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The Natural House: A Complete Guide to Healthy, Energy-Efficient, Environmental Homes

The Natural House:

by Daniel D. Chiras, 2000. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Jct., Vt. Paperback, 470 pages, $35.

Simply put, this is the most comprehensive and most useful introduction to natural building systems and practices available. Author Daniel Chiras is an educator and writer (his high school textbook,

Environmental Science, has sold 150,000 copies) who has studied sustainable building practices and renewable energy since the early 1970s. More recently, he began looking specifically into

natural building options in planning his own new home—completed in 1996—and he treats us to his findings in

The Natural House.

Most of the first half of this highly readable book is a detailed review of eight natural building techniques: rammed-earth, straw-bale, Earthships, adobe, cob, cordwood, log, and stone. With each of these, Chiras provides some fascinating history, reviews the building system, covers general requirements, addresses cost, summarizes the advantages and disadvantages, and interviews one of the leading proponents of that building system (David Easton with rammed-earth, Michael Reynolds with Earthships, and Rob Roy with cordwood, for example). A chapter also addresses several emerging natural-building systems, including earthbags, papercrete, and bamboo. Chiras provides remarkably even-handed coverage of these natural-building systems, yet he doesn’t pull any punches. He notes, for example, that “the only environmentally sound log home is one built from local woodlots and forests, and then, only if tree stands are being sustainably managed and harvested.”

In Part 3 of

The Natural House, Chiras goes into more detail on some overarching principles relating to sustainable house design. There are chapters on passive solar heating and cooling, renewable electricity generation (photovoltaics, wind, and hydro), water systems (from rainwater harvesting to wastewater treatment), green building materials, and site considerations. The book is not without some errors and misinformation (confusing CFCs with HCFCs in rigid foam insulation, for example, and some questionable information on embodied energy), but in general it is very well researched and highly useful.

The Natural House is a book that anyone setting out to build a home of natural materials should read from cover to cover. The emphasis is for the owner-builder, but there is much here that professional designers and builders will also find useful—especially in addressing questions from potential clients on alternative building systems.

Published June 1, 2000

(2000, June 1). The Natural House: A Complete Guide to Healthy, Energy-Efficient, Environmental Homes. Retrieved from

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