The New Ecological Home: A Complete
Guide to Green Building Options
[Chelsea Green Publishing, 336 pages]
The quantity of books on green and sustainable home design grows by the day. Many of them cover similar material in similar ways. When deciding which quality book to review, I look closely at the author or authors. Do they really know what they are talking about? Do others respect their knowledge? Can they write clearly so the reader will understand the material?
Dan Chiras gets my “yes” on all three questions—and then some. He was a college professor and writing about sustainable development for about 20 years when, in 1996, he decided to put his ideas into action by building his own state-of-the-art passive solar home in Evergreen, Colorado. He has solar photovoltaic collectors and a small wind generator for his electric needs, and hasn’t paid an electric bill since.
Chiras continues to apply what he has learned about renewable energy, natural building, and green design. He now teaches at the University of Colorado, gives talks, and conducts workshops throughout the year. He has written 23 published books and over 250 magazine articles. Experts seek out Dan because of his systems approach to sustainable development.
I’m pleased to review Dan’s book The New Ecological Home: A Complete Guide to Green Building Options.
Shelter rivals food and water as one of the most basic of all human needs. Yet, like many other elements of human existence, it comes at an extraordinary cost to our planet and its inhabitants. In the U.S. alone, construction of 1.2 million new homes a year results in a massive drain on Earth’s natural resources. Nearly 60 per cent of all timber cut in the U.S. is used for building houses, which produce tons of construction waste that often goes into landfills. The resources used in the day-to-day life of a modern household—including thousands of dollars spent each year to heat, cool, and power a home—account for still more economic and environmental expenses.
As homeowners become more ecologically savvy and demand sustainable choices, a new generation of architects and builders are responding by creating warm and inviting homes that cause only a fraction of the environmental impact of conventional methods.
The New Ecological Home provides an overview of green building techniques, materials, products and technologies that are either currently available or promise to be in the near future. Michael Reynolds, inventor of the Earthship home and long-time Taos builder, has called the book “a much needed, unbiased encyclopedia of sustainability that will put wind in the sails of our future.”
This comprehensive book includes chapters on green building materials, earth-sheltered architecture, passive solar heating and cooling, sustainable approaches to water and waste, energy efficiency, and environmental landscaping. He clearly presents the options about the vast potential for passive heating and cooling. The book increases its usefulness by providing a resource guide and a green-building checklist.
Also included in the book is information on green remodelling. We all aren’t going to build a new home this year, but we might want to improve our existing domicile. Chiras provides valuable information for all types of homeowners, as well as for designers and builders who want to increase their knowledge of green design.
If you don’t have time to read the whole book, simply turn to Appendix A, which contains all 179 major suggestions organized by topic:
• Selecting a place to live
• Siting a home
• Protecting a site during construction
• Building a healthy house
• Reducing wood use
• Renewable energy and energy efficiency
• Ergonomic design and adaptability
• Earth sheltering
• Passive solar heating and cooling
• Water and waste
• Landscaping for water and energy efficiency
I didn’t have time to read the whole book, but nearly every page I looked at contained information or ideas that I hadn’t seen before.
A good example is the chapter called “A Healthy Home.” Considering that we spend most of our lives indoors, it’s easy to see how indoor air quality becomes a major issue for most homeowners. The New Ecological Home shows consumers how to increase the indoor air quality, aesthetic value, and comfort of their homes by forgoing traditional materials like foam and formaldehyde.
In this chapter, Chiras explains that “A healthy home is not just a place free of healthy toxins.” It also provides a positive life-affirming environment. For example, he explores such things as gas vs. electronic ranges in the kitchen, just one of the many tough choices a homeowner must make. While electric ranges don’t emit indoor pollution, Chiras points out how electricity production at a coal or nuclear power plant may produce more environmental damage over time.
He also addresses some of the building paradoxes, such as building an airtight home to prevent air leaks—then adding ventilation to introduce outside fresh air. Of course, the reason is to provide control of the air and to improve comfort levels.
This book is both practical and inspiring. As Chiras explains in the first chapter, “Green building is about creating the future with intention, the intention to build a better world for our children and our children’s children. It also contributes to the long-term welfare of the millions of species that share this planet with us. Ultimately, green-built shelter is good for people, the planet, and our economy.”
image 1: Solar Trade Association