The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodelling Projects To Help Kick The Fossil-fuel Habit

Patrick Whitefield | Tuesday, 26th January 2010
Patrick Whitefield is impressed by the mass of carefully researched eco-renovation tips in this new book
Author: Stephen & Rebekah Hren
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Publication year: 2008
RRP: £19.95

Stephen and Rebekah Hren, filled with a passion to live a sustainable life, got themselves some land out in the country, built a cob house, went off-grid and started growing vegetables. But soon they realised that the constant car trips back to town for work and social life made a nonsense of what they were doing. 'Driving an hour to town and back used the equivalent amount of energy as running our home's electrical needs for over a month.' So they moved back to town and set about making a typical suburban house as near to carbon-neutral as they could. The result was not just a net gain to the planet but the material for this inspiring and practical book.

They cut down their eco-renovation work into a series of separate projects and explain exactly how they completed each one: insulating an existing fridge, solar water heater, earth plastering an existing wall, sealing drafts and so on. They also rate each one according to: how long it takes, the financial cost, the energy saved, whether it's 'renter-friendly' and the level of skill needed to do it yourself. Besides this they give a great deal of more general background information on each aspect, so what you get is not just confined to the solutions they chose to suit their own situation. They also venture into transport and home food-growing, which together account for a large part of our total energy budget. These proved to be tougher nuts to crack for them than direct energy use in the home.

On the whole the text is clear and easy to follow, though they did lose me on at least one occasion. Being an American book, some of the detail will not be directly relevant to Britain and other European countries. However, this is a fairly minor problem compared to the mass of common sense, based on careful research and personal experience, which is the book's main fare.

Patrick Whitefield