounded like a dramatic construction process.

FLATOW: You need a lot of buddies to help out on this.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. And a lot of strong firefighters it sounds like.

FLATOW: And it's beautiful because you have all that inside space that's open to work with it, right, once you get it done?

LICHTMAN: It's huge. It's like being in the - it's like living in omnimax. I mean, it's just this kind of really, really open space, and he uses it with - he's got a swing inside.

FLATOW: That's right. You could swing from side to side. You could - yeah.

LICHTMAN: Which he does.

FLATOW: Yeah. You could see all of this in our Video Pick of the Week. It's Flora Lichtman's, got it up there on our website at sciencefriday.com. You can also download it on our podcast on iTunes. And it's up there on the left side. And this guy, you see him swinging on his rope, climbing up the roof.

LICHTMAN: It's really - it's worth watching. And also, I'm looking for other people who are living in sort of unconventional homes and doing things in a DIY green way because Kevin really has figured out how to do this on his own.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: So if you know of anybody, shoot me an email. I put my email address on our website by the video.

FLATOW: And you asked one - you asked a couple of weeks ago for mushroom pictures, right? And we got all kinds of mushroom...

LICHTMAN: The mushroom pictures have flooded in. Check out the Facebook page. They're really beautiful. And we've got long, sort of, threads going on about what they are. I can't identify them, but our listeners are doing a good job.

FLATOW: All right. Flora Lichtman, our Video Pick of the Week.

I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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