Author Topic: Miscellaneous comments on Terra-Dome living, and related  (Read 3908 times)

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jlsoaz

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Miscellaneous comments on Terra-Dome living, and related
« on: February 07, 2015, 10:47:21 AM »
Hi all:

I have previously jumped in to discuss a bit here a few years ago, in 2011, in

this thread on earth-sheltered homes.  The thread was started in 2005.

http://www.fieldlines.com/index.php/topic,130752.msg993260.html#msg993260
Topic: Earth sheltered homes  (Read 21767 times)
Earth sheltered homes
on: September 20, 2005, 01:06:39 AM


I was this week mulling over status of a few things in my home after living here

about 11 years, and wanting to kind of summarize in a post in a spot or two, to

folks who might find it of slight use or interest, and realized maybe this would

be a good forum.  One caveat that I also made back in my 2011 posts - I am not a

Do-it-yourself type, and did not build the home I live in, and won't be going in

the direction of DIY any time soon.

Instead of trying to make this perfect, I'm just going to blurt out various

bullet points that are on my mind:

This is the page for the company that is behind the type of house that I live in:

The company appears to have been started in '79 and to be located in the midwest

USA, and my own home was built in '83-84 in Arizona: 
http://www.terra-dome.com/links.html

Here are some pictures of my own house roughly from when I moved in (a couple of

them were from the previous homeowner, possibly from the 80s or 90s).
http://www.herecomesmongo.com/td/Terra.html

Various things that have come up:

- Someone remarked on the previous thread about the importance of decent

ventilation.  I have found this to be true.  When I had an energy audit, the home

kind of freaked the tester out a bit since there wasn't much they could do to

test or improve it, but they did a blower test, and the person remarked it was

one of the tightest homes they'd ever seen and if I had propane or natural gas,

it would be an immediate concern.  As it was, I ordered a CO2 meter (I had put

this off when I first moved in because of the cost) and the meter alarm went off

a short time after I plugged it in.  I definitely needed to be more aware of the

importance of ventilation.

- at the time of the energy audit, I was musing as to whether the insulation was

any good.  I have kind of dropped this concern.  However, I did replace the heat

pump with a modern high-SEER multi-zone unit.  I wouldn't say that my energy use

has gone down, but the house is now far more comfortable in summer and winter. 

The unit doesn't have a ventilation aspect though, so that still somewhat remains

to be done.  At present I am cracking a few windows and there are one or two fans

when desired. 

- I use a TED 5000 to monitor energy use on electric power.  Since there is no

natural gas or propane, this is the entire use of my house, aside from one

circuit where I haven't been able to get someone to install it for me.

-  My electric power seemed to bottom out at around 50 Watts or less years ago, but now seems to bottom out at around 95 Watts.

- The alarm system has added to the energy use (it includes a UPS).

- Aside from about 2.7 kW in panels, I recently added about 12 kWh of batteries and an inverter that can make smart decisions between the grid and battery power.  This allows my home power to stay on during outages, and allows me to continue harvesting solar energy as well.  It was expensive, I'm not sure it was worth it.  The main drawback is that I now am severely limited in peak power (around 8-10 kW). Also, the system adds to the overall minimum energy use of the house (maybe about 30+ watts?)

- The solar hot water heater that came with the house gave out and I have replaced it with one that uses glycol and may be a bit less prone to decay.  It also adds a small amount to the home energy use (there is a pump and some heat transfer).

Not sure how much this will be of interest to those here.  I definitely did not have the home built, but bought it ready-made, so I don't really have any thoughts on building one.  I have spoken with terra-dome a couple of times and they have been helpful on a couple of points.  When I first moved in I called them to ask what to watch out for, and they said to make sure that the concrete was protected and that water didn't get into that area.  Also, I think they do recommend certain ventilation equipment, so when the time comes I may go to them for this.  (Noting that the roof is concrete, and there is no attic or hidden space, so when revising HVAC it is not an easy matter of drilling holes in a roof or hiding pipes or the like).

gww

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Re: Miscellaneous comments on Terra-Dome living, and related
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2015, 09:42:20 AM »
I am glad for the update.
gww

MattM

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Re: Miscellaneous comments on Terra-Dome living, and related
« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2015, 05:16:48 AM »
Cutting a 4" hole through 16" of concrete is trivial these days.  How big of hole do you need?

jlsoaz

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Re: Miscellaneous comments on Terra-Dome living, and related
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2015, 07:21:08 PM »
Cutting a 4" hole through 16" of concrete is trivial these days.  How big of hole do you need?

Hi Matt -

I would say even if it's not (in and of itself) that big a deal to drill a hole, my inclination would be to not treat it as a trivial matter to identify the right spot to cut new holes, and then to cut, in my load-bearing structure holding a concrete roof and earth over my head, that has been in place for 31 years and hasn't shown evidence of any major issues or leaks or the like.  So, yes, drilling the holes is very do-able, but it just seems best to me to err on the side of caution as to any broader consequences.  I would readily acknowledge that it may be unfounded paranoia on my part as homeowner, but it's an error I'll continue to make until I can really be strongly shown it's not a well founded concern.

Just looking at the question of drilling the holes in concrete, it sounds like it's not that big a deal, and indeed I had a couple of holes drilled last year in a wall in the garage (which doesn't hold up a concrete roof), and it was, as you say, pretty do-able.  Not trivial exactly, but it got done. 

It's probably a few years out for me to gather enough capital again to start in on that particular matter.  When the time does come around, I'll probably consider drilling a hole or two, but will weigh this  against sacrificing a portion of a window or two.

My installer and I did reach out to Terra Dome a couple of years ago when installing the heat pump and asked them to help us understand what our options were, because the replacement of the existing heat pump was a tight fit in the existing holes (this was apart from questions about installing an energy recovery ventilation system).  If I recall, they indicated it was do-able to drill new holes, but it would take some doing (bring the right equipment down from Tucson or some such).  I am not sure if we really were confident we could identify the right spots, or if it was going to be hit or miss, and (if I am recalling the gist of the conversation) that was somewhat a concern.

It was not a critical matter, so basically they just got things to fit inside the existing holes.  So, I think the immediate need kind of passed, but the broader ventilation issue is still there, so it will come up again in a few years probably.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2015, 07:27:08 PM by jlsoaz »

Mary B

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Re: Miscellaneous comments on Terra-Dome living, and related
« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2015, 02:32:59 PM »
That roof should be loaded with rebar so punching a hole should not weaken it much at all. If there are steel beams to miss any good metal detector should be able to locate them.

jlsoaz

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Re: Miscellaneous comments on Terra-Dome living, and related
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2015, 11:01:07 AM »
That roof should be loaded with rebar so punching a hole should not weaken it much at all. If there are steel beams to miss any good metal detector should be able to locate them.

I was browsing here the other day and we can see you are probably right about the roof being loaded with rebar (I'm just allowing for the fact that my house was built 31 years ago, but I do have pics of the construction so can probably verify they followed the same method).  I can't directly link the picture, but it is one of the ones under the caption "... Terra-Dome structures are quick to build....":

http://www.terra-dome.com/#!gallery/c20x9

The fact is that once my new multi-zone heat pump was installed and working, and once I became more comfortable just "cracking a window" to prevent my new CO2 alarm from going off, the need for spending significant chunks of time and money to get more automated ventilation into the house subsided.

Also, generally I am cautious about letting anyone deal with things that involve the structural integrity or the seals against water, even if they assure me they know what they are doing.