Chelsea Green Publishing

The Natural Building Companion

Pages:416 pages
Book Art:Full-color illustrations throughout
Size: 8 x 10 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781603583398
Pub. Date May 01, 2012

The Natural Building Companion

A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction

Building & Energy

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
May 01, 2012


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 and site analysis
  • choosing materials
  • integrating basic structural considerations into a design
  • strategies for heating/cooling efficiency and moisture management
  • planning for acoustics
  • developing an integrative design
  • navigating budgeting, code compliance, and project management
  • creating the foundation, wall system, roof, and floors
  • selecting and making plasters and paints
  • evaluating options for mechanical and utility systems
  • protecting against fire and insects
  • integrating structures within landscape, climate, and human communities

...and more

Applicable to building in climates that are cold and wet, hot and dry, or somewhere in-between, The Natural Building Companion provides the tools necessary to understand basic principles of building science, including structural and thermal engineering, and hydrodynamics. This guide offers thorough, up-to-date, and advanced installation details and performance characteristics of straw-bale, straw-clay, woodchip-clay, and cellulose wall systems, as well as earthen and stone wall systems and a variety of framing, roofing, flooring, mechanical system, and finishing options. This fully-illustrated volume informs professionals making the transition from conventional building, homeowners embarking on their own construction, or green builders who want comprehensive guidance on natural-building options. A State-of-the-Art Resource for Natural Builders The Natural Building Companion is a part of The Yestermorrow Design/Build Library and includes an instructional DVD.


"A thorough treatment of both the context for and specifics of natural building, this book is a wealth of resources all in one place. Though geared to the Atlantic Northeast, there is still more than enough here to make it a must-read for natural builders everywhere."--Bruce King, author of Design of Straw Bale Buildings and Buildings of Earth and Straw

"Fun. Easy to Read. Details that are useful in just about any climate, but particularly in cold climates. As the title clearly states, this book is a true 'companion' to take along on one's natural building journey. A well-thought-out account of Jacob and Ace's experiences and the methods they have evolved over the years. One of the best natural building books published in recent years."--Bill Steen, coauthor, The Straw Bale House

"The Natural Building Companion is a joy to read. The approach is holistic, the style is generous, and the authors gracefully balance technical details, beautiful spaces, and big ecological questions. This book empowers the reader to make choices that matter-for their own home and for the health of our planet."--Paul Lacinski, coauthor of Serious Straw Bale

"This excellent and thoroughly researched book reflects the progression of natural building. It eloquently expresses the beautiful marriage between experience and experimentation, fact and anecdote, science and soul. Deva and Ace have built us a much needed bridge between natural building and green building. The Natural Building Companion will transform how we build!"--Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce, authors of Using Natural Finishes and Building with Cob

"The Natural Building Companion brings age-old building techniques and materials into the modern world. It is a comprehensive evaluation of natural building methods that shares results from up-to-date testing and monitoring, explains how these results apply to building codes, and covers new tools and resources that make installation more user-friendly and durable. By combining a wealth of information in a single volume, this book is indispensable to anyone wanting to build a healthy home using natural materials."--Will Beemer, director, The Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts

"'What is a high-performance building?' Racusin and McArleton answer that question by taking a values-based approach that integrates social and ecological good with health, resource efficiency, and durability. Fusing the knowledge of the building-science community with the wisdom and experience of the best natural building practitioners, The Natural Building Companion provides plenty of detailed, how-to information to help readers create structures and communities that are, as the authors put it, 'worthy of our highest aspirations.'"--Marc Rosenbaum, founder, Energysmiths

Library Journal-
Builders and educators Racusin and McArleton bring all considerations of green construction to light. Their writing is articulate and their explanations are in-depth, but they provide little how-to. Chapters encompass a wide variety of natural construction methods and materials. The planning sections really shine. Verdict: This guide stands out for the wealth of information it provides on green construction basics and planning. A solid addition to building collections.

"Natural building is broader in its approach and scope than green building," state Racusin and McArleton (both, Yestermorrow Design/Build School instructors) in The Natural Building Companion. The volume's 21 chapters, which cover topics ranging from soil and acoustics to straw bale and energy electricity, are divided into three parts: ‘The Context for Natural Building,’ ‘Building Science and Performance,’ and ‘Natural Building Practices.’ The natural techniques described all speak to broader concerns about better, healthier ways of building, intended to eliminate volatile organic compound (VOC) off-gassing; and to create living environments that are designed and built as if climate mattered. These approaches also aim to reduce buildings' reliance on expensive and energy-consuming mechanical systems for maintaining comfortable living conditions. On a more detailed level, the authors delve into product ingredients, e.g., lime in mortars. They even supply recipes for finishes. Their view is that designing and building shelter to meet a wide range of human needs and local environmental conditions need not be a luxury. An additional bonus is an instructional DVD that allows readers to visualize many of the techniques the authors discuss. This book is an excellent hands-on companion to any and all books on architecture. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers.


Jacob Deva Racusin

Jacob Deva Racusin is co-owner of New Frameworks Natural Building, a Vermont-based contracting and consulting business specializing in the integration of natural materials, holistic design principles, an intentional process to create high-performance structures of beauty. Jacob also teaches a series of natural building courses through the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vermont. He has helped to develop the Natural Building Intensive Certificate Program, a twelve-week-long building education program in which a community of students build an entire structure in a real-world environment from start to finish in a curricular setting. Jacob has served as program director from 2008-09. Jacob is a member of Seven Generations Natural Builders, a natural building education collective that offers training in natural building technologies across the world. He is also a Certified Passive House Consultant.

Ace McArleton

Ace McArleton is co-owner of New Frameworks Natural Building, LLC, a Vermont-based contracting and consulting business specializing in the integration of natural materials, holistic design principles, an intentional process to create high-performance structures of beauty. Ace teaches at Yestermorrow Design/Build School, both within the Natural Building Intensive Certificate Program and in the general curriculum, and offers workshops on straw bale and natural building to diverse groups throughout the United States. Ace participates in professional organizations such as Natural Builders Northeast and the Timber Framers Guild.


February 03, 2016

Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton at Better Buildings By Design 2016

870 Williston Road, South Burlington, VT, 05403 | Jacob Deva Racusin
Jacob and Ace will present at the 2016 Better Buildings by Design conference. This event will take place at the Sheraton Conference Center in Burlington, VT on Wednesday & Thursday, February 3 & 4, 2016.

See all Events by this Author


Yestermorrow Summer Lecture Series 2012 - Ace McArleton & Jacob Deva Racusin

The Natural Building Companion DVD Trailer

How to Evaluate Airtightness in a Natural Building Using a Blower Door Test

How to Work with Straw Bales from The Natural Building Companion

How to Make Paint from Milk Curds

How to Do a Ribbon Test to Evaluate Site Soil for Natural Building

Timber Framing Techniques


A Handmade Life

A Handmade Life

By William Coperthwaite and John Saltmarsh

William Coperthwaite is a teacher, builder, designer, and writer who for many years hasexplored the possibilities of true simplicity on a homestead on the north coast of Maine. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Helen and Scott Nearing, Coperthwaite has fashioned a livelihood of integrity and completeness-buying almost nothing, providing for his own needs, and serving as a guide and companion to hundreds of apprentices drawn to his unique way of being.

A Handmade Life carries Coperthwaite's ongoing experiments with hand tools, hand-grown and gathered food, and handmade shelter, clothing, and furnishings out into the world to challenge and inspire. His writing is both philosophical and practical, exploring themes of beauty, work, education, and design while giving instruction on the hand-crafting of the necessities of life. Richly illustrated with luminous color photographs by Peter Forbes, the book is a moving and inspirational testament to a new practice of old ways of life.

Available in: Paperback

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A Handmade Life

William Coperthwaite, Peter Forbes, John Saltmarsh

Paperback $25.00

The Chelsea Green Reader

The Chelsea Green Reader

Chelsea Green, the Vermont-based independent publisher, has always had a nose for authors and subjects that are way ahead of the cultural curve, as is evident in this new anthology celebrating the company’s first thirty years in publishing.

The more than one hundred books represented in this collection reflect the many distinct areas in which we have published–from literature and memoirs to progressive politics, to highly practical books on green building, organic gardening and farming, food and health, and related subjects–all of which reflect our underlying philosophy: "The politics and practice of sustainable living." The Chelsea Green Reader offers a glimpse into our wide-ranging list of books and authors and to the important ideas that they express. Interesting and worth reading in their own right, the individual passages when taken as a whole trace the evolution of a highly successful small publisher–something that is almost an oxymoron in these days of corporate buyouts and multinational book groups.
From the beginning, Chelsea Green's books were nationally recognized, garnering positive reviews, accolades, and awards. We’ve published four New York Times bestsellers, and our books have set the standard for in-depth, how-to books that remain relevant years–often decades–beyond their original publication date.

"Chelsea Green was born from a single seed: the beauty of craft. Craft in writing and editing, in a story well told, or a thesis superbly expressed," writes cofounder and publisher emeritus Ian Baldwin in the book's foreword. Today, craft continues to inform all aspects of our work–design, illustration, production, sales, promotion, and beyond. It has even informed our business model: In 2012, Chelsea Green became an employee-owned company.

With the rise of the Internet, new media platforms, and a constantly shifting bookselling landscape, the future of publishing is anything but predictable. But if Chelsea Green's books prove anything, it is that, despite these challenges, there remains a hunger for new and important ideas and authors, and for the permanence and craftsmanship of the printed word. Today our ongoing mission is stronger than ever, as we launch into our next thirty years of publishing excellence.

Available in: Paperback

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The Chelsea Green Reader

Ben Watson, Ian Baldwin

Paperback $15.00

Masonry Heaters

Masonry Heaters

By Ken Matesz

Masonry Heaters is a complete guide to designing and living with one of the oldest, and yet one of the newest, heating devices. A masonry heater’s design, placement in the home, and luxurious radiant heat redefine the hearth for the modern era, turning it into a piece of the sun right inside the home. Like the feeling one gets from the sun on a spring day, the environment around a masonry heater feels fresh. The radiant heat feels better on the skin. It warms the home both gently and efficiently. In fact, the value of a masonry heater lies in its durability, quality, serviceability, dependability, and health-supporting features. And it is an investment in self-sufficiency and freedom from fossil fuels.

The book discusses different masonry heater designs, including variations extant in Europe, and explains the growth of their popularity in the United States beginning in the late 1970s. For the reader who may be familiar only with open fireplaces and metal woodstoves, Masonry Heaters will bring a new understanding and appreciation of massive heat storage and gentle-but-persistent radiant heat. Masonry heaters offer a unique comfort that is superior to that from convection heat from forced-air systems, and more personal than that offered by “radiant” floors. As Matesz demonstrates, the heat from the sun or from a masonry heater is genuine heat instead of just insulation against the loss of heat.

Those who are looking to build, add onto, or remodel a house will find comprehensive and practical advice for designing and installing a masonry heater, including detailed discussion of materials, code considerations, and many photos and illustrations. While this is not a do-it-yourself guide for building a masonry heater, it provides facts every heater builder should know. Professional contractors will find this a useful tool to consult, and homeowners considering a new method of home heating will find all they need to know about masonry heaters within these pages.

Available in: Paperback

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Masonry Heaters

Ken Matesz, Albie Barden

Paperback $39.95

The Straw Bale House

The Straw Bale House

By Athena Swentzell Steen and Bill Steen and David Bainbridge

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.The Straw Bale Housedescribes the many benefits of building with straw bales:

  • super insulation, with R-values as high as R-50
  • good indoor air quality and noise reduction
  • a speedy construction process
  • construction costs as low as $10-per-square-foot
  • use of natural and abundant renewable resources
  • a better solution than burning agricultural waste straw, which creates tons of air pollutants

Available in: Paperback

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The Straw Bale House

Athena Swentzell Steen, Bill Steen, David Bainbridge

Paperback $34.95