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February 2017
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Recommended Reading

Magazines

The first magazine I would recommend is Natural Home. Even though the focus of the houses featured in the magazine has drifted somewhat from deep natural building over the years, it’s still the best periodical resource on the subject of natural living. Beyond building materials, Natural Home magazine has plenty of stories regarding furnishings, recycling, and gardening. Robin Griggs Lawrence is a great editor, and their Editorial Advisory Board includes natural building gurus Pliny Fisk and Gail Vittori (the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems), and authors Sarah Susanka, David Pearson, and Carol Venolia.

Coming in a close second on my list of favorite residential magazines is Smart HomeOwner. Focusing more on buildings and building systems, it is full of excellent eco-friendly information.

For longevity, it’s tough to beat Mother Earth News. They’re celebrating their 40th anniversary this year! Despite its strong focus on rural living, even a city-slicker can find wise living tips in each issue. For those of you who are planning on living in the country, this one is a must.

Fine Homebuilding Magazine is an excellent resource, especially for builders. There were years when the magazine mostly ignored green building, but things have certainly changed for Fine Homebuilding. Fine Homebuilding is Yankee-centric (only the occasional article features homes built for ours or Western climates), but along with the skill-related articles for building stairs or taking care of your router, energy efficiency or green building articles are usually found in each issue. The magazine is published by Taunton Press, which also publishes Fine Woodworking, Fine Cooking, Fine Gardening, and Threads as well as the series of Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big…” series of books.

For general environmental information, subscribe to E – The Environmental Magazine. Well written, but usually brief articles abound on all imaginable aspects of eco-living.

For gardening, turn to Organic Gardening Magazine.

So what about Dwell Magazine? Occasionally, one can find an environmentally-appropriate house or apartment in the pages of Dwell, but not often enough for my taste. Playing urban “yin” to Mother Earth News’ rural “yang,” Dwell sacrifices practicality, durability, value, and likely also common sense on the altar of 21st Century style. I subscribed for one year. That was enough.

Books

Boy, do I have books to recommend! If I listed all the books I like on the subject of green building, it would take days just to list them all. So, I’ll just add my favorites to this list from time to time starting with the general topic books and postpone most commentary for now.

The Natural House Book, by David Pearson
Earth to Spirit, In Search of Natural Architecture, also by David Pearson
Gentle Architecture, by Malcolm Wells. This was the book I read just out of college that inspired and encouraged me most
Eco-Nest, Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw, and Timber, by Paula Baker-Laporte and Robert Laporte
Prescriptions for a Healthy House, by Laporte, Elliott, and Banta
Your Green Home, by Alex Wilson
The Not So Big House, Creating the Not So Big House, Outside the Not So Big House, and other books by Sarah Susanka
The House You Build, by Duo Dickinson
Your Natural Healthy Home, by Alan Berman

Even though the book “Your New House,” by Alan and Denise Fields isn’t perfect, it’s a great place to start for basic new home exploration. It’s a basic consumer-oriented book written in plain language loaded with common sense and weighs advantages and disadvantages of each direction to go in moving to a new house even if you were to buy an existing home rather than have one built for you. Differing from all other books on my list, this one deals with loans, mortgages, and realtors in addition to the design and construction process. Remember that the book was published in 2000 on the sunny side of the housing crisis, and I believe you get a more than decent take on the topic. This book is probably the only one in this list that doesn’t devote much ink to ecological considerations (one of the reasons it isn’t perfect).

Local Organizations

I’m partial to the San Antonio Sustainable Living group, of course, since I have been acting as the group’s coordinator since 1998. Created as the San Antonio Sustainable Building Coalition in the mid-1990’s by progressive realtors Ginger and Chris Lark with Karen Ripley, it remains a group of local people interested in green building and ecological-related topics. Long time member Wayne Thomas is great at posting relevant topics on the San Antonio Sustainable Living blog. Meetings are held at EcoCentro located at 1802 N. Main Street on the 4th Tuesday of every month (except December) from 7:00 – 8:30pm. Meetings are listed on the San Antonio Environmental Meetup site, and on the calendar on this website.

If you live closer to Austin than you do San Antonio (and even if you don’t), contact Design•Build•Live. Evolved out of the Austin Sustainable Building Coalition, DBL has expanded its reach into all things natural. Check their site for frequent meetings and hands-on workshops in actual natural building projects. The friends you can meet through DBL are warm and encouraging. Network with people like you as you prepare for a building project or simply want to live simply and healthy where you live now.

The Alamo Group of the Sierra Club is more than a group that participates in outings. Join the Sierra Club and attend their monthly meetings and find out they are also interested in legislative issues, local ordinances, and utility policies. A long-time activist group meeting monthly at the Witte Museum, the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club is a good resource for area ecologically-centered interests.

A non-profit group dedicated to promoting residential green building in San Antonio is Build San Antonio Green. I was active in the formation of BSAG as the family of residential green building programs were written for area builders, architects, and designers. I stepped down from my position as technical coordinator at the end of 2009. Despite the focus on builders, the BSAG website is a good resource for the general public to find builders, professionals, and products related to green building. Keep in mind however, that Build San Antonio Green certifies individual houses and does not certify builders or architects. At some point, I hope that the listing of BSAG members will also include the number of houses they built or designed that are certified as green by being built with BSAG program guidelines. Most of the members have yet to build or design a certified house. So if you do contact any of the BSAG members, ask how many houses they hold certifications for.

Looking for answers to your solar energy questions? Bookmark the Solar San Antonio webpage and visit their site often. Solar San Antonio is active in promoting solar energy and solar hot water systems in the area, and providing workshops and seminars for the public as well as for professionals, builders, and civic leaders. They hold the informative Solar Fest in Maverick Park annually.

The Internet

Online resources may or not be dependable or reputable. You probably don’t have to be told to use caution when reading anything on the internet. Since I’m a believer in the predominance of the better side of humanity (basically), the vast majority of online resources are probably very worthwhile as you continue with your new home dreams. If you have any particular sites or blogs you recommend, please feel free to send me an e-mail with suggestions for listing here. Meanwhile, here are some selections that quickly come to mind.

Sustainable Sources, with green stalwart and ringmaster Bill Christensen at the helm is beyond a doubt the premier starting point when researching green building resources in Central Texas. Based in Austin, Bill is well connected with the primary individuals and businesses at the heart of the local green building and green living movement in the region. Bill is very generous with helping all of us in the field to network with each other and be available to the general public. He was instrumental with my move to this WordPress-based webpage and blog format.

For an extensive calendar of environmentally-based activities and events in the San Antonio area, visit the San Antonio Environmental Meetup page often.

The GRISB Sustainable Building Blog, by Owen Geiger, and Building Green TV are both good resources for natural building and green building discussions.

A very extensive natural building website is available at Green Home Building.

The Healthy Building Network focuses on toxic materials and good indoor air quality issues.

Texas environmental issues can be found at (where else?) Environment Texas.