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10 Jan 2008

Book Review: Eco-House Manual.

man**Review of ‘Eco-House Manual: how to carry out environmentally friendly improvements to your home’ by Nigel Griffiths.**

This Christmas, for those of my family who would appreciate such things, I either gave vouchers for nut trees that will be planted in Totnes in February, or copies of the Eco-House Manual. Although most books in the green building library focus on new build, there are a few books on what to do with the millions of buildings we already have, but many of those that I have read tend to be quite superficial.

Eco-House Manual is quite superb as a practical manual for anyone owning a ‘normal’ house, and it is written in the style of a well-illustrated DIY manual. It looks at materials and how to decide between what is available, how to reduce heat loss from your home, different approaches to heating, conserving and generating electricity, interiors (paints, carpets and so on), as well as also looking at water management, waste and pollution and how to make best use of the land outside the house.

The book is well illustrated throughout, with clear step-by-step photos on doing jobs like installing rainwater harvesting systems and installing light tubes. The section on reducing heat loss is a very good, clear guide to draughtproofing, insulation and how to address the insulation question in the various kinds of houses you find in the UK. It makes U-values understandable, and assesses the pro and cons of different approaches.

It offers a clear assessment of micro-generation options as well as heating options that fit with what you already have. It also, as a book about reducing energy, doesn’t shirk its responsibility to emphasise the less sexy conservation measures such as being aware of how much you use, turning things off, changing your lighting and so on.

The only weak section for me is the part about gardening and landscaping. I’m not sure that 2 paragraphs on growing fruit and vegetables and 3 on what organic gardening is are enough for anyone to actually do anything useful with them, so why include them? I can appreciate that the outside space is something not usually referred to in such books, but perhaps if it remained focused on the house, and then produced another volume, in the same accessible and visual style, about edible landscaping, that would work better.

Anyway, I highly recommend ‘Eco-House Manual’. It does a wonderful job of making eco-renovation accessible and clear. This is a book not aimed at the ‘green’ market, rather it is a book to mainstream the concepts and practices of energy conservation and sustainable materials, and it does so brilliantly. I learnt a lot from it, and appreciated its clear desire to illuminate rather than bamboozle. Statistics and data are used sparingly and the whole book is visual and engaging. Pick up a copy and then set to the retrofitting of your place with renewed urgency and heart. Publishers of books on a range of practical energy descent related topics could learn a lot from this book about accessibility, clarity and design.

**168 pages. J H Haynes & Co Ltd . ISBN: 1844254054.**

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