Reviews from the Press
Integrated Design & Construction (4th Edition)
Reviewed by Ruthie Thompson-Klein.
Reprinted with permission from The Islands' Weekly Newspaper Lopez Island, WA.
Living Homes attempts to help the beginner pull together specific, appropriate criteria and create a blueprint to fit it without becoming intimidated by the scope of the building process. Mistakes which seem glaring turn out to be not as bad as imagined. The message is this: home building is a place to accept the challenge of doing the best we can.
After an inspiring recap of his mid-90s' first home building experience, Elpel organizes the remainder of the book around the idea of homesteading in the 21st century. He dispels the conventional notions of borrowing huge sums or putting away a small amount of money for decades, while "saving" to build a house. Elpel claims he and his wife put away 95% and lived on 5% to get their dream home. One wants to believe this is still possible in the real world.
The nuts and bolts of home building are introduced and explained as they relate to log, straw bale, and stone construction for the builder with little or no experience. Each method is introduced with an illustration of the tools and specialized equipment necessary. A large portion of the book is dedicated to techniques for building with earth itself--stone, slipform masonry, tilt-up construction, and terra tiles. Illustrated with diagrams and photographs, the things you need to know and the mistakes you want to avoid make informative reading. I found the tilt-up stone construction especially slick, as walls are laid out on ground level, then lifted by crane to interlock and pin together like doors in a frame-"instant" structure with the personal touch of hand-laid stones. Precision planning and sangfroid are necessary--though your tilt-up stone dwelling will stand for centuries, Elpel points out that one mistake could fit you "into a casket about an inch high." Okay, that strawbale home is looking better.
Air quality, water supply, wastewater management and reuse, insulation, and solar/thermal systems are discussed, emphasizing that energy efficiency should not be tacked on to a home (as is the general standard) but inherent in the design. Many construction photographs feature deep snow, and I'll listen to someone who hand-builds a comfortable home in that climate. With an emphasis on disaster-proofing, each construction technique is evaluated for resistance to earthquake, fire, flood, and high winds. It all comes back to planning, planning, and more planning. Having spent four years planning his first home, Elpel speaks with some authority. Living Homes will take you--fleetingly--through the vast mysteries of plumbing (9 pages) and wiring (8 pages) the alternative home. As one who has stood puzzled in the plumbing parts aisle I'm aware that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and happy to consult with professionals here.
Though fascinated by Elpel's informal tip-and-technique format, I was distracted by the sprinkling of gross punctuation errors, inconsistent illustration style, and varying photograph quality. If you are in the information-gathering stage of home building and want a down-to-earth, unpretentious guide to alternative methods of acquiring a home, this book is for you. If you want to work with materials at hand and are ready to invest life energy in owner construction, Living Homes (and familiarity with county code requirements) will certainly shorten the learning curve. At any rate you'll find hope and inspiration between these covers. Any homebuilder could use some of that. Just build it.
Go to Living Homes