Reviewed by Jeff Ruppert
Making Better Buildings: A Comparative Guide to Sustainable Construction for Homeowners and Contractors by Chris Magwood will be released this Spring and promises to be one of the most valuable tools for the designer and builder who wants to understand how their choices of systems rank in terms of environmental impact, cost and acceptability. No other compilation gives such an in-depth review of the most widely used natural building techniques. Not only will you find the tried and true methods of straw bale and rammed earth construction, you will find alternatives you never knew existed.
Being a guide, this is not a how-to manual. It does not have pictures showing how to build alternatives to concrete foundations, for example. What this book does is ensures you are not missing something, and if you are you will easily find it and be able to compare it quickly to what you think is the best choice. The information on each system is objective and easily referenced. What is so impressive about this book is the list of systems it covers:
- Walls and Insulation
- Floor and roof structure
- Sheathing and cladding materials
- Roof sheathing
- Surface finishing materials
- Mechanical systems
- Water systems
- Wastewater systems
- Heating and cooling systems
- Electrical generation
As a designer of natural buildings I found the tables used for comparison very easy to glance through. I was able to discern the most valuable information quickly once I became familiar with the format. Comparing choices is easy and finding the characteristics that may keep one system or another from fitting into a project simple. The format forces you to think about each system using the same set of parameters, such as code acceptance, embodied energy, waste generated, costs, durability, etc.
But let’s not mince words when talking about green building. This book is clear – the current mainstream methods of making buildings sucks from an environmental point of view and no matter how certified they are, they just aren’t that green. The systems reviewed in this book address the most fundamental issues facing our society and the construction trades. Systems such as steel and concrete construction are not included due to the simple fact that both materials cause huge harm to our environment. There is no need to waste paper (or bandwidth) on the higher end of impact and societal costs when you are focusing on real solutions. If you are reading this book it means you are serious about considering real alternatives in this day and age of high impact buildings and “greenwashing.”
Chris Magwood continues to bring us fresh ideas and perspectives with this publication. We recommend it not only to the professional designer and builder, but also to owners who are serious about making better choices on their next project.
Making Better Buildings will be available in March for $39.95 USD and CAD from New Society Publishers. It is approximately 460 pages and will be available in both paperback and as an eBook.
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-86571-706-0; eISBN: 978-1-55092-515-9
Disclaimer: Chris Magwood has appeared as guest editor in past issues and submits articles regularly to The Last Straw.