AKRON, Ohio — Ask Nan Decker what she likes most about her Northfield Center Township, Ohio, home.
She'll mention its open layout. She'll point out its green features and its interesting angles. But the best part, she'll tell you, is something she finds hard to put into words.
It's something she senses, not something she can show.
"It gives me a good feeling to be in the house," she said. "... I almost want to say it's a spiritual thing."
Decker lives in a round home, an uncommon design in an area heavily influenced by Colonial architecture. Outside, its appearance is distinctive but not weird; inside, the house has an airy, open feel, with windows that provide a sweeping view of Decker's wooded lot.
Decker, a veterinarian, said she's always been drawn to the idea of living in a round structure. So when she saw an advertisement in Mother Earth News for a company that fabricates the components for round homes and a newspaper article about round-home builder Gregg Fior, she knew she'd found what she was looking for.
Fior, owner of H. Fior Inc. Design/Build Services in Amherst, Ohio, built Decker's house, starting in late 2006 and finishing in 2007. The house is about 2,000 square feet, with a 1,678-square-foot main section and a 20-by-16-foot bridge that connects the main part to a round garage.
In the most accurate sense, the house isn't really round. Rather, it's an 18-sided polygon made of 8-foot-wide wall sections. Its roof resembles a broad cone that overhangs the edges of the house to shelter and shade it.
The number of sides depends on the size of the home, Fior said. Although Decker's house is one story, round sections can be stacked to create a multistory home.
The house's structural components were manufactured by Deltec Homes, a company in Asheville, N.C., that specializes in round houses. Deltec builds panelized homes, which are homes built in sections in a factory and put together by a builder on site.
Factory construction drastically eliminates waste, an environmental benefit that appeals to many homeowners, said Steve Linton, Deltec's director of sustainable technologies.
Despite that new technology, round homes are hardly a new concept. Cultures all over the world have created them for millennia — the tepees and hogans of Americans Indians, the yurts of Central Asian nomads and the roundhouses of Iron Age Britain, to name a few.
One of the biggest benefits of a round home is its aerodynamic design, which helps it resist high winds. Instead of an entire side of a house being smacked by a gust, only one small section is hit directly by wind at any one time. The curved walls redirect that wind around the house and dissipate its force.
That gives Deltec and other builders of round homes a strong selling point in hurricane zones. Tornadoes, however, are another matter, Linton noted. Although round homes can withstand some twisters, the deadliest tornadoes can produce 300 mph winds, and "that's something we can't really design for," he said. The round design also helps the homes stand up to earthquakes, he said. The wall and roof supports are configured much like wheel spokes, which helps a round house resist side-to-side forces.
Most important to Decker, the circular design increases the home's energy efficiency. Compared with a conventional home, a smaller perimeter encloses the same amount of square footage. So there's less exterior wall space where heat can be lost or gained, meaning lower heating and cooling costs. Fior said heat also flows better, because there are fewer corners to trap it, especially in homes with an open layout.
Deltec estimates homeowners will save 10 percent to 20 percent on their heating and cooling bills, Fior said. Decker added other energy-efficient features to her home, including a geothermal heating and cooling system and a tankless water heater. But Fior said his own round home in Amherst is heated by a more conventional, high-efficiency gas furnace, and the heating bill for his 3,000-square-foot home peaks at $130 to $150 in the coldest months. He keeps the thermostat at 68 degrees and there are parts of the house he doesn't heat.
Another benefit to a round home is that it's completely customizable, Fior said. Because the exterior walls of a round home bear the weight of the roof, no interior walls are load-bearing. Homeowners can lay out the interior any way they want.
Wil Fidroeff is convinced round homes are a superior design, which is why he spent 30 years studying them from the age of 12 and has spent another 30 years building them.
Fidroeff's company, Faze Change Produx in Sullivan, Ill., fabricates kits for 10-sided houses he calls DecaHomes. Using the kits, people can build the homes themselves — even just one person, he said.
The key to the DecaHome's ease of construction is its complex, precut roof system, which uses rafters made from 2-by-12 laminated veneer lumber that Fidroeff cuts precisely to fit.
The homes are 1,100 to 1,500 square feet per floor, depending on how far the edges of the roof extend past the exterior walls. A one-story DecaHome costs about $50,000 to $100,000 to build, he said, depending on such factors as the materials used and whether the homeowner hires out some of the work.
Fior's, on the other hand, are custom homes that cost about $150 to $200 a square foot.
Besides the home's energy efficiency and wind resistance, Fidroeff just likes the way a round building feels. The high ceilings formed by the peaked roof give it a sense of spaciousness, he said, and many people find the curved lines pleasing.
Deltec's Linton said the visceral reaction is common. People are often skeptical about round homes, "but when they get inside, the experience is like no other," he said.
Fior agrees. "It gives you a feeling I can't describe," he said. "There's a peace about it."
Linton thinks that's partly because round homes tend to make the occupants feel connected to the outdoors. Many homeowners will install windows in multiple adjacent wall panels, giving them a wide-angle view of the outside.
Decker, for example, has windows edging the open great room that incorporates her kitchen, dining room and living area. The windows give her an expansive view of her 3.4-acre lot.
She thought the house's shape might make furniture arranging difficult, but it hasn't, she said. A long interior wall gave her a place to anchor a TV viewing area, with additional space for more seating close by. The 8-foot sections of the exterior wall are wide enough to place most furniture against or hang pictures, she said.
Fior doesn't expect round homes to become mainstream. Some people just don't like the look, he said. But some won't settle for a rectilinear house.
"It's like buying a pair of comfortable shoes," Fior said. "Your house should be comfortable for you, not because it looks like your neighbors'."