Green Building Archive


Green Buildings for a Better World

Monday, May 6th, 2013

To address a warming world and an ever-more-erratic climate, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Even as awareness of the threats of climate change spreads, the world is becoming more and more industrialized, and more urban every day.

Efficiency is one of the most important concepts to embrace as a would-be planet-saver, and one of the best places to scrimp and save on energy use is in our buildings.

Buildings use a whopping 42% of America’s total energy each year, and a mind-boggling 72% of all electricity generated. That’s more than any other single sector of the economy, and according to the research in RMI’s book Reinventing Fire cutting the wasted energy from buildings could save, get this: $1.4 trillion!

So called “green” buildings come in many forms. The US Green Building Council‘s rating system for buildings, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED, is the most common, especially for new and large-scale construction. LEED practices look at every aspect of a building, from how much power it takes to air condition to how much construction waste gets recycled, and whether there are bike racks for conscientious commuters.

But let’s say you’re not a major corporation or government. How can you participate in building green?

If you’re in the market for a new home, you can explore LEED rating for new home construction. You can also look into EnergyStar standards which focus more narrowly on the home’s energy efficiency.

You can also investigate a deeper level of green, and look into natural building techniques. Whereas “green” buildings tends to look and act a lot like “normal” buildings, natural buildings can look as if they grew organically out of the earth itself — which is basically true. From timber framing with whole logs, to thick walls made of straw bales and plaster mixed from site soil, and built-in wood-fired heating systems, a natural home can be a beautiful way to build a better world.

If you already own a house, you can still gain a lot from green building practices. There are countless small ways to increase your house’s overall efficiency, from insulating your refrigerator to building a simple outdoor shower heated by the sun.

But if you’re facing any sort of extensive renovation already, you’ll gain the most through the process of a Deep Energy Retrofit (or DER). This is not for the faint of heart — it involves getting into the guts of your old house and tightening things from the foundation to the rooftop. But if you can afford it, a DER will bear fruit for the entire life of your house.

Coming this summer, we’ve a great book to help you master a deep green renovation of your existing house. The Greened House Effect by Jeff Wilson tells the story of his family’s DER. Even better: the Wilsons documented the whole process on video, and you can watch right here! Below is Episode 1 of The Greened House Effect show, and you can find the others on our book page.

Join Chelsea Green Authors at BuildingEnergy

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Buildings use a whopping 42% of America’s total energy each year, and a mind-boggling 72% of all electricity generated. That’s more than any other single sector of the economy, and according to the research in RMI’s book Reinventing Fire cutting the wasted energy from buildings by maximizing efficiency could save, get this: $1.4 trillion!

You can experience the latest in the push for efficient and sustainable buildings yourself. From March 5-7, The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) brings its annual conference, BuildingEnergy, to the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, MA. BuildingEnergy is three days of trade show exhibits, live demos, 60 sessions offering cutting-edge information on renewable energy and high-performance building, and 24 intensive workshops.

This is the spot where architects, energy experts, builders, DIYers, and owners come together to keep abreast of the latest options for sustainability, and hear from top speakers and instructors from around the country.

Chelsea Green authors on the scene include:

  • Jacob Deva Racusin (co-author, with Ace McArleton, of The Natural Building Companion and a pioneer in building science for natural design and construction) will present on creating resilient capacity—not just in homes and buildings, but also in communities.
  • John Abrams (author of Companies We Keep and co-founder and CEO of the employee-owned South Mountain Company) will speak about how to build the kind generative economies that can promote sustainability.
  • And all those inspired by Amory Lovin’s and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire, a roadmap for getting the nation off oil by 2050, should check out the multiple presentations by Kendra Tupper, a senior RMI consultant focused on deep retrofits of existing buildings, whole building energy analysis, energy efficient HVAC design, and life cycle cost analysis.

To register or find out more, visit www.nesea.org/buildingenergy.

Project: How to Make an Axe

Friday, January 4th, 2013

When it comes to useful DIY projects, I’m sure most of you don’t think, “Gee, I think I’d like to make myself a hatchet today.”

But with some scrap steel, a hacksaw, a file, a drill, a bonfire, a bucket of water and an oven, you can make this simple, hardy, “democratic” axe.

Don’t believe it? Read on!

The following project on how to make a quality broad axe is from A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William Coperthwaite.

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
—John Ruskin

It is hard to find a good broad hatchet—a small, broad axe with a wide cutting edge beveled on only one side, like a chisel; this special bevel makes it easier to hew to a line.

After forty years of hunting in antiques shops and flea markets, I have found only two broad hatchets that passed muster. To friends who sought one of their own, the outlook was discouraging. They could get one made—if they happened to know a good blacksmith, if they had a good design, and if they could afford the price.

Or you could forge one yourself, but by the time you had learned to make a fine one, you would have become a blacksmith yourself. This is an elite tool.

In Japan, in the Tosa region of the island of Shikoku, I was surprised by the number of blacksmiths. Each village had its smith, and all could make excellent edge tools. It was delightful to see the grace and skill of those smiths. I became friends with one who made a broad hatchet to my specifications. Twenty years went by, and in the interim I had studied many axes and was blending what I had learned into my ideal of a broad hatchet.

A few years ago I carved a pine model and sent it off to my blacksmith friend in Shikoku. Yes, he would make it for me. Two years passed and it did not appear. I assumed the project was forgotten.

While visiting Italy, I came upon an elderly smith who had made axes years ago. I carved another pattern, and he forged the axe. Now, these are far from democratic tools. To get one you first have to design it and then know a smith in Japan or Italy or wherever who can—and is willing to—make an axe from your design.

It was doubtful that the axe from Japan would materialize, and the Italian smith was very old and sick and would probably not make another. A good broad hatchet for students and friends who wanted one was as elusive as ever. And though this axe adventure was exciting, and I had acquired some fine ones, we badly needed to have some inexpensive ones available.

While studying in Switzerland the breakthrough came. The tiny fellow who lives upstairs above my right ear (and works mostly at night) shouted “Eureka!” He presented me with a full-blown design for a democratic axe.

I could hardly wait to get back to my bench. For steel there was an ancient plow point of about the right thickness lying behind the barn. Into the bonfire it went and when glowing red, we heaped ashes over it and let it remain until morning, cooling slowly and releasing its hardness. Next day I reheated and hammered it flat using a handy ledge for an anvil. When it cooled, I drew the pattern on it. Three hours of work at the vise was needed to cut it to shape with a hacksaw and another hour to dress it with files.

For us amateurs in axe making, there are two major difficulties. One of these is forging the eye of the axe—the hole into which the handle is inserted in a conventional axe. This democratic design eliminates the eye. The other difficulty is tempering, or bringing the steel to the correct hardness. Smiths have long been respected for their skill at this magical process of tempering steel, which requires good judgment and much experience to be able to do dependably.

After a good deal of pondering, experimenting, and reading all that I could find on tempering, some of the mystery began to fade. Before tempering, the steel must be hardened by being brought to red heat and then plunged in water. Then it seemed that tempering was merely a matter of temperature control. So we put the axe in an oven set at 475°F for half an hour and let it cool slowly. This worked!

Now, you smiths may object, reminding us that a tool like an axe that gets a blow needs to be soft in the eye to resist breaking. To this charge I plead nolo contendere. However, a broad hatchet is made with a short handle for use on a block, and such hatchets do not undergo the same severity of blows.

For the first time, we now have a democratic axe—an axe that most anyone who wants one can have. (You say you never knew you needed an axe, and I say, very well. Even so, here we have another example of one more democratic tool, which will make design of the next one a little easier, whatever its purpose.)

This experience with the broad hatchet is important for me on several levels. First it has been a exciting adventure all along the way, from learning to appreciate the variations in different forms of such a basic tool, to designing my own which others made, to ultimately making my own. Another level of the adventure is to be able to help others make their own hand axes and in the process gain the confidence that comes from making a tool. This process demonstrates how we can have adventure in a variety of ways: designing, working with the hands, and working with the mind as we carry the concept of democratic things further.

Another value this experience has had for me is the breaking of mental and social barriers, which we need to be able to do if we are to solve our problems and create a decent society that works for all people.

At times the outlook appears very dark. It would seem our problems are insurmountable. As with this little hand axe, I was quite sure that I would never make my own. And yet, without consciously focusing on the problem directly, unconscious forces were at work and discovered a solution. This gives me hope that if we can continue searching and caring and supporting one another—we may be able to find the solution to even our worst problems.

P.S. The broad hatchet from Shikoku finally arrived. It is a veritable gem. Actually, two came—a left- and a righthanded one—polished to a mirror finish and gently wrapped in small white towels.

To Make an Axe:

  1. Trace the pattern on the next page on annealed (temperable) steel, 5/16-thick.
  2. Cut out the axe head with a hacksaw.
  3. Smooth all edges with a file, and file the bevel to make the cutting edge. (For a right-hander, the bevel should be on the right, for a lefty on the left.)
  4. Drill two rivet holes.
  5. The face should be slightly hollowed, like a shallow gouge. To do this, carve a hollow (6 inches long and 1/4 inch deep) in a chopping block. Heat the axe head until it is glowing red, then hammer it into the hollow with the bevel side up.
  6. To harden the steel, heat it to glowing red and plunge it immediately into cold water.
  7. To temper the steel, put the axe head in an oven at 475°F for about twenty minutes and allow to cool slowly.
  8. Carve a handle of hardwood in the form shown in the photograph and rivet it to the axe head. You can customize the handle’s curve and weight to your own preferences.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
—Henry David Thoreau

WATCH: Greg Pahl’s Sustainably Heated Home: A Fireplace Insert

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Greg Pahl, author of Power from the People, the latest installment in our Community Resilience Guides Series, also wrote Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options, which we published in 2003.

The book is a guide to using woodstoves, passive and active solar, biomass, and other natural methods for keeping your nest as toasty as possible. It may be too late for you to prep your home for the winter that’s already here, but perhaps the cold weather and the video below can inspire you to scheme some sustainable heating upgrades for your home in the coming year.

Greg Pahl performed an energy overhaul on his 1950s tract home in northern Vermont. In the process, he transformed a house that was built with no consideration for energy efficiency or sustainability into a naturally heated home using sustainable fuel sources.

In this video, Greg explains the conversion of his decorative living room fireplace—a “smoke alarm tester,” as he puts it—into a usable and efficient home heating appliance. He’ll explain what’s involved in installing one in your own home, saving you money and energy this winter.

This video is part of a series. See also:

If you’re curious about Pahl’s new book on community-based renewable energy systems, and our partnership with the Post Carbon Institute, visit Resilience.org to find out more. For an easy intro to the concepts in Power from the People, you can watch a recent webinar that Pahl led, here.

Project: Save Energy with Insulated Shutters

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Unless you’ve taken special preventative precautions, it’s likely that on cold days much of your house’s heat pours out through your (closed) windows. Most houses—especially old houses—have drafty, uninsulated windows that do little to prevent heat from dumping out into the cold night. Even if your windows aren’t drafty, the expensive heat your furnace has been generating could be escaping.The only way to know for sure is to conduct a home energy audit—either professionally or on your own. Included in a home energy audit is a thermal image of your house on a cold day. This image will show you the hot spots on the exterior of your house—usually around the doors and windows—where (and how much) heat is escaping.

Once you’ve conducted your home energy audit, or decided that your windows are probably leaking heat anyway, you can get to work sealing up the windows to save money, fuel, and energy this winter. Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home, have offered the low-cost solution to window heat loss below.

From The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit, by Stephen and Rebekah Hren:

Insulated Curtains and Shutters

A variety of systems have been devised over the years to stop heat transfer through windows. The most obvious is the curtain. While curtains do address heat transfer via radiation, when improperly installed they can increase the convection over the window and potentially lead to a net heat loss. This happens primarily from top to bottom when a large gap allows warm air to be pulled downward from the ceiling between the curtain and the glass. This cools the air, causing it to drop down below the curtain level and escape back out into the room. The cool air entering the room is replaced by additional warm air near the ceiling, and a thermosiphon effect can become established, quickly sucking the heat out of the room.

This can also occur to a lesser degree when curtains have large gaps between the sides and the wall. To make the application of curtains worthwhile from an energy conservation standpoint, it’s necessary to go to some trouble to reduce as much as possible all gaps around the edges of the curtains. Historically, the thermosiphon effect has been reduced by the application of a valance (also called a pelmet) at the top of the window. Often these are applied with aesthetics as the main concern (covering the curtain hardware) instead of energy conservation. To be effective, the valance needs to hug tight to the wall above the window to prevent thermosiphoning. Cloth valances rarely achieve this end. Constructed wood valances, sometimes found in older homes, are more effective.

For windows without curtains or with poorly functioning curtains, there are two options: insulated curtains or shutters. Typically, insulated curtains are held tight to the wall by embedded magnets (or Velcro) in the curtain and window trim. Insulated shutters are typically hinged on one side, although they can be hinged on the top and opened via a pulley and held against the ceiling. They typically consist of a simple 2 × 2 frame with metal on both sides and insulation sandwiched in between, typically high-R-value foamboard. (See image.)

stormwindow.jpg

Insulated curtains are either homemade or purchased affairs. Beware—many big-box retailers sell what they call insulated curtains, but these are thin and don’t seal around the edges. Solar Components (www .solar-components.com/quilts) sells insulated material for making your own sealing insulated curtains. Cozy Curtains (www.cozycurtains.com) will custommake sealing insulated curtains for around $10–12/ square foot. Generally, windows with sealing insulated curtains achieve an R-value of around 7 or 8. The curtains also have excellent sound-deadening and light-blocking qualities.

Project: Sealing Drafts.
Renter friendly.
Project Time: One weekend.
Cost: $5–50.
Energy Saved: High. Drafts can suck much of the heat out a home very quickly.
Ease of Use: N/A.
Maintenance Level: None.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic.
Materials: Caulk, silicone.
Tools: Caulking gun, pry bar, screwdriver, incense or smoke stick.

Blow-in insulation. For older homes, the best way to seal up a drafty house is often by blowing insulation, either

cellulose or fiberglass, into the walls and attic. Loose-fill insulation can reduce airflow to the point where air infiltration is essentially eliminated. If your home is poorly insulated, blowing in insulation in the attic and walls should be your top priority. It’s probably best to hire someone for at least the wall insulation. The reason to hire out is because blowing in sufficient insulation to get up to R-13 or so requires pressure created by a high-powered compressor that is not easy to rent. Walls and attic can be done in an afternoon by a professional. However, the attic doesn’t require high pressure and can be a DIY job if you’re so inclined. Many rental places or big-box stores have the equipment needed to blow in attic insulation.

Checking for air leaks. If your walls are already insulated, you’ll want to check all protrusions into the interior wall

space for potential air leaks. This is easy to do with a stick of incense, when the interior temperature is substantially different than the exterior temperature. Hold a smoking stick close to things such as outlets, tops and bottoms of baseboards, chair rails, picture rails, window trim, plumbing intrusions, and vents, and watch the smoke. If it’s not floating straight up, you found one.

Outlets and switch seals are made of rubber and match the profile of the outlet (receptacle or switch). These can be purchased at most hardware stores. Remove the outlet cover with a screwdriver and stick the seal in between the cover and the wall. Be cautious of live wires; to play it safe turn off the breaker for the circuits you will be working on whenever removing outlet covers.

Drafts from gaps in trim or plumbing and HVAC intrusions can be sealed with either pure silicone (which is preferred as it stays flexible, but it is not paintable) or painter’s caulk with some silicone added. Expandable foam is an option for large cracks (more than a ¼ inch), although it often contains potential toxins like benzene and often uses HCFCs for blowing agents, known to be potent greenhouse gases.

Stopping vertical airflow. If your home is old and your interior walls are extremely drafty, you have two options. The first is to seal either the basement or the attic. This will close either the entrance (basement) or the exit (attic) for the cold air. Again, blowing in insulation in the attic does a great job of essentially eliminating potential basement-to-attic airflow through interior walls. The cheapest (but most difficult) choice is to go into the basement or crawl space and clog any holes made in the floor and walls for systems such as electrical and plumbing. There are often a surprising number of these. This can be done with expanded foam or by stuffing bits of fiberglass insulation into the holes. While fiberglass insulation does let through some air, it reduces airflow by over 90 percent.

If your house is on piers and not enclosed, you’ll need to insulate your floor. This is an unpleasant and difficult task but will go a long way in sealing up your home. Flexible rods are sold to hold floor insulation in place, but we’ve seen these fail on a number of occasions. The best method for holding floor insulation in place is to start with a few of these flexible rods and then staple chicken wire to keep it in place.

Recessed lights and electrical boxes in the ceiling are a common escape route for air. Again, blowing some insulation in the attic will do wonders. Fiberglass batts in the attic also benefit from this treatment, as the gaps between the edges and the joists can let out a fair amount of heat.

Check all ductwork. If you have a conventional furnace or heat pump with forced-air heating, you’ll need to check your ductwork annually. This is because some piece or other has quite likely become detached over the course of time and is lying on the crawl space floor, keeping the crickets warm. To detect a detached duct, check each heating vent in your house, while the heating system is running, by placing your hand over the vent to feel for airflow. What you can’t check from above are slightly detached or leaky connections, which occur with great regularity. Grab the incense stick and check all the lines for leaks, using real duct tape (black, not gray, and quite expensive) to seal any problem areas. Also check for crimped ductwork or holes from squirrels or rodents. Repair any problem areas.

In a really well-sealed home, there’s the potential to have an inadequate amount of fresh air coming in from the outside. If you’ve done a great job sealing your home, and especially if you heat with wood (which uses up a lot of oxygen), you’ll want to install an air exchanger. This brings in fresh air and exhausts interior air through a highly conductive metal passageway that exchanges much of the heat of the outgoing air with the incoming air.

Project: Shag Carpet Your Refrigerator

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Refrigerators are one of the single largest users of energy in the average home. They seem to do a decent job of keeping things cold, but they’re typically not very well insulated. This may have become abundantly clear to any of you who lost power during Hurricane Sandy recently. Food stored in a fridge that has lost power goes bad very quickly. Luckily, adding insulation to your existing fridge is a simple project you can tackle this winter with the tips below.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home, are serious about saving energy. And if that means wrapping shag carpeting around their refrigerator to save energy, then by gosh, bring on 1973!

This is one of our favorite projects from The Carbon-Free Home. It wins on sheer style!

Project: Insulation Of Existing Fridge

Renter friendly.
Project Time: Weekend.
Cost: Inexpensive ($50–100, depending on type of insulation used and size of frame to hold it).
Energy Saved: High. Average refrigeration uses 8 percent of the household energy budget. Insulating your refrigerator can reduce energy use by up to 50 percent.
Ease of Use: Easy. Does not affect day-to-day use.
Maintenance Level: Low. Lengthens life of fridge by reducing the compressor load.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Moderate.
Materials: 2 × 4s, insulation, paneling, connector plates, screws, and nails.
Tools: Saw, drill, hammer.

Most household refrigerators needlessly use excess energy simply because they are poorly insulated or they do not close properly. Insulation can be added to the sides, top, and doors to greatly improve your existing refrigerator’s performance. If you are considering putting a wood cookstove in your kitchen, then extra insulation is a must. Ideally, your fridge would be separated from any heat source by being enclosed in its own closet. Before covering the sides with insu­lation, however, check that the coils usually located at the back of the fridge aren’t actually on the side by feeling if one of the sides is especially warm.

Because refrigerators work by radiating heat off the coils attached to the back (often covered with sheet metal in newer models), it is important to maximize airflow on this side, so insulation here is not a good idea. On every other side, the poorly insulated walls of the fridge allow precious cold air to leak out.

The easiest if not the most attractive way to insulate an existing fridge is to glue or tape insulation board to the sides and top. Cut the side panels so that they extend beyond the top of the fridge to the height of the insulation you put on top. Carpet or corkboard or other panels can be used to hide the insulation and add a little more protection. Alternatively, corkboard or carpet can be applied on their own, although the insulating effect will be substantially reduced. Use only a few dabs of construction adhesive to hold the insulation and carpeting or panels in place, or use plenty of two-sided carpet tape, and make sure the surface is clean and dry.

For the fridge and freezer doors, it’s probably best to skip the insulation, as the constant opening and closing could result in the bulky panels getting knocked off. Apply corkboard or carpeting directly to the doors, working around the handles. Clean the front of both doors with a nontoxic household cleaner such as vinegar or baking soda. Then simply cut out the right size of carpet or board and apply two-sided carpeting tape or a few daubs of construction adhesive around the perimeter and in a few strips in between. Get your edge lined up properly (rolling up the carpet will help), and then slowly apply the material. Shag carpet looks best and will impress your friends, who will secretly pet your fridge as they reach in for a beer.

For a top-notch insulating job that will look like fabulous cabinetry, build a 2 × 4 wall on each side, to a height of 3½ inches (one stud width) above the top of the fridge. Run a 2 × 4 along the front and back in between the two walls and connect with a plate. Fill in the two sides and top with the insulating material of your choice (see chapter 7). The sides of the box can be paneled and the front trimmed out for a sharp-looking fridge upgrade. Again, for the doors apply corkboard or carpeting directly.

[Editor's Note: Your friends are only entitled to beer if they help you with this project. That means you, Dennis....]

Videos from The Natural Building Companion

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

The Natural Building Companion is a compendium of methods for earth-based construction ranging from straw bale to cob and applicable to a wide range of climates.

To put this encyclopedic book together, we partnered with Yestermorrow Design/Build School, fellow Vermonters from the Mad River valley. Authors Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton are frequent instructors at Yestermorrow, and also run New Frameworks Natural Building.

The book alone is packed with information on how to use traditional tools and low-technology materials to build energy-efficient and beautiful homes, but as an added bonus it also includes an instructional DVD that is cross-referenced with the text to help you learn from Racusin and McArleton’s examples as well.

Below you will find a handful of clips from the DVD to give you a sense of what it contains, and examples of the authors’ passion and skill at teaching these low-energy building techniques.

How to Evaluate Airtightness in a Natural Building Using a Blower Door Test – From Chapter 7

Timber Framing Techniques – From Chapter 13

 

How to Work with Straw Bales: Resizing, Reshaping, and Securing Bales – From Chapter 14

 

How to do a ‘Ribbon Test’ to Evaluate Site Soil for Natural Building – From Chapter 17

 

How to Make Paint from Milk Curds – From Chapter 20 

Project: Harvest Rainwater with Sand Filters

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Here’s a great tip from Stephen and Rebekah Hren from their book The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit. Harvested rainwater needs filtration before it is potable. Pollution, particles from the air, debris from the collection system (your gutters) are not things you want to find in your tall glass of ice water. Instead of investing in a garage-sized Brita pitcher, Stephen and Rebekah have another idea: sand.

Curious about more simple and effective energy-saving ideas? You can enter to win a copy of The Carbon-Free Home in our latest giveaway contest in partnership with Mother Earth News! Sign up here for your chance to win this and seven other foundational titles for your sustainable-living library.

From The Carbon-Free Home:

Sand filters (also called biofilters) are a biological way of purifying drinking water. Low turbidity (suspended sediment in the water) is a requirement for sand filters to function effectively. Fortunately, a well-functioning rainwater-catchment system should meet this requirement. Sand filters can purify only small amounts of water at a time, as they are unpressurized and work using gravity, so purifying is limited to drinking water. Essentially a sand filter is a large drum filled with sand. Water enters the top and slowly percolates through. A thin, biologically active layer (called the hypogeal layer) quickly forms on top, feeding on the bits of organic residue and other impurities in the water. By the time the water has made it through the several feet of sand, it is potable and remarkably clean. Eventually, the hypogeal layer becomes too thick and needs to be either scraped off or destroyed by drying and backflushing (the water from the flush being disposed of into a nearby thirsty plant). A new one quickly forms and water filtration can continue.

rainbarrel.jpg

Drawing courtesy of Dennis “Mad Man” Pacheco

Waste, An Excerpt from The Carbon-Free Home.

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Ever wonder why we humans insist on wasting our human waste? Well, no. Probably not. But I have. And so have Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of our new release The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit.

The following excerpted chapter makes clear that—given the right technologies—we can put our own waste to good use as fertilizer, compost, and even as a source of electricity. That’s right: power your home with your own bowel byproducts! The chapter below has directions and schematics that show you how to build your own biogas digester.

But there’s more to reusing waste than just dookie. The Hrens have created a great system for capturing and reusing laundry water, dish water, and shower water.

Reduce your carbon footprint, save money, and make plenty of poop jokes.

Be sure to check out the Hren’s newest book, A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office!

And for a chance to win this and nine other books on sustainable living, sign up for our Homesteading Month Giveaway, in partnership with Mother Earth News!

Build Up Your Library – It’s Architecture Month!

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Humans are builders. Ever since the first ape figured out it was nicer to sleep under a couple of branches than out in the rain, we’ve been tinkering with the stuff of the Earth to make our lives a little nicer.

Nowadays, armed with high-tech information and analysis, and inspired by the urgent need to use resources with care, builders are returning to ancient and natural building techniques. Chelsea Green has long been the go-to publisher for natural building titles to guide and inspire projects as small as backyard sheds and as large as dream homes.

Because August is Architecture Month we’re putting the following books on sustainable building methods on sale for 25% off until September 1.

Whether you’d like to learn more about timber framing, straw bale, cob, or passive solar principles, we’ve got the book for you!

The Natural Building Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction

Natural buildings not only bring satisfaction to their makers and joy to their occupants, they also leave the gentlest footprint on the environment. In this complete reference to natural building philosophy, design, and technique, Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton walk builders through planning and construction, offering step-by-step instructions on siting, choosing materials, planning for heat and moisture, developing an integrative design, creating the foundation, wall system, roof, floors … and more.

Passive Solar Architecture: Heating, Cooling, Ventilation, Daylighting, and More Using Natural Flows

In this comprehensive overview of passive solar design, two of America’s solar pioneers give homeowners, architects, designers, and builders the keys to successfully harnessing the sun and maximizing climate resources for heating, cooling, ventilation, and daylighting.

 

The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage

The Hand-Sculpted House is theoretical and philosophical, but intensely practical as well. You will get all the how-to information to undertake a cob building project. As the modern world rediscovers the importance of living in sustainable harmony with the environment, this book is a bible of radical simplicity.

 

The Straw Bale House

Imagine building a house with superior seismic stability, fire resistance, and thermal insulation, using an annually renewable resource, for half the cost of a comparable conventional home. Welcome to the straw bale house! Whether you build an entire house or something more modest-a home office or studio, a retreat cabin or guest cottage-plastered straw bale construction is an exceptionally durable and inexpensive option. What’s more, it’s fun, because the technique is easy to learn and easy to do yourself. And the resulting living spaces are unusually quiet and comfortable.

Selected titles will be on sale for 25% off until September 1.


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