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The Natural House : River Valley edition : Tuesday, 25 February 2020 00:25 EST : a service of The Public Press
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Good Resource For Alternative Building

     by Marshall Glickman

The Natural House: A Guide to Healthy, Energy-Efficient, Environmental Homes
By Daniel Chiras
Chelsea Green Publishing
468 pages, $35 quiet zone

After his divorce, Daniel Chiras, a professor of biology who teaches courses on sustainable development at two Colorado state universities, decided to build an ecofriendly home, more or less by himself. There was one snafu, however: Chiras had little experience swinging a hammer or pouring concrete. So he did what he does best and set out on a research quest to find the most environmentally benign and elegant type of home there is--a form that is soft on the planet, healthy for its occupants, and easy to build. Chiras never finds the perfect, hands-down definitive building method, but he does present an excellent overview and detailed review of the leading and most popular contenders, such as (among others) Earthships, straw bale, cordwood, adobe, stone, and cob construction.

In addition to being extensively researched (at 468 large-sized pages, it's slab of a book), what makes The Natural House such an excellent resource is Chiras' willingness to point out flaws in the various building methods he covers. Since he's not in the construction business, he doesn't advocate for any particular type of building. Though Chiras settles on a Earthship-straw bale combination for his own home, he isn't shy about reporting the problems he's encountered both with building and maintaining his home. Every chapter on a particular building method is ended with a summary of the pros and cons of that particular construction technique. The Natural House also includes chapters on a wide range of ecobuilding topics such as landscaping, green building materials, and sustainable water systems.

- Marshall Glickman

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