Building with Awareness is an interesting package loaded with information. It is a DVD with an accompanying book (or a book that comes with a DVD included, depending upon how you look at it). The two nicely complement one another in a fairly unique way. The story contained in the DVD documents the construction of the author’s own small (800 sq. ft.) home built in Albuquerque, NM. The book goes into more detail about the solutions and approaches that are taken in the construction of this home. Together, it is a very instructive combination which showcases a number of sustainable construction methods used in this project.
The book does not try to be all things to all people. It documents a specific project and shows how specific procedures were used in it. Everything, from preparing the subgrade and the foundations, to installing the roofing and finishing the walls, is covered. The extensive nature of the coverage is useful not only in demonstrating how to execute the various parts of the construction, but also how the parts work together and complement one another.
However, while it shows how these methods and materials were used, it does not go into such sufficient detail that it should be taken as a how-to or a do-it-yourself guide, at least, not without some additional information. The book does contain reference points that show where in the DVD they are discussing a particular material, technique or decision. This allows the reader to readily turn to the video presentation and match it with the information presented in the book. Reading about a type of construction and then seeing how it is demonstrated is a useful conjunction of two different forms of presentation.
A number of materials were used in the project, including straw bale and adobe construction, as well as a small amount of conventional framing. There is some discussion as to why the author made the choices he did, but if you are looking for how-to direction about an alternative method, this can only be regarded as a starting point. In a way, it acts like an alternative,construction version of This Old House.
I watched the DVD with my son, who is 7 years old, but who is very interested in construction (and likes to help his dad with projects around the house). He kept asking me questions about what was going on, and why things were being done. Interestingly, in most cases, the question he posed was answered afterward in the DVD. So, for inexperienced do-it-yourselfers, there is a good amount of explanation of why things are being done, as well as showing how they are done.
Like any home improvement or home building program, the time compression that occurs between the actual construction and the editing down of footage to a reasonable amount of content for a video program can be misleading, making it seem that things go much more quickly and easily than they do on an actual construction site. Unlike many of those programs, though, they do try to suggest that this is a drawn-out process, and that construction does take time and effort. The DVD also shows some mistakes and missteps, such as when the roofing material does not line up precisely square from one side to the other. This is useful, as well, in keeping the project grounded, while showing both that difficulties crop up on any construction project and that problems can be overcome without compromising the final project.
I think this is a very good collection of information, particularly for people interested in building completely off-the-grid homes. Additionally, those who are contemplating building, especially straw bale and adobe construction, will find these techniques useful. This information will provide a sense of what is involved and how the work is done.