What if I could harness this energy?

The question might have occurred to you while exercising—sweating and generating heat, sensing your body as an engine. You might have wondered how many watts you could generate or whether you could modify your bicycle to power your laptop, for example. Maybe you questioned whether such an invention existed already and wondered where you could try or buy it.

The Human-Powered Home brings you the answers. It’s a compendium of information on pedal-powered, treadled, and hand-cranked devices for use in and around the home. It includes a brief history of such devices, from Archimedes’ screw to electricity-generating boots. It describes the physiology and physics behind human power and reveals how many watts one person can practically generate. It also includes plans for building your own devices, such as a pedal-powered blender and electricity generator. But most inspiring, it tells the stories of inventors from around the world and their ingenious contraptions.

While researching the book I interviewed dozens of human-power engineers and enthusiasts, from MIT professors to chocolatiers at work in Oaxaca. Each aimed to empower people, literally and figuratively, by applying muscle power in efficient and useful ways. Though the capacity of human power is admittedly small and probably impractical for solving North America’s energy concerns, in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where it brings a village clean water, or Nepal, where it provides students light for evening homework, it serves a real need.

Even if you don’t long to construct or operate human-powered devices in your home, I hope you’ll be captivated by the creativity and energy that inventors through the centuries have put into them.