Sitting in a domed temple doing yoga 15 years ago, Chandra Robinson decided that he would one day have one of his own.

"It was the most beautiful thing at night," Robinson said of the temple in a Canadian yoga retreat. "I knew I wanted to live in one. It was just a matter of getting my economics together."

This year, his economics came together.

Robinson, 45 and now a yoga instructor, and his wife Jeann, a 29-year-old civil engineer for the Baltimore city government, completed the two-year labor of building their own home. Just before Memorial Day, the Robinson family moved into a 3,500-square-foot dome on Jutewood Avenue on the outskirts of Cheverly in Prince George's County.

By building the house from scratch and using a minimum of hired help, the Robinsons saved perhaps $250,000 from the price they might have paid had a contractor built the same house, spending only $120,000 on their home.

"If you count up the time we took off work, we never would have made enough money to afford a house like this if someone else had built it," Chandra Robinson said.

Few people opt for building their own homes in the Washington area. Prince George's is one local jurisdiction that keeps figures on owner-built homes and each year it issues about 100 contractor's licenses to families who plan to serve as their own general contractors. And of these, only some do practically all the work themselves.

But economics was only part of the Robinsons' decision to build the dome themselves. The family looked at the project as an educational experience from the start.

Further, the Robinsons now profess a greater sense of self-esteem and self-reliance for having successfully completed such a major job and say they also feel that their oldest child, Ananda, 14, also possesses a sense of accomplishment from the project. The couple also has two younger children, Kumari, 3, and Ravi, 1.

"There is a joy in doing everything yourself," said Jeann Robinson. "There is a confidence that no matter what you mess up, you can fix it," said Chandra Robinson.

"I look at this as an extension of {the temple}," Robinson said as he sat beneath huge triangular glass panels in the living room of his dome.

The new carpet, the stained wooden panels and the modern kitchen of the Robinson dome all belie the genesis of the geodesic dome. Conceived by Buckminster Fuller after World War II as cheap-to-construct shelter, the geodesic dome became a countercultural symbol in the 1960s. The yoga temple that inspired Robinson was a Plexiglass structure built by hippies in 1966.

But, as the Robinsons learned, the image of the geodesic dome has changed.

"I was surprised to see what they had evolved into," Chandra Robinson said. "They have become beautiful homes."

Robinson's own evolution from a yoga student in the Canadian mountains to a homeowner had its fits and starts.

Upon returning from his studies in the mountains north of Montreal, Robinson taught yoga for eight years at the University of Maryland. It was there that he met Jeann.

In 1985, they took an intensive weekend course in building domes from Natural Spaces Inc., a school in North Branch, Minn.

"It was a hands-on course," said Chandra Robinson. "When we went, I couldn't even cut a straight line. When we finished, we were sure we could build ourselves a dome."

The next summer the Robinsons bought 10 acres near Front Royal, Va., hoping to establish a yoga retreat. Abandoning the idea, they sold the land and began searching for a lot closer to Washington for their dome.

Finding an affordable wooded lot was no quick task, and the Robinsons spent much of the time educating themselves during their search.

In November 1987, the Robinsons found the half-acre lot on Jutewood Avenue, and bought it later that winter for $13,000. The 18-month search was worth the effort, they said. "We had to find a really nice lot to put this dome on since we are going to be in it forever," Chandra Robinson said.

The couple had calculated the cost of building a garage at their previous home on Division Avenue NE in the District, where they could prefabricate the parts of the dome themselves, and found they could save $13,000 from the cost of buying the parts already made. During the Memorial Day weekend of 1988, having built the garage, they cut the first pieces for the dome and within a month were beginning work on the Prince George's site.

The Robinsons' dome, which encompasses the second story of the house, sits on more traditional first-floor framing atop a ground-level concrete slab.

"It took us 16 hours to install the first frame {for the base of the house} and get it level," said Chandra Robinson. "We went home really depressed." The next day, a little wiser for the pains of the first, they installed eight frames in far less time.

By October 1988 the Robinsons had completed the pieces of the upper-level geodesic shell -- a series of 60 triangular panels.

In about six hours, three workers erected the shell. The 15-inch-thick shell was designed for a high insulation factor -- R-52 in a jurisdiction that requires only R-19 for ceilings and even less for walls -- and for vapor absorption.

After plywood sheathing and tar paper were laid down, there came the rainy spring of 1989. For three months, the Robinsons never had two consecutive dry days, and the job of shingling the dome, which should have taken three weeks, took three months.

By the end of that year, the ground-level floor was finished and the second floor, with its domed ceiling, was beginning to take shape. Drywall installation was about to begin.

Jeann Robinson had estimated that 335 pieces of drywall would be needed to fit into the unusual angles of the structure. The family hired a drywall installation crew to fit the pieces in, electing to use professional help to install the interior walls.

The crew, however, miscalculated the cost of the job, being unaccustomed to the odd angles of the dome, the Robinsons said, and walked off the job. The Robinsons finished the work themselves, and found that Jeann's original estimate was only 10 sheets short.

Once the family had moved in, they built a deck on the side of the dome, and plan to add a garage and a swimming pool.

Other than spending 18 months looking for an appropriate lot, the Robinsons found few pitfalls in building the dome.

But the strains of building one's own home showed from the beginning. Jeann Robinson and son Ananda were raking the gravel bed in 100-degree weather during the first days of construction. "We said, 'Now we know why people don't build their own houses,' " she recalled.

Chandra Robinson now plans to start a building business and last month passed his general contractor's examination, and Jeann Robinson obtained a real estate agent's license. They plan to pass on some of their knowledge at a workshop on dome construction to be held Oct. 27 and 28 at their home.

In general, good planning is the key to successfully completing such projects, they said.

They also advised that do-it-yourselfers invest in nicer and pricier items such as whirlpool tubs early in the construction process. Toward the end of the process, money becomes tight, and it may seem unwise or prove impossible to spend for such items, they said.

But none of the pitfalls soured the Robinsons on the idea of owner-built homes.

"People ask me if I would do it again, and I say, 'in a second,' " Chandra Robinson said. "I miss just coming in and going to work."