Now Certified as a Building Biologist!

Hi everyone,

I am now certified as a Building Biologist with the International Institute for Building-Biology and Ecology. The Institute's mission is "to help create healthy homes, schools, and workplaces, free of toxins in the indoor air and tap water, and electromagnetic pollutants."

This certification has helped me deepen my knowledge of how we can create homes that will aid in improving the health of its occupants.


I am available for consultations by phone and email and can assist you with the following areas:
  • Choosing zero-VOC materials for a new build or renovation
  • Selecting non-toxic materials best suited to a tiny house
  • Discussing common trouble areas and mistakes made in the build of tiny homes
  • Sourcing special order zero-VOC materials 
  • Remediating a home that is toxic or scented
  • For those wishing to go GreenGuard Gold, selecting conventionally priced materials that are very low in emissions
  • Working with you and your builder by providing ongoing materials selection and sourcing support throughout your build
  • Tips for building a mold-free home
  • Experience with which materials tend to work best for the most sensitive individuals
  • Selecting non-toxic furniture, decor, bedding and other household items for your home
  • Research into the toxicity profile of specific items or materials you are interested in using
You can also opt for a team approach with a Building Biologist and Engineer to help select the best non-toxic materials that fit the technical needs of your build.

The rate for consultations is $50 per hour. Feel free to email me here.

Zero-VOC Sheathing

Here is an overview of low-VOC and zero-VOC sheathing and subflooring options.

Exterior Sheathing

A great option is Georgia-Pacific DensGlass, which is around 3 times cost of OSB. It is very low VOC; they are going for GreenGaurd certification. It is also a lot more mould resistant than OSB or plywood. Make sure with all materials it fits the codes where you live (in terms of high winds and earthquakes). Make sure it is also compatible with your exterior finish.

MgO board is now starting to be used as exterior sheathing. Another zero VOC option. It is heavy, structural and about three times the cost of drywall.

1-by lumber laid diagonally would is another zero-VOC option. This is not an airtight option so humidity and energy issues should be considered. Make sure to use housewrap. Consider double sided housewrap tape so that you get more of an air barrier.

Rigid foam can also be used as exterior sheathing without and ply or OSB. XPS is basically VOC-free but does contain a flame retardant. The other option is Polyiso. The Johns Manville brand does not contain a flame retardant. Here is some info on how to brace when using rigid foam as sheathing. This is not structural and should be checked against local codes.

Subflooring

Exterior grade plywood is superior to interior in terms of offgassing. AdvanTech Subflooring and Georgia Pacific DryGaurd also claim to be lower emitting than typical OSB.

It is possible to use structural cementitious sheeting board as a zero-VOC option however when I did this in my tiny house I needed additional framing support underneath. It worked out well for me. Here is an example of the support you need underneath. This is probably only suitable in a tiny house.

Another green option is 1-by subfloor laid diagonally to the floor joints. The subfloor could be planks or tongue and groove. Here is a little more info and a pic of planks. This is a zero-VOC option but it will cost you quite a bit more. Make sure you use a subfloor adhesive otherwise you will have a very creaky floor. Liquid Nails is the lowest VOC option I have seen at less than 20g/l.

Roof Sheathing (Decking)

Exterior grade plywood, AdvanTech Sheathing (very low emissions) are the best of the conventional options. If there is an air barrier in place the choice of sheathing will not be that important.

Purlins or skip sheathing can also be used as an alternate form of roofing which eliminates the need for solid sheathing and chemicals. This will only work with certain roof types (metal vented attic, in some cases cedar).

Another zero-VOC option is 1x decking butted up to each other. This is how roofs were built before plywood or OSB. This will allow for many types of roofing types over it.

Non-Toxic Furniture

Non-Toxic Furniture

We will take a look at some non-toxic options for sofas, tables, chairs, desks and other household furnishings. Many of the same stores that offer sofas also offer a wide range of other home furnishings. For mattresses and bedframes see my post on mattresses and bedding


Non-Toxic Sofas and Couches


For upholstered furniture you want to look for:


-Natural cushion fill such as natural latex, cotton, down and wool 

-No chemical treatments on the fabric (such as stain and water resistant coatings)
-Solid woods 
-Zero or low-VOC glues
-No flame retardants 

If you want a simple bench see my custom made sofa here



urbannaturals.com
Urban Natural: Start at $1700

Their most natural line features 100% natural latex cushions, organic wool, organic cotton, and natural fabrics. No flame retardants.


viesso.com
Elka Home: Start at $2000

They use natural latex, solid woods, organic GOTS fabrics with no added chemicals, zero-VOC adhesives, no flame retardants.


Viesso: Start at $2000

Natural latex and wood used, natural fabrics with no added chemicals, hardwoods, low-VOC adhesives. No flame retardants. 



ciscobrothers.com
Urbangreenfurniture: Start at $2500

They carry Cisco's sofas made with the Inside Green option which uses natural latex or wool, certified woods, organic fabrics, low-VOC stains, no flame retardants.

Cisco Brothers: Start at $2500

Have locations throughout the US and Canada. Any of their sofas can be made with the inside green option. You can also order online from some of the sellers.



Urban Natural




Non-Toxic Tables and Chairs: 

For chairs and tables look for solid wood (with zero-VOC stains and varnishes) and zero or low-VOC adhesives. For some people the terpenes in wood might not be tolerable. Low odour woods are preferable to pine, cedar and douglas fir. Avoid laminated wood, plywood and MDF board.

Many of the same companies above offer green furniture. For example:

Urban Natural use either natural oils and beeswax finish or a zero-VOC water-based catalysed varnish finish. The glues vary by manufacturer. One brand uses a Cradle-to-Cradle certified (toxicity level yellow) glue. 

UrbangreenfurnitureTheir wood furniture is treated with low-VOC stains. They use non-toxic, low-VOC glues.

Viesso - Uses low-VOC or linseed oil finishes. (Linseed oil has an odour that might not be tolerable to some). Low-VOC glues.


Vintage or reclaimed wooden furniture might be tolerable for some if you are sure it hasn't been refinished recently with conventional products, and it has not been exposed to chemical cleaning products, smoke, mould, or other chemical substances.




Here are a few ideas for alternatives to wooden tables and chairs:

Glass and metal are generally the safest options. Metal may need to be washed down in order to remove factory oils; powder coated metal is the best option. Hard plastics are fairly safe and are tolerable for most people. With marble tables keep in mind that a resin is used to fill in the fissures and a sealer is often used as well. There is no data on the VOC levels of those sealants.


Click on pics for links:


Non-Toxic Desks


Urban Green
Here are a few ideas for desks:

Solid wood desk (pictured) with a low-VOC finish from Urban Green. Solid wood desks from speciality stores tend to be pricey.

Here are some simple (and affordable) options: 

Solid wood, unfinished - Standard glue, but very little used. 

Metal and Glass, there are a few different styles of metal and glass desks on Amazon that are affordable. Look for powder coated metal. 

How to Bring Down Chemical and Mould Sensitivities

This post will be a short detour from building material to talk about detox. It can be much easier to bring down sensitivities then to try and avoid all toxins. Even if you are not extremely sensitive you may want to build more resiliency and do more out there in the real world. Everything on this list is something that has helped me or people I know to bring down chemical sensitivities. 
source: http://healthactivity.net

I brought down my sensitives quite a bit with the following methods: first I removed my amalgams at a biological dentist. Then I started gently with chlorella and some activated charcoal. Of course, I was in my non-toxic tiny house with good outdoor air so it was the perfect environment to detox in. 

I then started a full Shoemaker course of Cholestyramine. Which was intense but immediately brought down brain fog and increased my energy. My sensitivities came down by the end of the course. I then brought in  Alpha Lipoic Acid which helped my sleep quite a bit. 

The next addition was Bulletproof Upgraded Glutathione Force which brought down my sensitivities some more. Currently, I have added Liposomal Vitamin CMolybdenum and CBD oil and my sensitivities to chemicals are still improving. That is what worked for me, but there are a lot of different ways to approach detox. 

The best approach is probably to try something from each category. The people doing well often used binders, antioxidants, and sauna or coffee enemas. Being in a non-toxic house first does seem to be very important before starting any of the more intense detoxification methods.

Here are of some of the options:

Antioxidants:

Alpha Lipoic Acid - An antioxidant that also assists in heavy metal detox. User accounts say wait until you are detoxing well and are not getting backup symptoms like fatigue, headache, or queasiness before starting.

Liposomal Vitamin C - Vitamin C helps detox the liver of free radicals.

Bulletproof Upgraded Glutathione Force - Helps your body remove toxins, including environmental toxins such as mould. Also assists with heavy metal detox. 


Binders:  

Different binders pull out different toxins. Many people use 3 at a time for intensive detox periods. If you are healthy and want to minimise heavy metals you can use the gentler ones for upkeep or when you are eating fish (like chlorella, pectin). If you are extremely sensitive you should start with those as well, since they are gentle. 

Activated Charcoal - Binds to a wide range of toxins including mould, but also binds to minerals so it is tricky to space out with food. Takesumi Supreme is a bamboo charcoal.

Bentonite Clay - Binds to a range of toxins including mould. 

Zeolite - A mineral that binds to a number of toxins and metals.

Chlorella - Binds to mercury, mould and other toxins. Does not interfere with nutrient absorption. I had trouble with the iodine content in it.

Modifilan - A seaweed extract, binds to heavy metals amongst other toxins. Also contains iodine. 

Cholestyramine (CSM) - prescription drug, promoted by Shoemaker for removing toxins including mycotoxins. The most powerful of the binders. Binds to a wide range of toxins and is especially effective for mould. Particularly ochratoxin.

Welchol  - The prescription alternative for those who cannot tolerate CSM. 

Psyllium - A fibre that binds to bile and the toxins contained within. 

Chitosan - Similar action to that of CSM, Welchol and Psyllium, in that it binds to bile, pulling toxins from the liver. It is made from prawn shells. Chitosan and Psyllium are less effective than the prescriptions. 

Modified Citrus Pectin - A likely very well tolerated binder made from pectin. Binds to heavy metals without interfering with nutrients.

Other:


toolsforwellness.com
Coffee enemas - Detox by producing more bile and stimulating glutathione. More info here.

Infrared Sauna - Toxins are released through the sweat. If you can handle heat, this is a low-cost high returns option.

Exercise - Detox through sweating and stimulating the lymph system.

Micro-Minerals - Having adequate minerals will prevent toxic metals from binding.

Molybdenum - A mineral extremely important for detoxification.

Calcium-d-glucarate - Helps more toxins to be excreted through bile. Noted to be helpful for trichothecene.

Herbal: 

The producer of Immunothrive claims that it helped her reduce her mould sensitivities. 

A herbalist well known for his treatment of Lyme disease provides this formula for bringing down mould sensitivities. 

Chelation:


Chelation IVs tend to be hard to tolerate for those who have MCS but there are a couple more gentler options:

DMSA and EDTA can both be taken by suppository. 

DMPS  and DMSA can be used with the frequent, low dose, oral chelation protocol by Dr. Cutler. Here is the protocol. ALA is also a used in this protocol. DMSA can be bought without a prescription. 





Methylation: 

Methylation is used for many functions in the body, including removing heavy metals, improving energy, and increasing glutathione. It is a protocol that should help the body rebuild its detox systems. The Yasko protocol is the most well known, and she offers her book for free online. There is also a forum that is very helpful, though this protocol is best done with a doctor because of its complexity. There is also a simplified methylation protocol.

Brain Retraining:

I'm seeing a lot a people make huge improvements with brain retraining. It seems that once one is in a non-toxic environment, and detox has been added, the brain can still overreact to very small amounts of toxins. This program seems to be helping to re-train the brain to respond in healthier ways. The Gupta programme is one of these programs that I have seen people do really well with.

Non-Toxic Grout and Thinset Mortar

I just had the tiling done in my tiny house bathroom and in the process learnt a lot about chemical-free grouts and thinset mortars.

DITRA over the first layer of thinset
I used Custom Building Products' Thin Set Mortar which is zero-VOC (and mildewcide-free). It had a bit of a smell when wet but seemed fine once dry. You want a water-based thinset that is not mixed with latex or acrylic additives. Avoid the toxic epoxy thinsets. Avoid mastics as well.

Another non-toxic thinset to try is C-Cure 911 which does not have synthetic additives

These non-toxic thinsets are more prone to cracking than ones with additives. 

Over the first layer of thinset I used Schluter DITRA, an uncoupling membrane that will help prevent cracking when my tiny house moves.

If you just need a waterproofing membrane use Schluter Kerdi. These are both made out of polyethylene and do not have a smell. They will act as a vapour barrier if your subflooring is toxic.

My completed tiled bathroom!
I used this grout, the same brand as the thinset, which is also zero-VOC and contains no mildewcides or antimicrobials. It comes in sanded and unsanded and in different colours. It barely had a smell, though it does have polymers (probably latex) which may not be tolerable to some.

If that one is not tolerable, Hydroment is recommended for people with sensitivities. However, it has a small amount of latex additives and contains mildewcide. You can make your own with Portland Cement (no additives) mixed with sand, lime and water for a totally chemical-free grout. Here are the ratios.

Sanded grout contains silica (the same substance as glass) which is harmful to breathe in when in dust form. Use a N95 mask (or better) when mixing it until it is fully mixed. This is completely safe when it is no longer in dust form.

I used concrete tiles from Morocco. For more on choosing non-toxic tiles see my post on bathrooms.

I sealed the concrete tiles and grout with AFM Safecoat Penetrating Water Stop. Grout is porous and should be sealed regularly to prevent mould. If just sealing grout (and not tiles) use AFM Safecoat Grout Sealer.



Modular Tiny Homes for the Chemically Sensitive

Here are some simple, small modular homes or shelters for the chemically sensitive.

Metal Yurts


http://cleanairyurts.com/our-yurts/yurt-homes/
The metal yurt from Clean Air Yurts is 18 ft in diameter. The shell is made of galvanized steel coated in zinc. The door is metal as well.

You would need to build a foundation and choose materials for the exterior and interior, provide insulation and wiring and plumbing (if desired). Though you could just leave it as a steel structure. The yurt can be assembled in one day and can be taken down and moved if needed.

The cost of the metal yurt is 10K




Grain Bin Home 

http://www.sukup.com/Buildings/144/Safe-T-
These Grain Bin Homes are also 18 inches in diameter and made of galvanized steel. There is room for a loft and it has louvers that can collect rain water if desired. Other options include solar panels. It does not come with options for interior/exterior or foundation, so those would be up to you.

The homes are around 10K but there is a big discount for non-profits who are purchasing them.



SIPs Prefabricated Dome 

ecobuiltsystems.com
Eco Built Systems makes these really promising little MgO based modular homes. The walls are SIPs made of MgO, basalt, glass fibers and mineral foam. They claim they give off no VOCs. Because these are prefabricated homes they reduce construction time compared with a tiny home. They claim they cut down on construction time by 40%.

They are being manufactured for distributors now. So you will have to find a distributor to order on. The 20 ft dome is 38K.




Wooden Treehouse

http://treehouses.com
From Out N' About, a company that rents out treehouses, sells plans and parts, this 16' Treezebo Hexagon could be a great non-toxic home.

The plans for the treehouse are $450 and that includes a 3-hour consultation. The metal parts are $2000-2500 and the wood would come to around 5-10k, not including materials for wiring and plumbing.






Arched Cabins


http://www.archedcabins.com
The basic kit for Arched Cabins includes floor plates, ribs, ridge beam, standard insulation R13, Super Span Roof Paneling (metal), trim and fasteners needed to assemble the cabin. This does not include the foundation, installation, interior, end caps, and delivery.

The 12x12 which has room for kitchen and bathroom is $2708. It includes the basic kit plus a fireplace thimble, Super Span Roof Panels color upgrade, and R25 insulation.

This is a simple, mostly metal kit that you could then customise to be chemical-free on the inside. 


Intershelter Domes


http://www.intershelter.com
These cool domes are easy to transport and assemble and have a lifespan of 30 years.

They are made of a fiberglass composite material which the company says does not emit an odour. Some sensitive people say fibreglass needs some time to offgas and others find it ok fairly soon after production. 

The domes start at  $7,500 for the 14' model.






Using Ozone to Clean up Toxins

Effectiveness of Ozone Generators 

Ozone kills mould on surfaces, eliminates many VOCS and odours such as perfume. It can also remediate smoke smell in certain materials. It is most effective at high levels which people refer to as "shock treatments".

I'm using the PT101-2K Ozone Generator (covers 3500 sq. ft. for odours, 400 sq ft for mould) which I recommend. 

My Camplite trailer became contaminated when the countertop went mouldy. I washed down the walls and aired it out, but porous materials including the bedding and flooring were still a big concern of mine. 


The floor and plastics also still gave off a chemical smell. 

Other sensitive people were reacting to the chemical smell. 


My Results


- Chemical smell in trailer reduced after a few treatments

- Can go into trailer without any reaction now but there was also lots of airing out for months
- Smell removed from funky smelling fabric (towel that had a smell that washing would not remove). - Gave some fabrics like wool and cotton a strange smell. 

Results From my Network on Healclick and Facebook:

One Healclick user found it really useful in the car. She says: "I was reacting very badly to the car and it smelled like perfumed cleaning chemicals. I just couldn't be in the car unless I really had to. Now the smell is gone." I have heard the same experience on Facebook as well - ozone helping a lot with fragrance in a car. Two other Healclick users found it useful to shock a room or tent, and to "flash" belongings before any toxins could take hold. These two Healclick users I know well and they are extremely reactive to mould. 

I think this is very useful if fragrance and smoke smell are your big concerns. It is very good to clean up some VOCs as well. I wish I had this when I first bought the Camplite to get rid of the new chemical smell and could have made it usable a lot sooner. I will also continue to use this on funky smelling clothing, to flash the trailer after people use it, and on friends cars and trailers as needed. I will update the post as I continue to use it.


You have to be sure you are using it safely and understand the limitations -

Safety


- Ozone is a toxic gas. People and pets should not be in the building when an ozone machine is on
- Ozone cannot remove carbon monoxide or formaldehyde (EPA)

- Ozone needs to be 5-10 x above safe levels for humans to impact bacteria and mould (Shoemaker)
- The place should be aired out after using ozone to make sure that the gas is not inhaled. Ozone is unstable and will quickly dissipate. If other VOCs form (see below) then it is necessary to air out the place for a while.
- One reason government health sites do not recommend the machines is that the shock treatment used to get rid of toxins is a very harmful level if inhaled. Even the low levels recommended by some manufacturers is probably harmful to anyone sensitive to toxins. So there is a risk if someone does not know how to use it safely. It is possible they are also wary because of the negative reaction outlined below. In many conventional houses, it might not be possible to avoid all those reactions.

Limitations

- It cannot get into porous materials to remove mould or chemicals (EPA)
- It will not help with chlorinated hydrocarbons (vinyl, plastics etc.) (EHC)
- Some say 
it kills mould spores but does not denature the toxins (EHC). These two studies show it can denature the toxins. It can still be a good idea to HEPA vacuum after ozoning (note: you can also add a HEPA filter to a shop vac).
- May not work on clothes and shoes (Shoemaker)

Negative Reactions

Ozone reacts negatively with some compounds creating more VOCS. Some of the substances it reacts to are:
- New carpets (EPA)
- Active tobacco smoke (EPA)
- Terpenes (to form formaldehyde) (CDH)
- Styrene (EHC)
- Floor finish that contains pinine (Shoemaker)

Side Effects 

High doses of ozone used to really clear out toxins will also degrade or harm certain materials such as:
- Plants
- Rubber
- Coating of electrical wires
- Fabric
- Some Artwork
(EPA)

Sources:

EPA: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/ozonegen.html
CDA: http://www.ct.gov/dph/lib/dph/environmental_health/eoha/pdf/ozone_generator_fact_sheet.pdf
EHC: http://www.environmentalhealth.ca/summer96ozone.html
Shoemaker: http://www.survivingmold.com/legal-resources/environmental/ozone-generators-and-interior-mold-remediation-a-recipe-for-disaster

Building a Non-Toxic Sofa

Here is my chemical-free new sofa!

We used maple because it is a hard wood that is non-aromatic (it does not have a strong terpene smell). 

The stain we used was Naturhaus Harmonic, which will soon be available online. The ingredients are: beeswax, carnauba wax, shellac, and a cosmetic emulsifier. It had a very sweet smell for the first two days. 

Other options for stains are AFM Safecoat WaterShield or Ecos.

The glue used was Titebond


Sketch of my sofa
The Foam is a piece of 3" natural latex. This has a natural rubber smell (which doesn't fade completely with time) but does not give off chemicals the way conventional foam does, nor does it contain flame retardants. 

Metal brackets reinforce the frame so that the side piece can be leaned on. The inspiration picture had low sides that would not be as comfy; I didn't think I'd be able to curl up on that sofa.

The dimensions are 28 in depth (standard sofa depth), height from seat 16 in (fairly standard), length 5 feet (length was made to fit in my tiny house).

The inspiration
The costs were:

Maple               468
Metal Brackets 200
Labour               40 hours
Foam                804 (from a local shop. Much cheaper on Amazon)
Fabric               150
Sewing             237

Total was around $3500.

This is expensive, even for a chemical-free sofa.

Another option is to buy a sofa from a company that makes non-toxic upholstered furniture. I have looked into and compared these companies in this post


Non-Toxic Windows and Window Coverings

Window Frames

Metal - Steel or aluminum windows with a baked on enamel finish are the greenest, safest option. It is what I used in my tiny house (pictured left). On the interior they are framed out in wood so they appear to be wood framed windows.

What is used in the windows as a thermal break is blocked by the glass and metal so there is no need to worry about any offgassing.

Wood - Wood windows are usually treated with fungicides. You could use a sealer that seals in VOCs like AFM Safecoat Safe Seal,  AFM Safecoat Transitional Primer, or B-I-N Shellac Base Primer & Sealer. You could go with custom wood windows to avoid fungicides, but they are more expensive and you still have to consider what kind of sealer you can tolerate on the inside and outside. Finding a suitable sealer for outdoor wood is tricky. AFM Safecoat Durostain or AFM Naturals Clear Penetrating Oil are two options. The outside would need to be re-stained on a regular basis.

Consider also the glue that is used in conventional wood windows could be irritating for the sensitive person. If you are having custom windows made see my post on safer wood glues.

Fibreglass - Fibreglass offgasses VOCs and most sensitive people do report reacting to it.

Vinyl - Vinyl offgasses VOCs and is not a healthy choice.

Gas filled - Windows filled with argon or krypton gas have a higher insulative value and both gases are considered non-toxic.

Sealing Windows

Silicone - My top choice for silicone is Eco-Bond but I review a few different options in this post.

Sealing around windows and doors - Wool products can be used instead of polyurethane foam. Some options are available at Loghome Wool.




Window Flashing

For zero-VOC window flashing use TYPAR AT.

Window Coverings 

Source: Blinds Chalet
Screens - Conventional screens are very smelly at first. They can be left outside to offgas or aluminum screens can be used instead. Marvin is one brand that makes the aluminum options.

Fabrics - Fabric curtains are usually treated with wrinkle-free chemicals and flame retardants. Natural fabrics do break down in UV light but are a better option.

Blinds and Shutters - Green versions include naturally finished wood shutters, metallic venetian blinds, and bamboo roll down blinds.

Between the Glass - Between the glass is a really cool option. Here is an example.

Non-Toxic Blackout Shades - This is a hard to come by product. Blinds Chalet blackout liner on the bamboo shades is PVC- free and they claim that it is environmentally friendly. Earthshade makes eco black out shades and rollers that are probably the safest ready-made option on the market. Another option to consider is this paper Black Out Pleated Shade - the company claims in an email they do not give off any hazardous chemicals. Another really safe option (truly the safest) would be to make your own black out curtains with pesticide-free hemp fabric.


Avoid vinyl roller shades and vinyl miniblinds, PVC and conventional blackout curtains.