CHUGWATER — You can spot Charles Randolph’s house near Chugwater while whizzing by it on Interstate 25.
At a quick glance, you might think someone built an igloo out on the Wyoming range.
The beige house is monolithic dome construction that’s used in all kinds of buildings, big and small, including stadiums and warehouses.
Though it stands out on the Wyoming landscape, Randolph said his dome house is very comfortable and stays warm even in the coldest of Wyoming winters.
No Place Like Dome
Randolph and his wife, Susan, call it Hoth after the icy planet in the “Star Wars” movie “The Empire Strikes Back.” The house looks a bit like the igloo structures portrayed in the movie.
Randolph grew up in Cheyenne, and so when he retired in 2013 after 37 years working for Burlington Northern Railroad as a dispatcher, he returned to Wyoming.
The type of construction the Randolphs used for their home is called a monolithic dome structure, known for its durability and energy efficiency.
The area gets its share of hail. One May, a storm dumped 2 feet of hail on the ground, and Randolph spent hours helping people get their cars unstuck.
One particularly nasty hailstorm did $40,000 worth of damage to a neighbor’s home.
Randolph said the golf ball-sized hail left some dimples on his dome, which eventually popped out on their own when things warmed up.
Huff And Puff
While the Randolphs were living in Texas, where Charles worked, he saw a monolithic dome apartment building going up.
“They had about two dozen of these little apartment domes. They had a kitchen, one or two bedrooms and a living room. They rented them out and the people never moved. They loved it,” Randolph said.
So, when the Randolphs were deciding what to build for their retirement home, they called up the contractor who’d built those apartments.
The construction type was developed in the 1960s in Utah. The structures are earthquake proof, fire resistant and capable of surviving direct hits from hurricanes.
While hurricanes aren’t likely in Chugwater, the structure, Charles says, is also tornado resistant.
Balloons And Concrete
Charles and Susan were living in their garage when they began building Hoth in August 2017.
The first step was to lay out a concrete foundation that outlined the footprint of the home. After that was done, a contractor laid out a giant balloon over the concrete.
It takes only a few hours to pump all the air into it. After the balloon was all pumped up, the contractors sprayed the inside with 12 inches of insulation.
Embedded in the insulation are connection points for rebar, which went on next.
The rebar wound around the contours of the dome. Altogether the structure has 900 pieces of rebar to reinforce it.
“So, it’s not going to fall apart,” Randolph said.
With the rebar in place, the contractor sprayed the concrete on the inside of the dome. It’s 4-8 inches thick throughout the house.
The Randolphs began moving in nine months after construction began.
The house is heated three ways. They have a floor heating system, a double-sided fireplace and a thermal mass wall. The materials around the mass wall absorb the heat of the sun.
“During the winter, when the sun is low and coming up from the south, it will heat the wall up to 85 degrees,” Randolph said.
He said that during last December’s cold snap that sent temperatures plunging to minus 40 degrees, the house managed to stay at 64 inside.
“You put on a sweater and an extra blanket on the bed. It’s not bad,” Randolph said.
The structure also stays quite cool in the summer.
The Randolphs still have some work to do on their dome home, such as painting the exterior.
It’s covered with a silicone material that eventually wears off. If Randolph paints it, it will just run off. So next year Randolph will give his dome on the range some color.
He said he gets calls from roofers trying to sell him a new roof with super durable shingles.
“So, I sent them a photo of my house and said, ‘What are you going to do? Build a roof over my house?’” he said.
They still keep calling.
Kevin Killough can be reached at Kevin@cowboystatedaily.com.