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Builders' Guide: Mixed-Humid Climates

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By Joe Lstibrek. Energy Efficient Builders Association (next edition will be by 'Energy and Environmental Builders Association' ), 2001. 328pp, soft cover (spiralbound), US$40

Energy-saving and building durability issues are not often treated as related topics, writes David Kaufman. Weaving excellent coverage of both subjects into an encyclopaedic survey of advanced wood-frame building methods is a challenge that the author makes easy.

Lstibrek is a Canadian who began his career as a building contractor, and he subsequently developed a breakthrough in energy design called the 'Airtight Drywall Approach' (which is covered in the book). During the past two decades he has had a very successful career as a consultant and is one of the most sought-after building lecturers in the US.

This book summarises Lstibrek's vast experience in reducing costs while improving performance in wood frame construction. He draws on research from Scandinavia and Canada as well as the US.

Obviously the book is primarily aimed at the North American market and relates to non-UK specific regulatory guidance, but with the increased use of timber frame in the UK, many valuable pointers can be gleaned from such an experienced practitioner.

The Builders'Guide includes the latest results from the 'Building America'program, a concerted effort by the US Department of Energy to reduce energy costs by 50 per cent at no extra cost, while reducing construction time and improving comfort.This collaborative effort with major builders and architecture firms has yielded some surprising design solutions, most of which are applicable to British building methods.

Lstibrek begins by questioning the assumption that good craftsmanship and top materials will produce a high-quality building.Despite tremendous advances in the technology of paints, insulation and mechanical systems, callbacks and warranty claims are rising. He attributes this to the unintended consequences of three major changes in building technology in the past 50 years: the introduction of thermal insulation;

much tighter building enclosures; and forced-air heating and cooling.

Methods which traditionally worked well may now be unwise, and 'if you do the wrong thing with good materials and good workmanship, it is still wrong'.Lstibrek explains why, and presents building details which, if carried out well, can provide trouble-free performance for many years.

Information is conveyed graphically wherever possible, with many pages of useful and unusual building details, and chapters covering everything from conception to commissioning. This is meant as a practical guidebook, and only the briefest time is spent on theory - including a couple of pages each on solar energy systems and operation, site orientation, and various environmental implications. Though this might be considered to be a fundamentally 'green'book, the word is not even mentioned. What is covered is how to build well (and how not to botch it). The section on framing explains precisely where and how to reduce the amount of wood in a building, while increasing its insulation value and performance. Many builders will also find the section on drywalling fascinating.How to avoid drywall cracking? Not a problem if you understand the causes.

More than 100 pages of appendices certainly contain more depth of explanation, though, thankfully, still in clear language.

The sections on 'Rain and Drainage Planes'and 'Insulation, Sheathing, and Vapor (sic) Retarders'are worth the cost of the book alone, for their potential to help avoid costly mistakes and their presentation of tried and tested solutions.

This book is not about maximising energy efficiency or about the pros and cons of natural building materials - it is about efficacy. For a sound understanding of building science, and coverage of least-cost details, which substantially increases energy efficiency and building durability for little or no extra expense, the Builders'Guide is without peer.

David Kaufman is an energy consultant in the US.

E-mail energysolutions@gmx. net Order Builders'Guide on the Internet (US$40 plus shipping) at www. eeba. org or tel 001 952 8811098. There are several guides covering different climate zones; the Mixed Humid Guide is best suited for the UK.

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