Some of the titles in our homestead reference library, including a few in our list of essential titles, have proven their value so well that they must be included, even if I don’t want them to be. The prime example of this is the Real Goods company’s Solar Living Source Book: the Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies & Sustainable Living (check your local independent bookstore).
The reason I was reluctant to accept this book as a resource in our home is that it is basically a catalog for the Real Goods company. This commercial perveyor of green technologies is a good source for the tools and components of our off-the-grid lifestyle, but it’s very expensive. I like to think of it as the source for those who want to save the earth by throwing money at it.
Nevertheless, the Solar Living Sourcebook has undeniable value on a couple different levels.
Primarily, it’s provides an excellent basic overview of independent living, including land selection, shelter, health, and alternative energy systems—primarily solar, as the title implies, but also wind and hydroelectric generation. Geared toward the neophyte, its articles explain in plain language what these systems are and how they should work.
The company’s products follow the articles in each section. I find this useful, because even though I will start by shopping locally for what I need, then turn to other, less expensive online providers when necessary, I at least can see what I’m looking for in the sourcebook. In many cases, I’ve been able to find what I need in our shed, or build my own components based on the photos in the sourcebook. Many times I’ve read about a component in the articles and imagined what they were describing, only to turn the page to see the item itself illustrated, and realize, “Oh—there’s three of those on the top shelf of the shed!”
Because it’s a catalog, the book is updated frequently, but if it’s to be used as an information source rather than a catalog, older, “out-of-date” copies can be had cheaply. Mine is an eighth edition, from 1994. Some of its information really is behind the times, but since a lot of my equipment comes from before that era, it more or less balances out. I got my copy from the free magazine pile at the Juneau library. I’ll update it the next time I find a free copy in a newer edition. In the meantime, this one continues to answer most of the questions that lead me to turn to it.