Chopping down trees to make books is good for the environment, provided you then line your walls with bookcases

The editorial staff of the UK's Bookseller magazine want you to know that lining your exterior walls with books is practically a moral imperative, since it reduces your energy costs and saves the world. You don't have to tell me -- I've been lining my walls with books for decades.

In today's environment-conscious world, they also have another valuable function. "Books are the original insulator. A shelf of books along an outside wall works well to prevent heat escaping," says Joel Rickett. "If all the books were removed from the homes in Britain, our energy bills would rocket."
Link (Thanks, wiseGEEK!)


  1. I don’t know how clever it would be to line your EXTERIOR wall with books. That would place them outside, in the rain. But I know what you mean :)

  2. Also, think of the carbon that’s sequestered in your books!

    If you use energy efficient lights and the sun, then you could easily be using less energy reading your books than watching TV or browsing the Internet.

  3. @#1, The impression it gives depends on just what kind of books are on the shelves.

    Overall, shelves full of books give the impression “I am interested in stuff” as opposed to nary a book in sight and great big television screens as decor, which give that “I think what I’m told to think” impression that comforts your drinking buddies because they know you won’t make them look bad.

  4. actually #2, the terms “exterior walls” or “outside walls” are correctly used here, since they normally refer to the walls of a structure that separate the inside from the elements, as opposed to the “interior walls”, which form rooms inside the structure. and it’s the exterior walls that need to be insulated.

    but i know what you mean! ;)

  5. The main problem would be that you would have to completely line the wall with books not just the occasional one like on cory’s wall there.

    wearing half a jacket doesn’t keep you that warm

    I don’t think the bills would ‘rocket’ by any stretch of the imagination. especially since the presence of windows in exterior walls tends to mean they are less likely to be used for a good covering of books.

    All it’s likely to do is make your books go mouldy sooner.

  6. Although, bookshelves tend to work better on interior walls since there aren’t windows in the way.

  7. I wouldn’t say ‘alternatively’, Travelina– do both! A green roof is on the list of things to do when I have my own house. I have a lot of friends who want to work in green roofs, and I am such a gardening nerd.

  8. #4 I certainly wasn’t promoting TV over books. :) I was just being silly.

    Chicks also dig codpieces.

  9. #11 Perhaps the two could be combined with a handy codpiece that holds a small book, thus providing both warmth for vital bits and a handy distraction when needed.

    “Is that Little Brother in there or are you just happy to see me?”

  10. I must say, I had wondered at the rooms I occasionally glimpsed through windows, walls completely lined with books (reminded me of my grandparents’ study).

    Unfortunately, most of the places I’ve stayed in have tended to be student / middle-class migrant worker accommodation, where even pretty intelligent, well-read people are just too mobile to be able to accumulate books.

    It’s a pretty cool idea nevertheless. I guess, though, that the increasing dominance of TV/games consoles/PCs over books in British culture will, indeed result in lessened insulation and increased heating bills…
    (That’s OK – the climate’s getting milder, so that’ll probably keep pace…)

  11. Someone somewhere has constructed a house with books right? That would be rule 35? Hmmmm… what does the great Gazoogle have say… not much it seems but I did find this awesome wall of books, and a grand piano too! Cory has some work to do.

  12. Oh and for the lazy (I’m looking at you Takuan) here is the link to the architects for the above house.
    Gianni Botsford Architects

    “By coupling indigenous techniques and materials with modern design technologies and aesthetics GBA has created this intimate double pavilion for a writer in Costa Rica.

    A main studio space, with library, writing desk and grand piano, is the writer’s daytime space. The pavilion’s wooden structure, sourced from local timber, sits on a simple foundation of wooden stilts on small concrete pad foundations. Roof beams of up to 10 m long and 355 mm deep allow for an interior with no vertical columns. The mono-pitched roof elevates towards the sea shore, while the interior is through ventilated via a completely louvred glazed end façade.”

    Budget $55,000

    My oh my, Cory’s going to have some serious book envy going on when he sees this.

  13. Our music room is lined with books from floor to ceiling on the external wall–it gives us a place to put them all AND it’s reasonably good soundproofing so the neighbors don’t complain.

  14. S’truth! When I put my bookshelf in on the exterior wall of the house, t’was colder that witch teats in January. After they were in and lined with books, yea did my home become warm with words and wood!

  15. @14 – I’m feeling a bit green with envy over that house!!

    I have my bookshelves on an exterior wall, but given that I rent (and thus am moving every year or two), I’ve had to cap my numbers at around 500. Even so, that’s still a lot of books to shift.

    Totally love Cory’s office; it looks comfortable, cosy, and with enough interesting stuff that I imagine most of his visitors are hard-pressed to leave.

  16. How am I going to impress the chicks now? I get all my books from the LIBRARY! Sheesh. I guess I’ll have to steal books from the library instead of checking them out!


    I’m assuming this is tongue-in-cheek, but just in case it isn’t:
    Did they take into account the massive amount of energy it takes to make paper? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just INSULATE your house!

  17. This just reminds me of Matt Groening’s line about how– as a child– homes without books scared him. Who knew he was so environmentally aware at such an early age?

  18. You know what else acts as an effective insulator? My wall covered in oak-mounted baby seal and panda heads. That’s good for the environment too, because it rids it of the scourge and infestation of fuzzy little mammals!

  19. Sure it would be environmentally friendly if it weren’t for the simple fact that books are made of paper … which are made from unicorns.

  20. Straw bale homes are pretty nifty, and not just for the insulation, the thickness of walls lends a quality of solidity and serenity. In the American southwest, where you see them done with an adobe-style finish, they’re just gorgeous.

    Why do people buy hideous and energy inefficient McMansions, when they could build a reasonable-sized strawbale home instead?

    Suburbia = despair

    I think that’s what the books insulate against: depression, ennui and brain death. If they help keep you comfy, temperature wise, all the better.

  21. Look how high Cory’s ceiling is.

    But an adult tree emits more carbon then it absorbs, little known fact, and [from the same episode of QI] most of the world’s oxygen comes from algae, not trees.

  22. I’m looking at Cory’s bookshelf and I’m thinking, amateur! You need more books!

    also, @24, from my meager amount of desert living experience, adobe houses are awesome, but really only work in a desert climate that is fundimentally 98% dry as hell. Anywhere else in the country, they’d turn into mud.

    Also, a friend of mine who lived in New Mexico for a time kept telling me how people would, for some strange reason, put a plaster finish over their adobe homes, presumably because they wanted the plaster look and were too stupid to realize that this traps moisture in the adobe walls and causes them to deteriorate.

  23. @ Noen: here are some photos of a house made of books. Actually a house that appears to be constructed entirely of books, but the books are cleverly carved pieces of wood. I especially like the bed made from a giant open book (photo #9), with a wooden book supporting one of the legs:

    And sadly, as Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG pointed out a few months ago, there are now huge buildings outside London full of unwanted but legally protected books that will be kept in a pristine environment, warming nobody’s walls:
    “Indeed, this is where unwanted books ‘will go to serve their life sentences in a secure environment,’ the Guardian explains, ‘thanks to the grace of the provisions of the 1911 Copyright Act [UK] and later government legislation.’
    In other words, a relatively random piece of 100-year old legislation – dealing with copyright law, of all things – has begun to exhibit architectural effects.
    These architectural effects include the production of huge warehouses in the damp commuter belts of outer London. These aren’t libraries, of course; they’re stockpiles. Text bunkers…”

  24. And when the oil runs out we can burn our book collections for heat!

    The only books I own are ones I’ve written. Have a small shelf for those. Other books, that I read and like, I feel compelled to give away and pass on to others. Ones I don’t like, like ones given to me as a gift, I anonymously drop into the book return of the local library. Some of them make it onto the shelves. Or I leave them in a park (been doing that for ever, which is why I was so excited when I learned about !)

    Michael W. Dean

  25. Another benefit to books lining walls: It cuts down on echoes and reverb in the room. In my personal experience, adding a couple bookshelves full of books to a room helps soften the noise and eliminates echoes and reverb that can make a room rather unpleasant.

  26. #27 posted by Rob O. Author Profile Page, April 20, 2008 10:33 AM

    I’m looking at Cory’s bookshelf and I’m thinking, amateur! You need more books!

    Most of his books are probably on his hard drive. I think that’s the point here.

    Michael W. Dean

  27. Rob O — I have 10,000 books in storage in Toronto, another several thousand in a storage in LA, and still more in storage in London. That’s the tip of the tip of the iceberg. You try moving continents ever 2-3 years for a decade and see where your books end up.

  28. Ever notice how when academics are interviewed for documentary films, they’re always shot in front of their bookshelf?

    It’s as much of a cliche as rock bands posing, pouting and looking badass in front of a brick wall. (And kinda similar when you think about it – they’re both shorthand for “This is the world I live in”, a world of words for the professor and a world of seedy alleyways for rockers).

    I mentioned this idea about the professors and books to Penn State Professor Michael Berube and he quipped “There’s just one shelf of books, they rent it to the filmmakers and move it around the country and pose it in back of all the different academics.” (Berube played drums in my band, Baby Opaque, back in the day, and we never posed in front of a brick wall.)

    Michael W. Dean

  29. #33 posted by Cory Doctorow , April 20, 2008 10:52 AM

    I have 10,000 books in storage in Toronto, another several thousand in a storage in LA, and still more in storage in London.
    Global yard sale! Three countries, two continents, simultaneously Webcast, sponsored by Craigslist, BoingBoing, Stickam and YouTube! Books go for sliding scale, from one penny/one pence to 1000 dollars/1000 pounds, depending on ability to pay. Proceeds go to a fund for unpublished authors, to, of course, publish more books!


  30. Also, I call shenanigans because books aren’t good insulation anyway compared to other options.

    Since its really only about R-1 or R-2 per inch, even if you COMPLETELY covered your walls, 100% with books, thats really only about R-4 worth of insulation.

    Which is frankly, pathetic.

    Remove your bookshelves, and put a 1/2 inch polyeurathane expaned panel behind it, and you get better insulation than if the ENTIRE shelf was full 100%.

  31. There’s already something on my exterior walls, called “windows.”

    The book idea is harder to pull off in a warm climate (LA, in my case), where the windows are bigger than those dungeon-sized jobs that are usual in colder places. On the other hand, we don’t have to crank as much heat here.

    Maybe this explains the alarming number of houses in LA with no books whatsoever.

  32. #39 posted by Agent 86 , April 20, 2008 2:01 PM

    “What’s the point of a bunch of books you’ve already read?”

    I ask this of my wife all the time. She has a huge collection of books, (mostly complex serial 900-page sci-fi, historical fiction with lots of sex, purple capes, aliens and many big words that I have to look up, that she does not have to look up. She’s as smart as me, and has a much bigger vocabulary.)

    Apparently, according to her, some people like to read a book more than once. This does not compute for me…I only do this with reference books, not fiction, because there’s so much good fiction in the world, I figure “why read the same book when you can read another book?” But hey, to each their own.

    I mostly only have time to read manuals on using software and hardware these days anyway, and those are usually PDfs. I have about ten gigs of PDFs, and that’s a pretty damn big library. And serachable. But I do still like printed books. They’re easier to read, and I still have a “fetishist” like for the actual object, that goes back to a childhood spent skipping school to go to the library to actually *learn* something. And people tend to take printed books more seriously somehow. (Probably because it takes slightly more work to get them produced. Though with POD services like LightningSource and LuLu, not much more work.)

    Books are sort of on the way out, but not totally. Which is probably why authors who are not married to the old school (much of the publishing industry still is, actually), authors like me and Cory, tend to release books as both computer files and as mashed-up dead trees.

    I doubt printed books will ever be gone. I think that the infrastructure of the world will collapse in my lifetime, and we’ll all be sitting in caves reading eBooks on hacked solar-powered iPods, and also reading printed books, though we will probably only read them once, because we’ll have to burn them for heat.

    –Michael W. Dean

  33. If all the books were removed from the homes in Britain we would be voting Conservative in ten minutes.

  34. #27

    ..from my meager amount of desert living experience, adobe houses are awesome, but really only work in a desert climate that is fundimentally 98% dry as hell. Anywhere else in the country, they’d turn into mud.

    Rob, the straw bale houses, covered in lime plaster, refered to by Pipenta, actually do very well in the likes of Ireland and the Uk, which have a somewhat different climate than the one you experienced.

    Although true adobe may not like miosture, lime-plastered straw bale handles it fine.

  35. #41 posted by joncro Author Profile Page, April 20, 2008 2:37 PM

    If all the books were removed from the homes in Britain we would be voting Conservative in ten minutes.

    LOL! True! But last time I was in Brixton (2003), there was a HUGE banner over the library steps to entice people to actually ENTER the place. It said “We have Internet access!”

    Kinda reminded me of that Simpsons where the library in Springfield has a banner that says “We have books about computers!”

    This is not unique to England. It happens everywhere. (I almost wrote this sentence as “Sadly, this is not unique to England….”, then mused about it, and thought “I’m not sure this is any sadder horse buggy makers going out of business when auto makers came to power. But then agian, cars, and the universal lust for non-efficient cars, is part of the reason we’ll probably all be squatting in caves in 40 years.)

    –Michael W. Dean

  36. Ha, to clarify, I was quoting my favorite running gag from Cory’s Someone Comes to Town Someone Leaves Town. Funnily enough, I searched the ebook for the exact quote, since I don’t own the actual book due to space issues.

  37. For all of those saying that books aren’t great insulation, we understand. They aren’t recommending that you rip out the drywall and install shelves between the studs so that your books take the place of insulation. They’re saying that adding a layer of books adds to the insulating properties. So, if you go gung-ho and install great insulation, you can save even *more* energy by also putting a bookshelf along that wall.

    Michail W. Dean:
    I’m not so sure I could carpet my walls…. I’d start to feel like I was in a padded room… ;)

  38. it is possible to live in a structure composed completely of books. Encyclopedia sets for foundations, good solid hardcovers for walls, glossy magazines for roofing, carpets of paperbacks and in the bathroll for the roll; ___________(insert author here).

  39. I lugged a ton of books transcontinentally a couple of times (pre-PC days) before I wised up and swore to sell them if I moved again, which I would have, but then I met and married a woman with almost as many; soon we had a small house stacked and lined with aisles of books. That was livable, barely, but then her bookophile mother died…so, at the joking suggestion of a friend, we opened a bookstore.

    I assure you, if you have a problem with books there is no quicker or more lasting cure than owning a bookstore. A couple years of that and your personal library skinnies down to about a hundred or so of the damn things.

    Now my hard drive(s)….

  40. One problem with using books for insulation is that they are generally made of virgin fibers that come from trees and logging those trees results in a large pulse of carbon to the atmosphere which contributes to global climate change. Forests are good places to store carbon because they are generally stable and long-lived. Wood products are not such good places to store carbon because we live in a throw away culture. Studies have shown that only about 15-24% of the carbon stored in forests ends up stored as wood products after logging, while the remaining carbon is emitted to the atmosphere as logging slash, milling waste, transport energy, etc. It’s safe to say that for every kilogram of carbon in your house or in your books there is another three kilograms of carbon in the atmosphere. I am not arguing against books, but let’s not let the feel good thing go too far. At best, using your books for insulation might be a good idea to help mitigate for the effects of logging. Check out my report on the subject

  41. But advocating books as an energy saver is almost like advocating insulated walls with holes in them. I’d imagine you need to pack them pretty tight for it to work. Unless this guy has some science to back up what he is saying, I’d say it’s mainly BS.

  42. @ Cory: I can take those of your hands, yannow :)

    @ Michael W. Dean: I’m sure he’s got more than a few ebooks, but still…my object fetish won’t let me stray too far into that territory.

    Most of the ebooks I get are old stuff that I don’t want to pay for, or Creative Commons sci-fi stuff.

    Also…objects! I do love objects!

  43. @ Soupisgoodfood:

    Even a negligible or inefficient effect is still an effect. I’ve had big bookshelves around me since I was a kid. The things really soak in the cold.

  44. No more books made out of dead trees! We need mediatronic books. One book to hold them all. Isn’t that really the green way? As it is I’m developing a fear of books. Not the information in them, just the actual thing. Too many things to care about. Of course I say this while thinking about my signed copy of Little Brother that I need to get.

  45. #45 posted by Scuba SM , April 20, 2008 3:40 PM
    Michail W. Dean:
    I’m not so sure I could carpet my walls…. I’d start to feel like I was in a padded room… ;)

    That’s exactly the POINT!

    Michael W. Dean

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