Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies - Eric Corey Freed

We bought an old house recently and are in the process of doing some renovating (plumbing, wiring) which of course led to other, more costly potential projects, and we are trying very hard not to let everything snowball so that we end up joining the ranks of "well, it never ends, does it?" homeowners. This book, of course, doesn't help. However, since we do want to be as green as possible in the things we are doing, I thought I'd give it a shot.

A note: "green" refers to a number of different things, but basically the idea is to use less materials, reduce the amount of energy a house consumes, and improve the health conditions associated with a house.

I don't know that I've really read through many other books in the "For Dummies" series, but what I found here was that several sections had redundant information, possibly because it wasn't intended to be read straight through, but I'd think you'd have some way to reference other chapters rather than repeating entire sections. Or, worse yet, having two separate sections on, say, insulation so that neither section contains all of the information.

My other big complaint is that, although it says "remodeling" in the title, it really felt like a book that would be more useful for building new rather than remodeling. And then a minor complaint: a lot of the information is just on the surface of things, suggesting something you can do but not telling you much about how to actually do it. (For instance: is it worth trying to re-insulate the walls in an existing house? The answer: depends on how long you're staying in the house, because it's expensive. But no clues as to how you'd go about doing it if you chose to spend the cash.)

That said, the book does address some of the myths associated with building green, prominently the idea that building green is much more costly. In fact, some types of green building can be the same or even cheaper than conventional building, because it's a matter of technique rather than materials. And, of course, there are the savings from lower utility bills to be considered.

Some of the tips and interesting sites that I found in the book are listed here, for my own reference:

Dual-flush toilets: these allow you to use less water for liquid waste and more for solid waste, saving a lot of water use. makes a retrofit kit for existing toilets for about $50 (not $5, as the book says). is a subscription-based website, the Consumer Reports of green building. reviews building materials and products.

No-VOC paints: this is something we definitely want to try, but it's been hard getting them around here.

Metal shingles: We are getting a new roof for our house, and around here it's pretty much asphalt shingles. I hadn't thought much about it until I started reading more about roofs. Asphalt shingles are not only horrible on the environment to create, but they are also impossibly to recycle at the end of their life, which means they go to the landfill. Metal roofs generally are partly recycled materials and are 100% recyclable. Plus they're lighter, last longer, and keep your attic space (and thus the rest of your house) cooler. They are quite a bit more expensive, though, which is why we're still shopping around for materials, but I'm pretty sure we're going to stick with some sort of metal.

There are also various tips about using formaldehyde-free plywood and insulation, recycled gypsum sheetrock, and FSC-certified wood. Also, there was an interesting section on advanced framing techniques, which use 2x6's at 24" on center instead of 2x4's at 16" on center. There are a few other tweaks as well, but it's supposed to be sturdier, use less wood overall, and allows for better insulation.

Overall, it's a decent collection of information, but I do wish that it was a little deeper rather than so broad. Where we live, getting information and people who have experience with green building materials and techniques has been fairly difficult, and I'm finding that most of these books aren't written for somebody living in rural Kansas. ("Check with your local building department," he says quite often.)

Fed to jonathan's brain | July 22, 2008 | Comments (0)


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