Smart Books for Builders: “Making Better Buildings”

April 4, 2014

“Making Better Buildings” by Chris Magwood is a smart and user-friendly book for green builders

Magwood photo

Ask a builder, architect, or contractor to look at the Table of Contents this guide to sustainable construction and they will feel confident in having a book like this on hand.  This guide to sustainable construction for homeowners and contractors is well considered and easy to use as a reference tool.

Starting with foundations, this tome then covers walls, floor and roof structure, sheathing and cladding materials, roof sheathing, flooring, surface finish materials, and widows. Magwood the provides plenty worth knowing on water systems, wastewater systems, heating and cooling, and electrical generation.

When reading the chapter on foundations, Magwood’s words here about the traditional, energy intensive American basement caught my attention:

“The fact of the matter is large, conditioned basements has been a privilege of having cheap energy at our disposal. We are nearing the end of commending that privilege.” – Chris Magwood

This book is not just a passing glimpse at the idea of sustainability, it covers the issues involved for stewardship in sustainable building with the kind of detail with which they should be covered.

After providing the basics on foundations, for example, one alternative to the concrete basement, earthbag, or flexible form rammed earth foundations is presented in detail, followed with a concise and easy-to-read pro/con summary.

Magwood has background with straw bale building, dating back before the turn of the century. His publisher, New Society Publishers, provides this backgrounder:

“What kind of person builds a 1400 lb straw bale demonstration wall and then tours it from coast to coast?  Only a person truly passionate about natural building techniques.  Chris Magwood is obsessed with making the best, most energy efficient, beautiful and inspiring buildings without wrecking the whole darn planet in the attempt. He is a founding director of The Endeavour Centre for Innovative Building and Living, where he brings this passion to life.

“In 2002, Chris Magwood constructed a section of straw bale wall on wheels to help promote his first book, Straw Bale Details.  Many people had not heard of straw bale construction.  Those that had were skeptical – anyone who had read the three little pigs knew that straw bale buildings were a mistake.  Chris wanted to show the benefits of straw bale construction in a way that was tangible and hands on.   It worked.

“Education has always been central to Chris’s mission.  He has now released his latest book, Making Better Buildings: A Comparative Guide to Sustainable Construction for Homeowners and Contractor. Making Better Buildings systematically describes the real-world implications of the most popular green and natural building materials and techniques, objectively presenting the pros, cons and overall viability of each. From prefab straw bale walls to hempcrete, Chris covers it all in Making Better Buildings.”

Making Better Buildings

A Book for Green Builders

This is a book that we at Green Building Elements  hope to see distributed in an increasing number of schools teaching about making better structures in the twenty-first century.

We wrote about this book earlier this year and were extremely pleased to read it in greater detail.

Author/builder Dan Chiras says Making Better Buildings is “quite possibly the most valuable book ever published on green building.”

The book is available through New Society Publishers.

After reading Magwood, let us know what you think. We’ll be happy to share your thoughts with GBE readers.




Glenn Meyers

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.