MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

The New Ecological Home – A Complete Guide to Green Building Options
Daniel P. Chiras
White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004
325 pp., $35.00, paper
ISBN: 1-931498-16-4

Right now the United States is in the middle of a home-building boom. Interest rates are still low – regardless of the rise in the prime interest rate raised by the Federal Reserve. Numerous communities around the country are at record-setting new home construction rates – most notably in Las Vegas, Nevada and Phoenix, Arizona. However, new homes use a tremendous amount of wood, and create a large amount of waste – scrap wood, cardboard, glass, and drywall materials – that must be hauled away to local landfills. And after the house is built, there is the drain on the environment via consumption of water, electricity, gas, etc., and the resulting pollution from wastewater, household chemicals, and even air pollution.

However, there is a movement to counteract these traditional home-building problems – Green Building. Green building is more than just using natural materials to build your home – it involves one thinking about all aspects of a new home. The New Ecological Home gives you different examples on how to build a home using, essentially, best practices. It is divided into three parts: from “Setting the Framework,” where/how to begin and site selection; to “Green Building and Remodeling,” how to have a healthy house, building materials, energy efficiency, accessibility, and architecture; and lastly, “Sustainable Systems,” passive systems, green power systems, water and waste management, and environmentally friendly landscaping (necessary in arid states like New Mexico and Arizona).

There are discussions about cabinetry, paint, and carpeting, and how to keep the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) low. Many modern buildings use so many chemicals in their construction – cabinets made from particleboard made with formaldehyde resins, carpeting glued in place, paint emitting harmful VOCs, etc. And even water heaters and furnaces have there own odor issues. Since modern construction methods tend to completely seal houses, these chemicals that are outgassed tend to stay in your home, causing indoor air pollution problems. However, Daniel Chiras has some solutions: using “green” paints, cabinetry from reclaimed lumber (from old houses, etc.), there are companies that make “green” carpeting, using solar hot water heaters or on-demand water heating products, and using passive design methods to keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Chiras also writes about green products for all aspects of your home – foundation to roof, interiors to exteriors.

What intrigued me the most about this book was the chapter on “Accessibility, Ergonomics, and Adaptability,” something Chiras experienced first hand when he had an accident, breaking his hip, two ribs, his forearm and wrist. He came home in a wheelchair, but had to sleep in the living room, as his bedrooms were all in upper levels of the house. In my case, when I was looking for a home, I needed to find a house was easily accessible for my mother (who lived with my husband and me), and that could be converted if she became wheelchair bound. Most homes are not designed for the future – accidents, old age, etc. Easy accessibility to all entrances, wider hallways and doors for wheelchairs, etc., these are all things that should be considered when designing and building a home. Ergonomic design and adaptability should also be considerations – designing a home to fit the occupants, and allowing for easy remodeling changes in the future.

Many of the topics in The New Ecological Home can be used on remodeling projects – reuse most of the items in your home, and look for green products to change/improve the rest. Many communities now have groups and organizations that “reuse” products, from cabinetry, doors, flooring, etc., come from tear downs and remodels of other homes in your community. Most of these products are perfectly usable, and better for the environment – less waste in landfills. Anyone considering building or renovating/remodeling a home should consider reading The New Ecological Home to get hints and inspiration in designing a home that is good for you, and for the environment too.

Order from:
Chelsea Green Publishing Company
PO Box 428
White River Junction, VT 05001
(800) 639-4099

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“We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us, and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”
– Traditional Teaching of the Haudenosaunee Indians (Iroquois)

“The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. No [one] can think of us without also thinking of this place. We are always joined together.”
– Taos Elder referring to Taos Blue Lake

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