Mountain House & Home: Book reviews |

Mountain House & Home: Book reviews

Kimberly Nicoletti

By Athena Swentzell Steen, Bill Steen and David BainbridgeChelsea Green Publishing, $30In a region dominated by massive log structures, building a straw house may sound preposterous. But according to research in The Straw Bale House, straw structures are easier and cheaper to construct than conventional homes, and in moderate climates a 1,375 square-foot house can save $18,000 to $96,000, depending upon how much sweat equity an owner puts in. A mortared bale system would be adequate for 60 pounds per square foot of snow, 16 pounds per square foot for wind and 45 pounds per square foot for live loads, due to occupancy. Another study showed the compressive strength of individual bales; when three-string bales laid flat, the bales held up to 10,000 square feet a pound.The book addresses common concerns such as fire, humidity, pests, insurance and building codes. It takes builders through the process of working with straw bales to create a unique home, from foundation to roof and everything in-between, including fencing and storage units. It also includes color photographs of straw homes that would impress even the biggest skeptic. Though straw homes may not be ideal for the colder parts of the High Country, people have constructed them, and the books worth a read just to learn about this sustainable building alternative. The walls allow for two to three times better energy efficiency and insulation than most well-insulated homes, and using straw that otherwise goes to waste saves trees.

Author: Greg PahlPublisher: Chelsea Green Publishing, Price: $21.95Theres no problem; we dont need to convert to renewable energy. This kind of denial is akin to steaming full speed ahead in the Titanic, thinking its unsinkable.Greg Pahl, author of The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis, compares our current energy crisis to the sinking of the Titanic. But his overall tone remains encouraging as he explores renewable energy technology, including solar, wind, water, biomass, biofuels and geothermal alternatives. His personable approach makes his book informative and user-friendly for laypersons.Additionally, his use of community examples, ranging from small towns to entire nations, help inspire readers to prepare to take action on a local level.His warning is simple: The fossil-fueled energy regime is coming to an end quickly, and we have two choices to become proactive and expand use of renewables or to wait for the crisis to destroy the economy and environment. His solution: Starting renewable energy programs locally will offer some relief and hopefully buy enough time for the rest of the nation to catch up and implement changes.He gives local Colorado examples of students in Crested Butte installing solar panels at their school; Nederlands community center heated by steam from a boiler that uses wood chips collected from forests thinned for fire mitigation; and the town of Lamar using wind power to provide 14 percent of its energy needs.Each chapter examines a different alternative resource even delving into lesser-understood uses of vegetable oil to fuel vehicles and home heating furnaces, as well as basic information about manufacturing backyard ethanol. His last chapter summarizes the uses, challenges and limitations of each alternative, and he ends with an extensive resource list and glossary.

Architectural Interiors: Transforming Your Home with Decorative Structural ElementsBy Linda ApplewhiteIllustrated, 160 pagesGibbs Smith, 29.95In Architectural Interiors, designer Linda Applewhite provides the designers eye you need to add rich details that give your home a different feel, through fairly simple additions or alterations. She teaches readers to recognize the potential of good bones, or structural elements such as windows, doors, columns, arches, beams, fireplaces and railings.She transformed her 1950s tract home into a European country cottage by reinstalling windows and adding cabinets, molding, skylights, beams, lintels, arches, bookcases and a kitchen niche. The project prompted her to write this book.Within 159 pages, she provides approximately 145 photos, including modest and grand rooms, before and after remodels. Each chapter focuses on areas within a room where architecture can be revealed or generated. Chapters include windows and doors, architectural details that often dictate the tone of the home; beams and other framing components, which add strength and substance to a room; arches and niches, which create elegant passageways or expand space; columns, which add drama; moldings and diverse railings, which embellish the perimeters and core of rooms; imaginative cabinets; and fireplaces, which become gathering places and focal points.Her vision will motivate nearly any homeowner to imagine new architectural details in their home.

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