Disaster Resistant Construction
This dome home, a patented-steel reinforced concrete structure, properly called a thin-shell dome, was designed by structural engineers to withstand almost any natural or man-made disaster you can name. These buildings have withstood tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes – some measuring over 7.0 on the Richter scale – and in every case they have come away with no structural damage at all. Not only that, but a bomb shelter built with this exact type of construction, was tested at a U. S. military facility against a simulated nuclear explosion in the multi-kiloton range and was completely undamaged by the test. Amazingly, a burning candle inside the shelter was not even extinguished by the blast. Every other shelter tested in this trial sustained some measure of damage.
The construction process began with standard concrete slabs with steel footers set at appropriate intervals. Specially curved steel I-beams were bolted together, like a giant erector set, to form a dome. These beams were then connected, both horizontally and vertically, with thousands of feet of re-bar. The inside of this massive steel frame was lined with foam sheets to act as a backstop for the concrete. Shotcrete (blown-on cement), was sprayed on the structure to form a thick concrete shell. Because the steel re-bar is sandwiched on the inside of the concrete, and especially because of the dome shape, the house will, in terms of strength, outperform all other types of home construction developed to date. According to Formworks Building’s website (www.formworksbuilding.com), “Adding structural strength generally costs a great deal by adding steel, stone, concrete, heavy timbers or a combination of the above. For instance, a conventional earth-sheltered structural system requires roof and wall thickness ranging from 12″-18″ and that quantity of concrete is extremely expensive. Despite the incredible quantity of concrete and steel used, a standard earth-sheltered home with this great thickness of wall and roof could not support the weight of a tractor or a cement truck like NestEgg homes can (and have). A standard NestEgg home has only 4” of concrete in roof and walls and, due to the patented structural system this “thin-shell” construction will far out-perform standard “thick-shell” structures such as the 18″-thick roof mentioned above.”
Because the owner built the house for himself, with no thought whatsoever of resale, much of the construction was done to overkill. One example of this is that, instead of just going with the 4″ wall thickness recommended by Formworks, considerably more concrete was sprayed on the entire structure. The finished concrete wall thickness is about 13″ at the base and tapers down to about 6″ at the top. This was much more concrete than the engineered specs called for.
Before the house was backfilled, specialized waterproof roofing materials consisting of 3/16″ thick Bentonite rolls, 18″ wide rolls of Bituthane, a felt-like drain mat, and finally two layers of protective 1″ thick foam, were applied. Bentonite is a clay-like substance that will expand up to 22 times its original size on contact with water. Because of the tremendous pressure of the backfilled earth pressing against this roofing material, the Bentonite (which is covered with industrialized rubber) is so tightly compacted that, if any water was to come into contact with it, the expanding effect will effectively and permanently seal the leak. Any water that does make its way down to the roof will be absorbed by the felt drain mat and effectively wicked down to the French drain system that completely surrounds the entire structure. The two layers of 1″ thick foam sheets serves as a protective barrier to prevent sharp rocks from puncturing the Bentonite roofing.
According to Formwork’s website, “The unique arched, geometric design of NestEgg structures combined with our superior water-proofing method keeps the NestEgg home unfailingly dry even in such moist climates as the Pacific Northwestern United States. NestEgg homes, even those built nearly twenty-years ago, have never suffered from moisture or leakage problems and should not experience any problems with moisture for hundreds of years, if ever.”
The house was very carefully backfilled with a trackhoe one bucket full at a time. Rather than using a bulldozer to forcibly push dirt and rocks up to and over the structure, great care was taken to prevent any sharp rock from coming into contact with the protective foam. This process was extremely time consuming and therefore very expensive, but necessary to achieve a quality finished product. After the tedious backfill process was finally done, extensive landsculpting and landscaping completed the job, directing surface runoff away from the house. There is almost no maintenance needed for this type of house. The roof will never need snowshoveling, nor will it ever need to be repaired or replaced. The entire house is absolutely impervious to the effects of extreme weather. Wind, rain, hail, snow, and most importantly, fire cannot harm it. It is also impervious to rot, insect infestations, and mice.
Returning to Formwork’s website, “There was a day when homes were passed down from generation to generation, but this has not been especially true in recent years. Most homes built in the last century are in a constant state of re-building that we call “maintenance.” Rot, insect infestations, water damage, simple wear and tear, and a host of other evils are the culprits as they force the homeowner to constantly expend time, energy, and money caulking, painting, re-roofing, fumigating, and combating decay. NestEgg Homes are one easy solution to this problem of constant maintenance and, as opposed to treated lumber, insecticides and other chemical solutions, the basic structure of Nestegg Homes do not contain toxins potentially harmful to humans, or any material that is known to “out-gas” like treated lumber.”
Fireproof Fabricated Rock Exterior
Probably the most unconventional feature of this home is the fabricated rock exterior. Many earth homes are finished with a traditional wood facing, giving them a more conventional appearance. Unfortunately, this approach seriously reduces the house’s security, making it vulnerable to break-in and fire. Realizing that steel-reinforced concrete was what made the house so strong, the owner decided to use the same material for the front of the house. The problem, exactly what method to use, was solved with a visit to a zoo. “Fake rock”, commonly found at both zoo and museum exhibits, and now more recently at indoor climbing gyms, would blend in perfectly with the surrounding natural setting. A rock exterior on the home affords the ultimate protection against the ravages of weather; sun, wind, rain, hail and heavy snow, as well as forest fire. It also protect against destructive critters such as woodpeckers, squirrels, mice, and even two-legged varmints.
A team of specialty fabricators and artisans, brought in from out-of-state, spent many weeks of hard work building the fake rock front. They bent thousands of feet of re-bar, installed a chicken wire backing, sprayed yards and yards of shotcrete, and artistically shaped the still wet concrete with special rubber molding pads, which gave the concrete the form and texture of real rock. Once dry, the cement was painted to look surprisingly like real rock. Natural sod was cut from the forest at a separate location and then rolled into place around the fake rock.
While some people might think the house looks like a Hollywood movie set, the owner is quite proud of the rockwork. It really boils down to function over style. A home with giant glass windows and cedar roofing shakes simply can’t be adequately protected against major threats. When driving by a beautiful log cabin, the owner remarked, “They’re nothing but a bundle of carefully stacked sticks awaiting combustion. A hundred years from now, my house will still be standing, uhh, I mean it will still be there.” In fact, according to Formwork’s website, “The NestEgg structural life-span is rated at 200-1000 years. That is five to ten times the structural life span of most homes.”
Off-The-Grid Solar Electric Power
The house is completely energy-independent with a state of the art solar system. This system is rated at 11.5 Kw hours per day with six peak sun hours. It can even produce 240 volts, enough to power virtually any high-voltage appliance such as an AC welder.
Securely located in the safe room, dual Trace Engineering version 5.01 inverters, dual Trace Engineering C 40 charge controllers, and a Trace Engineering master power supply control panel produce true sine-wave quality power. Together, they are capable of handling the heaviest of starting loads (start-up surges).
Housed in a dedicated air-tight battery box (with a passive vent to the outside) are 24 two-volt lead acid batteries, each weighing approximately 220 pounds. This equates to over 2 ½ tons of lead acid! Configured in series, together they produce 48 volts. The inverters then convert this 48 volts into 120 volts, or when needed, 240 volts.
Outside, 16 Kyocera solar collector modules are mounted on two separate stands with 3-way trackers. They move imperceptively throughout the day, following the sun as it crosses the sky. This feature significantly increases the panels’ efficiency, thereby decreasing the need to run the back-up generator and conserving it’s fuel. About fifteen minutes after the sun sets, both sets of panels will realign themselves back to where they first “saw” the sun rise, and then wait all night for the following morning’s sunrise.
An Onan propane generator will automatically start and stop to recharge the solar batteries whenever necessary. Housed in a separate room off the garage for soundproofness and security, this generator is considered by many to be one of the best generators on the market today. Rated at 11.5 Kw, a machine of this size is rarely seen in a residential setting.
Because of Colorado’s 300 days of sunshine annually, solar electric systems are more practical in this state than in other parts of the country. This particular system was purposely oversized in case the power requirements increase due to more people living in the house. The generator usually is never used, except when there are several days of inclement weather, and the power usage is simultaneously increased.
A TriMetric meter is a battery monitor that assists with battery care, conservation, and maintenance by providing user-friendly information on the battery volts, amps, and amp-hours, battery percent full information, and five other data functions. This unit conserves both valuable energy and generator fuel by allowing you to accurately determine how much energy (i.e., amps) any given electrical load is drawing. It helps discover “phantom loads”, tells you exactly how much energy is left in the batteries, and reduces generator use by telling you when to shut it off when the battery charge is approaching full. Also, knowing when to shut off the generator prevents damage from overcharging. It counts the number of days between charging so as not to let too many days elapse between a full charge. It helps determine if the batteries are still holding enough energy. It monitors the solar arrays and inverter/chargers to be sure that they are still charging at proper rates and voltages. Because of the wealth of information this unit provides, no solar electric system should be without a TriMetric meter.
Finally, a Pulse Tech Power Pulse battery maintenance system, considered by experts as a state-of-the-art unit, completes the set-up. By using what is called “pulse technology” to eliminate sulfation buildup on the battery plates, this patented electrical device dramatically extends the battery’s life. This unit uses the battery’s own energy, rather than solar power. It collects a small amount of the battery’s charge, reconditions it, then pulses it back into the battery to remove sulfates from the plates. By eliminating the main cause of lead-acid battery failure, the batteries have greater charge acceptance and will actually charge up faster and with better quality.
Being off-the grid is a dream that many self-reliant people strive for, yet few actually achieve. While the Trace Engineering inverters are a very technologically advanced and sophisticated piece of electronic equipment, they are quite user-friendly. Both the inverters and charge controllers are fully programmable by the end-user, via their control panel display modules. Once programmed, the system requires little maintenance, other than occasionally adding distilled water to the batteries.
One of the house’s most important features is the safe room. This room, which doubles as a fallout shelter, offers the ultimate in security and safety, not only for the occupants, but also for any valuable belongings and supplies left behind while the owners are away for extended periods of time.
Accessed through a walk-in steel vault door, this room is almost as secure as a bank’s vault. This heavy-duty commercial vault door, which is permanently set in an 18″ thick concrete wall, features a combination dial lock, a rack and pinion multi-gear drive locking mechanism, 24 1″ diameter stainless steel locking bolts, an inside release mechanism, and much more. The combo can easily be changed at any time by the homeowner.
Even though this room is windowless, it is anything but claustrophobic. It is finished with light colored paint and commercial carpet. It has all the necessary amenities that one would want for a long-term stay, such as furniture, sleeping and bathing accommodations, various lighting options, etc. The bathroom has a utility sink, shower, toilet, and storage shelves
The safe room also houses almost all of the house’s important equipment, such as the solar electric control panel, battery bank, and master electrical panel, etc. This enables one to shut off power to any part of the main house while maintaining electricity in the safe room. A set of valves allows one to shut off the water and propane to any part of the house and garage, while still maintaining its flow to the safe room. Additional valves control the gravity-fed water supply from the 1,000-gallon underground cistern. This back-up water supply can double as an in-house fire fighting system. As a further back-up, there are also two 55-gallon water barrels.
The propane water heater, which has a power ventilator, cannot possibly emit hazardous carbon monoxide into the safe room if the exhaust pipe was to become clogged by snow or vandals. This problem is a dangerous possibility with all on-demand propane water heaters. Because of the extreme danger of carbon monoxide poisoning and the difficulty in treating victims without a readily-available hyperbaric chamber, this safety feature could be very important.
This room has considerable storage space. A small attic provides an excellent place for storage of food and other supplies. There are numerous shelving units throughout the safe room, including a 6′ high bookshelf. Furniture includes a picnic-style table with benches, a futon, and a sleeping bunk. There is more floor space for additional bedrolls.
A radio communications console, with its Formica countertop and shelves, provides a platform for multiple communication systems, including shortwave radio, HAM radio, police, fire, and ambulance scanner, two-way radios, an intercom system, and several electronic security devices. This console also provides a convenient desktop for paperwork and reading.
In the event of a major national or foreign disaster, having the capability to receive shortwave radio is of critical importance. If the phone lines are ever down it will not be possible to get news via the internet. Even during a nationwide power outage, shortwave broadcasts will still be available. The two-meter HAM radio transceiver can be used to communicate with other HAM radio operators in the county and around the country. With a technicians class or higher amateur radio operators license, which is required by the FCC to legally transmit on HAM frequencies, one can tap into the local repeaters and literally call any telephone in the world. The base station Motorola radio two-way has a range of 12 miles.
Nuclear / Biological / Chemical Air Filtration
Two separate air ventilation and filtration systems guarantee clean, healthy, filtered air. The house itself is equipped with a remarkably effective “Perfect Window” ventilation unit, which provides a steady stream of fresh filtered air while exhausting excess humidity.
The most notable feature of the safe room is the genuine Luwa air filtering system. This unit, which was designed by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Defense and tested by the Swiss Armament Technology Group, is the epitome of state-of-the-art. Luwa filters are currently in use in dozens of countries around the world, including the United States, Russia, France, Switzerland, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and many others. Many military installations rely on Luwa’s technology.
The unit’s large filter canister can effectively filter out almost any substance that can pose a threat to the safe room’s occupants. It can handle all known war chemicals and all known viruses (such as smallpox), all known bacteriological agents (such as anthrax), radioactive fallout, and even smoke from a forest fire.
Made with a back-up hand crank in case of power failure, the Luwa can provide enough fresh air for up to 50 occupants, while simultaneously exhausting carbon dioxide, as well as excess humidity. Very few NBC air filters can operate without electricity.
An 8-inch diameter air intake pipe and a 6-inch diameter exhaust pipe are both protected by Luwa blast valves. These spring-loaded valves will clamp shut in the event of a high atmospheric overpressure. These pipes run underground to a buried gravel pit before surfacing in the woods. Using sanitary-tee drains, this set-up will prevent anyone from pumping any kind of liquid, such as gasoline, into the safe room through these pipes.
Abundant Clean Water
A private water well, rated at 15 gallons per minute, supplies unlimited clean drinking water. It has a 3 hp stainless steel industrial well pump which is rated for continuous duty. A 1,000 gallon underground gravity-fed water cistern supplies the house with a back-up water supply and doubles as an in-house fire-fighting supply. The surrounding mountains are water rich with year-round springs and streams, which can provide alternate sources of safe water.
The well itself is 680′ deep, and cased the entire length, so it is impossible for any surface contamination to get into the well. And, the well head is hidden and secured in an extremely secure and unique way such that it is absolutely impossible for anybody to tamper with it. Most people leave their well head simply sticking up out of the ground, outside in plain view where they can easily be contaminated by just about anyone equipped with nothing more than a single wrench and some chemicals. Such vandalism could be catastrophic.
During the reclamation phase of the project, two lawn sprinklers were run full blast for 8 hours per day, 5 days a week for a couple of months. Never once did any bubbles, sediment, or dirt appear in the water. Obviously, the well was drilled into a very good aquifer that replenishes itself as fast as water can be pumped out of it. When the well driller finished the well he said that the well produced about 30 gallons per minute, but it was “capped” by law at 15 gallons per minute, which is the figure officially recorded on the report.
Realtors like to use the expression “location, location, location.” While this happens to fit nicely with strategic relocation, the owner likes the expression “water, water, water” better. This is because of the huge importance of having an unlimited source of clean water. He strongly believes that in the coming years a clean, permanent source of pure, fresh drinking water will be one of the most valuable and important commodities. The keywords here are “permanent source.” Not all wells are a permanent source of water as many people in Colorado have learned the hard way over the past 2 or 3 years of drought.
During the owner’s extensive land search he used special geologic maps which show the type of rock in the area. The reason for this was because areas with limestone often have the best underground water and a geologic map is the only practical way to find such an area. The mountainside above the house is all limestone for many miles. Surface water from melted snow or rain either runs off in surface streams or is directed underground in the limestone’s fissures and cracks. When the water is directed underground it supplies the aquifer with a continued supply. Geologically speaking, this large limestone catch basin is an absolutely ideal situation for having a permanent well. The large, pollution free, limestone mountainside is one of the many great features of the house that must be understood to be fully appreciated.
To explain more, limestone is a sedimentary rock that is composed primarily from the mineral calcite which came from ancient sea animal shells found in the beds of evaporated seas and lakes. All rock is subject to a unique balance between two opposing geological forces: the weathering forces such as rain and ice that break down rock and the innate resistance of the rock itself to change. In areas of very resistant rocks, such as granite, weathering is an incredibly slow process, and in areas where softer rocks, such as gypsum or limestone, predominate, the process is relatively fast.
Even though limestone is fairly resistant to mechanical erosion, it can be easily dissolved in weak acid. Environmental water will combine with CO2 in the atmosphere or in the litter layer above the rock to produce a weak solution of carbonic acid (H2CO3), which dissolves the limestone. As a result, fissures will gradually open in the limestone and spread throughout the subsurface. These fissures funnel surface water into them. The water eventually either makes its way into the underground aquifer or resurfaces out of natural springs (where it either runs off or is redirected back underground).
Aquifers below a limestone area are also known for having some of the cleanest water to be found anywhere because the rock acts as a giant filter when the surface water percolates through it. Think of limestone as a giant ceramic water filter such as you find in home water filters like the Big Berky or the Katadyne filters. Another unique aspect of the area is that about 600 to 800 feet below the house is a layer of granite. This harder, non-porous rock acts as a “base” or “floor” to the aquifer. It is well known to geologists that water will accumulate above granite layers and form large aquifers. In the summertime it is easy to see the transition of granite to limestone as you drive up the road in the area.
Water IS survival. Clean air, water, food, shelter, and security are the big five. A deficiency in any one of these could spell disaster.
Multiple Security Devices and Features
These days, video cameras are ubiquitous. Almost every business has at least one camera. Likewise, burglar alarms are commonplace in residential settings. More exclusive homes also commonly incorporate video surveillance into their security systems. This house has multiple cameras stationed outside which allow the occupants of the safe room to safely watch any outside activity on a video monitor. The cameras’ weatherproof housings, which are well hidden and strategically positioned high in pine trees, are heated, allowing the cameras to function even in sub-zero temperatures.
In addition to the video system, the house, safe room, and property are equipped with numerous other security devices and features, which, when combined, create a highly effective and comprehensive overall security system designed to protect against unwanted trespassers and intruders. However, for privacy reasons they are not being described in detail here. This is because the current owner believes that a new owner would not feel comfortable with the home’s security if these special features had been disclosed to others’ curiosity.
These special security features are quite extensive. There are several tens of thousands of dollars worth of security stuff that will only be revealed to a qualified prospective buyer during an actual showing.
Likewise, for privacy reasons, the house is being offered for sale by owner. The owner believes if it were listed with a local realty agency, there would inevitably be hoards of curiosity seekers, including many realtors themselves, wanting a tour of the house just for the fun of it. Others have recognized the need for privacy. For example, one prospective buyer recently e-mailed the owner with the following, “I might add that you are wise not to use a public brokerage for sale and viewing by who knows what type of person with what purpose. My wife and I know that issue only too well from our work. These are dangerous times we live in. The old trust your neighbor and friends era has come and gone; so sad is the society we are forced to actually “survive” within currently.”
All prospective buyers will be asked to undergo a simple screening and pre-qualification process before a showing.
The security system includes an automatic phone dialer, which, if an intrusion is detected, will automatically and simultaneously call up to nine different phone numbers (such as the 911 dispatch center, your cell phone, or a neighbor’s house) and play a 40 second pre-recorded message announcing that a break-in has occurred. Other less secret security devices include an in-house intercom system with five stations, and an outside PA system with wireless microphone, meaning that it is possible to transmit loud messages outside from anywhere in the house, cupola, or safe room.
Ample Storage Facilities
The house has many different storage options. For example, there are two attics, one of which is 576 sq. ft., over two dozen shelving units, numerous closets, a pantry, kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, two multi-purpose rooms, a safe room with a walk-in vault door, and various hidden compartments.
A chest-style freezer in the garage allows for storage of frozen food. Even the septic tank and leach field are oversized to “store” and dispose of more waste.
The house and property are being sold with so many inclusions it takes several pages just to list them all. Numerous cords of split and stacked firewood and several tons of coal guarantee long-term comfort. One of the more notable inclusions is a one-ton Ford truck with snowplow and winch. This tank-of-a-truck assures that any snowfall can be cleared from the driveway and private road.
Wood and Coal Heat
Another important aspect of the house which needs to be understood is the fact that it is heated exclusively with a wood/coal stove. While it does have a small back-up propane heater, this is never used. In other words, the house doesn’t have a forced air propane heating system, such as you would likely find in most all conventional houses. The lack of a forced air system is probably one of the most unconventional aspects of the house. This was not a careless omission, but rather a result of careful thought and design.
The owner purposely chose not to incorporate forced air heating for several important reasons. First of all, there are many mountain cabins throughout Colorado that have only wood stoves, so it’s not uncommon. Most of these are used exclusively as summer places, so they can justify the lack of a more modern heating system based on the limited use. Besides, wood heat works just fine. Secondly, he wasn’t certain that the solar system could power forced air long-term without stressing it. Most backcountry cabins have only a small generator for power which isn’t a good option for running a forced air system. You need to have a continuous source of power to run the heater all night long, and a generator isn’t practical for this use. Thirdly, since the house is an earthhome, it is far more energy efficient than any conventional wood framed home by a very wide margin. This means that since a lot of energy isn’t wasted because of a comparatively low U-factor (the rate of heat loss and the inverse of R-value), less heat is needed in the long run.
If there ever is a major national emergency, one would want to immediately go into a conservation mode, and try to conserve the remaining stored propane as best as possible. To accomplish this, one would want to shut off a forced air heating system, and instead heat with wood and coal. Also, instead of using the propane water heater, water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing can be easily heated by placing a large pot of water on top of the wood stove. Similarly, use of the propane clothes dryer should be discontinued. About the only real need for propane would be to run the generator, if needed to recharge the solar batteries. But since the solar system is oversized, the generator almost never has to be used. In short, in ultra conservation mode, the stored propane could last for many years, perhaps even as much as a full decade.
The house can never get below 50 degrees F., even during prolonged and extreme winter conditions. This means that the water pipes will never freeze! It also means that anything stored in the house, such as medical supplies, medicines, batteries, canned foods, bottled beverages, shampoo, etc., won’t ever freeze. Having a 100% “freeze-proof” house is a fantastic advantage, one that is imperative for long-term survival.
In the summer, without any heat, without any doors or windows open, and without the Perfect Window air ventilator on (which brings in warm air), the inside temperature will be around 65 degrees F to as low as 60 degrees F. This can have the effect of natural air conditioning, but at times it might also be a bit too cool. So even in the summer one might want to build a wood fire for warmth. In the daytime, the front door can be left open with the screen door closed, to bring in warm outside air.
But there are certain tradeoffs. If one arrives in the dead of winter and starts heating the house, it can take up to 3 full days before the entire house is thoroughly heated. This is because there is a huge mass of concrete to be heated. However, once the house is thoroughly heated, it stays very warm with considerably less heat output than every conventional, wood framed house requires.
It should be pointed out that 50 degrees F., the coldest it can ever get inside the house in the dead of winter, is actually a very survivable (and relatively comfortable) temperature. This means that if one were to stay in the house without any heat at all for lengthy periods, their chances of survival, and good health, would be considerably better than in any conventional house without any heat at all for similar lengths of time. They would simply need to wear warmer clothes and increase their caloric intake to compensate for the colder temperature.
There is a large woodpile of split, seasoned, and stacked firewood, which comes with the house. There is also an unlimited supply of additional firewood both on the property and in the surrounding National Forest.
The woodstove is rated for coal use. At night before retiring, it is best to stoke the stove with coal so that there is heat being produced all night long, and so that there are still hot ashes in the morning. La Plata County is one of only a handful in Colorado that allows the burning of coal. This is a tremendous advantage. There is a coal mine near Durango that sells coal to the public. Next to the woodpile are six plywood coal bins, 4′ by 4′ by 3′ high, that can hold several tons of coal. These coal bins, of course, come with the house as one of the many inclusions.
The wood stove has an electric blower, which increases the amount of heat put out into the room. If one wants to heat quickly, this works great. But the very BEST feature of the stove is the grate shaker and ash box! This grate shaker allows one to easily move the hot ashes from the stove down to the hot ash box. This means that the hot ashes can be easily removed while a fire is burning and then taken out to the fire pit where they can be conveniently and safely dumped. Without this feature, one would need to allow the fire to completely die out and then shovel the ashes out by hand into a bucket.
Electromagnetic Pulse Protection
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a very serious problem that every person should understand and make at least basic contingencies for. When a nuclear weapon is detonated in the high atmosphere, it produces an effect called EMP. In simplified terms, this is a massive electrical charge that collects on wires, cables, antennas, etc. and produces very high voltage for a fraction of a second. It is so fast that surge and lightning protectors will not stop it and it will damage any electronic equipment it travels to, even if the equipment is turned off and unplugged.
An EMP from multiple high altitude bursts, which is part of both Russia’s and China’s military doctrine, would cause unfathomable chaos and pandemonium if it were to take down the national power grid, damage the electronics of all computerized modern vehicles, and disrupt communications on a widespread scale. Millions of people could die from dehydration and starvation alone.
A basic solution is to keep sensitive equipment unplugged and stored in sealed metal containers, called Faraday Cages, which is basically nothing more than a steel trash can with a metal gasket. The sealed metal container will act as a shield against the pulse. More sophisticated protection techniques, used on equipment that must be kept connected to a cable and therefore can’t be stored in a Faraday cage (such as the solar inverters), include the use of in-line “circuit breakers” called MOV gas tubes. Other measures include wire termination procedures, protective enclosures, spark gaps, and filters to protect at the point of entry. While the solar system isn’t presently protected against EMP, these protective devices could easily be added.
Incorporated into the construction of the house are eight, 8′ long copper grounding rods that were driven into the earth underneath the safe room’s concrete floor. They are wired to the steel I-beams and re-bar which run throughout the safe room, house, and garage. Depending on the strength and amplitude of an electromagnetic pulse, this rebar gridwork and grounding rod system will have a significant attenuating effect on EMP waves.
In his excellent book, “The Secure Home”, Joel Skousen claims that “A quick and dirty test of a shelter’s attenuating capability is to turn on an FM receiver and see how well it picks up local FM stations within the shelter. Any significant reception ability of FM signals means you are unprotected.”
After the shotcrete was sprayed on the steel structure of our house, it was impossible to get any radio reception at all (without an outside antenna) from anywhere in the house or shelter. The six feet of earth that now covers the shelter, no doubt provides considerable further protection. Piling this much dirt on top of most livable structures is highly unusual because most other types of construction won’t safely support the weight. However, this weight load is well below the rated capacity for this type of structure. It also provides for a very high fallout protection factor.
Radiation Protection Factor
The fallout protection factor is an important aspect of the house. Following a nuclear attack, radioactive fallout will be a major concern. This invisible danger occurs when a ground detonation sends many tons of radioactive pulverized earth into a mushroom-shaped cloud. Prevailing winds will then carry it for literally hundreds of miles and distribute it over a large area as it falls back to earth.
While there are many different types of radioactive particles, gamma rays are the most dangerous. They are extremely penetrating and the only protection is by mass shielding. Think of this type of radiation as being like millions of miniature bullets that will silently riddle your body with destruction. If one receives 200 RADS (a measure of radiation) in one week, they will experience significant radiation sickness, complete with internal hemorrhage and cellular damage.
According to Joel Skousen, “While no substance blocks all gamma radiation completely, we can design our security shelter to give us a defined level of protection called the protection factor (PF). PF is an expression of the amount of reduction of radiation exposure we can expect from a given shielding material. The PF is derived by taking the “halving thickness” (thickness of any material required to cut radiation by half) and multiplying as many times as it takes to achieve the desired reduction.”
For example, concrete has a halving thickness of 2 ¼”, earth 3 3/8″, and steel ¾”.
Returning to Joel Skousen, “Using concrete as an example, 1 layer of 2-1/4 inch concrete will reduce the radiation to ½, which is the same as a PF of 2. A second layer of equal thickness will reduce the radiation AGAIN by half, making it ¼ or a PF of 4. If we want a protection factor of 100, which cuts about 90% of all radiation, we would have to take about 6.5 times the half-life thickness of the material we would use for shielding.”
“This would turn out to be: PROTECTION FACTOR OF 100: 15 inches of concrete, 22 inches of dirt, 4-3/4 inches of steel, 57 inches of solid wood, 30 inches of water, 2 inches of lead.”
“Normally, we design shelters to provide a minimum fallout protection factor of 40. This will reduce incoming radiation in the most exposed area of the shelter by 70%. The PF of 40 will be composed of a 12″ concrete ceiling over the shelter plus some minor protection from wood and other light building materials of the home or structure above the shelter.”
The house’s safe room has approximately 5 inches of concrete and 6 feet of dirt over it’s top portion, which should provides for 100% stoppage of radiation no matter how intense it is. The house and garage have at least 5 inches of concrete and 1 foot of dirt over the tops of their domes, which are the shallowest points, giving the entire structure significant fallout protection far above the minimum recommended PF of 40. So the entire house and garage also have fallout protection.
This brings up the question, “Why would somebody want their entire house to have a high protection factor? Wouldn’t it be good enough to simply drop in a shelter in the backyard or install a safe room in the basement of their current home? While every domicile should have a backyard or basement shelter, such an arrangement does have serious drawbacks and limitations. Fallout and/or radiation entering one’s home is not only dangerous but extremely difficult to decontaminate as well. Things that can’t be easily washed off, such as furniture, carpet, mattresses, electronic equipment, etc. might have to be discarded. If an EMP takes the national power grid down, running water, which is necessary for effective decontamination, would be unavailable. If the house was anywhere near a blast zone it might be burnt or blown down.
Furthermore, while there is little disagreement among those who are truly well informed that a nuclear attack is inevitable, different experts have varied opinions about how such a scenario might occur. Most agree that it will start with an unprovoked preemptive attack to take advantage of the element of surprise. However, there is no consensus as to how extensive this first strike will be or how long an ensuing war might last. Some believe that every major city is a primary target, others believe that only military installations and assets will be targeted.
Author Philip Hoag in his book “No Such Thing as Doomsday” wrote “Back in the 1950’s, government planners developed a simplified scenario for an all out nuclear war. The doomsday model for nuclear war suggested that both the U.S. and Soviet strategic missile forces would unleash their entire arsenals in the first day of a nuclear war.”
” In spite of the development of more sophisticated war plans by both the U.S. and Soviets, this doomsday model seems to have struck an emotional cord deep in the psyche of the American people. Many Americans still retain and believe in this outdated model which they keep buried deep in the mind’s filing cabinet in a file called “nuclear war”. This doomsday scenario is also the source of a common misunderstanding regarding how long people would have to stay in fallout shelters in the event of nuclear war.”
” It is true that if all the weapons in the U.S. and Soviet arsenals were detonated on the first day of a nuclear war, all that a person would have to do is stay in a shelter for fourteen days, after which the radiation would have been reduced to relatively safe levels. But the problem here is that the newer, more realistic model for nuclear war calls for a protracted nuclear and conventional war lasting for two or more years. The clear message here is in the event of a nuclear war, don’t think that all you have to do is cover your head for fourteen days. You would probably have to use the shelter on numerous occasions for months at a time.”
It was with this protracted war model in mind that this secure home was designed and built. The idea is to have a safe retreat that will adequately provide ALL one’s needs in ANY possible disaster.
A question that has been asked a couple of times by prospective buyers, is how defensible is the house against potential looters? This question about the home’s defense capability came in the context of the advertising strategy – The Ultimate Secure Home. So it’s probably natural for people visiting this website to wonder “What makes this house so secure?” “Just exactly how can it be defended?”
If somebody happened to come by the house and saw the fake rock front, they’re not going to be thinking, “Wow! Look at that – it’s a secure home.” Instead, somebody seeing the outside of the house is likely to think, “Wow! There’s a highly unusual earthhouse.” There are several other earthhouses in La Plata County. One of them is also in an out-of-the-way mountain area. One can’t see the house from the road while driving into the area. It can only be seen from the road while driving out. This is quite surprising. You think, “Wow! There’s an earthhouse right there that we didn’t even see coming in.” You definitely don’t think, “Wow! There’s a secure home right there.” Just by looking at this other earthhouse one can’t tell if it has any secure home features or devices.
Regarding the fake rock front, most earthhouses are faced with a conventional wood front, which causes the house to appear more conventional. The owners just couldn’t bring themselves to compromise the security this much by doing this. “Landscaping” such as the fake rock doesn’t cause people to think of a house as a secure home.
To explain more, when planning out a secure home it is very important to first protect against those threats that are most common. One thing that is very common here in Colorado and elsewhere is the prevalence of small arms. Everybody has a rifle or at least a pistol, so it is important to be protected from this common threat.
Another even more commonly available item that could pose a major threat is a 5-gallon can of gasoline. It would be so simple (especially if the house was unoccupied) for somebody to just walk right up to a wood-faced house, douse it with gasoline, and set the place ablaze. We’ve seen this depicted in many western movies.
The perpetrator could hide in the woods, waiting for the occupants to run for their lives, hoping to be able to salvage something worthwhile after the fire settles down. Or they might just be of the attitude that if I can’t have this home, the owners shouldn’t be able to have it either.
Also, the house comes with a heavy steel cover that can be locked down over the above-ground wood stove chimney to prevent gasoline or diesel from being poured down it. With this cover in place it is a simple matter of heating the house with a catalytic ventless propane heater
Now then, back to the question about the home’s defensibility. It is critically important to realize that any action the owner takes to thwart a trespasser, vandal, thief, or burglar, must be consistent with the local, state, and federal laws. In other words, the owner must be able to protect himself both physically and legally. This is one of the great advantages of a secure home. Far too many people seem to think that if they have lots of guns and ammo, they can defend themselves and their conventional homes adequately. They fail to take into account the potential legal consequences. Firearms should be the least important of the major aspects of security/survival. Relying on guns exclusively for self defense is naïve and foolish. The best way to avoid or at least minimize the possibility of an armed conflict is by having a secure home in a remote and basically crime-free area. Avoidance is often the best defense.
If somebody is simply trespassing, in Colorado this is only a petty offense, and there is very little the landowner can legally do to stop it. Many actions could put the owner in legal jeopardy. If they go outside (making themselves vulnerable) waving a firearm, they could be charged with brandishing a weapon or possibly even felony menacing.
A far better approach would be to stay inside the house, turn on the video cameras and 96 hour VCR recorder, and use the PA system to announce something to the effect of, “Attention trespasser, yeah you, in the cowboy hat. You’re not welcome here – please leave immediately or I’ll call the sheriff. I’m also turning on my video cameras and recording your trespass with my VCR.” If the owner wanted to, he could call 911 and actually send the dispatcher the images from the video cameras.
If somebody, despite repeated warnings, is attempting to break into the house, the occupants can make their warning much more stern, and they are legally allowed to be more aggressive in action. If the perpetrator somehow succeed in actually gaining entry (which would be extremely difficult to do without special tools and adequate time), the situation has changed dramatically. At that point, in Colorado, the occupants are legally allowed, by state law, to use deadly force to protect themselves, but not their belongings. Colorado has a well-established self-defense law, commonly referred to as the “Make My Day” law, that says that if an intruder enters your house, and you believe that they present a deadly threat, called a threat of grievous bodily harm, you have the legal right to use deadly force against the intruder, whether one knows if they are armed or not.
Colorado has also recently passed a new law that states “it is the intent of the general assembly that a person be able to raise self-defense as an affirmative defense in any case regardless of the means rea which is an element of the charged crime.” It requires the court to give a self-defense jury instruction in any case in which there is some evidence before the court of self-defense. This new law also mentions that there are “many circumstances when the use of deadly force, is appropriate. The reasonable defense of oneself is a fundamental right of each person in the state of Colorado guaranteed by Section 3 of Article II of the Colorado Constitution.”
There have been many news stories about homeowners in other states who shot an armed intruder only to be later successfully sued by the criminal. There have also been people who have been sentenced and sent to prison for defending themselves inside their own homes. Again, the best approach, both physically and legally, is to retreat into the safe room and call the sheriff. A smoke canister could be set off in the house before going into the safe room where the air would remain fresh. An intruder would have to be on a suicide mission to ignore warnings and enter an occupied house, of a presumably armed owner, filled with thick smoke.
Another interesting part of this new Colorado law is that they repealed a former provision that allowed the Governor to prohibit owning or using firearms in the event of a declared emergency. It reads, “Repeals existing statutory provisions authorizing the governor to prohibit certain activity in connection with firearms or ammunition in the event of a riot, insurrection, or invasion, and requiring any person to obtain a permit from the governor to undertake certain activity in connection with any firearm or ammunition in such circumstances.” The elimination of this provision could be very important in the event that the national threat level goes to code red.
It is very unlikely that there will ever be serious looting going on in this house’s out-of-the-way area, and if serious civil unrest does occur, most looters would look for a more accessible and “softer” target than this house to begin with, so all this is just an academic discussion. But, in the worst case scenario, if there is no law and order around and one is completely on their own, having a fireproof and bulletproof house is the only way to have true security.
By the way, the La Plata County Sheriff Department is exceptionally professional, and the Sheriff, Duke Schirard is very well respected. He was re-elected in a landslide vote. According to Schirard, “Today, you’ll find at least one gun in about 75 percent of all homes in the county. We’re just Second Amendment kind of people around here,” This is just one of many positive aspects of this area.
Another plus is that Colorado is an “open carry” state, meaning that, unlike in over half the states, you can legally carry a non-concealed firearm outside your home without a special permit or license. In a non-open carry state, you can’t even go out to your woodpile while wearing a pistol. Colorado is also a “shall issue” state, meaning that every Sheriff must issue a concealed weapons permit to all applicants if they meet the required criteria and are not a prohibited possessor under Federal law. In the western small town of Durango people are still occasionally seen wearing their holstered sidearms in public places. People in Durango rarely freak out here and duck for cover if they so much as see a gun. There is also a really good gun club in Durango, with a nice outdoor and indoor range. It is, in fact, the oldest gun club in the nation, having been around since 1938. It costs only $25 per year dues, and the members are very friendly and helpful to newcomers.