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Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction Paperback – May 15, 2010
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June 15, 2004. (Review of the 4th Edition.)
This isn't mere theory but is firmly grounded in Elpel's hands-on experience creating durable, energy-efficient buildings on a shoestring. --Fine Homebuilding. February/March 2003. (Review of the 4th Edition.)
This hefty book (250 pages, 8.5" X 11") is chock full of detailed information, personal musings, photos and diagrams, and practical tips. Thomas Elpel is a do-it-yourselfer after my own heart, and what he has compiled here chronicles his adventures of building his own home in rural Montana as well as experiences with other building projects. He and his wife were forced by circumstances to find inexpensive solutions for all of the challenges of building their home, and they managed to do this without sacrificing their commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability.
Their home is a true hybrid, with the first floor being slip-formed stone masonry and the second story of logs, all sourced locally and ecologically. Thomas explains in great detail exactly how he put together this house, sufficiently for others to follow his lead without much more need for instruction.
In addition, the book is liberally dosed with Thomas's philosophy of how to homestead ecologically in the 21st Century. He starts with how to choose an appropriate location, then proceeds to describe strategies for disaster-proofing your home. He emphasizes how important it is to define the goals you have for your home before even coming up with a design.
Part Two of the book explores principles of energy efficiency, delving into a discussion of the need for excellent insulation, coupled with thermal mass and solar gain for a truly ecological house. The pros and cons of various insulation systems are defined, with charts of R-values. etc. There is a chapter devoted to interior air quality.
Part Three launches into the nitty gritty of exactly how to build using the methods that the author is familiar with. There is a thorough review of various strategies for creating footings, foundations and floors. This leads to a primer about the properties of concrete and how to mix and pour it. The instructions for building stone walls are specific to slip-forming, which tends to be fairly straight forward and simpler for folks who are not skilled in the art of free-form stone masonry.
The log-building technique that Thomas chose to use for his house is one of the simpler approaches, where little notching and careful fitting and trimming is required. Round logs are just stacked one on top of the other, using rebar pins to hold them in place. It is possible to build entire walls this way, and then cut out doors and windows later. The spaces between the logs are eventually insulated and chinked to make the wall air tight.
The basics of strawbale building are presented in one chapter, detailing how a large load-bearing strawbale shop was built. The information about strawbale is not as thorough as it is with the previous chapters on stone and log building, but there is enough of an overview to give the reader an idea of what is involved.
All of the wall-building techniques described so far require a framed roof of some sort, and the author goes into some detail about the possibilities for doing this. One method shown is fairly simple and straight forward, where a log ridge pole is placed first, and then rafters are bolted together on top of this, supported at the other end with another log. This can then support a variety of roofing materials, such as metal sheets or shingles.
In order to present a thorough overview of all of the basics of house building, the author also has surprisingly comprehensive chapters on plumbing and electrical wiring. Strategies for solar water and space heating are discussed.
All-in-all I give this book very high marks for providing useful information compiled in a logical and detailed manner. A person really could attempt to build their own house using nothing but this book as a guide, which is more than can be said for most building how-to guides. --Kelly Hart, GreenHomeBuilding.com
From the Publisher
Our culture teaches us that we are separate from nature. We spend most of our lives in houses surrounded by manicured lawns, living in towns or cities where recrecational activies are based on human-centered sports. Nature is something we go to a park to see, or we watch a show about it on TV.
Those of us in the field of environmental education try to preach a different message, telling people that "all life is interconnected" and that "we really are part of nature". But in the next breath we tell them to stay on the trails and to practice "no-trace" camping. We tell them to look at nature and photograph it, but not to touch it. We tell them our modern way of life is destroying nature, and that we need to stop mucking up the planet. In other words, we tell them we are part of nature--the bad part!
Here at HOPS Press, LLC we advocate a positive interactive relationship with the natural world. We want people to get involved in nature, to be a part of the process on many levels:
Through Participating in Nature: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Primitive Living Skills and the Art of Nothing Wilderness Survival Video Series, you can experience an intimate connection with nature as you rediscover the skills our ancestors used to survive for tens of thousands of years. Instead of merely camping in the wilderness or passing through it, you will become part of the process as you learn about nature by using it to meet your needs for shelter, fire, water and food. Learn to set aside the trappings of modern culture and step directly into nature with little or nothing, to experience nature on its own terms.
With Tom's book Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification, you can connect with the wonderful diversity of plants and flowers all around you in a way that you may have never imagined. Instead of seeing the green world as little more than pretty wallpaper, you will learn to know the individual plants, wildflowers and weeds as if they have been your life-long friends. Our book Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids Ages 9-99 utilizes the same patterns method of identifying plants as Botany in a Day, but in a metaphorical story form where children of all ages can join young Shanleya on her journey to learn the plant traditions of her people.
In Living Homes: Integrated Design & Construction you will learn how to make your home part of nature, as well as how to make nature part of your home. Learn the secrets to building low-cost, high-efficiency homes with stone masonry, log-building and strawbale construction methods. With this book and Tom's Slipform Stone Masonry DVD/VHS Video you will be able to build your quality, earth-friendly Dream home on a budget, even while the "experts" say it isn't cost effective.
Finally, in Direct Pointing to Real Wealth: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Money, you will learn to see the economy as an ecosystem where money is a token that represents calories of energy. Learn the basic rules of this economic ecosystem and you will be empowered to use your resources to more effectively achieve your desired quality of life, while making the world a better place to be. You will be able help convert an economy that harms planetary biodiversity into an economy that helps restore it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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More About the Author
"All I ever wanted to do as a kid was to go to Grandma's house," Tom said. "When she moved from Virginia City to Pony, I followed her. I eventually bought land just a couple blocks from her place."
Tom's first serious exposure to wilderness survival skills began at the age of 16, when he went on a 26-day, 250-mile walkabout in the desert canyons of southern Utah with Boulder Outdoor Survival School. The following year he and Grandma Josie went together to Tom Brown's Tracker School in New Jersey. From there Tom spent thousands of hours practicing and developing survival skills in his "backyard" in the Rocky Mountains.
Tom's desire to make a positive difference in the world started early, partly the result from watching too much news with Walter Chronkite as a child. By the time he entered junior high he was on a mission to change the world. Friends in high school said he would grow out of his idealism and learn to accept the world as it was, but so far that hasn't happened. (He hasn't exactly changed the world either, but he insists he is still working on it.)
Tom married his girlfriend from high school, and the couple bought a five-acre parcel in Pony, just two blocks distance from Grandma Josie's house. They moved into a tent and started building their dream home of stone and log. They both worked with troubled teens in wilderness therapy programs, so they commuted to Idaho, Utah, or Arizona for three-week trips, then came home to spend their money on building materials.
The Elpel's built a passive solar stone and log home for approximately what most people spend on a new car. They successfully avoided the need for a mortgage, a regular job, or an expensive college education. Instead, Tom pursued his interests - learning, practicing, teaching, and writing about botany, wilderness survival, consciousness, and sustainable living. He is the author of numerous books, and the director of Outdoor Wilderness Living School (OWLS) and Green University®, LLC in Pony, Montana.
Tom's basic philosophy is that the wilderness survival skills are useful to connect with nature, but we shouldn't run away from the problems of modern society. Instead, we need to apply the lessons and spirit of living close to nature towards the quest to solve our worldly problems.
"Experts and lay persons alike bemoan the difficulty of creating a sustainable lifestyle, but it really isn't that hard." Tom said. "We had less money and less skills than a lot of people, but we built an energy-efficient passive solar home, and we now generate our own electricity with solar panels. Sustainability isn't that difficult, you just have to stay focused on the goal."
Tom's grandmother died in 2004 at the age of 89. Her love for nature continues to inspire Tom every day. Although he is crazy busy, getting out into nature remains a high priority, and he continues to hone his wilderness survival and awareness skills.
Top Customer Reviews
This book is one of the best and most useful titles on home design that I have ever come across. It deals with a huge variety of topics, and is packed full of wisdom and intelligent building concepts. I ordered it specifically because it has a step-by-step on how to build a Russian stove, but there are many, many more topics contained within.
My favorite books on design include The One Straw Revolution, Permaculture: A Designer's Manual, Passive Solar Homes, How to Grow More Vegetables, A Pattern Language, Natural Capitalism, Shelter, Earthships, Cradle to Cradle, and now this. It has been a gem of a discovery. If you are interested in design and in building your own incredible home, this book would be a fantastic investment.
If you're sick and tired of seeing beehive neighborhoods spring up in your town with siding walls you can put your fist through, do yourself a favor and take this crash course on alternative homebuilding. This book will give you an excellent starting place to learn about how you can build your own high quality, inexpensive home with low environmental impact.
There is a lot of detail in this book on the methods presented. The "butt and pass" log home building chapter alone is worth 20 times the cost of the book. You won't easily find that information anywhere else outside of taking a log home building class from the Log Home Builders Association in Monroe, Washington, which is the only place I know of that teaches that method.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Bought this book for research on building a masonry heater. While it did provide plans and some guidance, the addition of the DVD (sold separately) really helped round out the... Read morePublished 3 months ago by freudhawk
This book is really great! Written by a homeowner who built a smart and beautiful house. Includes layer by layer instructions on how to build their super efficient brick chimney! Read morePublished 8 months ago by Castloader
Cool book. Really liked the concepts. Seems a little dated thoughPublished 11 months ago by Nicholas Keith
I have had this book for several years.It provides a valuable overview of so many different ways to build or adapt your home to work with your surroundings and with what is... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Cara Cox