Weekend Review: The World at Home: A Household Guide to Building

August 18, 2007

The World at Home: A Household Guide to Building was produced by the Citizens Environmental Coalition, a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in Albany, NY. This is something between a book review and a website review, because this book is actually a 100 page PDF that is free for download. It is filled with good information about greening your house, particularly for remodeling or new construction. While it is full of good information, it is not overwhelmingly detailed or complicated. It is a well-balanced guide that covers its material with sufficient detail, but at the same time without becoming overly technical.

The guide is timely and up to date. (This is actually a recently revised second edition of the guide. The first edition was produced in 2004.) In discussing various materials or approaches to construction, the guide is very comprehensive in trying to include as many things as possible. Both the positives and the negatives behind each choice are addressed, and while the information is not exhaustive, it is an excellent starting point.

“This guide is meant to enable you to compare building materials and make your own educated choices to affordably seek out safer, more sustainable products. It is also meant to help you evaluate the larger life cycle implications of all the products that you buy and use.”

A section on “Talking with your Designer and Contractor about Building Green” is one of a number of sections that is excerpted on the website as well. This section approaches the beginning of a project in much the same way that I would: by asking questions. This helps to direct in figuring out your particular green goals and determining what is most important for you in terms of Energy and Water, materials and Toxins, and Space Use, Appearance and Purpose. It also addresses the (unfortunately all-too-frequent) view of green building as an add-on or a commodity, rather than as a fundamental and integral part of any building project.

“Don’t start by asking yourself: “Do I want a green building?” This inadvertently suggests that you can treat sustainability as an add-on process. If sustainability is the real deal (and it is!) it needs to be a part of every project in some way and it should be as natural to all of us as breathing. The rest of the green building guide will give you a great starting place for talking more with professionals about your building choices.”

The book is divided into sections. A preliminary section talks about “What We’re Up Against” and lays out the issues surrounding a number of materials and chemicals found in construction and discusses them both in terms of the problems they can cause and the possible alternatives that can be used.

The main focus of the book though is construction. Here the sections address issues to be considered “Before You Build” including site issues and the size of the building, renewable energy options, the selection of building materials, and the aforementioned “Talking with your Designer and Contractor about Building Green.” “Time to Build” addresses green aspects of a range of building materials and helps with some guidance for making good green choices for material selections. Materials from the basement to the roof are presented along with information about the various options in each case. A small third section deals with “Building Outside” and covers outdoor decks and landscaping issues.

The book also contains a number of resources for finding suppliers, further information, and professional advice, but is specific to the state of New York in most instances. Though there is some regionalism in the guide, it is so full of good information that it is worthwhile no matter where you live.

If you aren’t inclined to read an entire book like this online, this is one instance where printing out an online document makes good sense. This is a manual that I am going to refer to again in the future. More importantly, I am going to recommend to clients and friends who are interested in building or expanding their homes that they read this book.