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EUGENE, Ore. — When Rayora and Art Alexander thought about what kind of place they'd like to retire in, they imagined a rural retreat set against a backdrop of mountains and woodlands. They found the perfect lot two acres along Culp Creek, about 22 miles southeast of Cottage Grove, then set out to find a house that would blend in with its natural beauty."We wanted something that fit the natural terrain without disturbing the natural look," Rayora Alexander says. "Traditional homes seemed to take away from the natural setting, but a dome fits into the curves of the mountains."Her husband wanted space for a garage/shop where he could restore vintage cars away from the main house. After looking at manufactured homes, Art Alexander began talking to his friend Roger Boothe, owner of Oregon Dome Inc. in Veneta, about dome homes. He found out that they could build a dome for a little less than a traditional home, and potentially get something they liked better."This was a marginally cheaper way to go, but the quality was considerably better than a manufactured home," Art Alexander says. "We could have anything we wanted in the home, where we wanted it, and this home will appreciate, as opposed to a manufactured home depreciating."So far, they haven't been disappointed. The shell of the 45-foot dome, with 2,100 square feet of living space, went up in two days over the last weekend in July. Like most dome homeowners, the Alexanders were active participants in the "dome raising," along with several friends and the Boothes, who supervised the project."It was very hard work for me, but fun," Rayora Alexander says. "We're thrilled with how it looks. This is the most ideal thing we've ever come up with."Art Alexander adds: "Having the building up in a short time makes you feel like you've accomplished something."Many of Oregon Dome's customers are like the Alexanders— people looking for something different as a retirement home or rural getaway. While they're happy to have that business, the Boothes wish more potential home buyers would think of domes as simply a smart buying decision."The typical dome is not only cheaper to build than most traditional homes, but can save homeowners an average of 30 percent on energy costs," Linda Boothe says.Charlotte Curtis, a dome owner and former employee of Oregon Dome, says she's thrilled with the energy efficiency of her dome near Wayne Morse Ranch in southeast Eugene. Her electric and water bills average just $90 a month for the 2,300-square-foot house, built in 1990.Curtis, who now works for the city of Eugene's Planning Division, liked having a major role in the building process and has fond memories of the dome raising."You see this instant thing happening in one day, you go from floor platform to enclosed shell, with an assembly line of people doing lifting, bracing, bolting," she says. "It made the house more special."Oregon Dome's basic kits sell for $20,000 to $40,000. Buyers then work with the Boothes to finalize the designs and calculate the overall cost of construction. Domes come in all sizes, says Linda Boothe, and can vary widely in price. For example, four recent Oregon Dome projects ranged from $50,000 for a 400-square-foot guest house beside a mobile home to $350,000 for a 4,300-square foot home in Gold Beach owned by a bookstore owner moving to Oregon from Nevada."The final cost depends on the design and materials used by each client, but in general, dome homes tend to be about $10 per square foot cheaper than building a comparable traditional home," Linda Boothe says.The company's peak sales year was back in 1983, fueled by a front-page article in Home and Garden magazine. Then, sales reached 130 homes and $1 million in revenue. In recent years, sales have dropped to about 50 domes a year while revenue has remained flat."The company, which does business in most states as well as Canada and Japan, has been able to keep the sales level at about $1 million by adding new features to its core dome package," Linda Boothe says.Dome manufacturers nationwide have experienced a similar lukewarm response from home buyers. Domes are so rare that they don't show up on the U.S. Commerce Department's breakdown of annual housing starts.In Lane County, which doesn't track dome homes as a separate category, about six or eight domes go up each year, says Roger McGuckin, a county building permit specialist. Only about 80 to 100 domes have been built in the area in the past 20 years.Why haven't domes taken off with home buyers? One reason is that most buyers don't want the hassle of overseeing the building process, from finding land to developing plans and working with a builder. In addition, bankers and builders tend to see dome developments as riskier investments than traditional subdivisions. No one wants to be the first to take a chance on domes by investing in a speculative project.The Boothes don't plan to wait around for builders to let down their resistance. Linda Boothe is scouting for a piece of land to build two to four speculative domes on the same street. The couple did the same thing in Springfield a number of years ago "it helped people to see that two domes look OK together," Linda Boothe says.With energy prices going up, Linda Boothe sees an opportunity to stir up new interest in dome homes. She plans to use energy efficiency as a selling point at trade shows this fall. Still, she knows that emotions guide the typical home-buying decision."No one comes to us because of the energy efficiency or the lower cost," she concedes. "They respond to the space, light and airiness of the dome."No one knows that better than Linda Boothe, who built her first dome home back in 1977. She was inspired by a visit to a 1,200-square-foot Oregon Dome model. She remembers being impressed by the model and swayed by its developer, who she ended up marrying."Roger always says I was his first owner/builder," says Linda Boothe, who started helping with the company while the couple's three children were young. "I remember responding to the space; it was so pretty. Then I realized it also cost less."

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