Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally

Safer Construction Tips
for the Environmentally Sensitive
by Julie Genser
non-toxic construction consultants: Melinda Honn, Greg Conrad
Note from author
Housing has always been a personal passion of
mine, starting when I studied design and environmental analysis at Cornell University in the ‘80s,
ignited while I traveled the world in the late ‘90s,
and continuing as I completed an ecovillage
and permaculture design certification course
during the summer of 2004 and then went off to
study sustainable architecture at ECOSA Institute.
What happened next might have been predictable given all the signs in the preceding
years, but being fairly ignorant about environmental illness, it took me quite by horror and surEI House Snowflake, Arizona ©Snowflake Beach
prise. After multiple exposures to various toxins
over the years—mercury, arsenic, fumes from toxic fires (including 9/11), a mold infestation in
my small NYC apartment, and Lyme bacteria—exposure to some local pollen or mold in
Prescott, Arizona set off a chain reaction in my body, resulting in extensive and severe chemical
sensitivities within a few days of my arrival.
I struggled the first month to survive my body’s confusing reactions to the extreme heat, constant controlled fire burnings, wood burning stoves, gas fumes, mold, and other environmentally
based health challenges. I was experiencing a complete blockage of my sinuses, excruciating
migraines, brain fog and confusion, sleep apnea, numbness in my shins, and a host of other
debilitating symptoms. Increasingly, I was forced to remain in the house I had rented, as being
outdoors caused a great exacerbation of my condition. Indoors was not much better. Soon I
was alone 24/7, unable to attend class and struggling just to survive through each day and
night. I buried myself in my course books, determined to stay on track with homework and fascinated by passive solar design principles. I learned a lot in that short time.
I ended up dropping out of the program soon after. I had gone there with the dream of designing my own earth house, and left with a desire to build communities for the chemically sensitive,
incorporating permaculture and passive solar design principles in the hopes of helping heal the
earth as I helped heal people. I started this brochure as a coordinator for MCS-Global, a nonprofit organization dedicated to global MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) education and
awareness. I have since left MCS-Global to focus on my own personal project, Planet Thrive, a
grassroots community for personal wellness with a focus on the health-environment connection.
I hope the following suggestions help guide those starting a construction project to build the
safest, most comfortable, most sustainable haven that nurtures spirit and not just body. Please
visit my online community at www.PlanetThrive.com for additional resources on non-toxic and
sustainable housing. –Julie Genser August 2007
i
© 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved.
No part of this brochure may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means,
including mechanical, electric, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Produced by Planet Thrive, Inc. in association with MCS-Global.
Disclaimer: Non-toxic construction consultants Melinda Honn and Greg Conrad were instrumental in the creation of this brochure, however, they do not necessarily endorse all tips contained herein.
The author does not profess to be an expert in the field of home construction, nor have personal experience building an environmentally safer home. All information is based on the
completed surveys of 18 people who have completed the construction of a home for someone with moderate to severe chemical and/or electrical sensitivities, as well as research in
existing publications on related subjects. As these are highly individual conditions, the only
‘golden rules’ found for building a safe home for the environmentally sensitive person were: 1)
Test each material and product well for individual tolerance before installing; and 2)
Whenever possible, use inert (‘safe’) materials rather than merely materials currently tolerated,
as one’s tolerances may change with time.
Included in this guide is information on how to minimize chemicals, mold, and electric in
home design but none of these areas are in any way complete or even comprehensive.
However, we felt it important to include this basic information until more research and published information becomes available.
Due to the individual nature of symptoms and triggers for those with severe chemical and
electrical sensitivities, there is no guarantee that any of the information provided will work for
you or your client; we can merely offer these guidelines based on the experience of others as
you pioneer the building of a customized ‘safer’ home. The process will not be easy but we
hope that the results will be well worth the effort, and allow you or your client to recover in
peace and safety.
Although created for the marginal population of those with severe chemical and electrical
sensitivities, these tips should help provide guidance to any builder who aims to create a
healthier environment for their client. This guide may be especially useful for those who are
suffering from any other environmentally based illness, including Lyme Disease, Autism
Spectrum (AS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig’s Disease
(ALS), Parkinson’s Disease, etc., as having a home with a reduced toxic load would benefit
anyone with compromised health. It might also be valuable for new families who are raising
infants and young children, whose developing bodies and minds are also particularly vulnerable to the indoor air pollution commonly found in standard contemporary methods of construction.
Very unfortunately, due to the nature and severity of the housing crisis for those with severe
chemical and electrical sensitivities, considerations of energy efficiency and sustainability
must take a secondary role; our lives, health, and well-being depend on it. Wherever possible,
however, we have included measures to reduce energy use.
ii
index
i
Note from Author
ii
Copyright and Disclaimer
iii
Index
1
Great Expections: Be Realistic
2
Choose Your Neighborhood: Location, Location, Location
4
Build to Local Code: Research Before You Plan
4
Check with Local Utility Companies: Electric, Water, Sewage
5
Determine Where to Build: Observe Your Site Well
5
Plan Your Home: Design Well
7
Heating / Cooling / Ventilation
10 Passive Solar Climatic Design Principes
12 Landscape Your Home: Let Form Follow Function
13 Build The Safest House Possible
wheelchair accessible
emf-free
18 mold-free
20 Protect Yourself: Choose Your Builder with the Greatest Care
21 Select Your Building Materials Wisely: Live with All Materials Before Building
21 Materials / Fixtures / Products
exterior
23 weatherizing
roof
foundation
24 framing
insulation
air-vapor barrier
wiring
25 plumbing
water filtration systems
doors
windows
26 light fixtures
interior walls
27 caulking
joint compound
window and door trim
28 baseboards
paint
iii
29 flooring
30 grouting
grout sealer
kitchen counter
kitchen backsplash
kitchen cabinetry
31 kitchen appliances
bathroom wall/floors
bathroom fixtures
32 storage shelves
furnishings
window treatment
33 general products to avoid
33 Credits and Thanks
34 Sources
iv
The below is a guide for those in the planning stages of building safer housing
for someone with environmental sensitivities, requiring a home
free of chemicals, mold, and electro-magnetic frequency (EMF) waves.
great expectations.
ENVIRONMENTAL SENSITIVITIES
BE REALISTIC
• Depending on the materials and consultants used to build your non-toxic home,
you can expect to spend anywhere from
the same as typical construction up to an
additional 35% in building costs.
• Expect to devote lots of time and energy
to oversee the project, or hire someone
that you can trust to do it.
• Don’t assume that if a material is ‘green’
or ‘sustainable’ that it is non-toxic and
appropriate for you. Test everything first.
• Likewise, don’t assume that it is better to
use a non-toxic material over a conventional product. Some non-toxic paints
and joint compounds don’t cure well
and will smell for months, or even years.
In certain cases, the ‘toxic’ material will
off-gas relatively quickly, cure well, and
ultimately do the job better. Keep an
open mind and test all materials first.
sources: 1, 2
Chemical Sensitivity (CS)
A syndrome in which one experiences
multiple symptoms upon exposure to very
low levels of everyday chemicals, such
as those found in perfumes, petrol, diesel,
smoke and common construction materials. CS can be caused by acute or
chronic exposures to chemicals and is
often seen with Lyme Disease, Mercury
Poisoning, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
Gulf War Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Toxic
Injury (such as pesticide poisoning),
and Mold Illness.
Mold Sensitivity
Includes both an immune-mediated
allergy to mold and/or a chemical
sensitivity, as the mycotoxins
(toxins produced by mold spores)
are chemicals themselves.
Electrical Sensitivity (ES)
Causes a range of symptoms, from the
uncomfortable to the debilitating, upon
exposure to low levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from cell towers, power
lines, electric motors, WiFi, computers,
cell phones and other sources.
Other sensitivities include those to
sound, sun, artificial lighting,
vibration, touch, and changes in
barometric pressure (weather).
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 1 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
choose your neighborhood.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Valley in Norway © Rony Zmiri / iStockphoto
• Choose a locale and climate where you
have access to clean, fresh air and can
keep your windows open most of the
year.2
• As a general rule, mountaintops, seashores, and islands tend to have less pollution, provided that they are not down
wind from major sources of industrial pollution, as do places closest to the equator where wind patterns and evaporation
help disperse pollutants.3
dictability of nature, industry, and other
synergistic forces, some places that
would seem to have minimal pollution
may very well have high particulate levels; likewise, areas that are polluted may
have pockets that are well tolerated.3
• At least fifty percent of indoor air is made
up of outdoor air. Research local geographical patterns and other environmental factors to determine air quality
and other types of pollution in the area:
look into dust, pollen, terpene (from pine
and other trees), and mold levels, skunk
fumes, local pollution, hazardous materials, industry, noise pollution, water quality,
radon levels, and soil contamination.
Keep in mind that areas in valleys, downstream, and upwind tend to concentrate
toxins in air, ground, and water.1, 2, 3
• Avoid low-lying areas that are subject to
flooding and high-risk areas for earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other
natural disasters.
• Locations that may generate high-ion
winds such as deserts and areas below
mountains and tall buildings may not be
well tolerated.3
• Areas where different climatic zones
meet may have higher air turbulence
and increased electrical activity that
result in higher levels of air pollution.
Additionally, weather conditions such
as fog, snowfall, rainfall, and winds will
affect pollution levels.3
• Those with weather sensitivities will need
to explore the electrical properties at
play in the areas they are investigating.3
• Keep in mind that due to the unpre-
Cell Phone Tower © Ian Poole | Cooling Towers © Cliff
Parnell | Crop Duster © Ken Babione / iStockphoto
• Find out proximity to:
EMFs from radio, TV, microwave and cell
towers, high voltage power lines, transformers, power plants, airport flight patterns, and overhead street electrical high
voltage boxes.
PESTICIDES from neighbors, golf courses,
parks, and conventional agricultural
areas.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 2 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
AIR & NOISE POLLUTION from construction
sites, industry, nuclear plants, traffic, airports, asphalt or parking lot fumes, future
highways, neighbors’ laundry exhaust, dry
cleaners, gas stations, incinerators, landfills, auto repair and body shops, concentrated wood smoke from wood burning
stoves and fireplaces, and other combustion or gas fumes.
• Verify county practices and regulations
regarding pesticide spraying on roadsides
and mosquito abatement.
• Look to build in low density, outlying
areas, but be sure to consider the impact
of future growth in surrounding regions.
• Consider building on a site with a mountain between you and existing or future
cell, radio, or microwave towers. Living in
a valley will provide more protection from
EMF radiation, whereas a mountaintop
will provide almost no protection (however, keep in mind that valleys tend to
accumulate environmental toxins in air,
ground, and water).
Do whatever it takes to minimize electrical and magnetic fields, microwaves,
and radio signals. If you incorporate
active solar, keep the inverters far away
from your living space.
• Check zoning laws for adjacent properties. Note what is undeveloped nearby
and plan for the worst-case scenario.
• Purchase as much acreage as you can,
especially in areas with trees or vegetation to act as buffers for air and noise
pollution.
Vegetables © narvikk / iStockphoto
• Confirm accessibility of health food
stores, doctors, and other vital resources.
• Find out if there are others in the neighborhood or community with environmental sensitivities who may be able to provide support, knowledge, and strength in
numbers.
Lawn Mower © Jeffrey Smith / iStockphoto
• Ask about your neighbors’ lifestyles. Do
they: smoke; use pesticides, herbicides,
insecticides; use fabric softeners; remodel
cars; use combustion-fueled lawn equipment like leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and
chain saws; barbecue or cook outdoors
frequently; own a chlorine swimming
pool; have pets?
For more on geographic, meteorological,
and other location considerations: See
chapter 2 of Optimum Environments for
Optimum Health & Creativity: Designing and
Building a Healthy Home or Office by William
J. Rea, M.D.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
sources: 1, 2, 3
pg 3 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
build to local code.
RESEARCH BEFORE YOU PLAN
• Contact the building safety department
in your local city or county to find out
local building codes. Codes can affect
anything from smoke detector place
ment and the number of electrical outlets
to how you handle sewage disposal, and
heating and cooling systems. Building
Safety should provide informational
handouts for items that specifically apply
to your project (e.g., Standard Codes for
Building a Slab-on-Grade). You can also
check online and at the library. Some
areas do not have building codes and
require no inspection.
• Codes vary greatly by location. If you are
inside city limits, the city regulates. If you
are outside city limits, the county you
reside in will regulate your codes.
• Know what is required by code before
you begin designing your home and
drawing up the plans, as some items may
affect your layout, or the location of the
house on your site.
Architect Signs Off © Helder Almeida / iStockphoto
• You can draw up the plans yourself, but if
you are planning to use an alternative
building material such as E-Crete, adobe,
or straw bale, a registered architect or
structural engineer will have to sign off on
your plans. Keep in mind that the archtect or engineer may have to be present
at several steps of the inspection process
to sign off on the construction with the
building inspector, who most likely is not
familiar with alternative building materials. This might influence your building
material choice.
sources: 1, 2
Blueprint © Cruceru Cristian / iStockphoto
• The first step is to draft your plans, show
ing floor plans, elevations, and building
materials, and submit them for review.
Once your plans are approved, you will
have to pay a permit fee and then you
can begin to build. Any changes to these
plans must be approved. Once building
begins, there will be multiple inspections.
They will usually inspect for minimum
compliance to safety codes in your area.
check with local utility companies.
ELECTRIC, WATER, SEWAGE
• Requirements for things like the location
of your septic tank, or main breaker box
may affect where you place your home
on the site, how you orient it, and how
you layout your space.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
source: 2
pg 4 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
determine where to build.
OBSERVE YOUR SITE WELL
…Water follows gravity. Mold follows
water. Therefore, avoid having gravity
drive water into your foundation.
Avoid condensation in the external
wall cavity such that the water runs
down the foundation or slab. If water
contacts your foundation materials it
can wick upwards, defying gravity.
Don’t let water into your understructure! If your home sits at top of a hill,
with drainage away from you on four
sides, great.
from Mold Warriors
by Ritchie J. Shoemaker
Airstream Trailer © Deo Abesamis / iStockphoto
sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
• If at all possible, stay in a camper or build
temporary housing and live on the land
for a full year before building, to experience it in every season. Don’t rush into
construction before you know your site—
do your due diligence and you will be
well rewarded.
1. Note your reactions to trees, vegetation, pollen; watch for the development of seasonal allergies.
2. Get to know natural weather patterns
and analyze permaculture ‘sectors’ of
the site: winter and summer sun; fire;
cold winter winds; fog; pollution (noise,
smells, power lines); flooding and surface water; ugly and preferred views;
crime; and wildlife.
plan your home.
DESIGN WELL
• Take note of where the best views are.
• Plan for a one-story home to reduce the
amount of toxic products. Finding safe
stairway materials is often difficult and
expensive. Flooring issues also become
difficult with a second floor.
For more on permaculture and site sectors:
Read Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to HomeScale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway and
Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison
with Reny Mia Slay.
Sunlit Courtyard © Richard Gunion / iStockphoto
• With regard to flooding and mold, it’s
ideal to build at the top of a hill. For the
same reasons, never build at the bottom
of a hill.4
• Consider a courtyard layout, with all
rooms exiting directly into the courtyard
or exterior perimeter to maintain the
integrity of air quality in each space.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 5 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
• Larger homes with high/cathedral ceilings will help disperse interior pollutants
better than a small home with normal
height ceilings.
• Build a long house rather than a square
one, locating the water heater, electric
panel, central vacuum, and other utilities
as far away from the bedroom as possible.
• Include an entryway where shoes can be
removed to prevent oils, pesticides, and
other pollutants from being tracked into
the home. The entryway can also create
an airlock, providing a buffer from outside air. It’s a good place to put an air
filter.
• Centralize TVs and other electronic
equipment. Consider placing them
behind glass and venting to the outdoors.
• Design in large storage rooms with an
exhaust fan to the outdoors or an operable window for books, business papers,
DVDs, and other household items, where
they are within easy reach.
• Isolate and direct air flow in each room
to maintain air quality integrity separate
from other spaces; use exhaust fans and
vents in kitchen, bathroom, closets,
kitchen cabinets.
• Keep the bedroom as simple and as
uncluttered as possible.
• Plan adequate wiring and dedicated
electrical outlets for special appliances
like space heaters, air purifiers, and medical equipment.
• Use a high efficiency whole house air
purification unit to remove dust, mold,
dander, chemicals, and gasses. Be aware
that some Hepa filters may use glues
that contain formaldehyde. In addition,
many with chemical sensitivities cannot
tolerate carbon filters, or they tolerate
one type of carbon better than another.
Make sure to test for tolerance before
installing an expensive system.
Covered Exterior Walkway © Joel Kapp
Guest Shower Room © Marje Cannon / iStockphoto
• Include a portico or other covered outdoor area in your plans for airing out new
clothes and other off-gassing products.
• If desired, plan for a shower and changing room for spouse, family, and visitors to
use before entering main home area to
avoid contamination of safe space.
• Decide if/where you want a sauna; built
into your bathroom, or separated to isolate toxic fumes you may be releasing as
you sweat.
• Garage should always be detached to
avoid gas fumes infiltrating your home.
• Locate air-intake vent away from neighbor’s exhaust.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 6 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
• Install a central vacuum system that discharges exhaust directly to the outdoors
and locate the vacuum hose and wall
plate in a utility closet to minimize escaping dust. (With a conventional vacuum,
no matter how good the filter, some dust
is exhausted back into the air.)
• Install a whole-house purification system
with chlorine filters on showerheads.
Many with chemical sensitivities cannot
tolerate carbon filters, or they tolerate
one type of carbon better than another.
Make sure to test for tolerance before
installing an expensive system.
• It is better to use a stand-alone humidifier
rather than one that is built-in, as they are
highly susceptible to mold.
and the more metaphysical concepts of
the four elements: earth, water, fire, and
wind.
• Color can be used therapeutically to
affect mood, comfort, and energy levels;
evaluate your response to various colors
before applying them to your space. At
the Environmental Health Center-Dallas
(EHC-D), Dr. Rea has found that ‘blue
colors appear to strengthen the pollutant-weakened individual.’3 This is entirely
a personal preference, however, and
should be customized to the individual.
• Postpone purely decorative features until
after your health has improved to keep
total exposure load to a minimum.
heating
• Use passive solar design principles—
thermal mass, insulation, orientation of
house—to minimize mechanical heating
system requirements. (See page 10 for
more on passive solar design.)
Solarium © Yin Yang / iStockphoto
• Plan for a sunspace or greenhouse,
where you can grow edible plants and
herbs. This can be an especially nice
addition in northern climates where
winters can be dreary.
• As those with Environmental Illness are
highly sensitive to the energy of a space,
consider researching the principles of
Feng Shui (pronounced "fung shway"),
the ancient Chinese art of balancing the
flow of natural energies in our environment. Feng Shui addresses both practical
concerns (natural light, air circulation)
Laying Radiant Heating Pipes © Melinda Honn
• If mechanical heating is required, the
ideal method is hydronic radiant floor
heating. In this system, the pipes are laid
before concrete is poured, preventing
leaks and off-gassing of VOCs. The
propane tank, solar inverter—or whatever
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 7 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
system you choose—can be located outside the home in a utility shed far from
your living space.
away from the heated floor or the
garbage will start to spoil and smell very
quickly. The biggest disadvantage to this
system is that if a pipe breaks, the floor
must be jack-hammered to repair it.
• For supplemental heating, the EBHA
Cadet Soft Heat liquid filled electric hot
water baseboard heater, direct-wired
into the wall (220 volts, with an inline
thermostat) has worked well for many
with chemical and electrical sensitivities.
Heat Exchanger in Shed © Melinda Honn
It is best to use a ‘closed system’ that recirculates the same water in a continuous
circuit, completely separate from the
domestic water supply. This reduces the
water pressure and the resulting water
damage should a leak occur.
The benefits of this type of heat include:
• Economical and energy efficient—for
the same comfort level, the space
can be maintained at a lower temperature than with a forced air system.
• Comfortable—warm floor radiates
heat into living spaces.
• Separates heating from ventilation
system.
Because the floor is heated, is it critical to
use an inert flooring material such as concrete or ceramic tile that will not outgas
when warmed. In addition, care must be
taken to avoid tracking in pesticides, oil,
and other contaminates on shoes. When
heated, any such pollutants will become
volatile. For this reason, it would be best
to avoid wearing shoes at all (yearround) on a floor with radiant heating.
You must also keep garbage disposal
Cadet Baseboard Heater © Joel Kapp
Make sure to remove all exterior and
interior stickers from the unit and replace
the plastic-covered steel bands that are
holding up the pipe with copper bands
to minimize off-gassing and avoid galvanization of metals before operating unit
for the first time.
Wipe down with a tolerable cleaner
and/or warm water and dry well. Run for
several hours or days, as needed, outside
or with sufficient ventilation to allow all
materials to off-gas.
Also available as a portable 110-volt unit.
Note: both models contain ethylene
glycol (antifreeze).
• Remember that seemingly benign materials like plastic, aluminum, and copper
may off-gas fumes when heated; test all
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 8 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
materials in operation before installing.
Safer materials for heating include
ceramic tiles and stainless steel.3
• If using propane gas, locate the heater
outside the home and pump heated air
inside.
AVOID Forced-air heating due to dust and
mold in vents and EMF problems.
cooling
• Use passive solar design principles—
insulation, orientation of house, window
placement—to minimize mechanical
cooling system needs. (See page 10 for
more on passive solar design.)
• Supply slightly positive air pressure and
cross-ventilation. (For example, plan
windows on two walls for bedrooms and
other rooms where cross ventilation is
desired.)
• Install ceiling fans to move air.
• Install large exhaust fans that vent to the
outdoors in the laundry, bathroom and
kitchen areas. Provide for an alternate
air supply source (i.e., an open window
or door) during operation in order to
keep air pressure balanced in home.3
• Those with Electrical Sensitivity may not
tolerate overhead or exhaust fans, however, may want to include them to operate when they are not in the home.
• If you must install air conditioning, consider a split system air conditioner system
with a heat pump, but instead of having
the heat exchanger in a furnace which
then ducts the heated or cooled air to
the separate rooms, the heat exchanger
is on the wall in the room being cooled or
heated, thereby eliminating the need for
duct work. Those with severe ES may not
tolerate this option.
Kitchen Door © Melinda Honn
AVOID Central air conditioning due to
dust/mold in vents and EMF problems.
ventilation
• Use passive solar design principles—
night-flushing, orientation of house, landscaping and landforms—to minimize
mechanical ventilation system needs.
(See page 10 for more on passive solar
design.)
• If you choose not to install exhaust fans,
you might want to provide a door to separate the kitchen from the rest of the
living space so that any cooking fumes
can be diverted outside through open
windows or exterior doors without infiltrating the main house. Some have installed
a glass wall to maintain a feeling of
openness in the home while still protecting the living area from cooking smells.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
sources: 1, 2, 3
pg 9 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
DESIGN FOR BEST VENTILATION,
COOLING, AND HEATING OF AIR—
SPECIFIC TO THE CLIMATE
YOU ARE BUILDING IN—USING
PASSIVE SOLAR TECHNIQUES
climatic
design priorities U. S. region
a, b, c
New England; Northern
Plains, Midwest
a, c, b
Great Plains,
intermountain basin,
and plateaus; northern
California, Oregon, and
Washington coastal
regions
a, c, b, f
high, mountainous,
semi-arid regions
above 7,000 feet in
southern latitudes and
above 6,000 feet in
northern latitudes
a, g, c, d, f, k, h, b California’s Central
Valley and parts of the
central coast
a, e, c, d
c, e, b, d, i
a, e, c, d, b, i
g, d, h, f
Mid-Atlantic Coast
Mississippi Valley
Appalachia
Southwest desert
regions
i, c, d, a, h, b, e, g west Texas and
southeast New Mexico
k, c, d, b Oklahoma and north
Texas
f, d, j
eastern Gulf Coast
h, f, d, j
western Gulf Coast
l, d, f, j
l, d, c, e, g
WINTER HEATING STRATEGIES
a. Keep the heat in—and the cold air out.
1. Locate spaces that need less heat
(closets, stairs, garages, etc.) along
the north wall, and spaces that need
more heat (sun room, greenhouse)
on the south wall.
2. Minimize windows on all walls except
the south.
3. Insulate well.
b. Shelter from winter winds.
1. Don’t build on windy hill tops.
2. Create wind breaks with evergreens.
3. Put garages and utility spaces on
winter windward side (usually north).
4. Minimize openings on the sides facing
winter winds.
5. Use tight construction, caulking, and
weatherstripping to minimize wind
infiltration.
c. Maximize solar gain.
1. Build on south, southeast, or south
west slopes to maximize solar gain and
daylighting.
2. The long axis of house should run east
to west.
3. Most windows should face south.
4. Use direct gain, Trombe walls, and
sun spaces for passive solar heating.
5. Use thermal mass to absorb and store
solar radiation.
southern Florida
semi-arid region of
southern California
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 10 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
SUMMER COOLING/VENTILATION STRATEGIES
high humidity near the ground.
g. Use thermal mass to flatten temperature
swings—reducing heat during the day
and increasing heat at night.
1. Make use of “night flushing” to cool
the home overnight.
2. Use materials with thermal mass—brick,
concrete, stone, adobe—to absorb the
high heat of the day and release it
slowly at night.
3. Insulate all thermal mass.
Trees Provide Shade © Joan Kimball / iStockphoto
d. Protect from sun.
1. Do not build on east or especially west
slopes. South slopes are best if solar
heating is required in winter (north
slopes are best, if not).
2. Place trees strategically for summer
shade.
3. Avoid east and west windows.
4. South windows should have a generous
soffit overhang.
5. Add shutters or shades to help cool the
house.
e. Ventilate naturally to cool.
1. Use “night flush cooling” to cool your
home at night in preparation for heat
of the next day.
2. Situate your home to take advantage
of prevailing winds.
3. Use landscaping and land forms to
direct and channel winds toward your
home.
f. Ventilate naturally to cool and
remove excess moisture.
1. Same techniques noted under
“ventilate naturally” above.
2. Elevate the main living area away from
h. Keep hot temperatures out.
1. Maintain cool air around the perimeter
of the home using plants and exterior
shade structures
2. Windows should be few, and small.
Cooling Pond © Elena Elisseeva / iStockphoto
i. Use evaporative cooling.
1. Make use of pools, ponds, fountains—
inside your home or in a courtyard.
2. Plants will cool both indoor and outdoor air.
j. Don’t add humidity.
1. Do not use evaporative cooling
techniques.
2. Maintain proper drainage of the land
around your home.
3. Minimize indoor plants.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 11 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
landscape your home.
SPRING AND FALL
LET FORM FOLLOW FUNCTION
k. Ventilate naturally to cool during
Spring and Fall.
1. Use “night flush cooling” to cool your
home at night in preparation for the
heat of the next day.
2. Situate your home to take advantage
of prevailing winds.
3. Use landscaping and land forms to
direct and channel winds toward your
home.
YEAR-ROUND
l. Open your home to the outdoors if
temperatures are comfortable
year-round.
1. Have a variety of outdoor spaces with
different orientations—use spaces on
the south side during winter, and on
the north side in summer.
2. Build outdoor living spaces protected
from summer sun and winter winds.
3. Use non-compact home design—one
story with many wings.
m. Ventilate naturally to cool and
remove excess moisture.
1. Same techniques noted under
“ventilate naturally” above.
2. Elevate the main living area away from
high humidity near the ground.
The preceding passive solar information is an
abbreviated summary of comprehensive
climatic design strategies found in Heating,
Cooling, Lighting: Design Methods for
Architects by Norbert Lechner.
• Design landscaping and building
foundations to require no chemical
maintenance.
• Use plantings that mitigate airborne mold
or pollens upwind or along the paths of
travel to your home.
• Design so that you don’t need combustion-fueled landscape maintenance
equipment—like leaf-blowers, lawnmowers, or chain saws.
• Certain types of plants will help detoxify
indoor air pollutants like benzene or
formaldehyde. These include Boston fern,
chrysanthemum, dracaena, ivy, and
ficus. Note: Indoor plants will increase
humidity and may encourage mold
growth.
For more on detoxifying plants, read: How to
Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify
Your Home or Office by B. C. Wolverton
money saving tips
• Harvest edible weeds like dandelion
leaves (great for the liver) and nettle
(big source of magnesium) for food
rather than trying to eradicate them.
• Consider using natural farming methods
to grow local, organic crops so that you
can control the purity of your food while
enriching the soil and ecosystem around
your home.
note: Make sure no chemical pesticides
were used by prior occupants if you do!
source: 6
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
sources: 1, 2, 7, 8
pg 12 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
build the safest house possible.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE, EMF-, MOLD-, AND
CHEMICAL-FREE
• Build at least one bathroom and shower
with wheelchair access.
emf-free
• Mold and electrical sensitivities are environmentally triggered illnesses that occur
in a subset of those with Chemical
Sensitivity. We recommend that those
building a safer house include considerations to minimize both mold and electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs), as they are
a potential risk factor for those with CS
even though symptoms may not yet be
present.
• Consider that your condition might
decline with age, change or be compounded by other situations.
•
Create a house that visitors who may be
more sensitive than you can enjoy.
wheelchair accessibility
SITE SELECTION
• Ideally, locate your home at least 5 miles
from the nearest microwave or cell
phone tower, high tension power line, or
other radio, TV, transmitter, etc. Test the
background magnetic field levels with
the power off. Due to net neutral current
problems between homes, shared transformers should be avoided. Make sure to
check for future cell tower sites as well as
existing.
• Consider building on a site with a mountain between you and existing or future
cell, radio, or microwave towers. Living in
a valley will provide more protection from
EMF radiation, whereas a mountaintop
will provide almost no protection (however, keep in mind that valleys tend to
accumulate environmental toxins in air,
ground, and water). Do whatever it takes
to minimize electrical and magnetic
fields, microwaves, and radio signals.
HOME DESIGN / LAYOUT
• Design with as much natural lighting as
possible so that you are less dependent
on artificial lighting.
Wheelchair Access © Dmitriy Rashap / iStockphoto
• Provide at least one ramp entrance into
home.
• Make sure all doorways provide wheelchair clearance.
• Include interior ramps if home is multilevel.
• Ideally, locate the electrical power
panel, solar inverters (if you are using
active solar), clothes dryer, hot water
heater, and any other large electric
appliance at least 20 feet from living/
sleeping areas. For the hot water heater,
make sure the wires between the upper
and lower elements are not spaced
apart; install a new pair if they are.
• The routing of any dedicated circuits for
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 13 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
computer and other equipment should
be kept away from critical areas like the
bedroom.
MATERIALS SELECTION
• Steel studs should only be used inside
walls when they can be adequately
grounded to earth. Some of the benefits
of using metal studs are that they do not
contain terpenes found in wood framing
studs nor do they attract termites—they
also conduct heating and cooling more
quickly through the wall.
The steel should first be checked with a
gauss meter for EMFs and degaussed if
necessary. The steel framing system
should be cleaned of any oil and grease
using a tolerable cleaner or placed in the
sun for a long time before using.3
The steel framing system must be grounded but if the area is plagued with objectionable ground currents then the ground
might actually feed back into the walls
and an alternative should be sought.
• Ceramic, stone, and marble floors have
a grounding effect and may be better
tolerated by those with ES than other
materials.3
• Although hardwood will not shield EMFs,
William J. Rea, M.D. of the EHC-D reports
that some with ES do better with hardwood environments rather than porcelain. Keep in mind that many with CS do
have trouble tolerating both wood and
sealant odors.
APPLIANCES / PRODUCTS
• It is usually safer to use a ceramic top
electric range (lower EMF and less burnt
oils) and to locate the kitchen at least 14
feet from other living/sleeping areas.
Many ES people are not able to use an
electric oven and prefer to use an outdoor gas oven. A hot plate, toaster oven
and/or crock pot might also work for you.
A non-electric solar oven is also an option
for those who have access to sunlight
year-round, no matter how cold it is out.
active solar tip
If you choose to use an off-the-grid
photovoltaic electrical system, normal
operation is for sunlight to generate
power in the photovoltaic panels that is
stored in batteries at 24 volts direct current. An inverter takes the 24 volts DC
and transforms it into 120 volt AC
power for the house.
A mode is available so that when the
amount of 120-volt AC house power
being used drops below a certain
point, the inverter is turned off (to conserve power). A test pulse is sent to the
house every couple seconds or so to
see if someone has turned on an appliance, in which case the inverter comes
back on line for normal 120-volt AC
power.
By carefully managing the house electrical loads, it is possible for 120-volt AC
power into the house to be automatically off much of the time except when
needed. If you do use active solar,
make sure you locate the inverter far
from your living space.
• For greatest safety, locate your refrigerator in the storage room, garage or an
exterior building.
• Consider purchasing a counter-height
refrigerator/freezer to avoid running the
freezer motor fan at the same level as
your head.
• Some ES people are bothered by dimmers, motion detectors, fluorescent light-
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 14 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
ing, High Intensity Lighting (HID), Metal
Halide, and arc lamps. Test for your sensitivities before installing electrical and
lighting equipment.
• Low-e coatings on windows can help
block radio and cell phone waves.
• Add ‘kill switches’ for TVs, computers,
phones, electric water heater, etc. and
provide wall switches for all lights so that
you can turn off power easily and prevent EMFs from emitting at night while
you’re sleeping or when not in use.
• Check that all A/C cube adapters are
unplugged when not in use and at night
when sleeping. It is best to use these
devices away from areas where you
spend most of your time.
• If you do not have an adverse reaction
to motion detectors, you can install one
on the electric stove and refrigerator so
that they turn off when you enter the
room and then automatically turn back
on after a safe period of time.
• To safeguard against the brain fog and
short-term memory loss that can occur
during reactions, you might install a timer
on your electric stove to help avoid burning your food so that it automatically
turns off every 20 minutes or so unless you
reset the timer.
WIRING
• Bring wiring down vertically from the attic
to each outlet and light switch instead of
running horizontally around the room.
• Some prefer to shield their wiring in EMT
conduit, but many just use standard
Romex® or other NM type cable without
any shielding.
• Have a dedicated circuit to any electronics, such as computers. Also provide
a dedicated circuit for the refrigerator so
that you can turn off other breakers at
night, except for the fridge.
• Most new Ground Fault Circuit
Interrupters (GFIs) are now constant
ElectroMagnetic Interference (EMI)
generators. Cooper brand GFI units are
EMI free and should be used for anyone
with chemical or electrical sensitivities.
• Minimize on the use of cable lines inside
the home. When used, they should be in
EMT (electrical metallic tubing, commonly
known as thin wall conduit) or preferably
rigid conduit. Digital cable causes problems for some with ES.
• Phone lines should be either double
shielded cable (heavy braid over foil) or
run in EMT conduit. DSL and WiFi introduce much the same problem as digital
cable as far as site selection.
• Wiring must be tested for net current:
Each neutral conductor in the panel must
be disconnected, and then continuity
tested against the remaining bussed neutrals. Any shorts (common neutral connections) must be located and corrected. Common neutral connections
between circuits will not trip the breakers.
Each 120v hot breaker must be continuity
tested (all breakers switched open)
against all others for a common hot connection. Same phase common hot errors
will not trip the breakers. Do not use
shared neutral wiring methods.
• Avoid hard-wired smoke alarms (but you
may need to install them initially to meet
the local building code).
• Check and correct wiring errors to dual
220/110v devices: stove and dryer. Stove
and dryer must be configured to have a
separate ground, and isolation between
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 15 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
emf-free lifestyle tips
Note: Many with ES have food sensitivities, sun and light sensitivities, and
other issues—these are all general
guidelines and of course, one must
take into consideration your particular tolerances and financial resources.
Most importantly, listen to your body!
Check Dryer Wiring © Luke Daniek / iStockphoto
ground (chassis) and neutral.
PLUMBING
• Copper pipes, although preferred by
many who are chemically sensitive, are
not ideal for ES as they conduct EMFs. It is
recommended that polyethylene (PE) or
chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) be
used for all water pipes extended
through the house wall to prevent stray
ground current paths on water pipes. PE
is the preferred choice for both interior
and exterior piping. In comparison with
polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and CPVC, PE
uses fewer problematic additives, is less
likely to leach into the ground and landfills, and is easier and cheaper to recycle.
PVC, although a cost-saver for the average home builder, is not allowed in or
under a building per the Uniform
Plumbing Code.2 It is not as durable as
the other plastics and does not handle
hot water temperatures well. In addition,
from its manufacture to its disposal, PVC
emits highly toxic compounds.
Keep in mind that although plastic pipes
will smell at first, they do seem to off-gas
after several weeks. Consider running
your laundry for a couple weeks before
moving in to start the off-gassing process.
• Rise with the sun and go to bed early
to make maximum use of daylight
and avoid using artificial lighting
whenever possible.
• Do things manually if there’s a way—
don’t use electricity as a matter of
convenience or to save time. For
example, use a manual juicer, a ‘bike
blender,’ or a broom/mop instead of
a vacuum cleaner—all great ways to
incorporate exercise into your lifestyle
and stay fit, without needing a gym
membership or having to leave your
home!
Beach Stroll © Anne Clark / iStockphoto
• Work on strengthening your immune
and nervous systems with a nutrientrich organic diet, nervine-balancing
foods and herbs, 8 hours of sleep,
moderate exercise, and plenty of
fresh air and sun.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 16 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
emf-free lifestyle tips (continued)
emf-free lifestyle tips (continued)
• Practice a chemical-free lifestyle to
reduce your total body burden of
toxins: replace all personal care and
home-cleaning products with chemical free versions, wear organic clothing, etc.
For more tips on a chem free lifestyle:
see PlanetThrive.com’s Chemical
Sensitivity Tips in the INFORMATION
section.
AM radio © Dóri O’Connell / iStockphoto
• Use an AM radio as a near field RF
(radio frequency) device, as well as
a broadband RF meter.
Tree Hugging © Pete Smith / iStockphoto
• Wear shoes with a sole made from
natural materials (like undyed
leather), walk barefoot on the beach
or earth, or hug a tree—these all may
help you release excess EMFs into the
earth and ground your body.
• Keep all electrical appliances
unplugged when not in use.
• Shut your breakers off at night (if you
have a separate circuit for the
fridge).
• Avoid the use of microwave ovens,
hair dryers, electric toothbrushes,
electric blankets, and other electric
products; limit the use of cordless
and cell phones.
• Use a standard Trifield meter to monitor EMFs in your bedroom monthly
and to help you keep away from hot
spots.
To use: keep AM radio tuned
between stations near the low, mid
and upper AM bands. If you hear
static only near the appliance then
there is a bad connection. On the
same circuit, but with the appliance
unplugged, if you hear static on a
lamp cord then it may be a severe
power quality problem, not the
appliance’s fault.
• Keep computer use to a minimum.
Laptops are sometimes better tolerated than desktop PCs—use a long
cord on an external keyboard and
mouse to keep the laptop pushed
back, minimizing your EMF exposure.
Keep unplugged when not in use.
• Avoid areas with wireless networking
(WiFi)—internet cafes, airports, etc.
• Some people with ES are bothered
by fan motors on car heaters and air
conditioners, windshield wiper
motors, and other electronic devices
like navigational systems. Some
don’t do well with hybrid cars, while
others prefer them.
• Avoid metal eyeglass frames (use
plastic instead) and underwire bras.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 17 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
emf-free lifestyle tips (continued)
• Experiment with EMF shielding
devices that have helped others.
These may include pendants, chips,
home harmonizers, boji stones, and
gemstones like black tourmaline that
are thought to have electro-magnetic shielding qualities. Results are highly individual and require experimentation. Some of these products can
be quite expensive so if possible,
experiment with products that are
returnable—and make sure the
return policy is in writing.
• Read Tracing EMFs in Building Wiring
and Grounding by Karl Riley and
WARNING: The Electricity Around You
May Be Hazardous to Your Health by
Ellen Sugarman.
• Good sources for EMF related products: LessEMF.com and CutCat.com.
For more EMF-free lifestyle tips: See
PlanetThrive.com’s Electrical Sensitivity
Tips in the INFORMATION section.
sources: 1, 2, 3
mold-free
• Ideally, build your foundation on a slab
to avoid basements and crawlspaces,
as both can have moisture and mold
problems in just about any climate.
• According to Ritchie Shoemaker, M.D. in
Mold Warriors, if you choose to build your
home into the side of a hill with a walkout basement, there will be great
ground water pressure on three sides of
the foundation. With porous materials like
brick, concrete, and block, there is the
constant threat of water intrusion that
can lead to toxic mold growth. The solution? Dig out an extra six feet on the
uphill and slope sides of your foundation
before you lay the concrete. Then make
use of French drains, swales and berms,
and gutters to move water at least 6 to
20 feet away from the perimeter of the
house and your basement walls:4
French Drain © JES Construction, Inc.
French drain: layers of pebbles, rock and
sand surrounding perforated pipes that
will help collect the downstream flow of
water into conduits, and drain the water
away from the foundation safely.
Swales: a shallow trench that collects
water into an area, and can be used to
divert it from your basement walls.
Shoemaker suggests building a pond
uphill, long and not too wide, for protection from surface water intrusion and to
fill it with goldfish and water lilies for yearround beauty.4
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 18 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
Berms: down-slopes of land that can
direct water away from your foundation.
Shoemaker advises: fill the berm with
pebbles, then cover with mesh near the
top of the uphill grade, and put a thick
bed of flowers and shallow rooted shrubs
over the void.
Gutters: metal channels that catch water
and direct it off of the roof of a house.
If your site is level, look at water flow patterns during heavy rainstorms to see
where water flows downstream naturally.
You want to avoid having your gutter
downspout feed water into your basement every time it rains. Attach a diversion pipe to the downspout to lead the
water at least 20 feet away from your
foundation, if necessary.
can grow on the edges, bottom, and in
the grout of ceramic tiles. Concrete is
naturally mold resistant due to its high pH
but under the right conditions, it can
breed mold. Where humidity levels are
over 50% and ground water soaks into
basements, mold can grow in the ‘water
and dirt soup’ that saturates the concrete.
• Shoemaker says that when you eliminate
a basement, you eliminate a major mold
source and when you eliminate a powerful attic fan or air conditioning, forced
heating, duct work and other hidden
sources for dust, water, and mold to collect (use passive solar design instead),
you eliminate a potential mold delivery
system.4
• The attic and any crawlspace created by
a foundation must be ventilated:
1. If there is a mechanism in place to
force air through the length of the
crawlspace, leave a few small vents
open year round.
2. Install joist-mounted fans.
Clearing the Gutter © Mitch Aunger / iStockphoto
Make sure you do regular gutter maintenance to prevent clogging and other
simple maintenance failures that can be
the cause of water infiltration into your
basement, leading to mold growth.
• Place plants, trees, and other potential
sources of water infiltration at least 10 to
12 feet from house.
• Avoid porous building materials that
could give a foothold to mold. Glass and
metal are the most mold resistant, whereas wood is very susceptible to mold. Mold
• Never put any HVAC equipment in a
crawlspace, where water condensation
and puddling in flexible ductwork can go
unnoticed.4
• Keep humidity levels at 30 to 50 percent.
• Install large exhaust fans vented to the
outdoors in the kitchen, and bathroom
areas, where humidity levels are higher.
• Vent clothes dryers to the outdoors.
• Seal electrical outlets and top plates
where wires and/or pipes enter the walls.
• Use dehumidifiers to remove water from
your home, especially in areas where
water tends to collect like basements
and bathrooms.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 19 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
• Install a whole house HEPA air purification
system to remove mold spores. Be aware
that some Hepa filters may use glues
that contain formaldehyde. In addition,
many with chemical sensitivities tolerate
one type of carbon filter better than
another. Make sure to test for tolerance
before installing an expensive system.
• Check caulking and flashings around
windows and doors.
mold-free lifestyle tips
• Make your meals fresh each day,
avoiding left-overs if possible.
• If you ferment foods in your home,
keep a close eye on kombucha,
sprouts, etc. to watch for mold growth.
• Keep kitchen counters and bathrooms/
showers clean and dry to avoid mold;
wipe down sinks after use and shower/
bathtub tile surfaces after bathing
to reduce standing moisture.
• Clean shower curtains and the underside of bathmats (where mold usually
grows) regularly.
• Conduct regular maintenance and
cleaning according to the manufacturer’s instructions on all humidifiers.
• Eliminate standing water and repair all
leaks and water damage from floods
within 24 hours, before mold can grow.
Remove or replace wet carpets.
• Take the Visual Contrast Sensitivity (VCS)
test at www.chronicneurotoxins.com if
you suspect mold-related illlness.
• Read Ritchie J. Shoemaker, M.D.’s book
Mold Warriors to find out more about
bio-toxin related illness.
protect yourself.
CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER WITH GREAT CARE
• Oversee each step of the construction
process yourself, or hire an architect or
other professional consultant you trust to
do it. Someone who understands chemical-free building, and who will stand up
to the builder and sub-contractors if
necessary.
• Quiz your builder until you are satisfied
he/ she can (and will!) control his/her
subcontractors.
• Do not believe everything he/she tells
you, even if he/she says he/she fully
understands Chemical Sensitivity, agrees
to put everything in writing, etc.
• Put all agreements in writing, although
this will not necessarily save you unless
you have the time and money to pursue
legal action.
• Require an MSDS (Material Safety Data
Sheet) on all materials used and require
your written approval of each.
• Specify that there are to be no substitutions of toxic brands and keep an eye
out to enforce it. It only takes one bad
product to ruin an entire home.
• Examine all installed products to make
sure they are what you specified.
• Require a fragrance-free crew and do
not allow smoking on the site.
• Place a sign on front of property explaining that this is a chemical free construction site.
sources: 1, 2
sources: 1, 2, 4, 5, 9
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 20 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
select your building materials wisely.
LIVE WITH ALL MATERIALS BEFORE BUILDING
• Personally test all materials overnight, or
longer, to see if they are well tolerated
while you sleep, as reactions are often
more prominent at night. Tolerance to
products should be tested long before
work commences.
materials testing tips
sniff test: Place a sample of material in
a glass jar and let it sit out in direct sunlight for 2 or 3 days. Be sure to let the
sample dry thoroughly (up to 2 weeks or
so) before putting it in the jar. Then take
the jar inside and open it to get a sense
of how an entire room would smell. This
works well for paint and caulk samples. If
you are very sensitive, make sure the jar
is held far away enough before you
open it to avoid severe reactions.
muscle test: Some have used muscle
testing/kinesiology to assist in the
materials selection process.
sleep test: It is recommended that you
Completed Detached Garage in Background,
Main House in Foreground © Melinda Honn
• Consider constructing outlying buildings
(detached garage, shed, guest house,
pumphouse, and workshop) prior to starting the main house so you can experiment with and test all materials.
• Do your research and read books, check
the Internet, speak with architects, consultants and others with environmental
sensitivities, but ultimately, do not rely on
anyone but yourself for what materials to
use. We are all unique in our sensitivities
and we must individually test all materials
to truly know what will work for us and
what doesn’t. Skimp here and you will
pay later.
• Consider using salvaged materials that
have already off-gassed only if you have
a source that is guaranteed fragranceand pesticide-free.
test all materials overnight or for several
days. After off-gassing each material for
a couple weeks, sleep with them near
your head, one at a time. For paints and
other items that require application,
have your contractor paint on a tolerable/inert material (tile, stone, glass, or
metal) to isolate the fumes.
shed test: The best way to test materials
is to build a small building (shed, pumphouse, etc.), let the materials off-gas for
several weeks, and then sleep in it to see
what it is like to be surrounded by that
material on all sides as you would be in
a room in your home.
MATERIALS / FIXTURES / PRODUCTS
exterior
• Use cement block or non-wood construction. William J. Rea, M.D., founder of the
Environmental Health Center-Dallas
(EHC-D), recommends brick, stone, glass,
adobe, and aluminum for home exteriors.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 21 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
adobe
• Adobe is a great building resource in
dry climates, however, in wet climates
those with chemical sensitivities may
be sensitive to the wet earth smell of
adobe, and mold will most likely
become an issue.
• If sold commercially, adobe may have
chemicals added to kill mold and
bacteria or to make it stick together
more; may also contain asphalt emulsion to help stabilize the blocks.
Adobe Inn © Martin McCarthy / iStockphoto
• Adobe requires maintenance, which is
not ideal when your health is compromised. If you make the blocks yourself,
you’ll have to reseal the outside with
fresh mud every few years.
• A roof on an adobe home requires
large overhangs to protect the walls
from rain.
• Excellent for storage of solar thermal
gain.
• Has a low insulation value; exterior
adobe walls need to be supplemented
with some type of insulation.
• Load bearing, no additional framing
needed but a concrete or wooden
bond beam is required to bear the
roof’s ceiling joists or rafters.
strawbale
• Straw bale is okay for some but may be
conducive to mold in certain climates.
Use lime plastering to retard mold
growth.
concrete hybrids
Various forms of a hybrid concrete material sound promising for the future, but
currently the materials are new enough
that most building safety departments in
America are unfamiliar with them and
require engineering on your plan. That
means that at each step along construction when you have an inspection, a registered architect or structural engineer
must show up and sign off and get paid
again, adding to the total cost of the
project.
It may also be difficult to find a mason
who is familiar enough to work with the
material. If you live in a state where this
type of material is harvested locally, this
might not be an issue. For example,
Pumice-Crete is a common building
material in New Mexico and local cities/
counties may not require an architect or
engineer to sign off.
• Pumice-Crete
Pumice-Crete is a low density, loadbearing concrete made from pumice
aggregate (an inert, naturally occurring volcanic rock), Portland cement,
and water that provides structural
strength and insulation in one material.
Walls made of Pumice-Crete are very
durable and are resistant to moisture,
fire, noise, and insects. Although there
is no need for vertical wood framing
with Pumice-Crete, a concrete bond
beam is required to carry roof loads.
• Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC)
Also known as E-Crete, AAC is fire-
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
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© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
resistant, energy efficient, and durable.
Its manufacturing process emits no pollutants, creates no by-products or toxic
waste products, and uses 80 percent
less energy than concrete or lumber
manufacturing. However, it would not
be strong enough for a foundation,
and its use as an exterior material
would require plasticizers to make it
non-porous and waterproof.
• Use metal for the roof to avoid the smell
of petroleum based shingles.
• White metal will deflect heat; black metal
will absorb heat.
foundation
slab-on-grade
• Rastra®
Rastra® is an inert building material
that uses ground-up recycled polystyrene packing peanuts and
Styrofoam drink cups mixed with
cement to form giant building blocks.
It offers superior insulation, and protection from mold, insects, noise, and fire.
AVOID Stucco, wood, vinyl siding and
masonite-type or wood/paper composite
siding that continually off-gasses chemical
smells.
weathering
• Use Tyvek wrap.
roof
• Install a pitched roof, as flat roofs are
prone to leaks, and therefore, to mold.
Smoothing the Slab © Susan Molloy
• Slab-on-grade additive-free concrete
on the ground is recommended to
provide thermal mass (see passive
solar tips on page 10) and prevent
mold accumulation that can occur in
a crawlspace, but preparation is highly
recommended:
Make sure there are no voids, logs, big
rocks, or other items down to about 5
feet that may allow settling overtime.
Then the ground (preferably as dry as
possible) should be compacted with a
thumper machine. Then add layers of:
•
•
•
•
•
compacted native soil
dry sand, four inches
radon barrier
foam insulation, one to two inches
concrete slab, four inches minimum
If you want a hydronic heating system,
lay in pipes and seal with gypcrete, a
Pitched Metal Roof © Joel Kapp
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 23 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
gypsum concrete floor underlayment
used in concrete construction, then
install ceramic tiles on top.
pier and beam
• If your house needs to be elevated,
make sure it’s 5-10 feet off the ground
to provide adequate ventilation underneath and to prevent mold, which can
travel from the foundation into your
home. Screened vents and fans can
be used as well, to keep air circulating
and dry.3
• Installing a sub-floor would most likely
require the use of wood as a flooring
material, which is poorly tolerated by
many with severe environmental sensitivities.
For foundation blueprint diagrams showing
proper drainage and ventilation: See
chapter 3 in Optimum Environments for
Optimum Health & Creativity: Designing
and Building a Healthy Home or Office by
William J. Rea, M.D. .
framing
• Steel studs should only be used inside
walls when they can be adequately
grounded to earth. Some of the benefits
of using metal studs are that they do not
contain terpenes found in wood framing
studs nor do they attract termites—they
also conduct heating and cooling more
quickly through the wall.
The steel should first be checked with a
gauss meter for EMFs and degaussed if
necessary. The steel framing system
should be cleaned of any oil and grease
using a tolerable cleaner or placed in the
sun for a long time before using.3 The
steel framing system must be grounded
but if the area is plagued with objectionable ground currents then the ground
might actually feed back into the walls
and an alternative should be sought.
AVOID Wood framing—studs are usually
made of high-terpene woods that will offgas for years.
insulation
• Use formaldehyde-free insulation.
Consider:
• Recycled cotton batt insulation; tolerated by some with CS.
• Rock wool batt insulation; the fibers are
larger in diameter than other fibrous
insulation materials and are less likely to
disperse particulate contaminants into
the air.
• AirKrete insulation; a lightweight
foamed concrete insulation with high
thermal efficiency over time.
• For noise protection, use an insulated
double stud wall to separate the utility
room from bordering rooms, muffling the
sound of any mechanical systems used.
AVOID Styrofoam, fiberglass, mineral rock,
wood, and recycled paper in insulation
products.
air-vapor barrier
• We recommend avoiding the use of
air/moisture-vapor barriers, as they tend
to encourage mold growth.
wiring
• Install twisted wiring (use at least three
wires to cancel out EMFs) in a thin steel
conduit to reduce exposure to electrical
and magnetic radiation, as well as to
plastic and oil-based wiring materials.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 24 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
plumbing
• Although preferred by some with CS,
copper pipes are not ideal because they
conduct electricity. Copper also does not
insulate, and has been linked to brain disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease.
• For water pipes, polyethylene (PE) piping
is the better choice for interior and exterior piping. PVC, although a cost-saver,
emits highly toxic compounds from its
manufacture to its disposal.
• Safer materials for water filtration systems
include stainless steel, glass, and ceramic.
• If you are using spring and/or distilled
water for your drinking water, make sure
to store in glass or stainless steel bottles as
plastic will leach into the water. Assess
mineral content of spring water to evaluate whether you can tolerate the ratio of
minerals.3
AVOID Galvanized, copper, cement, and
vinyl water pipes; plastic parts; glues and
synthetics.
AVOID Polyvinyl pipes.
doors
water filtration systems
• Install a whole-house water filtration
system or use water filters at all sinks and
in the showerheads.
• In addition to chemicals, some with environmental sensitivities cannot tolerate
high mineral content in water (for both
drinking and bathing); others cannot tolerate high mold/algae levels. One
should determine what he or she needs
decontaminated prior to selecting a
water filtration system.3
interior
• Use exterior steel doors for interior doors.
exterior
• Standard steel-clad insulated doors.
AVOID Sliding doors—they will let in ants,
and allow heat / cool air to escape.
windows
• The type of water filter needed will be
dependent on the source of the water:
spring, well, reservoir, or rainwater.
Complete a water analysis to determine
the specific contaminants that will need
to be removed.3
• William J. Rea, M.D. of the Environmental
Health Center-Dallas (EHC-D) says that
ceramic/carbon water filters encased in
stainless steel appear to be the best filters
available today. The filters are replaceable and will need to be changed every
6 to 12 months.3
Aluminum Window Frame © Snowflake Beach
• Use Energy Star-qualified wood, aluminum-clad wood, or all-aluminum windows; wood-containing types usually use
pine treated with a water-based solution
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 25 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
to protect against water absorption, termites, and decay; contain no solvents or
heavy metals. First test to see whether
you tolerate air leaking through solid
wood casement windows vs. aluminum;
do not use the cheap window casements
made of particle board.
AVOID Cheap windows that may leak
smoke and other fumes into the house.
Ceramic Tiles © Vladislav Gurfinkel / iStockphoto
light fixtures
• Use ceramic sockets instead of plastic,
which off-gas when heated.
• Wire unit and path of travel for magnetic
ballast-free light fixtures as an alternative
to fluorescent or halogen. Or, you might
want to provide a choice of lighting in
each room to accommodate different
sensitivities, including fluorescent, incandescent, and battery lights.
interior walls
• Finish walls and ceiling with no or lowVOC surfaces or coatings.
drywall
• Consider using foil-backed drywall turned
inside out.
• Dense Armour paperless, fiberglass
embedded drywall is mold resistant and
works well for some when taped and
textured using Murco 100 dry mix joint
compound.
ceramic tiles
• Ceramic tiles are completely inert (no offgassing fumes), extremely durable, and
clean easily. Some with severe chemical
sensitivities have tiled the floor, walls, and
ceiling of their bedroom.
• To lay tiles, use thinset mortar with no
additives and use Saltillo tile grout as it
contains no polyvinyls. Or use a simple
Portland cement mix without toxic
additives.
porcelain (silica fused to steel)
• Well tolerated by many with environmental sensitivities since it is dust-free, chemically inert, and provides shielding from
EMFs. There is also minimal mold growth
with porcelain.3
glass
• Some have placed glass panes over wallpaper and other materials to seal any offgassing fumes.
adobe
• Adobe is a great building resource in dry
climates, however, in wet climates those
with chemical sensitivities may be sensitive to the wet earth smell of adobe, and
mold will most likely become an issue.
• Excellent for storage of solar thermal gain
but has a low insulation value.
• If sold commercially, adobe may have
chemicals added to kill mold and bacteria or to make it stick together more. May
also contain asphalt emulsion to help stabilize the blocks.
• You must use soil with a high clay content.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 26 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
earth plaster
• Tolerated by some with chemical sensitivities but mold may become an issue.
Read The Natural Plaster Book by Cedar
Rose Guelberth and Dan Chiras.
AVOID
wood: Not recommended for those
with chemical sensitivities, as many
cannot tolerate the smell of wood and
wood finishes, and for maintenance
the wood must be repainted /
resealed several times over the lifetime
of a house, re-exposing the occupants
to the off-gassing fumes again and
again.
• If you are set on using wood, poplar
and maple contain few tanins or
terpenes and may be more tolerable by those with chemical sensitivities.10
chemical sensitivities do not tolerate
aluminum.
portland cement: Avoid spraying on
walls as a base coat. (However, it is
well tolerated when used as grouting.)
caulking
• Choose one that does not contain fungicide.
• Test several brands on a piece of tile,
rock, glass, or metal so that you can sniff
them to choose the best one for your
home.
joint compound
• Choose a vinyl- or asbestos-free brand;
read labels carefully.
• Fillers and finishes can be toxic;
choose unfinished wood with a nontoxic finish and nail down to avoid
the use of toxic glues.
• Use a dry mix joint compound, which has
no preservatives, solvents, polyvinyls, or
antifreeze.
• Coat hardwood flooring with a
water-based finish to minimize
chemical off-gassing.
window and door trim
wallpaper: Although newer, greener
options for wallpaper tout waterbased inks without formaldehyde,
heavy metals, PVC, or vinyl backing,
wallpaper is a definite no-no in terms
of mold and mildew, which collects
underneath it.
• If you do choose to use wallpaper,
the Environmental Health CenterDallas sells various patterns of aluminum wallpaper for those who
want to use it for its partial EMFshielding qualities. Aluminum wallpaper is also free of particulates but if
not well sealed with non-toxic glue,
mold can grow behind it. Some with
ceramic tile
• Use ceramic tiles for window and door
trim—some have designed beautiful trim
using decorator tiles.
Tiled Window Sill and Trim © Melinda Honn
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 27 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
baseboards
paint
• For tile floors, don’t forget to install a 3- to
4-inch baseboard using the same tiles as
you use on the floors. This will protect the
walls from damp mopping, a necessary
maintenance to control dust and other
allergens if you have a tile floor.
low voc paint
• Readily available in retail stores, easy to
tint, easy to apply, and only slightly more
expensive than other water-based paints.
Made from non-renewable petrochemicals they give off minimal odor during
application, dry quickly, but not as fast as
traditional paint and should be tested for
individual tolerance.
AVOID
wood: Generally wood is not recommended for those with chemical sensitivities, as many cannot tolerate the smell
of wood and wood finishes.
• If you do choose to use wood despite
the warnings, make sure you test first to
see if you tolerate the wood smell, the
primer, the paint, and whether you
can still smell the wood thru the paint,
as some paints will not seal in the
wood smells.
• If you do use wood, some recommended using ‘factory primed hardwood’ or kiln dried (i.e. furniture grade)
wood.
• Poplar and maple contain few tanins
or terpenes and may be more tolerable by those with chemical sensitivities.10
• Avoid woods from endangered rainforests (see Rainforest Relief’s
Guidelines for Avoiding Woods from
Endangered Forests11) and look for
wood that is Forest Stewardship
Council (FSC) certified.
• Avoid using salvaged wood unless
you know the history of the wood
and can confirm that it has not
been treated with pesticide or for
termites.
• Pine has been a problem for many
with chemical sensitivities due to
aromatic terpenes.
zero or no voc paint
• Note that there is no EPA or standard
definition for VOC content—it usually
means extremely low. The odor is less
than most traditional or low-VOC paints
but zero VOC paint is not good for metal,
plastic, or other shiny surfaces. Dries
slower than traditional paint and should
be tested for individual tolerance.
milk paint
• Casein-based paint made from milk and
natural pigments contain no VOCs when
dry. They are best for walls that are unfinished, porous, or made from plaster,
wood, or earth. Milk paint comes in powdered form, so you can mix only as much
as you need. Gives a Historic look (used
in the Colonial period). Smells milky when
wet; no paint odor dry or wet and has a
naturally streaked appearance.
• Generally nontoxic but you should check
the label to confirm ingredients.
• Milk paint doesn’t fade and is very long
lasting. It can crackle and scuff but
doesn’t chip or peel like traditional paint.
• Readily available through Internet, but
probably not locally.
• Watch for latex or oil imitations.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 28 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
silicate/mineral or silicate dispersion
• Silicate / mineral paints have a very low
VOC level with very little odor, contain no
solvents, are colorfast and have a rocklike durability which bonds well with
masonry surface.
• They are anti-microbial, water resistant
and vapor permeable.paint pigments
(for mixing your own homemade paints).
• Can be relatively harmless or highly
toxic—check labels.
AVOID Synthetic, oil-based paints that
contain fungicides.
flooring
ceramic tiles
• Completely inert (no off-gassing fumes),
extremely durable, clean easily and can
contain recycled content, but are energy
intensive. A good choice for those with
chemical sensitivities, and can be used
throughout the house including areas
with radiant floor heating.
• To lay tiles, use thinset mortar with no
additives and use Saltillo tile grout as it
contains no polyvinyls. Or use a simple
Portland cement mix without toxic
additives.
concrete
• Can be easier on knees/hip joints than
ceramic tiles. Tolerated by some with
chemical sensitivities.
stone, porcelain, glazed brick, marble,
terrazzo, and glass
• Tolerated by some with chemical sensitivities.
AVOID
wood: Not recommended for those
with chemical sensitivities, as many
cannot tolerate the smell of wood and
wood finishes, and for maintenance
the wood must be repainted /
resealed several times over the lifetime
of a house, re-exposing the occupants
to the off-gassing fumes again and
again.
• If you are set on using wood, poplar
and maple contain few tanins or
terpenes and may be more tolerable by those with chemical sensitivities.10
• Avoid woods from endangered rainforests (see Rainforest Relief’s
Guidelines for Avoiding Woods from
Endangered Forests11) and look for
wood that is Forest Stewardship
Council (FSC) certified.
• Avoid using salvaged wood unless
you know the history of the wood
and can confirm that it has not
been treated with pesticide or for
termites.
• Fillers and finishes can be toxic;
choose unfinished wood with a nontoxic finish and nail down to avoid
the use of toxic glues.
• Coat hardwood flooring with a
water-based finish to minimize
chemical off-gassing.
carpeting: Not recommended for
those with chemical sensitivities; difficult to clean, harbors dirt, dust, mold,
and pests and off-gasses hazardous
fumes. Synthetic fibers are from nonrenewable petrochemicals.
porous surface tiles: They need to be
sealed after installation and resealed
one or two times a year thereafter with
toxic sealants.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 29 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
natural linoleum: Not recommended
for those with chemical sensitivities; if
you do choose to use linoleum be
aware that it must be treated with linseed oil approximately once a year for
maintenance.
earthen floors: Not recommended for
those with chemical sensitivities; offers
no barrier for radon gas and may be
full of mold spores, fungus and other
contaminates that are often not tolerated by those with extreme sensitivities.
cork: Not recommended for those with
chemical sensitivities; has a natural
odor that may be intolerable and
requires monthly waxing to maintain.
bamboo: Not recommended for those
with chemical sensitivities; all bamboo
requires lamination and contains
adhesives; some use toxic, out-gassing
formaldehyde.
not, look for a non-toxic grout sealer.
kitchen counter
• Use metal, slate, ceramic tiles, or glass for
counters.
AVOID Laminated products and granite. Granite is very porous and requires
a sealant. Until a non-toxic sealant is
available, we cannot recommend it.
kitchen backsplash
• Use ceramic tiles or tiles made from
recycled post-consumer glass.
kitchen cabinetry
vinyl: It off-gasses chemicals, and is
highly susceptible to mold growth
underneath.
most laminate flooring: Not recommended for those with chemical sensitivities.
grouting
• Portland Cement is well-tolerated by
those with chemical sensitivities for grouting in place of standard grout that contains plasticizers. (Note: Caused respiratory problems for some when sprayed on as
a base coat for walls; the same people
tolerated it well when used for grouting.)
grout sealer
• No grout sealer is necessary if you are
using Portland Cement as your grout. If
Powder-Coated Steel Cabinets © Melinda Honn
• Stainless steel and powder-coated steel
cabinets are both well-tolerated by those
with chemical sensitivities as they are
inert and will not off-gas. They will also last
a lifetime without needing to be refinished or replaced.
• It is not recommended to use cabinetry
containing any wood even if it is well
tolerated now, as it may need to be refinished at a time when you are more reactive to it, and is more likely to harbor
cooking odors.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 30 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
AVOID Composite or other formaldehyde
or phenol off-gassing wood product shelving, kitchen or bathroom cabinets, or
doors (e.g. plywood).
• Consider omitting a dishwasher from
your kitchen. Hand-washing dishes
saves natural resources.
AVOID Gas appliances.
kitchen appliances
refrigerator / freezer
• Use transparent drawers to minimize risk
of food spoilage.
• If you have ES, consider purchasing a
counter-height refrigerator/freezer to
avoid running the freezer motor fan at
the same level as your head.
AVOID Using a recycled refrigerator
due to risk of mold contamination.
stove
• Consider purchasing from an appliance recycling store to avoid offgassing that occurs with new appliances, but make sure you check the
history of the appliance to see whether
pesticides were used around it.
bathroom wall / floors
• Use ceramic tiles or tiles made from recycled post-consumer glass.
bathroom fixtures
sink
• Use stainless steel, powder-coated
steel, or porcelain.
• Corian® integrated sink and counter
will eliminate mold growth around sink.
bathtub
• Consider enameled steel.
toilet
• Consider a low-flush toilet.
sauna
• Buy self-cleaning rather than continuous cleaning to avoid uncontrolled
emissions.
• Consider using a renewable-energy
sun stove, also known as a solar oven,
which requires only sunlight to cook
food, providing you are in a climate
where adequate sunlight is always
available. It can be used even in cold
months as long as there is sunlight.
Added benefit: no costly energy bills.
stove hood
• Install an updraft stove hood.
dishwasher
• Use stainless steel, or powder-coated
steel.
Sauna © Bojan Tezak / iStockphoto
• Use poplar, hardwood, glass, or
ceramic tile with non-toxic grout.
Filter air.
AVOID Cedar and other high-terpene
woods for saunas, as well as toxic
glues and sealants.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 31 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
storage shelves
• Use stainless steel, or powder-coated
steel.
furnishings
TV/book cabinets
• House TV and other electronic equipment behind closed doors (glass works
well) when not in use to minimize offgassing into living space.
• Consider adapting for a reading unit (a
piece of glass over the desk top to
contain fumes from reading materials).
• Ideally book cabinets should have
glass or metal doors and be vented.
• Use chemically untreated cotton (no
fire retardant or soil/stain repellant) or
other tolerable material for upholstered
items. Pre-wash fabric several times
with tolerated detergent to remove
chemical finishes and odors.
AVOID Foam-filled cushions, as foam is
most likely chemically-treated.
window treatment
• Aluminum blinds are the most inert window treatment available and are the
best choice for those with chemical sensitivities, but may need to be off-gassed.
• Others have used cotton fabric blinds
and cotton lining. Pre-wash fabric several
times with tolerated detergent to remove
chemical finishes and odors. It is ideal to
purchase untreated cotton fabric that is
well tolerated and have custom blinds
made.
seating
Metal furniture © Marje Cannon / iStockphoto
• Consider using metal or glass furniture;
some have even used outdoor iron
patio furniture. Those with severe ES
have tolerated metal furniture, however it is recommended to test your tolerance especially if you have WiFi, cell
phone towers, or other EMF-emitting
devices in your area.
• Likewise, some have tolerated cotton
drapes. Pre-wash fabric several times with
tolerated detergent to remove chemical
finishes and odors. It is ideal to purchase
untreated cotton fabric that is well tolerated and have custom drapes made.
• In hot climates glass blinds have been
used to redirect sunlight.
• An alternative that has worked for
some is off-gassed hard plastic furniture, which may be better tolerated
than wood.
Glass Louvres © Carsten Böttcher / iStockphoto
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 32 out of 34
© copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
AVOID Woven wood shades, wood blinds,
and wood shutters; although sometimes
tolerable for those with CS, they are not
recommended. Remember, your tolerances may change over time so it is best
to start with a ‘safe’ material (i.e. inert)
rather than a merely ‘tolerable’ one. With
that said however, if you do want to have
some wood touches in your home, removable items—such as blinds—are the safest
way to go (financially speaking) rather
than installing expensive wood doors/
trim/flooring and having to replace them
all later with more tolerable materials.
general products to avoid
• Wood products; they harbor odors, use
toxic sealants, will need re-finishing over a
lifetime.
• Porous materials requiring toxic sealants.
• Solvents.
• Some of the new ‘green’ products that
use recycled plastics may be using plastic from former containers of fabric softener, bleach, and other toxic sustances.
sources: 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
For a source list of specific brand name
materials with website links: See
PlanetThrive.com’s WELLNESS | Green
Lifestyle | Home section under housing |
build—materials.
To purchase a printable version of this
brochure: See http://tinyurl.com/3259rj or
go to PlanetThrive.com | WELLNESS | Green
Lifestyle | Home | Safer Construction.
Julie Genser (planetthrive@gmail.com) has a
degree in design and environmental analysis
from Cornell University. She is certified in
ecovillage and permaculture design. She is
the founder and director of Planet Thrive, a
grassroots community for personal wellness
with a focus on the health-environment connection. Julie is still looking for a safe home
and hopes to one day use this guide to build
her own.
Melinda Honn (melhonn@msn.com) is the
President of the Southwest Environmental
Health Association representing Arizona,
Utah, and New Mexico. She is also the
Arizona State Coordinator for MCS-Global.
Greg Conrad (GregoryAZ@msn.com) recently
retired as Head of Residential Building Safety
for the City of Phoenix where he worked for
25 years. Melinda and Greg just completed
the construction of their own environmentally safe home in Snowflake, Arizona, a labor
of love that took over 3 years of research,
testing and experimentation.
Thank you to all those who took the time to
complete a survey through MCS-Global.
Without your pioneering hard work and willingness to share your experience, this
brochure would not be possible.
Special thanks to Melinda Honn and Greg
Conrad for your time, energy, and invaluable contributions.
Deepest thanks also to Norie Fukuda for your
editor‘s eye, and to Julie Laffin for your
ongoing support during the completion of
this project.
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 33 out of 34
©copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com
sources
1
individual surveys of 18 people that built housing
for someone with moderate to severe chemical
and/or electrical sensitivities including: Ariel
Barfield, Nancy Entreken, Erik Johnson (aka
Erikmoldwarrior), Susan Molloy, P. Ruggles, Andres
Schulz, Ernie Stiltner, and Jackie Wayman. All
others prefer to remain anonymous.
2
Melinda Honn and Greg Conrad, non-toxic
construction consultants
3
Optimum Environments for Optimum Health &
Creativity: Designing and Building a Healthy Home
or Office, William J. Rea, M.D.
4
Mold Warriors, Ritchie C. Shoemaker, MD, with
James Schaller, MD and Patti Schmidt
5
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale
Permaculture, Toby Hemenway
6
Heating, Cooling, Lighting: Design Methods for
Architects, Norbert Lechner © 2001 by John Wiley
& Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with
permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
7
Recommended Architectural Features for MultiFamily Housing to Better Accommodate Chemical
and Electrical Sensitivities, Susan Molloy, M.A, New
Horizons Independent Living Center, Inc.
8
One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka
9
AnnaSova.com
10 Wood Selection for Natural Furniture,
Erikorganic.com
11 Guidelines for Avoiding Wood from Endangered
Forests, Rainforest Relief
12 Research House for the Environmentally
Hypersensitive, Canada Mortgage and Housing
Corporation
13 Home is Where Your Health Is, Environmental
Health Coalition of Western Massachusetts
updated 2/15/08
Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive
pg 34 out of 34
©copyright 2007 Julie Genser / Planet Thrive, Inc. All rights reserved. www.PlanetThrive.com