Energy is important. We need it to live and work, for comfort
and convenience, for health and safety. With little thought, we
flip the various energy switches in our lives every day, and
out it flows.
But do we need this much juice? Convincingly, Bruce Harley say
no and provides a prescription for reduced energy dependence.
In his book Insulate and Weatherize (Taunton Press,
2002, $19.95 softcover, 202 pages), Harley shows that in the
long run, it's easier, cheaper, and healthier to build homes
that use less energy.
Wrong Title, Good
Insulate and Weatherize is the wrong name for this
book. I was prepared to read a book about insulation,
housewrap, and caulking. To be sure, those topics are covered,
but this isn't a handbook teaching us how to tighten our homes
— it's much more.
Harley's philosophy is smart and clear: Homes function as
systems, interdependent webs composed of environment,
materials, and people. Good design is not about cellulose vs.
fiberglass, electric vs. gas, and spot vs. central ventilation.
Rather, the level of comfort, protection, and affordability
provided by the completed structure measures success. This book
shows us how the system works. In the process, we learn how to
build better homes.
The book's organization is top-notch. The choice of topics is
intelligent and the presentation attractive. Each of the ten
chapters found in the table of contents is broken into
page-numbered subsections directing the reader to a
corresponding discussion. Chapters always begin with a short
introduction that accurately previews what will be covered.
Page-numbered subsections listed in the table of contents are
faithfully reproduced at the beginning of every chapter. All
even-numbered pages have useful sidebars with headings like
"Pro Tip" and "In Detail" that elaborate on topics presented in
the text. All ten chapters are formatted exactly alike, making
navigation a pleasure. The book is richly illustrated with
color photographs, drawings, charts, and tables on every page.
It feels like a 50-50 mix of illustrations to written text. The
pictures have been carefully chosen and are supported by
excellent captions. The text is well written and technically
Beyond the Basics
Chapter 1, "Energy Basics," provides a thoughtful discussion
that goes beyond what builders are served in most trade books
and magazines. We learn how heat moves through the interplay of
wind, the stack effect, and mechanical systems. The concept of
"defined thermal boundaries" is introduced, and the
relationship between energy conservation, moisture, and
structural durability is explored. The four pages of cost-
benefit analysis provided at the end of the chapter ties the
knot. The presentation is stimulating and easy to understand.
To be sure, this chapter is a primer, not a scientific thesis.
The discussion establishes a firm footing for subsequent
chapters about air sealing, ventilation, insulation, heating,
air conditioning, lighting, and renovations.
Harley doesn't take the shortcuts that others often do; he
digs in. For example, when talking about the importance of
sealing recessed lights, he doesn't simply refer the reader to
appropriate manufacturer warnings and codes. He's already
checked the safety codes and provides instructions regarding
sizes, clearances, and the methods needed to seal the units.
Likewise, when he discusses insulating methods in chapter 4, he
doesn't shy away from providing specific details. He describes
the tools, equipment, materials, and methods needed to blow
dense-packed cellulose in a way that will make a first-time
installer feel confident. The discussion typically goes beyond
what's expected, providing valuable insight about not only how
but why we should do something. Frequently, he tells how to
specify and calculate the materials needed to complete a
Harley is at his best talking about mechanical systems.
Discussions about ventilation systems (chapter 3), heating
systems (chapter 6), air conditioning (chapter 7), and heating
hot water (chapter 8) were, for me, high points. I rarely see
the workings of mechanical systems explained so well. He
clearly communicates how these systems work and then offers
sound advice telling us how to improve the things that really
matter. His message is delivered at a level most builders and
technically advanced homeowners will easily relate to and
The book is excellent, not perfect. Hot climates are not
ignored, but there is a heavy bias toward cold-climate and
mixed-climate building. And although the text is referenced
adequately, it would have been better if more links to product
manufacturers and suppliers were included throughout. My
biggest criticism regards the lightweight coverage provided in
the final chapter, "Appliances and Lights." A pie chart shows
that lighting and appliances use 26% of all residential energy
and consume 45% of the energy dollars expended by the average
household. That's 20% more money than space heating! Yet the
book skates over this topic with eight pages of the most basic
coverage. In my view, this chapter is an opportunity
The stated target for this book, like all of Taunton's books
in the Build Like a Pro series, is the advanced homeowner. I
agree this is a good book for technically astute homeowners.
But I wouldn't stop there. I would encourage any member of a
building crew to read this book. The information provided is a
must for new builders, and I believe every builder will benefit
from reading the advice given by this energy pro.Paul Fisetteis director of Building Materials and
Wood Technology at the University of Massachusetts at