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Trail Magic by Carl McDaniel

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Trail Magic: Creating a Positive Energy Home
By Carl N. McDaniel, Copyright 2012
Sigel Press, Medina, OH
Reviewed by Dan Gibson – I bought my own copy!

This is a wonderful book that shares in detail the trials and tribulations Carl and his wife, Mary, went through to build an energy efficient and ecologically responsible house in Oberlin, OH.  In 2007 Carl is not a trail blazer in this effort, as he points out his good friends David and Harriet Borton built such a house twenty-five years earlier, but even so, it takes constant vigilance and effort to usher energy efficient and ecologically sound details into the final product. While the house did not attain LEED Platinum certification, I think this speaks more to the LEED process and administration than to the house that was built (Carl provides the details of this episode as well, read it and you decide).

First the Structure: Carl relates in first person much of what he was thinking and learning as he first works with green architect, Don Watson, to design the house and then with a local architect, Michael Strehle, for the site plans and permits, and then with builder, Joe Ferut, to build the house. He gathers input from many others, including David Borton on building science issues. Interspersed in the pretty much chronological narrative are sidebars, educational vignettes on CO2 and Global Warming, Ecological Footprint, Appliance and Phantom Loads, Water Conservation, etc. Carl also includes some valuable information about the design process, floor plans, extra pictures, and most appreciatively costs, as appendices.

This book has much to offer and everyone will take away something special. For me, a couple special items were: The design and decision making process – how over time Carl learned facts and practicalities and adjusted his plan but not his goal. Secondly, the interaction between architect, builder and owner. This aspect evoked memories of Tracy Kidder’s “House” and the contention between the architect, builder and owner. Not only were the relationships in building Trail Magic much better but the result was better too, certainly from an energy and cost perspective.

Others will appreciate the building science, the mention of various materials and processes, or the design process. While a million details are provided, Carl also isolates and discusses what he found to be the Big Decisions that were mainly responsible for the overall results. I expect most will appreciate Carl’s attention to detail and his sharing of cost information. Carl proves a “Positive Energy Home” can be built for a small premium. That is to say, if you are going to build a well constructed home with quality materials that will last, you might just as well put a little more thought and a little more money into it and eliminate your home energy costs for the rest of your life! This is possible and Carl shows what is required, without adopting some highly regulated, proprietary program.

Carl wrote his book in isolation. He then interviewed the two architects, the builder and his wife – yes not even Mary was privy to what all the notes were about! In a final chapter, Carl provides their perspectives into the design and building process. Another chapter extends energy saving issues and benefits to the city level. All in all this book is about people, building and the environment. An enjoyable and interesting book to read.

For anyone looking to build an energy efficient house or better yet a “positive energy” house that is environmentally responsible this is a very helpful book; to anyone interested in the process involved, this book is both compelling and well worth the time it must have taken Carl to collect the myriad of details and report the results.

To those looking to build, I also recommend Kidder’s “House,” Daniel Chiras’ “The Solar House,” Greg Pahl’s “Natural Home Heating” and of course Joseph Lstiburek’s “Builder’s Guide to Cold Climates.” I also recommend that you keep an eye on our Community blogs for new ideas and materials.

Members: please comment and recommend your favorite house design, energy and construction books to our readers. Thank you.

Note: This book can be bought as an eBook for $4.99 or as a regular book on Amazon and other outlets. OEIC makes not money on the sale of this book.

Dan Gibson is the Reporter and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community (www.OEIC.us). Previously he was a participating contractor in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and a rater in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home. He can be reached at DanG@OEIC.us

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