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Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log and Strawbale Construction, 6th Edition Paperback

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Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log and Strawbale Construction, 6th Edition + The Stonebuilder's Primer: A Step-By-Step Guide for Owner-Builders + The Art of the Stonemason
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HOPS Press; 6 edition (November 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1892784327
  • ISBN-13: 978-1892784322
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This highly creative guide helps the non-builder become conversant with terms, materials, and techniques necessary to build one's dream home."--The Islands' Weekly Newspaper, Lopez Island, Washington.
 (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 (Review of the 4th Edition)

From the Publisher

A Positive Relationship with Nature

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.

More About the Author

Thomas J. Elpel had the rare opportunity as a child to spend hundreds of hours with his grandmother Josie Jewett. Together they explored the hills and meadows near Virginia City, Montana, collecting herbs, looking for arrowheads and watching wildlife. Grandma Josie helped Tom to learn about native plants and their uses, igniting a passion for nature that has inspired him ever since. She also sparked his interest in survival skills.

Tom was born in Los Altos, California in 1967 to Edwin and Jeanette Elpel. Every summer the family traveled back to Montana to be close to the extended family. They spent much of that time with Grandma Josie. Tom's father died in 1979, and the following summer the family moved permanently back to Montana. Tom attended junior high and high school in Bozeman, Montana.

"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. Renee and 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 met his sweetheart Renee in high school, where they both spent a lot of time in the art room. He asked her to go on a hike with him, and she said "no." But later Tom asked her again to go for a walk, and she said "okay." To Renee there was a big difference between a hike and a walk. Hiking didn't sound like much fun to her, but walking sounded good. In 1988, two years out of high school, they walked 500 miles together across Montana, starting in Pony, and ending at Fort Union on the North Dakota border. They were married in the Pony Park the following summer.

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. (Be sure to read Tom's article Building a House on Limited Means for more details.)

Tom's desire to make a 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.)

In an effort to tackle the issues of making a living while making the world a better place, Tom wrote his first book (more of a booklet) in 1991, which evolved over the years into Direct Pointing to Real Wealth. He has always written about subjects he wanted to learn and developed professionalism by writing, reflecting, revising, and republishing. He typically publishes four or five draft editions in comb-bound format before printing with a conventional paperback binding for the mass market. Along the way he started his own publishing company, HOPS Press, LLC, and created a successful internet bookstore.

In 1991 Tom also founded Hollowtop Outdoor Primitive School (HOPS) and has been giving classes on everything from Stone-Age living to stone masonry ever since. His basic philosophy is that the wilderness survival skills are useful to connect with nature, but you 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. "Renee and I 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 and Renee Elpel adopted three children, Felicia, Cassie, and Donny in 1996. Edwin was born to them in 2001. The family has been on many great adventures together, exploring the world by canoe, by car, or occasionally by bus and train. Tom has continued to passionately pursue his writing career no matter what other distractions there might be, learning to focus even through a parade of kids marching back and forth through his office.

In 2001 Tom founded Jefferson River Canoe Trail Association (originally named 3Rivers Park) to help sustain Montana's traditions of open space and open access along the Jefferson River segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

The publishing business and internet bookstore took over Tom and Renee's house room by room, until they bought Granny's Country Store in 2003. Although the store is an hour away from Pony, there is a house built into the store, so they migrate back and forth between the two places. The property at Granny's Country Store included enough room to launch Green University, LLC, which is Tom's latest endeavor to make real and lasting change in the world.

Tom's grandmother died in 2004 at the age of 89. Her love for nature continues to inspire Tom every day. Although he is insanely busy, getting out into nature remains a high priority, and he continues to hone his wilderness survival and awareness skills.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Greg C on November 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
While the author is a knowledgeable on the subject, if you are looking for a book that covers the topic in greater detail then check out Tomm Stanley's book "Stone House: A Guide to Self-Building With Slipforms". The material is covered in greater detail and in a well thought out manner.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Kristin D. Wilson on March 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Touches on a variety of "green" living homes. Not too many specifics on each type of construction. Good for an overview of options available. Not for the builder who has a particular form of construction already in mind.Good for starting the research process of green living.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By D. Donovan, Editor/Sr. Reviewer on April 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
The house of your dreams needn't be unaffordable: integrated design and construction methods can help in the planning process and can result in much savings, and LIVING HOMES: INTEGRATED DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION is the perfect guide to that process. Chapters cover everything from calculating energy usage and efficiency to considering water supply and waste system options, bonding walls, and more. Black and white photos throughout reinforce instructions on how to cut construction costs along the way. LIVING HOMES deserves ongoing recommendation as an excellent choice for any who would pay attention to cost-efficient design.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By T. S. Conner on July 18, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most of the housing being built today is shoddy. Volume homebuilding corporations breeze into town, rape the land, slap up substandard cardboard-quality "houses" on postage stamp-sized lots and charge hundreds of thousands of dollars per unit. Many of these contractors get run out of the state, change their corporate name and then move on the next urban sprawl boom.

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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Prows on February 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
I have pored through many, any books on design, and I have spent the past seven years or so researching and planning the home that I will one day build in Alaska. This home will be mostly made of earth, will stay warm 11 months of the year without any sort of exogenous heating source, will grow massive amounts of food indoors, will be very very inexpensive to build, and will just generally be pretty awesome.

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.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on June 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
Most would-be home builders believe a dream house would cost a fortune to construct from scratch: that isn't true, maintains author Elpel, who built his dream house with his wife. The planning of such a home is the key - and is the key to Living Homes: Integrated Design & Construction. Chapters cover energy efficiency concerns, home construction basics, and water supply and management with an eye to revealing how design and construction can work together to fit into both a budget and a dream plan. From strawbale walls to interior finishing, Living Homes provides a gold mine of construction specifics for any neophyte builder.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dinky on January 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Living Homes has provided me with entertainment and information I was seeking. I am planning on building a new house and this book gave me a lot of information to think about. I like the energy efficiency that the book promotes and it gives a lot of ideas to think about when planning an energy efficient home. Stone masonry fireplaces for heat was a subject that I wanted to explore and the book has some information on it. It also describes many different types of heating systems involving heating water in a floor and solar heaters.
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