Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 8/23/99

A book review: By Hugh Foster

Title: Build Smarter With Alternative Materials
Leon A. Frechette
Published by: Craftsman Book Company
POBox 6500
Carlsbad, CA 92018
ISBN 0806993340
Price Paperback: $34.75

Probably most directly targeted at contractors, this volume should also be seriously considered by those who hire contractors and by do-it-yourself-ers. Frechette, for years a contractor, is now host of the asktooltalk.com web-site and related presentations at woodworking and remodeling shows.

A widely published author, Frechette is a recognized authority in his field. After perusing this volume even for a very short time, you'll understand why. To prepare this volume, Frechette considered over 3000 products, then limited his discussion to the 200 most likely to be of interest to us, the readers.

Each of these discussions includes the results of his research and, in most cases, his personal experience with the product. Each product review included here includes a reason why this material might have an advantage over currently used materials, the required application, estimated man-hours to install, and addresses, phone numbers, and web-sites of the manufacturers of all the products covered in the book.

This is truly a wealth of information when you consider that Frechette covers two kinds of foundations, six kinds of walls and roofs, five kinds each of framing and roofing materials, seven kinds of siding, three kinds of insulation and radiant heat, five kinds of doors, windows, and trim, four interior products, nine kinds of things for kitchens and baths, six kinds of decking, five kinds of things for general outdoor use, and four items that will really help to preserve the environment.

Frechette wrote the book to tell us how we might help the environment when we use materials made from recycled products and how many of these new products will make our lives better - whether we're the users, or installers of these products, often saving time, money, or both in the process.

The book is full of amazing facts. Here's one that absolutely boggles the mind: in the United States we throw out three million (3,000,000) plastic soft drink bottles per hour. We should recycle all of these because, if recycled, they're cut into quarter-inch chips, which in turn make up about 35% of the polyester carpeting sold today. How much more might we save if we all recycled?

I used the book to help me decide how to replace a decades-old porch railing which had been dying of dry rot for several years. The vinyl replacement comes with a 10 year guarantee; and it's not likely to ever need paint, all the while remaining more attractive and less expensive than the alternative made of treated outdoor lumber. Installation was a "snap" for this easily daunted D-I-Y-er.

Further, Frechette's book helped me decide which doors to use as I try to make my 1920s house more weather-efficient, and he helps me become realistic - and more positive - about the possibility of installing skylights in my woodworking shop.

These categories were probably most interesting to me because I'm thinking about these aspects of my own home - but serious readers with other concerns are likely to choose different aspects of the book for special praise. I recommend Build Smarter with Alternative Materials to everyone who has a building project in mind - professional, D-I-Y-er, or consumer. Think of it as an investment in your future. I'm confident that you'll recover the book's cover price with your very first project - even if you hire it done - thus I give the book my highest possible recommendation.

Hugh Foster

Editor's Note: Hugh is the author of both Biscuit Joiner Basics and Biscuit Joiner Handbook.

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