-- Mary and Herb DeGroft tired of watching hurricanes Isabel and Floyd topple trees behind their two-story house near Smithfield.
"It was very scary watching Isabel blow through," Mary DeGroft said.
They knew they didn't want to go through that awful experience again, so they started talking about different living arrangements.
About that time, they also read a newspaper article about a Florida home that served as a haven for 12 adults and seven children after a nearby shelter lost its roof during Hurricane Charley. Hurricane Jeanne also hit the same house. The only damage to the structure, a round house made by Deltec Homes Inc., was a few missing roof tiles.
The DeGrofts liked what they read and talked to the owners of other Deltec homes.
The couple, both in their early sixties, also knew they wanted an energy-efficient house that had all its living space on one floor, something that would be easy to use as they get older. They began to formulate plans to put a Deltec house on treeless land they owned adjacent to their twice-damaged home.
Their quest took them to the Deltec site in Asheville, N.C., where they toured the model home and visited the nearby production facility.
"These homes are supposed to be very good in high winds," Mary said. "You fix it the way you want; Deltec looks at it for strength and sends the plans."
Deltec homes aren't really round, but a series of eight to 20 flat panels joined at angles. The roof is pitched for wind deflection, helping it blow around the structure, says Joseph Schlenk, director of sales and marketing.
The company, which does not market the structures as hurricane-proof houses, says it has never lost a home to high winds during its 37-year history.
"Many call in after seeing our houses still standing in areas that were devastated by high winds," Schlenk said.
The DeGrofts hired Rod Collins of Collins Building Co. in Smithfield to assemble their 2,000-square-foot design with four bedrooms, two baths, living room, kitchen and dining area; Collins's father built their current home in 1981.
They are also putting up an 800-square-foot detached garage in the same shape. Pieces for both structures, which come pre-cut and labeled, arrived at one time on tractor-trailers.
The home's cinderblock, crawl-style foundation was built on site, placing it on oversize concrete footers -- 24 inches wide, 12 deep -- so they can handle the weight of the exterior walls. In a circular house, there are no interior supporting walls -- only sheet-rocked walls to divide living spaces.
The floor system, which comes as part of the package, radiates from a steel center plate.
The self-supporting roof features pre-engineered trusses that butt and lock into a compression ring and tension collar. Two of these collars were needed for the DeGroft home because it's in a 100-mph-wind area. A crane helped support the roof while it was being assembled and lowered to match up with the walls and foundation.
"It's basically a big jigsaw puzzle," Collins said.
A Deltec home can be customized, ranging from 300 to 2,500 square feet for one-level units. Additional floor space is available by "stacking" levels under one roof or adding "wings" to the sides of main structures.
The standard house shell comes with wall panels, roof and floor systems, 1-foot-9-inch overhang, exterior trim, and the hardware to "dry in" the structure so the buyer can complete the interior. Options for siding include cedar, cypress or pine lap and vinyl; buyers can order a unit with windows already installed in the wall panels or pick and install their own. There are also many other options, such as a pressure-treated house or floor system, spiral stairs, decks and more.
The DeGrofts paid $60,000 for the house kit, including an extended overhang, pre-installed windows and stained wood siding, plus $15,000 for the garage. The finished house and garage, minus the land, is costing $276,000.
"It just made sense for us to build one," Mary said of the round design.
"There are no square spaces, but I don't have a problem with it being round. There are some funny-looking nooks, but I'm okay with that.
"We're downsizing, getting rid of stuff. We're glad to have everything on one floor."
For more information on round houses:
* Deltec Homes, based in Asheville, N.C., with a nearby production facility. For literature and tour times, call 800-642-2508; Web site: www.deltechomes.com.
* Oregon Yurtworks of Eugene, Ore., makes modular round homes. For information, call 800-211-8470; Web site: www.yurtworks.com.
* Mandala Custom Homes, based in Canada, makes prefabricated round homes. For information, call 250-352-5582; Web site: www.mandalahomes.com
* Monolithic Dome Institute. See step-by-step illustrations of the construction process of these steel-reinforced concrete structures at www.monolithic.com