Sunday, May 12, 2013

From old house to eco house

Marianne Suhr and Roger Hunt, Old House Eco Handbook (Frances Lincoln)

A while back, Marianne Suhr (who will be familiar to many British readers from BBC's series Restoration) and Roger Hunt co-wrote Old House Handbook, an excellent guide to maintaining and caring for old houses, from medieval to Edwardian. Now they've followed this up with a new volume, Old House Eco Handbook, which addresses the issue of caring for old houses while also making them sustainable. Like its predecessor, the new book is produced in association with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).

The book looks at many ways in which to make all kinds of old houses more energy efficient. As well as chapters on general principles and approaches, there are specific sections on roofs and ceilings, windows and doors, walls, floors, paints, and energy and water. The authors start from principles laid down by SPAB, and point out that often these are likely to be "green" anyway – for example, SPAB encourages owners to repair rather than replace, and repairing is likely to use fewer natural resources than wholesale replacement. The authors stress the value of a holistic approach, balancing the benefits of energy-efficient technology with the impact on aesthetics. They embrace reuse and recycling too, while also warning readers to treat architectural salvage with appropriate caution by verifying the provenance of salvaged items.

Old House Eco Handbook
is full of useful advice – about using lime, about waste reduction, about selecting types of paint, about minimizing water usage, and so on and on. It contains a lot of information on materials that will be new to many readers – anyone for reed board or insulating lime plasters? It is replete with warnings about approaches that might work on modern houses but are far from ideal in older ones. Again and again, the authors point out that the standard modern approaches to keeping a house warm by hermetically sealing it from the elements simply don't work on older buildings, which have to "breathe" so that moisture is allowed to escape through the fabric of the walls, rather than being trapped inside them.

The books is pragmatic, though. The authors realise that the kind of insulation that works for an old house might not be as efficient as a more modern material. But they show ways of making some improvement in energy efficiency, without compromising the needs of aesthetics or conservation. Their practical solutions have been arrived at through hands-on experience too. And if you don't feel confident to do the jobs they describe for yourself, it still makes sense to get hold of this book so that you can understand the options and talk to contractors and craftworkers from an informed standpoint. Old House Eco Handbook is attractive, absorbing, and packed with information. I'm still learning from it.

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SPECIAL OFFER The good news: Frances Lincoln, the publishers of Old House Eco Handbook, are making a special offer to UK readers of this blog.
To order Old House Eco Handbook at the special offer price of £24.00 inc UK p&p (RRP: £30.00), please call Bookpoint on 01235 400 400 and quote the code 46OHEH.

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