The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 13, 2008

Book review: Books offer earth-friendly building tips

I may be a little late for Earth Day, but this week’s review covers green topics, like earth-friendly building and lifestyles. First, the building books.

“Strawbale Home Plans” by Wayne J. Bingham is not, strictly speaking, a book of home plans but rather a collection of strawbale homes from around the country and some of the details about how they came to be built and what the homeowner’s experience was.

Some are just tickled pink about the experience and results, while others learned the hard way that perhaps they should have done something a bit differently. My favorite is the one with the lap pool inside. Some are big, some are tiny, all are interesting.

The library has two other items strictly about straw-bale construction, one book and one videotape.

“Green from the Ground Up” by David Johnston and Scott Gibson would be really helpful for anyone planning to build a new home or do extensive remodeling or adding onto a house. It gives extensive and very informative coverage of foundations, framing, roots and attics, plumbing, heating and cooling, insulation, siding, air quality and solar energy.

The section on framing was an eye-opener. The amount of material and labor saved (not to mention the greater insulation allowed) by using 2x6s on 24-inch centers rather than the old standard 2x4s on 16-inch centers is amazing! All the sections provide useful information on not only the green aspects of the options available, but the costs. Suffice it to say, if you’re going to re-side your house, think cement siding. Highly recommended for anyone interested in construction.

“Power with Nature” by Rex Ewing gives an excellent overview of solar, wind and water power, but I’d skip “Dog of the Sun, Cat of the Wind: A Primer Disguised as a Fable.”

Look at it this way: I read it so that you don’t have to. I wasn’t crazy about some of the writing style (a little corny for my taste), but the information was all very sound. Sprinkled throughout the book are one-page “Personal Power Company” outlines about actual homes and their energy info: size, occupancy, whether or not they’re “grid-tied” (using utility power or providing all their own needs), using solar/wind/water power, etc. with a comments section. It was interesting to read about real-life implementations of alternate energy sources in addition to the theoretical and how-to information. Recommended (if you skip the fable).

“The Homeowner’s Guide to Energy Independence” by Christine Woodside gives highly readable coverage about the energy crisis and the future of fossil fuels in addition to excellent coverage of solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

Unlike other green energy books, it also gives more than a nod to hydrogen fuel cells, biodiesel, geothermal heat pumps, heating with wood and alternative cars. Tips on reducing energy waste are scattered throughout the book and there is a chapter on conservation tips as well. There is a lot of cost information (as well as cost-recovery information) included. An interesting bit of trivia: The diesel engine was originally designed to run on peanut oil, so biodiesel is simply reverting to the initial intent of Rudolph Diesel when he invented the diesel engine.

“The Self-Sufficiency Specialist” by A. and G. Bridgewater gives a much broader view of the green/self-sufficiency issue. It consists of brief chapters about all of the above as well as off-grid water, recycling, growing organic crops, keeping bees and raising livestock, making your own soap and candles, pickles and preserves, and, if that all sounds too dull, your own wine!

It’s highly illustrated and more of an overview than a real how-to on most subjects, but very readable and a good starting point for those just beginning to look into self-sufficiency or green living. One note: The book was published in Great Britain, so some terms may be unfamiliar, and some products may not be available here.

An interesting, quick read on the subject.

These are just a few of the more recent books we have on green living and self-sufficiency. You can find lots more at the Joplin Public Library, check it out!

Linda Cannon is the collection development librarian at Joplin Public Library.