The Eco-Home Design Guide – Book Review

The Eco-Home Design Guide
Principles and practice for new-build or for retrofit
by Christopher Day
Published by Green Book 29th October 2015
ISBN 9780857843050 (paperback)
£24.99 paperback (£39.99 hardback) 256 pages, 255mm x 205mm

4039With a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales

The Eco-Home Design Guide is the fantastic new book by Christopher Day. Designing an eco home is about working with your house's place and situation, not about relying on intrusive technology and hi-tech materials.

Christopher Day draws on his extensive experience to explain the key principles of eco-home design, common-sense methods to create a pleasant, comfortable and healthy home, all illustrated with beautifully simple hand-drawn illustrations. The book includes several case studies of eco homes, reviewing with the hindsight of what worked well and what could have been better. It is perfect for anyone designing or building their own eco-home as well as for professional builders, architects, surveyors and developers. If buying to eco-convert the book shows how to work out how easy it will be to remedy the problems of an existing building.

Compared to a conventional house, an eco-home will be more comfortable thermally, cheaper to keep warm or cool, healthier and more resilient to extreme weather and power disruptions. By looking at a variety of “why”, “where”, “how”, “what” and “when and who” issues you can identify what aspects of eco-design are important for you, enabling you to create a home that is in harmony with the environment around it at the same time as matching your individual physical, social aesthetic and space needs – a house where life is worth living.

Day's approach to eco building uses simple, easily-accessible materials and techniques and remedying shortcomings of a home's location to give an improved microclimate. This not only keeps the embodied carbon of the building lower, it also makes it accessible to anyone building with a limited budget or poor access to resources (such as in the developing world).

Unlike most building and design books, The Eco-Home Design Guide encourages people to think of whole- of-life care. This makes it perfect for anyone who wants to design a home that is wheelchair friendly. With the benefit of experience, Day shows how a few small changes can make sockets and switches accessible or enable a wheelchair user to turn around easily in a corridor.

Regardless of your reasons for building or retrofitting an eco-home, Christopher's advice is the perfect starting point. He walks you through all the essentials, helping you to put together a realistic and achievable design, whether you are an homeowner taking on your first project, or an experienced architect or developer.

Christopher Day has studied architecture and sculpture and has been committed to eco-architecture and an ecological lifestyle since the 1970s. He was Visiting Professor in Architecture at Queen's University of Belfast and has received four design awards, including a Prince of Wales Award, for his work on eco-houses and Steiner schools. He is the author of Consensus Design; Environment and Children and Spirit and Place. In his Dying: Or Learning to Live? he talks about how he came to terms with his diagnosis of motor neurone disease (ALS).

This is a very detailed book that looks at all aspects of eco-home design and the refurbishment of older buildings into eco-homes. When I say all aspects I do mean all aspects, up to and including perimeter defense, that is to say making your home and properly secure against intruders, including defensive landscaping, though there are still more of those, if one should need them, that are not covered in this book.

A great manual, for a manual it is, for anyone considering designing, building an eco-home, or refurbishing/retrofitting an old(er) home to eco-home standards.

A great and extremely useful manual. Five out of five for sure.

© 2015

Talking Trash With The Cyclists Behind This Compost Startup

An eco-preneur hits pay dirt with a bike-powered pick-up service in the heart of Austin, Texas.

compost pedallers

Last year the world generated more than 1.3 billion tons of food waste. Tons. That’s more than 20 pounds of food per person per month that floods into landfills and emits harmful methane gasses. Some cities have gone to bat on the problem by creating civic compost programs. For example, Seattle recently passed a law mandating that all food scraps be kept out of residential garbage and offers weekly pickup of food waste bins. And in Austin, Texas, there’s a similar pilot program, but expansion to the entire urban area could take up to 10 years.

Until then, small business and private networks are popping up to fill in the gaps, including Austin’s Compost Pedallers, a startup that offers bike-powered, carbon-neutral food waste pickup. Since its founding in 2012 by Dustin Fedako, Compost Pedallers has diverted 500,000 pounds out of the waste stream a la community composting. Their 650 subscribers within a five-mile radius of downtown Austin pay $16 a month for pick-up services. Anyone who signs up simply finishes, say, his or her morning coffee and tosses the grounds into a green 5-gallon bucket that the Pedaller crew cleans and delivers once a week. Once banana peels, egg shells, and other nonanimal waste accumulates, the bucket goes out on the porch for pickup. Then one of the company’s nine cyclists arrives in style on a cargo bike and dumps the residential food scraps into large bins strapped to the front of their ride or in a bike trailer that follows behind. At the end of the daily route, the haul goes to the company’s garden partners—called compHOSTS—like Springdale Farms. These hosts add the scraps to their personal compost piles and—with guidance from Compost Pedallers’ how-to handbook—transform the waste into usable material for their growing operation. So far the operation has kept an estimated 70 tons of methane out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Read more here.

3 Things Getting In The Way Of Your Urban Farm—And What You Can Do About It

Growing food in the city isn’t without its challenges, but there are things you can do to start living out your farming dream right where you are.

Starting your urban farm may take some creativity to get around certain hurdles.

The homesteading life—a productive yard, some chickens, a canner bubbling on the stove, perhaps a little extra cash coming in from farmers market sales—has never been a more popular dream. As a hedge against the fragility of corporate employment, as a psychological antidote to the intensity of modern life, as a solution to questionable and uncertain food production, there are more and more people wanting to find a way to bring their food production "on site” to their urban or suburban yard.

But obstacles can make it difficult to take the leap—or even to feel like it is possible to get started. Here are some ideas that might help you get started working around those challenges and headed towards a better life.

Read more here.

Homeless People Plant a Rooftop Garden and Feed the Shelter Organically

Heartwarming stories about individuals and organizations offering compassion and help the homeless abound and most of us enjoy being reminded of the goodness in our fellow humans and being presented with a ray of hope within what is a widespread challenge that faces our world and local communities; and while idealistic gestures that are very often well-intending are certainly feel-good and help bring attention to the issue of homelessness, the issue itself remains.

While it has come to public understanding that one of the biggest problems faced by homeless people is loneliness and lack of connection with other humans, the real issues of being out of sync with the system itself remain and those issues need to be explored and understood.

This is why the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless, is catching some big media attention.  The Taskforce is serving the homeless in the community by allowing homeless people to serve themselves.  A rooftop organic garden in the city is designed to feed displaced people green natural healthy foods and to establish routine capabilities of self-sufficiency, otherwise known as Agorism.This truly allows individuals without homes the opportunity to empower themselves in tangible ways.

The rooftop garden,operated by the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless, provides marginalized individuals routes through which their root problems can be addressed, rather than simply providing temporary solutions to cover symptoms.

Read more here.

Carrots, Eggs, or Coffee

Grandmother says... Carrots, Eggs, or Coffee; "Which are you?"

A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, "Tell me what do you see?"

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they got soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it.

After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked. "What's the point, grandmother?"

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity--boiling water--but each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her granddaughter.

"When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff?

Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?


A Note On Recycling, From Your Crappy Old Furniture

Before you haul me to the curb, let's have a little chat.

Boy looking at old chair

Hey there! I’m that old wingback you got for your first apartment—remember me? I totally lent that studio some respectability. And we had some good times, cuddling up with books, doing crossword puzzles together, staying in and watching movies. Sure, I was a little broken-in when you first found me, but you had more time than money back then, and I made a great fix-up project. You ironed patches on my thin spots, and we had fun with that ill-fated painting experiment. When I came out looking less damask burgundy and more multi-colored barf, you sewed me several slipcovers, and I’ve got to say: Each was more professional-looking than the last.

But I can see you’re not so keen on me anymore. You haven’t sat in me forever. And lately you’ve been dumping all over me (usually your dirty laundry). And I get why—I’m not as comfortable as I used to be. I’ve got a broken spring that’s a pain in the ass if you sit in the wrong place, the cat’s been tearing at my arms and back for years, and I’ll admit: One of my legs is a little wobbly. I saw your look the other day, and I know what you’re thinking—it’s time for me to go.

Read more here.

Fall yard cleanup bad for bees, warns apiarist

Leave those leaves where they are, says beekeeper Erica Shelley. Solitary bees embed their larvae in the ground and raking leaves can harm their chance of surviving over winter.

A local apiarist is encouraging people to skip major yard cleanups this fall for the sake of bee health.

Bee expert Erica Shelley says people unwittingly destroy important bee habitats when they rake leaves and clean away dead wood.

While honeybee colonies overwinter in their hives, solitary bees don't survive the winter months and bury their larvae in the ground or in the hollows of branches. When spring arrives and temperatures warm up, the new insects know it's time to emerge, says Shelley.

"If people are throwing out their dead wood, rototilling their gardens and throwing down mulch in the spring, then they actually can't emerge," she said.

Read more here.

You could soon go to jail for wearing body armor

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

BodyArmor1You could soon go to jail for protecting yourself from bullets: Congress proposes a ban on body armor which will make it illegal to own and use full ballistic armor.

A new piece of legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives, H. R. 378, labeled the Responsible Body Armor Possession Act, which if enacted would deprive law abiding citizens of another means of self defense.

The legislation, forwarded by Rep. Mike Honda, would ban citizens from ownership of enhanced body armor, defined as “body armor, including a helmet or shield, the ballistic resistance of which meets or exceeds the ballistic performance of Type III armor, determined using National Institute of Justice Standard-0101.06” in the bill. Level III and higher body armor can defeat most common rifle ammunition.

The body armor in question has a sole purpose of protecting the wearer from potential serious injury or death from being shot.

If passed, this bill would usurp people's ability to own a truly defensive form of protection, with penalties for possession/ownership ranging from fines to jail time or both.

In his press release, Rep. Honda states: “This bill allows law enforcement to respond to active shooting situations more effectively. The bill prohibits the purchase, sale, or possession of military-grade body armor by anyone except certain authorized users, such as first-responders and law enforcement.”

Perhaps if Honda put as much effort into disarming the overly militarized police, as attempting to take away law abiding citizens ability to defend themselves from would-be shooters, people wouldn't have the impetus to wear body armor.

The armor is purely defensive in nature, and people should always have the ability and right to defend themselves against attack.

The right to self-defense is the right from which all other rights are derived. As John Locke stated, self-defense is the first law of nature. Each person owns his or her own life and no other person has a right to take that life, or hinder the preservation thereof.

The Supreme Court has held that the police have no duty to protect citizens , so that responsibility now falls squarely on the shoulders of individuals themselves. Only problem is that when people wish to do it the law says that they can't, and especially not from the government and their agents.

To take away people's ability to access defensive armor, after telling them that they are on their own and are owed no protection by law enforcement, almost seems like a cruel joke.

Why should a law-abiding citizens, that takes steps to defend themselves passively, be criminalized? Interestingly, government employees and personnel who work for the various government agencies, departments, or “political subdivisions” are exempted in the bill.

Additionally, the bill states that citizens who own body armor prior to the bill taking effect, would, in essence be grandfathered in and be treated the same as government personnel.

Where is the sense in government banning something that provides people protection from harm?

The logic of this bill is so askew that it wouldn't be surprising if perhaps next they will try and pass a bill that outlaws hiding behind things while being shot at.

In a continuation of that logic, law enforcement could use the PR line: “If you haven't done anything wrong, why would you need to hide behind anything?”

But we have to ponder what this is really all about and that is namely that the government is afraid of the people, as it rightly should be, and that the people with arms and body armor could present them with a problem in their endeavors to enslave everyone.

If this has not, as yet, gotten into your head, dearest reader, then it is about time it did. And this is but another step on the road to further restrictions as to personal self-defense and the ability to defend yourself against a tyrannical government. The lunatics are running the asylum and have no intention of giving it up.

© 2015

You’re obsessing about the wrong home energy uses


Keeping an eye on your own energy use is the “duh” approach to a smorgasbord of environmental problems, up to and including climate change. As a reporter, I can obsess over research funding for renewable technology, or streamlined permitting for solar installations, or more public transit, or better roads for cyclists and pedestrians, or how much fuel is burned in schlepping and refrigerating my food before it gets to me. But if I actually want to feel like I have control over one small corner of the world, I turn off the lights when I leave the room. When the downstairs neighbors in my apartment building turn all the lights on in the basement, because they are little weenies who are afraid of the dark, I go downstairs, turn them off myself, and generally think uncharitable thoughts about them and their various lifestyle choices.

In all this light-switch obsessing, I am a textbook illustration of a phenomenon explored recently by the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Chris Mooney over at the Washington Post does a good job of summarizing the study:

People generally weren’t very good at estimating how much total energy use the different categories consumed. For one, they didn’t realize that the biggest energy users — home heating and driving “private motor vehicles” — were dramatically more energy intensive than many other smaller energy users, such as computers or dishwashers.

You know what this means: I have been judging my neighbors for all the wrong reasons. This is pure tragedy.

Read more here.

Alys Fowler: restrain your urge to tidy the garden

Don’t clear away those tired and broken brown stems – they’re essential to the health of your patch next year

I look at the leek and elephant garlic seedheads that are toppling over, and eye up the snapped-off poppy seedheads and other bleached bits of growth. There are many house-beautiful webs made by the garden spider (Araneus diadematus), with their distinct cross on their backs. The frost will kill off these spiders and with them take down much of the rest of the garden.

The garden is a dishevelled mess and I contemplate tidying it up a bit, but at this point in the season this is an act of mere vanity. We now know that all those tired brown stems are essential for wildlife – in particular, the broken and not so pretty ones. During the coming month the poppy seedheads will tumble and some of the globe artichoke heads will fall as the stems rot. Others will stand proudly, of course, but in my experience those that lie horizontal are the ones that are colonised quickly by other life.

Some creatures may move into the hollow stem and sleep there over the winter. Others may make them the roofs of their subterranean homes. Moulds, mildews and fungi will start to break down the tough lignin of these stems. But before these rot back into the soil, others will feed off those fungi and moulds.

Clearing up the garden now is disastrous, yet it is deep within our gardening culture. We all have an urge to tidy away anything that is less than aesthetically pleasing, but the health of next year’s garden lies in all that is not so appealing.

Read more here.