Eco-housing Resources

One of the articles in Birth, Sex & Death (IC#31)
Originally published in Spring 1992 on page 9
Copyright (c)1992, 1996 by Context Institute


We found recent reports of low housing starts in the US rather more promising than distressing. Given the state of our old-growth forests here in North America, and given the many stories of people literally poisoned by their own homes from building materials employed in the housing industry, it seems like a good time for us all to take stock of just how we go about making shelter.

Below are some information sources for the environmentally-conscientious home builder or remodeler. We’d be glad to learn of any others you know about, too:

Guide to Resource Efficient Building Elements provides useful background information on all aspects of building sustainable dwellings, beginning with foundation systems and structural framing, through roofing, windows, finish materials, landscape and decking, including recycling on the job site. This guide is packed with detailed information, including some comment on the particular products of every company mentioned in its 83 pages. It refers to other sources of information, is printed on recycled paper, and generally gets a "right on" rating. At $20, this guide is a bargain and is the best of what we’ve seen for a first foray into the arena of eco-building. Contact: Center for Resourceful Building Technology, Box 3413, Missoula, MT 59806, 406/549-7678.

Environmental Resource Guide is a brand new subscription project created and supported by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE), partially funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The guide is set up in a three-ring binder, to accommodate quarterly augmentations and permit easy updates and revisions.

Intended to be useful to architects and others in the construction industry, information in the AIA guide relates to the environmental costs of materials that architects and builders specify, as well as the identification of available alternatives. Also considered are site design and land use, energy, recy-cling, and "building ecology" – i.e., healthfulness of the built environ-ment.

This is not a resource guide, per se, although a well-annotated bibliography of books that list manu-facturers of particular building products will be included. It is a place to go for clarity about the methodologies being used to set standards in the field of eco-building. It’s expensive: $125/year for AIA members, $200/year for non-members. Contact: AIA/ERG Project, 1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006, 202/626-7518 or 800/365-ARCH.

Environmental Outfitters Guidebook is in "rough draft" form until summer of 1992. Like the AIA project, above, it will be available in 3-ring binders to facilitate updating. This is an ambitious undertaking by Environmental Outfitters, a mail-order service offering environmentally responsible and healthy-to-humans building products. It will eventually consist of 88 categories within 10 sections (from Site and Structure to Appliances, and from Maintenance to Children’s Building Products). Environmental Outfitters was created by scholar, architect, and carpenter Paul Bierman-Lytle, who serves on the AIA’s COTE (see above), and who continues to discover and produce products for builders that consider overall environmental impact, toxicity and health, energy consumption, disposability, durability, performance, and beauty. This one’s really intended for the pros: total cost of the Guidebook, including 34 binders of product samples, will be approximately $550. The Guidebook without the sample binders will be available for approximately $176. Contact: Environmental Outfitters at PO Box 514, New Canaan, CT 06840, 203/966-3541.

The Pacific Northwest Eco-Building Network Directory is both a regional directory listing dozens of businesses that serve the Northwestern eco-builder, and a collection of essays on environmental issues associated with housing. It tends to the "new-agey" (one article concerns using astrology in siting a dwelling). Type size is miniscule; even so, the resource listings are less detailed than in the other eco-building resources reviewed here. Westerners may want to check it out, nonetheless: publisher Jeff Learned is now forming a West Coast Eco-Building Group that has attracted a lot of interest. The Directory is $8. Contact: Learned Integrated Habitats, PO Box 6465, Kent, WA 98064, 206/850-7456.

1992 Safe Home Resource Guide is a companion to a bi-monthly periodical, the Safe Home Digest. The Resource Guide offers products that may be good to know about, especially if you suspect your own home or office of causing mischief: e.g., products include test kits for lead, mercury, radon, mold and fungi, and volatile organic compounds. The 1992 Guide is $30, the Digest is $5 for a sample issue. Contact: Safe Home Digest, 24 East Avenue, Suite 1300, New Canaan, CT 06840, or call 203/966-2099.

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