I was asked to read and write a review for Chris Magwood’s new book, Making Better Buildings. I have written a good deal about the work that Chris does in the field as the director of the Endeavour Centre, a spin-off of a green building program that was developed at Sir Sanford Flemming College in Peterborough. Chris has substantial experience in using better, greener building materials and has used his knowledge to write this book.
The book is indispensable for anyone wanting to build a home using lower impact materials than today’s standard code-built home. The materials are classified by category for use in different phases of building, including foundations, walls, insulation, windows then roofing. Most of the book’s emphasis is placed on the materials used for the building envelope but there are also sections dedicated to different types of residential renewable energy generation, HVAC systems and interior finishes for floors, walls and counter tops, etc.
Chris describes how a material is manufactured including whether it’s harvested, mined, developed from chemicals, etc. You get a clear understanding of the overall environmental impact of a material.
One of the dilemmas I face when I write about materials is just exactly how green a material really is. With this book you can compare different types of foundations by how much embodied energy they contain as well as other environmental parameters. A foundation made from earth-bagged forms has a “sample building embodied energy” of 0-16,665 megajoules while a foundation made from old tires and rammed earth (8% concrete) has a “sample building embodied energy” of 0-29,216 MJ. The variation depends on whether the materials are virgin or sourced on site and repurposed. This type of material analysis is done for every material listed in the book so that each material can be compared consistently to another within the same category.
What Chris’ book does is thoroughly analyze materials in a way that helps novice and experienced builders decide which material will work best for their project and the impact on the environment that each material has. There is a chart for each material that identifies and rates on a scale of 1-10, not just embodied energy, but also,
- overall environmental impacts,
- waste generated,
- energy efficiency of the product,
- material costs,
- labour inputs,
- skill level needed by homeowner,
- building code compliance and
- indoor air quality.
By taking an analytical perspective, Chris remains impartial to each material. Note that he leaves out common building materials such as poured concrete foundations because their environmental impact is so detrimental.
Chris has created a list of pros and cons for each material to help you understand why one material might be more widely used than another.
If you are interested in building a home with a lower environmental impact than the current standard built home offers, this is a great reference guide to help familiarize you with all of the latest lower impact materials currently available for building a home.
You can purchase Making Better Buildings through New Society (the publisher)’s website.
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