Title: The New Ecological Home: A Complete Guide to Green Building Options
Author: Daniel D. Charas
Published: 2004

Overview: A detailed, well-illustrated and -documented guide book to building or remodeling to achieve ecologically sensitive homes. The book is highly educational and presents concepts and practical steps ranging from whole house construction to single system elements, like blanketing a water heater. Even if you are not expecting to build or remodel shortly, the ideas and insights presented in the book may serve you well.

Details: The book is organized into three broad topics: (1) situating a home, (2) green building and remodeling specifics, and (3) sustainable systems. The book also contains a number of appendices listing ample resources to introduce the reader to the world of sustainable housing.

The first section treats site and orientation, making the point that orienting a long axis of a house from east to west so that the house will have strong sun exposure can often save more than 10% on annual energy costs.

Highlights from the large second section include:

* engineered wood (made from smaller diameter trees and mill by-products) is considered more sustainable than standard dimensional wood (2x4, 2x6)
* thoughtful room sizing in design and construction (dimensions in multiples of 2 feet) can avoid considerable amounts of lumber waste
* sinking or raising an adjoining floor by one vertical foot can give the perception of 10 feet of horizontal separation
* modern builders now use optimum-value engineering (also called advance framing techniques) which can reduce the wood in a home by 10 to 20 percent
* several organizations (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council, FSC) now certify wood as coming from sustainable logging operations
* in cold climates, moisture barriers should be installed beneath the drywall (to keep the insulation dry) rather than as an exterior cladding
* heat pumps are super-efficient when compared to typical heating systems
* tankless hot water systems can save over 20% on water heating bills
* compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs last six to ten times longer than traditional bulbs and cost as little as one-fifth as much to illuminate
* modern electronic ballast in CFLs eliminates any risk of the old fluorescent buzz

In the third section, passive solar heating and passive cooling are discussed in great detail, including site placement, window and eave design, and material selection. Solar and wind-generated electric systems are introduced, as well as water and waste management systems.

An important topic introduced early in the book is embodied energy, which is the total energy consumed in the production and delivery of a product to its site of use. For example, concrete, while somewhat inexpensive, contains a great deal of embodied energy. Make sound environmental decisions about the products used in a new home or remodeling needs, to factor in this source of energy.

Three Points of Personal Interest:

1. Home Depot sells 10% of all lumber in the US, and has committed to only sell wood products that are certified (see FSC above) as coming from sustainable logging operations.

2. The cement industry is one of the largest producers of carbon dioxide. Worldwide it accounts for eight percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

3. In less developed countries (like Brazil) only one tree is replanted for every 10 cut down. In underdeveloped countries (e.g. many countries in Africa) only one tree is planted for every 29 cut down. Unsustainable harvesting is currently occurring everywhere in the world. Nearly 40% of Brazil’s forests have vanished. According to the World Resources Institute, nearly 40 million acres of rain forest (that’s the size of the state of Washington) are cut down each year.