This manual looks at how the home can be improved and how money can be saved, but it also shows how the quality of life can be improved. House building has been driven by economics and the availability of local skills and materials. The result is many homes are not as well-shaped to the needs and comfort of their occupants.
NAME: Eco-House Manual
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
AUTHOR: Nigel Griffiths
PUBLISHER: Haynes Publishing
BINDING: Hard back
SUBJECT: Technology, Green, Eco, energy saving, living, environmentally friendly
DESCRIPTION: As the climate fraudsters and eco-Luddites have been exposed as manipulators and extortionists, it is only natural that the reaction to their excesses will make anything that relates to green issues and environmentally friendly topics deeply suspect. That some have seriously abused their position in science and in politics to deceive, does not mean that the ideas that they have distorted do not have intrinsic value. This manual looks at how the home can be improved and how money can be saved, but it also shows how the quality of life can be improved. House building has been driven by economics and the availability of local skills and materials. The result is many homes are not as well-shaped to the needs and comfort of their occupants. A home that is easy to keep at a comfortable temperature at an affordable cost is desirable but not often achieved. A home that avoids dangerous materials that adversely affect health is also highly desirable and frequently not achieved. Older homes were designed and built in other times when the acceptable and desirable were different from modern expectations. The author covers a range of topics in relation to new-build and existing buildings. The caution is that some of the things that he presents and which are currently accepted may later be considered highly inappropriate as new knowledge uncovers aspects that are even potentially very dangerous. All the general principles are sound and potentially achievable, particularly in a new-build. The availability of piped clean water was one critical factor in the improvement of health and the extension of life expectancy. Similarly the construction of sewers to take waste to effective treatment plants was essential to the development of large urban areas. That we have come to take these important facilities for granted and become casual in their use and abuse is one undesirable aspect of urban living. We have also been wasteful in our use of older buildings, often demolishing buildings that could have been improved and maintained long into the future, avoiding the pollution caused by discarding the old materials and the pollution and energy demands involved in constructing new buildings. The environmentally friendly house was first described in some detail fifty years ago. Most modern eco-house concepts were first articulated then and they remain most achievable where someone is prepared to move into the country and build a home on a virgin plot to use all of the technology and approaches considered eco-friendly. The relatively large plot then provides the space to construct sewage systems that break waste down into harmless fluid and re-usable solids that benefit the growth of food crops and the production of wood for heating. It is possible to become almost entirely self-sufficient and this has become a dream for many. Unfortunately, it is only generally practical if there is a dramatic reduction in population. It becomes less practical as population levels continue to increase. Therefore, compromises have to be made and this manual sets out options that are inevitably a compromise, but that does not make them undesirable. For most homeowners, they will have to start from a base that was not designed to reduce housing impact on the environment. The situation is muddied because politicians have decided to employ the crude devices of heavy taxation and grant aid. This is one of the most environmentally unfriendly actions. Taxation costs a great deal to collect and has the greatest impact on the poorer elements of society because the wealthy are always more adept at avoiding taxes. The grant aid also costs a great deal to distribute and rarely goes to the most needy. When taxes and grants are applied to changing human behaviour, there is a further serious weakness because politicians do not have a good track record for distributing aid wisely or effectively. When the political approach changes, as it always does, it can catch out long term projects. The author has ably reviewed power generation and covered the use of solar generation. This is relatively easy to add to an existing building and does not introduce noise pollution, or serious damage the visual amenity, as does wind generation, but the economics of solar power rely heavily on government grants and inducements. As political cycles are often of five year duration, and rarely more than ten, any device that has a working and economic life of 25 years may not produce the benefits envisaged today. That does not necessarily make solar generation completely unattractive and there are options for moving risk and return to another entity by accepting solar panels at no charge, but signing over income to the supplier. Self-contained sewage systems also raise some issues that eco-enthusiasts often chose to overlook. It is possible to find a system that can be applied to any type of existing building. In some cases local authorities will refuse permission to use a practical system because they take the view that mains sewers are already available and must be used. The final decision may come down to waste disposal. A composting toilet produces waste. That waste can be used as fertilizer on crops grown on the plot but how practical that is depends on the size of the plot and the types of crop grown. Even then there are health matters to consider. Improving insulation is one of the easy matters to consider because existing housing stock can be better insulated. How far that is an economic advantage is arguable, but it will make the home more comfortable in hot or cold weather. Reducing the use of electricity is also relatively easy to achieve, by using new more efficient equipment, running heating at a lower temperature, avoiding air conditioning, and not running equipment or leaving it on standby when it is not required. The most difficult issue is the healthy house and the author has not chosen to address this, which is entirely understandable because it requires knowledge that does not exist. In the recent past, asbestos was widely used as the wonder insulator until it was proven that it was also a killer. It was used in everything from fire blankets and plastic floor tiles to pipe lagging and roof insulation. Some of the materials being advanced, under the banner of environmentally friendly materials, are likely to prove damaging or dangerous. Early claims are already being made about some materials, although these claims may not ultimately prove correct. The author has presented options but it is for the reader to decide which to adopt and why. Having those options presented in the way that they are in this manual is a valuable starting point. The manual is very easy to follow, the illustrations are good and there is some solid explanation, which presents alternatives and further options. What the reader has to do is carry out a risk and benefit analysis relative to his or her personal requirements and tastes. Something, which makes a great deal of sense for one family, may not provide the same benefits to another. In one area, the author has made the point that alternative materials and techniques should not cost more that conventional or traditional options. That is a valid point, although some may be happy to pay a premium for something that they consider desirable for other reasons. This touches on the current debate over climate change and the uses of resources. For far too long, a very small minority, with a very shrill voice, has attempted to shout down anyone who does not agree with their beliefs. They have been happy to hide any facts that do not support their position and been very reluctant to enter into a balanced debate with others who do not share their extreme view. What is commendable in this manual is that the author has attempted to present and qualify, rather than to take an evangelical approach to what is an incredibly complex set of subjects where there is no settled science and no guarantees. The latest information from well-based research is that the climate is moving into a cooling period and claims for and against the warming concept, based on a belief that climate is entirely the result of human activity, are not supported by detailed research into climate cycles over millions of years. If global cooling is being established it is potentially much more dangerous for any animals including humans. Careful use of power and adequate insulation becomes even more important.