OKAY, you've got a roof over your head and the four walls that go with it, but maybe you want something more than just a traditional house. And maybe you want something less, like lower energy bills. Can you have a home that's aesthetically pleasing and energy efficient, or are the two mutually exclusive?
"Efficient," after all, best describes an office or assembly line, not an attractive home. And "retrofit," a buzz word that means energy-conscious remodeling, sounds like something Han Solo would do on the Millenium Falcon, not anything you'd do to your house.
But Charles Wing, author of From the Walls In (Little, Brown, $9.95) says you can have a retrofitted home--warmer in winter and cooler in summer--without sacrificing aesthetics or historical value. Indeed, says Wing, "I think rebuilt houses are more exciting than new houses." His book is exciting too, particularly for the newcomer to house construction. All the vagaries of retrofitting and renovation become clear when explained in Wing's witty, conversational prose, a happy change from the usual "Insert-Tab-A-into-Slot-B" texts on remodeling.
As co-founder of Cornerstones, a school that teaches novice owner-builders construction skills, Wing is primarily concerned with saving money by saving energy-- so his opinions on remodeling are particularly apt: "Retrofitting is a creative act, and fantasy is a necessary ingredient in architectural creativity. But fantasy knows no limits; unbridled fantasy magnifies results while reducing cost and labor estimates. My personal fantasy factor is 2X--everything costs twice as much, takes twice as long, is twice as hard--as I have learned from hard experience."
Reality, on the other hand, creeps in every month on little postman's feet bearing electric, gas, and oil bills. Energy conservation is an obvious solution for house and apartment dwellers. Begin with your windows. "If your home is a typical one, it loses 25 to 30% of its heat through the windows. If you have particularly large window areas, this heat loss may be 50% or more, even if they are of insulating glass and face south!" So warns William K. Langdon, author of Movable Insulation (Rodale, $11.95).
But you can cut heat losses dramatically in winter and keep your house cooler in summer by making the various pop-in shutters, insulating panels, and thermal shades described in this well-illustrated book. Such thermal add-ons--painted or covered with fabric or pictures--must be carefully designed and matched to your decor, as the book demonstrates, or your home, however energy efficient, will look like one of Heloise's less successful hints.
Windows that lose heat by night can also gain significant amounts on sunny winter days. Finding your home's place in the sun--solar remodeling--using conservation can reduce home energy consumption by up to 80 per cent, says Joe Carter, editor of Solarizing Your Present Home (Rodale Press, $24.95).
"You can build heat collectors and put them on your roof, your walls, even out in the yard. You can cut holes in the right places and use glazing to admit the light and trap the heat of the sun's rays. You can use glazing over masonry walls and create heat storage from what was once just a heat sink. You can put a little sun into your domestic water heating system."
Carter offers 30 passive solar heating and cooling build-it-yourself projects, amply illustrated and accompanied by case histories of actual houses.
Solar Retrofit (Brick House, $11.95) keeps it simple, giving plans and details for building five solar space heating systems: direct gain ("insulated glazing added to the south side of your house"); a thermosiphoning air panel ("uses an absorber plate to convert the sun's energy to heat, and moves the heated air into the house by natural means"); an attached solar greenhouse ("to grow plants and provide the adjoining house with supplementary solar heat"); and a horizontal air flow collector ("uses a thermostatically controlled fan to move heat from the collector to the house").
"One or more of these systems is appropriate for over half the homes in the United States," says author Daniel K. Reif.
Attached solar greenhouses are particuarly appropriate in the Washington area where winters are relatively mild. Even a small greenhouse would produce ample cold-hardy vegetables for salads and stir-frying through the winter. A larger structure could share its surplus heat with the living space. Bill Yanda and Rick Fisher's The Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse (John Muir, $8) offers clear instructions for building and operating your own "earth in microcosm ... a spiritual refuge from the outside world."
And if the sun can warm your plants and soul, why not heat your water with it? Or consider producing hot water by some other alternative to electricity, gas, and oil. Larry Gay's Heating the Home Water Supply ( Garden Way, $7.95), is a brief but excellent discussion of the solid fuel thermosiphon (heating water by passing it through a coil placed in a stove or stove pipe); active and passive solar water heating systems; and heat pumps and reclaimers.
While Gay, a scientist and writer, encourages the do- it-yourselfer, he wisely stresses safety first, describing the systems "in enough detail so that you either can do the installation work yourself or--where that is not feasible--have enough understanding of the options to make an informed choice as to what will best suit you and your family."
Adding wood heat to your home is another area where safety is of obvious importance. At least it should be. Unfortunately many people are casual about wood stoves, placing them in their homes as though they were merely plugging in another appliance. Wood stoves can saveeyou money and add romance to your home (along with soot, ashes, splinters, and termites) but they can also kill you.
Jay Shelton's Solid Fuels Encyclopedia (Garden Way, $12.95) is the most comprehensive work on wood and coal heating available, a book that should be in every public library. Shelton runs an energy research laboratory, so his advice and opinions are based on analysis and facts, not the usual folklore surrounding wood heat. Everything about using solid fuels--from peat to catalytic combusters to detailed explaniations of pyrolysis--is included. All of this is valuable, especially to people in the industry, but probably more than the average person wants to know. Shelton's chapters on chimney cleaning, creosote, and stove installation, however, should be required reading for anyone planning to convert to wood heat.
His earlier book, Wood Heat Safety (Garden Way, $9.95) is more specific and equally valuable. Don't install a wood stove without reading Shelton on safety and maintenance. It could save your life.
Thinking about safety brings us to one of the more subtle dangers of remodeling, or building for energy efficiency: indoor pollution. William Shurcliff, author of Air-to-Air Heat Exchangers for Houses (Brick House, $12.95), asks "how can the home-owner, with his tight house and many sources of indoor pollutants, maintain a health-giving inflow of fresh air and at the same time avoid a big loss of heat in the outgoing air? How can he keep the air fresh and the heating bill small?"
Air-to-air heat exchangers are the answer (along with avoiding pollutant-laden building materials), devices that regenerate indoor air without losing significant amounts of warm air. While indoor pollution is less of a problem in older houses (it's almost impossible to stop the infiltration of outside air in older structures) it's a danger in new, super-insulated houses, apartments, and hermetically sealed offices. Shurcliff thoroughly explains the design principles and distribution strategies of air-to-air devices, including information on specific exchangers being marketed. This is a technical manual, however, not for the casual reader. Shurcliff writes like a friendly but no-nonsense physics teacher.
And lest we lose our bearings in a maelstrom of BTUs and therms, let's remember that our houses and apartments are homes, not testing sites for measuring thermal efficiency. Handcrafted Doors and Windows (Rodale, $12.95) reminds us that our homes express who we are (or would like to be). "The handcrafting of doors and windows can be merely a pretentious expression of wealth. Or it can be a quiet way of putting love and energy into a house so the house can in turn evoke love in others."
Author Amy Zaffarano Rowland gives us a dazzling look at doors and windows as art. A glance at the color photos and construction details of carved doors, stained glass, sandblasted window designs, decorative window grates (instead of bars) will make homeowners and craftspeople crackle with ideas.
Attention to Detail (Putnam, $12.95) also elevates the commonplace. Hundreds of vibrant color photos illustrate beautiful and functional design details: hinges, countertops, doorknobs, cabinet pulls, mail slots, bathroom fixtures, door knockers, lights, flooring, stairs, and more. "The sole purpose of the book," says author Herbert H. Wise, "is to expand your consciousness, to open your eyes to the scope, the range, the rich variety of alternatives available in each important area of architectural detail."
If you're remodeling an older house or one with historical value, you'll want to choose your strategy with care. Will you preserve, restore, renovate, or rehabilitate? The Third Old House Catalogue (Collier, $9.95), compiled by Lawrence Grow, "is a resource book . . . designed to illustrate the many possibilities which anyone can and should consider when buying products or services suited for the old building."
Six thousand products, suppliers, and services are listed (with no advertising). Grow's comments and annotations offer valuable, sometimes fascinating insights into working with older structures. He also includes information on tax incentives for rehabilitating historic buildings and a list of regional preservation organizations.
After old houses come Renegade Houses (Running Press, $7.95), fantasy made real, provocative, innovative dwellings: a redwood water tank converted into a bedroom (20 feet in diameter) with windows, a handcrafted redwood spiral staircase, and an attached kitchen; an abandoned church moved to a new site and rebuilt into a 2700 square foot, four bedroom house; and a Victorian railroad depot turned into a unique and luxurious home are a few of the 20 radical (and often beautiful) approaches to housing described.
"The people in this book," says writer Eric Hoffman, "approached the housing problem in a way that let them survive on their own terms . . . whatever their reasons for building and adapting in unconventional ways, the end results were usually expressions of pragmatic individuality."
The pictures and construction data on these small, lovingly crafted and generally energy efficient houses may inspire you to take a more creative or radical approach to your own living space. (Be aware, however that creative and radical approaches to living spaces give building inspectors and zoning boards the screaming meemies.)
Perhaps, like Alfred --"a former Pac/Ten football star" --you'll choose to live in a tree house--30 feet up in a triple-trunk oak. Carefully built, with a shingle roof, skylight, and small porch, Alfred's aerie has survived 60- mile-an-hour winds in the Santa Cruz mountains. "I like to think I haven't disfigured the landscape or created an energy-guzzling dinosaur," says Alfred.
Let's see, there are all those big trees in Rock Creek Park. Maybe if you got some lumber and a couple of crazy friends and a big ladder. . . .