Modular Homes

Dome Houses of Japan: Made of Earthquake-Resistant Styrofoam

Japan Dome House, a modular home manufacturer, has been making and selling its styrofoam dome houses for over fifteen years, but since the April 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, there has been a surge of interest in the company’s products.

Some readers may do a double take, as the material used for these homes is indeed styrofoam.

Foam food container. Image: Wikimedia

Foam food container. Image: Wikimedia

Polystyrene (more commonly known as styrofoam) is widely used for everything from cups and food containers to packaging material. Polystyrene is a petroleum-based product made from the styrene monomer, which is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Some countries and municipalities around the world (including Taiwan and Portland, Oregon and Orange County, California in the U.S.) have also banned the use of polystyrene foam.

Nevertheless, the future of earthquake-resistant home building in Japan may very well come in the shape of domed houses built from this material.

Aso Farm Land

On April 16, 2016, a magnitude 7.0 main shock struck the city of Kumamoto in Kyushu Prefecture (following a foreshock two days earlier). The two earthquakes killed at least 49 people and injured some 3,000 others.

Many structures in Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures collapsed and caught fire, and more than 44,000 people were evacuated from their homes due to the disaster. Thousands of evacuees are still living in temporary housing.

However, among the structures that were not damaged was a small village of 480 houses at the Aso Farm Land resort, a health-themed national park built on a somma volcano, in Kyushu. Visitors to Aso Farm Land can enjoy numerous open-air hot springs and stay overnight in differently-themed accommodations.

The Village Zone of the Aso Farm Land consists of 480 dome houses made from next-generation polystyrene foam. Photo: find-travel.jp

The Village Zone of the Aso Farm Land consists of 480 dome houses made from next-generation polystyrene foam. Photo: find-travel.jp

The “Village Zone” of Aso Farm Land consists of 480 closely-packed dome-shaped houses made of a next-generation form of polystyrene foam. When the Kumamoto earthquake struck, none of these dome houses were damaged.

This has has lead to a surge of interest in the technology behind their construction.

Fourth-Generation Building Material

Japan Dome House, based in Kaga City, Ishikawa Prefecture, claims that it has developed a fourth generation building material (following wood, iron, and concrete); and that its dome house has a number of characteristics that makes it superior to conventional materials and house shapes.

Using proprietary technology, it has developed an expanded polystyrene (EPS) product that is much stronger and more compact than the foam that is used for shipping material and food containers.

polystyrene-conventional-expansion

The beads in conventional polystyrene are expanded about 50% to 60% the original size of the styrene monomer, causing the absorption of a large amount of oxygen. Photo: Japan Dome House

polystyrene-foam-developed-by-japan-dome-house

Japan Dome House has developed a method which only expands the styrene monomers about 20% and minimizes the absorption of oxygen. This makes the material much stronger than conventional foam while keeping its highly insulating qualities. Photo: Japan Dome House

The company believes that its dome houses have a number of benefits. These include:

Ultra-Short Building Time

Modular parts can be used to create different dome house configurations. Image: Japan Dome House

Light-weight modular parts can be used to create different dome house configurations. Image: Japan Dome House

A dome house can be assembled in about a week by three or people, using modular dome pieces that weigh only about 80-kg (176 pounds).

Ultra-Low Cost

The company says that the total construction cost of a basic dome house is between ¥7 million and ¥8 million ($68,700 and $78,500) for a house with a floor space of about 36-sqm (387-sqft) and a ceiling height of 3 meters (9.8 feet).

Highly Earthquake Resistant

Because of its dome shape, the lack of a need for posts and beams in construction, and its extremely light weight the dome house is highly earthquake resistant.

Interior of a Japan Dome House. Photo: Suumo Journal

Interior of a Japan Dome House. Photo: Suumo Journal

Ultra-Thermal Insulating

Expanded polystyrene also has very high thermal insulating properties. This combined with the dome shape (which allows air to circulate by convection and prevents it from accumulating in corners) makes the dome house highly energy-saving.

Highly Durable

Polystyrene also does not rust or rot and is not subject to termite infestation. After assembly, the walls of the Dome House are also coated with fire retardant making the houses fireproof.

The dome shape of the house also makes it resistant to high winds.

Antioxidant Building Construction

The company also claims that its houses are healthy to live in because an anti-oxidant solution is kneaded into the polystyrene foam building material. Formaldehyde is also not used in the construction process which means that Japan Dome Houses do not suffer from “sick-house” syndrome.

Certification

The Dome House and the company’s specially developed polystyrene foam have also been certified by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Tourism and Industry as being compliant with national building codes.

Customizable Dome Houses

Japan Dome House has developed a number of modular parts for its dome houses, which makes them highly customizable.

The company says its dome houses are used around Japan not only as residences but also as small hotels, steam rooms, temples and churches, child care centers and educational facilities and even karaoke bars. Because they can be quickly assembled there is also growing interest in using them as temporary housing for evacuees from natural disasters.

Here are some examples of different ways that the Dome House has been customized.

This is a long version of a dome house, occupied by a couple. Photo: Japan Dome House

This is a long version of a dome house, occupied by a couple. Photo: Japan Dome House

This dome house is used by its owners as a guest house. Photo: Japan Dome House

This dome house is used by its owners as a guest house. Photo: Japan Dome House

Interior of a dome house used by the owners as a second home. Photo: Japan Dome House

Interior of a dome house used by the owners as a second home. Photo: Japan Dome House

Bathroom in a dome house. Photo: Japan Dome House

Bathroom in a dome house. Photo: Japan Dome House

The company says that it sells about 100 dome houses throughout Japan a year.

For more information, please visit: Japan Dome House

  • Kira Spellman

    I know the question that will be asked…what about when the materials need to be recycled? Styrofoam doesn’t break down….

    • james4usa

      Demolished Houses in the US end up in the dumpster.

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  • Mozzhechkov Mikhail

    May be the product is good, BUT

    Extremely rural company with the personnel that has no idea how to do business with foreigners.
    They did not answer online inquiry for 2 weeks.
    They said that they cannot give ANY information on pricing by phone
    And the only way to do business with them – if company representative from abroad will come and visit their president in person.

    They said, they will send me a questionnaire – and that will take 10 days (!!!) to prepare one.
    I said Japanese is OK, but it really took them 10 days.
    That means, they did not have such a document before.

    When I mentioned that some rough prices are listed at
    http://www.dome-house.jp/value.html
    – I got a very angry call from Tsuji or Onishi – and she was almost shouting that I cannot give this prices to company abroad, that these are rough prices for Japanese construction prices,
    And they are not correct as well because prices for raw material are rising.

    So she was very angry and finally said – the only way to talk to us is visit our company and then she violently dropped the phone.

    I wonder if they really want foreign customers or created the English website only to show to other Japanese companies that they are INTERNATIONAL.

    Stupid rural company hiring stupid people.

    I wonder if they are angry and upset that their show-room park houses were destroyed at Kumamoto earthquake and no one buys them in Japan anymore.
    After all, 100 houses a year before Kumamoto earthquake sounds like a failure to me.

  • Marcia Barlow

    Looks interesting. Price seems a bit steep since I had my house of 1440 sq ft built 5 years ago for $63,000, and built out of solid mahogany (Belize Mennonites). That’s 2 bdrm, 2 bath, kitchen, dining, living room, utility. kitchen cabinets included but not the counter tops.
    Does one need to use a slab foundation Or is the structure monolithic? Can foundation plywood be used for a basement below?

    • Edgar Allan

      Hello!
      Are you saying these domes are now in Panama? where? I sure would like to see them up close……. I am in Panama.
      Thanks!

  • joe

    thats a lot of money for basic materials and little sq footage. I think somebodys making a fortune. why do companies always feel they need to ream us up the ass so hard?