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Review: Eco reading

Type the words ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ into Amazon and you’ll be greeted by a mind blowing number of books so I though I’d share just four from the shelves of my office which might prove useful or even thought provoking.

Simply Sustainable Homes is, as the strapline says, a no-nonsense guide to green building. It’s written by Tim Pullen, one of my fellow speakers at the National Homebuilding & Renovating Show, and is very much a primer on the subject. Easy to read, it explains the choices available and is relatively jargon free, covering everything from heat pumps and solar panels to SAP calculations and a useful summary of the various insulation products now available. There are sections on sustainable materials and water management and the book opens by pointing out that ‘a good product starts with good design’.

Ecohouse: A design guide by Sue Roaf, Manuel Fuentes and Stephanie Thomas moves things up a gear. The book was first published in 2001 and, now in its third edition, is something of a bible for eco builders. Amongst other things, Sue is a professor in the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University and, when it was completed in March 1995, her Oxford Ecohouse was the first low-energy house in the United Kingdom with a fully integrated photovoltaic roof. The book draws on the lessons learnt but goes far beyond this, taking inspiration from eco buildings across the world, explaining the science, the practicalities and the challenges involved and has 127 pages of case studies.

Local Sustainable Homes, How to make them happen in your community is another book based very much on real life. As I discovered when I interviewed him the other day, Chris Bird, its author, is passionate not just about sustainable buildings but about the communities in which they sit. He helps run the Building and Housing Group for Transition Town Totnes, has worked as a freelance journalist for 20 years and has clearly immersed himself in his subject. The book is packed with case studies, is based on real experience, especially in terms of social housing and cohousing, and deals with the many practical issues associated with building sustainable homes, starting with a thought provoking chapter that asks: ‘What is sustainable housing?’.

Ecological Architecture, A critical history by James Steel is an altogether different type of book but, importantly, it sets sustainable architecture in context. The volume is organised into three parts: the first identifies the recurring themes in ecological architecture; the second features case studies each focusing on a specific architect or topic; the third looks to the future and to where ecological architecture might go next as it struggles with global urbanisation. Undeniably this is a coffee table book but, as is pointed out: ‘The ecological approach to building is the great untold story in the architectural history of the past century’.