Book Review: The Carbon Free Home


It is the first time I have ever been excited by a Table of Contents. Most books just list the chapters and the page number; in Stephen and Rebeka Hren's The Carbon Free Home they list their thirty-six projects, but also on that one page list the time it will take, the cost, the energy saved whether it is renter-friendly and the skills you need. Whew.

The whole book is like that; a well-thought out explanation about how to make your house carbon free from people who have walked the walk and really done it.


The Hrens have learned the hard way, and pass on their experiences, from their first attempt in a cob house they built thirty miles out of town, from their realization that driving that distance negated all the carbon savings and that they were not competent farmers, and then the move back into town.

They then take us through what they did to their house, doing the math and showing us how, all with links, references and cute little drawings.


Some of the projects are easy, that anyone could do; others are a lot more complicated, like this extraordinary solar wall oven.

Looking at Windows

I am preoccupied by windows, and use them as my test to judge what the writers' values are. Here the Hrens are music to my ears:

In our opinion, replacing a functioning window that could potentially last many decades if not several centuries with a window that will be defunct in twenty years is planned obsolescence designed to sell as much product as possible. It is inherently energy inefficient and not viable in the long run.

They also do a very sensible bang-for-the-buck analysis of solar power comparing photovoltaics to solar hot water, and a wonderful comparison of biofuels to bicycles, noting that 41 pounds of soybeans made into biodiesel will push a car 30 miles, but if fed to a cyclist, the same number of calories would push that bike 3,332 miles.

It is sometimes a bit intimidating, but then Stephen is a master carpenter and Rebeka installs solar panels for a living; they have the skills to do just about anything. But they express themselves clearly, lay out the science and the math, and describe from their own experience how they did what they did, and there is much in this book that anyone can do.

When the book was written, the big front-of-mind issue was climate and energy; now it is money and the economy. Yet every trick that Stephen and Rebekah teach us will save money in heating, cooling, transportation and food, from their freedom from utility bills to their rooftop vegetable garden. Whatever your reasons for going carbon free, this book is the operating manual.

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