Monday, 9 January 2012

Last week, gardens - this week, houses!

One of the surprises among my Christmas presents was a book I hadn't heard about, even though it was published 15 months ago: Local Sustainable Homes: how to make them happen in your community by Chris Bird. It comes from the Transition movement and is published by Transition Books. It's also available as a Kindle ebook.

The author lives in Totnes, home of Transition. He's been a freelance journalist for many years, writing about sustainable building, and he helps run the Building & Housing Group for Transition Town Totnes.

The book covers lots of practical and technical matters, as well as being full of real-life inspiring examples and case-studies. It covers everything from building a roundhouse in the woods to refurbishing council flats in Sheffield, developing an eco-cluster in rural Dorset and overcoming the psychological barriers to change. It includes town profiles showing what has been achieved in Totnes, Stroud, Brighton and Sheffield.

The table of contents shows the scope of the book. Following an introduction from Rob Hopkins (founder of the Transition movement), chapters cover: What is sustainable housing?;  Making the case for change;  Sustainable housing in Totnes;  Refurbishment and retrofit;  Building together;  Sustainable housing in Brighton;  New build;  Social housing;  Sustainable housing in Stroud;  New tricks with old bricks;  Land, planning and finance;  Sustainable housing in Sheffield;  Materials and skills;  International and green - lessons from aropund the world;  A look into the future - Stroud, Brighton, Sheffield and Totnes in 2030.  There follows an extensive Resources listing.

As with all Transition publications, it's a fine mixture of the down-to-earth practical and forward-looking inspiration. This book would be useful to individual householders, looking for ideas and practical suggestions to make their own houses greener, and also to Transition or other local groups with larger ambitions for transforming housing in a street, a village or maybe even a whole town.

I've previously published some articles about greening homes on this blog. I posted about insulating roof spaces, windows and walls; and about my own experience of installing solar hot water and solar electricity. There's also a post about the experience of a Quaker meeting in Birmingham of greening its meeting house; and one about an urban new build eco house.

If you're fortunate enough to be part of a Transition community that has the ear of its local authority planning department, here are three other books that might be useful resources, either for your own group or to draw to the attention of a sympathetic/interestd local planning officer. They're all US-focussed, but have wider applicability.

Sustainability in America's Cities: Creating the Green Metropolis, edited by Matthew Slavin, published last year by Island Press. The editor is is founder and principal of Sustaingrup, developing clean energy technologies and sustainable buildings.

The book covers: the rise of the urban sustainability movement in the USA;  strategic climate action planning (case study of Portland, Oregon);  greening industrial districts (case study from Milwaukee);  the role of universities in green-tech;  case study of green building in Washington DC;  the greening of mobility;  clean energy;  sustainable management of storm water;  urban forest restoration (New York City case study);  greening the food supply in New York;  trends and prospects.

This is a technical/policy book - not recommended for the individual home-improver, but very useful if you're dealing with urban planning authorities and you want to give them inspiration and hard facts to help them raise their game.

Also from Island Press, and published last year, is Introduction to Restoration Ecology by Evelyn Howell, John Harrington and Stephen Glass. The first two authors are, respectively, professors of plant ecology and landscape architecture; the third is a restoration ecologist. The book is essentially a student textbook on the theory and practice of restoration ecology - you can read the very detailed table of contents on pp.3-7 of this PDF file. This book goes way beyond greening homes but it would be extremely helpful (for instance) for a group looking to bring a contaminated brownfield site back into use for eco-building.

And lastly (Island Press again), Intelligent Tinkering: Bridging the Gap between Science and Practice by Robert Cabin. The author is an associate professor of ecology and environmental science at Brevard College and has worked as a restoration ecologist. He uses the restoration of tropical dry forestland in Hawaii as an in-depth case study to investigate the scientific, practical, and philosophical issues associated with performing ecological restoration in the messy 'real world'. An approach he advocates is 'intelligent tinkering', following the work of renowned ecologist Aldo Leopold. In this model, practitioners employ the same kind of careful but informal trial-and-error strategy followed by such groups as indigenous peoples and hobbyist mechanics.

Again, this isn't a book for greening an individual home, but is an invaluable reference book for larger, more ambitious projects.

NB: the links above are, in each case, to the publisher's website, but all the books mentioned are available from your local bookseller or preferred online retailer.

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