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Living Off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Self-Reliant Supply of Energy, Water, Shelter, and More

By Dave Black. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2008, 288 pages, $12.95.

Reviewed by David Sokol

A degree of abstraction characterizes a large number of books devoted to sustainable architecture nowadays. The brief introduction that justifies the green approach to building, the high-quality photography, the design-minded essays. It’s as if their authors have signed a collective agreement to stamp out sustainability’s granola-aesthetic prejudice, and leave the nuts-and-bolts of passive and active green technologies to the teams that will inevitably design and construct the reader’s next project.

Living Off the Grid
Image courtesy Skyhorse Publishing
Living Off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Self-Reliant Supply of Energy, Water, Shelter, and More
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The “How It’s Made” crowd should be sated by Living Off the Grid. Although the book is targeted to individual homeowners seeking to minimize their dependence on public utilities, its straightforward pointers for boosting insulation or sizing a hybrid photovoltaic-turbine-hydroelectric system can be applied to most any building type or situation.

Author Dave Black, an emergency-planning and disaster-response consultant, has provided the opposite to the seductive coffee-table book in tone as well as substance. His consistent use of the declarative tense, references to “off-gridders” and anecdotes about the local vagabond, and disdain for not-exactly-affordable modernist prefab seems refreshing initially. Just pull up your sleeves and go green. But ultimately, the yokel voice can alienate those readers who don’t exactly identify as the “folks” to whom he directs his commands.

The sustainability movement embraces a whole spectrum of believers, after all, and many of them want to know the inner workings of photovoltaics, heat exchangers, and composting toilets.
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