I have been searching for books that guide the reader through the design of an ideal home. I purchased BUILDING CONSTRUCTION ILLUSTRATED, by Francis Ching, because of its large reader base and exceptionally favorable reviews. Based on my search, I rate this book...
I have been searching for books that guide the reader through the design of an ideal home. I purchased BUILDING CONSTRUCTION ILLUSTRATED, by Francis Ching, because of its large reader base and exceptionally favorable reviews.
Based on my search, I rate this book as best in its class, i.e., among books that help architects to prepare drawings for commercial building construction.
However, this is not a practical book for designing, renovating, or repairing a home. I suggest two books that are more useful for readers with a residential interests.
WHAT IT CONTAINS
Ching’s book is primarily a catalog of detail drawings, arranged in these chapters:
1. The Building Site
2. General Structural Issues
7. Moisture & Thermal Protection
8. Doors & Windows
9. Stairs, Fireplaces, Space Layout, etc.
10. Interior Finishes
11. HVAC & Electrical
12. Materials & Fasteners
APPENDIX. Dimensions, Loads, Fire Protection, Noise, etc.
The book has about 500 pages. The drawings number in the thousands, so there is a lot of information on each page. I can’t imagine any other construction book that has a greater volume of sheer detail.
The drawings are extensively annotated. The annotations are as important as the drawings themselves, providing an education about each assembly.
In addition to the detail drawings, Ching includes a number of illustrated tutorials on various topics, such as structural forces, that are informative and well rendered.
Unfortunately, in this fifth edition, the text is almost illegibly small and light. The spidery font is a disaster. Even with strong glasses and good lighting, reading the text is a chore. Also, the graphics tend to be somewhat too small. The book is printed entirely in monotone black, or maybe it’s dark grey. These flaws seriously undermine the usability of the book.
WHAT IT ISN’T
Ching’s book is not a design guide. It is like a trunk full of building blocks that contains no guidance in assembling the blocks. Ching does not distinguish between methods and materials of different merit. For example, the book passes no judgement on flat roofs, active and passive solar heating, and forced-air heating, all of which have serious shortcomings.
Also, it provides only limited coverage of fundamental design issues, including energy efficiency, comfort, and indoor health.
This book is not for residential applications. Its attempt to cover both commercial and residential construction proves to be impractical. The two worlds of construction have little commonality of methods or materials. The great bulk of this book is oriented toward commercial construction, for example, with coverage of heavy steel and concrete structures. Someone who is designing a home would have to search for needles of useful information in this haystack.
BETTER BOOKS FOR RESIDENTIAL DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
For those interested in residential design and construction, I recommend two books that are more useful, and certainly more accessible, than Ching’s book.
The best design guide for homes is SUPER HOUSE: DESIGN YOUR DREAM HOME FOR SUPER ENERGY EFFICIENCY, TOTAL COMFORT, DAZZLING BEAUTY, AWESOME STRENGTH, AND ECONOMY, by Donald Wulfinghoff. This uniquely user-friendly guide uses eight “Steps” to create an ideal home from foundation to roof, or to deal with any individual part of a house, such as replacing the windows. It goes straight to the most desirable methods and materials, ignoring the rest. It pursues energy efficiency, comfort, health, strength, and durability throughout. Also, it warns the reader of commonplace bad practices to avoid.
The best comprehensive reference book for residential construction data is THE VISUAL HANDBOOK OF BUILDING AND REMODELING, by Charlie Wing. It illustrates residential structures and materials in great depth, but offers no systematic design guidance.
The diagrams and formatting of both books use color very effectively. In addition, SUPER HOUSE uses hundreds of color photographs to illustrate good and bad practices.