Newsday real estate reporter Arielle Dollinger visits a geodesic dome house in Montauk that was built by artist and inventor Eugene Tallarico. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Once the foundation had been laid where he planned to build a house, Eugene Tallarico pitched a tent in the middle of an undeveloped property in Montauk. The flight attendant purser would sleep there as he constructed the geodesic dome that would become his home in the 1980s.

"He didn't really want a typical house," said his son, Gene Tallarico Jr. "He said he always went back to the dome idea because it was the most interesting — it had certain energy efficiency appeals to it."

His late father's house, now on the market for just under $3 million, is one of several dome-shaped homes that interrupt Long Island's stereotypical suburban pattern. Amid cookie-cutter houses, semi-spherical residences stand out; but the Tallarico house is not the only one of its kind listed for sale in recent months.

Mound-shaped and mysterious, these homes leave outsiders curious and owners eager to explain. Often, some dome owners say, the shape comes with unique opportunities to foster energy efficiency and maintain a climate-controlled environment with ample natural light and aesthetic appeal.

What is a geodesic dome?

This geodesic dome home in Montauk is on the market for nearly $3 million. Credit: EPM Real Estate Photography

The futuristic appearance of a geodesic dome is somewhat misleading. Kevin Shea, who lives in a Baiting Hollow dome of his own, said the concept of a dome-shaped home has been around for centuries.

"In the pre-Colonial days, they were all over the place, because they were called wigwams," Shea said of the traditional Native American construction.

Shea's dome has three levels and three bedrooms. One full bathroom is decorated according to a Paleolithic theme; the other alludes to Atlantis. Shea estimated the first floor alone measures 3,760 square feet, and the second and third measure approximately 1,200 square feet each.

The kind of dome Shea, Tallarico and others on the Island have built is a more permanent structure than the typical wigwam. Though he began with a kit, Tallarico made his own design customizations. He enlisted the help of local contractors to install a well, foundation and electrical system, his son said.

Retractable wooden steps offer access to an upper-level sitting area inside a cupola in the Montauk home. Credit: EPM Real Estate Photography

Tallarico's 2,000-square-foot home sits on a 0.22-acre lot  and has three bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms, an expansive living area, a kitchen and a basement. Retractable wooden steps offer access to an upper-level sitting area inside a cupola.

"The owner, Eugene Tallarico, he had a vision in mind, and, as you can see, he brought it to life," said listing agent Kevin Iglesias, of Signature Premier Properties. Annual taxes on the property total $5,570.  

A geodesic dome is made up of interlocking triangles. Some dome homes are nearly spherical; others are closer to a hemisphere. The distinction is the height of the riser — the wall built upon the foundation before the dome is installed on top of it.

"A dome house is an actual geodesic dome, from a quarter sphere to a hemisphere to a three-quarter sphere," Shea said. "You can make a riser that's only like a foot high, so you can have a little space underneath, or you can go — which I did — nine feet high."

A tall riser alleviates the worry that there will be nowhere to hang art, or that the curved walls might create a feeling of confinement, Shea said.

Shea, who was working as a school bus driver, postal carrier and costumed character at the time he started planning his build three decades ago, said he has visited about eight domes on Long Island.

"Everyone has their own way" of designing a dome, he said.

Energy efficiency potential of dome homes

This geodesic dome home in Montauk is on the market...

This geodesic dome home in Montauk is on the market for $3 million. Credit: EPM Real Estate Photography

A third-generation firefighter who served New York City, Shea said he chose to build a geodesic dome for four reasons: It was easy to build, it was aesthetically pleasing, it would require less lumber than a differently-shaped home of the same volume and it would be energy efficient.

"I didn't want to live in a cookie cutter home, you know? Square walls and stuff," said Shea, who started his research in 1993 and purchased the land in 1999. Eventually, Shea passed his plans to an engineer.

In his dome, Shea said hot and cool air mix to create air currents throughout the house. He opens his windows in the morning to let cool air in, and does not use air conditioning.

"I actually have gentle wind in the wintertime," Shea said. 

Shea chose to heat the floor with hydronic heating, which warms the floor and the body instead of the air. 

Tallarico, too, was drawn to a dome's potential for energy efficiency; but, Shea cautions, a dome is not necessarily energy efficient. The choices made during construction determine how energy efficient it is, Shea said.

"If you're doing a dome, it’s a series of triangles of different sizes," Shea said. "You have a lot more infiltration points where air can leak or water can get in."

To Shea, this means ensuring the roof is properly sealed. Factors including the type of roof covering and design decisions made for the interior and exterior of the dome determine how air- or water-tight the dome will be. 

"Once you have a roof, you put the [plywood] sheathing on it," Shea said. "That shell has all those infiltration points between all those triangles." 

At the very top of the dome, Shea placed tape that contained latex over each seam. On the sides of the structure, Shea applied a peel-and-stick ice shield barrier. From there, Shea also stapled the material down. Then, with the goal of waterproofing the dome, he applied a polyurethane mixture to the roof.

Later, after a few leaks, Shea used a roller to apply additional liquid membrane roofing to the dome's surface, which he said measures approximately 7,900 square feet.

"I had a harness on, I had to use a rope because it's a domed surface, and I would hang on the side and roll it on," Shea said. "Multiple coats."

The liquid membrane roofing also helped him to achieve a "cool roof," a light-colored roof meant to reflect sunlight and absorb less solar energy than its standard counterparts. 

Engineering a dome home

As a civil engineer, Joseph Schmitt recalled reviewing Shea's plans for his dome home decades ago.

"You have all these changing shapes and sizes," Schmitt said. "It's a little tricky in figuring out the angles and things like that, but it's otherwise not particularly difficult."

Concerns in dome home construction include allowing for clearances and head room in areas close to the perimeter, Schmitt added. The shape is "unusual," particularly when it comes to placing windows and other standard home features. There are constant changes in surface, which requires calculation, he said.

"You can do at least two levels," Schmitt said of designing a dome home. "But you have to basically build the structure for the second level inside it."

'You feel like you're at Epcot'

This Northport dome home was listed for $699,000. Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Schmitt theorized that the infrequency of dome home builds on Long Island could be in part because of buyers' unfamiliarity with the concept.

"They also generally want something that they can resell," Schmitt said. "A standard Colonial or a ranch or split level are products that most people understand and they're easy to resell."

Any sort of customization — dome-shaped or otherwise — can make reselling more challenging, Schmitt said.

Todd Yovino, of Island Advantage Realty LLC, saw mixed reactions from those looking at a Northport dome he listed for $699,000. As of May 1, a sale was pending. 

"It's been received very well with some people, and some people are a little bit confused," Yovino said. "Sometimes when you start deviating away from what's normal and customary, some people don't understand."

From the sky, he said, the house looks like a turtle on the ground. 

"It's a fun, cool-looking property in a wonderful locale, right down by the water," he said. 

Yovino described the structure as "very deceiving," different outside than inside. 

"You feel like you're at Epcot," Yovino said. 

Design-wise, there is freedom in the geodesic dome.

"It's completely column-less," Schmitt said. "You have a lot of freedom in what you can do, arranging the interior."

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