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Green building coffee table books - versus - REAL green building manuals  RSS feed

 
Dale Hodgins
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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  I've noticed a disturbing trend in the green building section of many bookstores. It used to be that this section was populated by important works such as those by rob roy on cordwood building, the straw bale house, straw bale building,  books by the Cob cottage company, and those by Clark Snell and Tim Callahan. These books were written by people with extensive building experience for people who actually plan to build something.

                        Greenwashing.

     But lately I'm seeing that a greater percentage of the books are glossy coffee table books which display very expensive and impractical structures. Quite often they are monstrously large, lack roof overhangs, and seem to be architectural concept homes. Many use vast quantities of wood and other resources and then they green wash the whole thing by explaining that the wood came from some sort of managed forest. (I have a very well managed forest but if I was to mill up 50 cedar trees to cover my interior walls, that would be a huge waste of resources. I know I can build stronger, quieter, more energy efficient, nonflammable and easier to keep clean walls from cob covered with an earth plaster.)Then there are the countless catalog type books which make some sort of the green claim for thousands of products which may be ordered. These books seldom discuss sourcing materials locally or from your own land. Instead they offer to send you some feel-good product which is shipped in a much less environmentally sound manner than if you had picked it up at the lumberyard.

   I've read hundreds of the ads and many of the products are useful. But if these materials are used in the creation of homes similar to the monstrosities in those fancy coffe table books then there is nothing green or economical about them. No matter how environmentally friendly a quarrying operation may be, if you buy a rock and have it delivered to your door by Purolator you have made a very unsound decision both environmentally and economically. It makes no more sense for me to use a clay mix from Australia on my Canadian walls than it would for me to hire a cleaning lady who lives in Finland.

   One simple way of determining whether you're dealing with a real builder with real-world experience is to see what other books they have written and to read the section where they thank all the people involved. If they simply credit a bunch of photographers and airline companies then you may be looking at a book by a pretender. If the author's other books are "touring Europe by camel", "Macramé made easy", and "Cooking with Shelley", it's unlikely that they will have useful building information.

    There are many aspiring writers who search out trends in book sales and then attempt to cobble together something for the mass-market. Built to order if you will. Anything green is hot right now and has been for some time. Some of the writers are serious while others had to make a choice between another Y2K type book, world trade center conspiracies or a Sasquatch coloring book for children. I understand that these people need a job but would prefer that they stick to books on cigars and wine.    Something as serious as the building of your home should not be influenced by these buffoons.

    The best book on green building which I've ever encountered is called "Building Green" by Clark Snell and Tim Callahan. It covers a wide variety of green building choices and examines important issues like durability and labor efficiency. Tim Callahan has been a builder most of his life and at the end of each segment gives a rundown of the pros and cons of each building system described. If a process is hugely labor-intensive, he says so. In some books and on many Internet sites there is a tendency to downplay or ignore completely important considerations like labor efficiency. Most importantly these guys aren't fixated on talking you into only building a certain way out of certain materials and in that way I find it much less biased than the majority of other books in this category. The green building community is well-connected with one another and they often review books by other authors. If either of these two guys say that some other book has merit that holds more weight for me than great reader reviews or high sales volume.

  I gleaned a review off the Internet and it is presented below.

     This large, generously illustrated manual is an excellent primer on owner-designed and site-inspired building. Snell, who wrote the eco-friendly The Good House Book, and Callahan, a more conventional but highly experienced builder and contractor, take readers step-by-step through the creation of a charming little guesthouse, demonstrating a variety of "green" techniques along the way. They start with an introduction to building fundamentals and how alternative materials can provide the necessities of housing: structure, climate-control and separation from as well as connection to the outer world. Next comes a mini-course in design. But the bulk of the book is hands-on: the nuts-and-bolts of siting; foundations; flooring; living (plant-covered) roofs; and cob, cordwood, straw-bale and modified stick frame walls-although the book's minimal treatment of electricity and plumbing, and how to integrate them with unfamiliar materials like cob or straw-bale, disappoints. Snell's tendency to decry the sins of modern architectural practice can become exasperating, but doesn't diminish the value of his extensive experience-derived knowledge; and the grace and beauty of the authors' building project, featuring Callahan's fine finish work, is inspiring. The abundance of color photos detailing the construction process, supplemented by examples from indigenous buildings around the world, is particularly helpful. (Jan.)

         Tell us about your experience with this and other green building books.
 
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