Breaking New Ground

BREAKING NEW GROUND is about building a “compact house”--a house for a single person, childless couple, or for those whose family is grown. The book provides “everything you’ll need to know to plan, site, and construct your low-cost, low maintenance, energy-efficient compact house.”

All this information unfolds through a series of charming letters between John Cole, who sets the specifications and builds the house, and Charles Wing, a physicist and teacher of home building at his Maine builder’s school, Cornerstones. Cole, whose seven children are grown, needed to step down from a 3600-square-foot house to a 1200-square-foot dwelling that would see him into retirement. Wing provided an analysis of the technical considerations for each step from the planning and site selection to the completion. This book is for anyone dreaming about building a compact house. It can be done, as John Cole demonstrated, and if you do it right, your house will fit you perfectly.

This attractively produced volume is peppered with little bits of interesting information, ranging from the qualities of wood to the stratagems of real estate salespeople. Although the volume emphasizes conservation of space, energy, and money, aesthetics are not neglected. John Cole’s completed house, as revealed by the handsome line drawings and eloquent descriptions, turns out to be a small gem. Most important, the book points the way for us to think about our personal environment and how we use it. In short, BREAKING NEW GROUND deserves the attention even of those who plan to spend their lives renting someone else’s space.