Mitigating, Sealing, Remediating Offgassing (VOCs, Fragrance, Smoke)

This article will cover ways to reduce offgassing including new paint, formaldehyde as well as other residual smells in a house like fragrance and smoke.
Mitigating Offgassing

This post contains affiliate links on the products I recommend.

Table of Contents:

1. Diluting the Air to Reduce VOCs
2. Air Filter/Air Purifiers
3. Absorbing VOCs
4. "Baking out" a House
5. Cleaning Surfaces of Residues
6. Sealing Surfaces/ Sealing in VOCs and Odours
7. Making a Safe Room Including Foiling, Renovating and Using Positive Pressure
8. Ozonating for Fragrance and Smoke

1. Diluting the Air to Reduce VOCs

Fan In, Fan Out
The simplest way to overturn the air and ventilate (diluting the VOCs) is to put one box fan coming in a one going out - ideally on the other side of the room. You can also get these at Walmart for a good price. Here you need to have tolerable outdoor temperatures and acceptable humidity levels. Take some caution here if you don't have the same amount of air going in and out with what the effects of the negative or positive pressure will be. You will need to watch humidity in some climates, humidity should be below 55% humidity in hot weather.

ERVs and HRVs overturn the air and ventilate a house or trailer. I use the Panasonic Whispercomfort ERV in a single room trailer. It provides 40, 20 or 10 CFM, which is a high turn over of air. This one is not made for cold climates. The air it brings in is halfway between the temperature outdoor and indoor, which means it's bringing is fairly cold air most of the year in Canada. It stops working at -7 C. When using an ERV in a small space, consider the effect on humidity as well as temperature.

Another popular one for tiny houses is the Lunos which is an HRV. There are whole house systems as well.

2. Air Filter/Air Purifiers to Reduce Offgassing

The Best Air Filters for MCS - What to Look for:
  • Sorbent Material - How many lbs, type of material, tolerability of material, does it have potassium permanganate (which is harder to tolerate but provides better absorption of many VOCs), do they have test kits
  • HEPA - At least true HEPA: 99.97% of particles done to 0.3 microns
  • CFM - CFM to tell you the air exchanges/hour, you want a least 1 ACH
  • Offgassing -Plastic or glue in the unit? Glue in the filters? Motors "burned in" or encased/sealed?
  • Other Comparisons - How loud they are (dB), the cost of replacing filters, and year established (so you can feel certain they will be around to replace filters and parts).

If you are interested in PCO technology that is more geared towards filtering mould, see my article on air purifiers that use that technology. This article is about the classic types.

A Comparison of Brands of Air Purifiers for MCS:

allerair for MCS offgassing VOCs

AirMedic Pro 5 Ultra
$1400  * 28-30 lbs carbon * "Super HEPA" * 400 CFM * dB 50-75 @1ft * EST 1994

Filter replacement: Carbon Filter 2-5 years $172; Super HEPA 2 years $131;
Pre-filter 3 months $132

Some of the most extremely sensitive folks prefer this brand but not all have tolerated it. All metal. Filters don't offgas. No glue on the HEPA like true HEPA has. Option to have true HEPA which has glue.

AirMedic Pro 5 HD MCS is made for MCS -  The burn in motor by running and offgassing it for 6-8 hours. You can choose the carbon blend from an option of 7 blends in a test kit. It has 24lbs carbon and is dB 35-60 @1ft.

You can buy some models at Walmart or through some sellers on Amazon.

Healthmate Plus
$660 * 250 CFM * 15 lbs of Activated Carbon Impregnated with Potassium Iodide and Zeolite * True HEPA * dB 50-66 3-5ft (they are not sure) * EST early 90s

Filter replacement: HEPA/ carbon,/prefilter 3-5 years (5-year warranty filter warranty) $360

There are different filter options with different types of carbon/absorptive material. Again, reactions often attributed to Potassium permanganate. You can test out their different filter options.

Steel units, plastic on the wheels, not plastic inside.

Some with extreme MCS have picked up offgassing, but many with MCS prefer this brand.

You can buy them at Walmart and Amazon. They also sell the replacement filters at Walmart.

enviroklenz air purifier for MCS offgassing VOCs smoke

$729.99 (often on sale for $650) * CFM 250 * dB 50 on high @6 ft

EnviroKlenz is a slightly different technology than the others here. I have been using this unit and been happy with it. Like the others this unit has a HEPA filter, but instead of charcoal/PP/zeolite it uses minerals including magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide to nuetralise VOCs, chemical odors, and smoke.

The EnviroKlenz according to the literature, destroys most pollutants. Contrary to odor masking methods, the nanocrystalline materials contact, adsorb and then neutralize the odor-causing substances.

It is effective against aldehydes and pollutants and particularly effective against different kinds of smokes and pesticides. Activated carbon does not help that much with formaldehyde and smoke can be difficult to filter as well. My preference for this unit comes from its ability to deal with formaldehyde and smoke.

EnviroKlenz materials will chemically dismantle many VOCs. Hydrocarbons will be absorbed but not chemically modified.

The company has a number of patents and it has been tested you can see that info here (you can search and read patents here), and for a summary of research articles and references on this technology see their technical report here.

Filter replacement costs: Mineral cartridge 4-5 months 100$, HEPA every 2-3 years $150. Rated the same as true HEPA.

This air purifier has been in production for 7 years.

EL foust air purifier filter for offgassing MCS VOCs formaldehyde
E.L. Foust
400 Series Air Purifier
$796.60 * CFM 380 * 60% Coconut shell carbon / 40% potassium permanganate (Standard Mix) 8 lbs * not true HEPA, 99.97  * dB 22-24 @3ft * EST 1974

Filter replacement: HEPA which can last up to 2-3 years $112. Pre-filter 2-3 months $13. Carbon media tray 6-9 months, up to a year $75

They have a sealed motor - bearings are sealed in. They run the motors outside for 2-3 days first to offgas them.

Metal construction, uses no adhesives, have HEPA filters without any glue. These are made for the chemically sensitive and some of the most extremely sensitive like this brand. They sell filter sample kits so that you can check out the different materials used. Generally, for the extremely sensitive, PP is difficult to tolerate. The most sensitive should start with their pure Bituminous coal filters. Having a sealed motor will be key for the most sensitive though this one has a lot less carbon than the other models.

IQ air purifier filter for offgassing VOCs abatement

$1739  * CFM 300 * 12 lbs granular activated carbon & impregnated alumina (Potassium Permanganate) * True HEPA * dB 35-69 - (the company will not state how many feet this test was done at). * EST 1963

Their HealhPro is (40 to 300 CFM) (2 air changes/hr in 1125 sq. ft), dB 25 to 59

Filter replacement:  Multigas cartilage 2 years $400; Post Filter 2.5 year $129; HEPA about a year (on 10 hours a day on speed 3) $109; optional Filter Pads $79

This might be one of the best-known brand names in air purifiers. Some people with MCS swear by it. The most severely sensitive do not always tolerate it. The unit is made of plastic and the offgassing of the unit itself might be an issue. The potassium insert can be hard to tolerate for many which is not unique to this brand). Some people have sent back filters that smelt especially sweet or strong and received ones that were more tolerable. Nevertheless, this is a favorite and well-trusted brand for many with MCS who want a robust air purifier.

You can buy the Healpro and Multigas directly through their website.

amaircare air purifier filter for VOCs MCS offgassing
Amaircare 3000
$700 * 225 CFM (in 1688 sq ft 1 ACH) * Claims no offgassing * Depending on the option you choose it contains up to 30 lbs of carbon * True HEPA * dB 43 to 61 @ 6 ft * EST 1994 * Made in Canada

Filter replacement: Prefilters + VOC media/year (12 lbs) $119; HEPA Filter 2-5 years $200

Made of metal, no plastic or foam. The HEPA is rated at 2-5 years when the prefilter is maintained. One person with moderate MCS said the HEPA filters smelled like chemicals. He requested a new one which was better.

You can find this model at Walmart or through some sellers on Amazon.

airpura air purifier filter for MCS offgassing VOCS
Airpura C600-DLX
$900 * 440 CFM  (2 air exchanges an hour 2000 sq. ft. with) * 26 lb Coconut Shell Carbon * dB 28.1 - 62.3 @6ft. * EST 2004

Filter replacement: Carbon filter 2-3 years $350; Post filter 1 year $100; Pre filter 6-12 months $40; HEPA (not true HEPA) 1-2 years $60

Claim All metal housing, ensures no plastic vapors are emitted.

Didn't work for some people with MCS although some do well with it.

They sell these at Walmart.

3. Absorbing VOCs

Placing carbon around the house can be quite effective to absorb offgassing including new paint fumes. You will need large amounts like these from Walmart or Amazon.

You could also place carbon onto an inexpensive box fan like thisthe sheets or the pellets. The pellets will have more absorption capacity (may need a barrier between the pellets and the fan if it blows dust).

The Holmes box fans are strong enough to pull air through a filter.

I have heard the following anecdotal strategies from other sensitive folks but have not tried these myself:

  • Plates of onions cut in half and dispersed throughout the room.
  • Plates of baking soda
  • Lemon oil in a diffuser (note essential oils can add aldehydes and other VOCs, make sure this is highly tolerable for you)
Paints that claim to absorb VOCs don't make a significant dent. I do not recommend those except for decoration and for a very subtle improvement. ECOS has a paint that contains zeolite which can make a slight improvement. Some have reported this has helped but others have reported that it hasn't.

4. "Baking Out" a House

From Carl Grimes of Healthy Habitats. Note these are general guidelines, and your results will depend on the specifics of your house including the type of offgassing.

To bake-out a house you want about 3-5 days of constant (24 hours a day) increased temperature of at least 85-90 F. You also need ventilation, at least 2-3 air exchanges each day.

Carl explains the most common reasons for this taking extra long or not working include:

• Not getting the temp elevated for long enough - its hard to stay out of the house for 3-5 days - so folks usually only heat only during the day so they can come back at night to sleep. It takes at least 24-36 hours to get the materials in the house warmed up.
• They don't ventilate 2-3 times a day to remove the VOCs that have outgassed. If you don't ventilate the house reaches a saturation equilibrium - no more can come out because the air is full - and - what has come out is reabsorbed back into the materials.
• They try to shorten the time by heating extra hot for a shorter time. This doesn't work because it simply takes time for materials to outgas. And it takes time to get the inner materials warmed up.

If you have done this without sufficient success - especially with no improvement - then you either have a massive source of VOCs (cleaning products, personal care products, or materials with semi-VOCs) -or- the problem is something other than VOCs.

How to:

In order to get your house to those temperatures, turn up the thermostat to max, use additional space heaters if needed. Get to the air to 85-90 F.

Ventilate just 10-20 minutes at a time to get an air exchange - an air exchange means you are replacing all the inside air with outside air, removing the VOCs outgassed so far.

You can ventilate by opening doors and windows for 10-20 minutes. If the wind is blowing, 5-10 min will do. Note: The HVAC does not ventilate, it just circulates the inside air. Fans in windows can draw air in and out.

Keep in mind, outgassing even with heat is a slow process. You have to do a 2 day heat up at least. With 3-5 days for one full treatment.

5. Cleaning Surfaces of Residues

Strategies to remove cleaning products from surfaces:

Baking soda and water or vinegar.

For some applications baking soda and hydrogen peroxide can be a powerful cleaner (and bleaching agent).

Some have said that have had success with wiping down walls with alcohol.

Biokleen is a good cleaner to remove toxic cleaners.

Another enzyme cleaner, Nature's Miracle works well at breaking down organic smells. (Make sure it is the one with no added fragrance).

TSP can also be used to get rid of fragrance residues - but this is not exactly non-toxic and you need to take caution here. It will damage many surfaces so it's only for certain applications and you must research carefully how to use it safely.

To remove toxic fragrances some have had luck with washing walls and floors with orange oil soap solution.

6. Sealing Surfaces / Sealing in Offgassing and Odours

Paints & Sealers

For Walls and New Paint

When you have walls with new paint that is offgassing or that have soaked up other problematic smells, you may want to seal them.

If you can, you can try and sand off the paint first, or you can go ahead with sealing them.

Here are some approaches:

1. Sealer: Safecoat Hard Seal in multiple coats (2-3). Leaves a semi-gloss finish (low VOC). (To paint over this you would need to lightly sand it). Shellac is another sealer that can be used, discussed in detail below.

2. Safecoat Transitional Primer (low VOC, not always tolerated) (1 coat) followed by Safecoat paint (2 coats). Safecoat Pearl luster will give the best sealing properties. If you cannot tolerate this brand you can use another brand of primer and paint. Primer and paint is the least successful sealing option as it will only help slightly.

AFM products do not seal in perfume or cat urine. They are for pourous surfaces only. Some people have said they seal in essential oils smell residue but the company does not make claims it will work for that application.

Sealing in new drywall and insulation: Safecoat New Wallboard Primecoat covered by Safecoat paint is recommended by AFM.

Sealing in Fragrance, Smoke, and Offgasing

Shellac is the best sealer for sealing in odours/VOCS. The most well-known type is BIN. Zinsser the company, recommends this product as their best odor blocking primer. But the purest premixed shellac is the Universal Sanding Sealer which only lists alcohols and shellac (but does not have to disclose ingredients under 1% and I have not been able to get a clear answer on if there are any unlisted ingredients). The absolute purest one is to make it yourself with the flakes and alcohol from

Both dewaxed and regular shellac (with wax) have the same ability to seal in odours. Why Zinnzer recommends the more toxic BIN Shellac Base Primer over the barebones Sanding Sealer, wasn't clear to me, and the rep I talked to did not seem to know much about this other than reading out what they are marketed as.

shellac from
One benefit of shellac is that is works on almost every surface including glass, metal, ceramic, and if it's dewaxed you can paint over it. The downsides are that it is a very good interior vapour barrier which can cause problems with "breathable walls" when using AC. Make sure this will work for your building envelope.

It is hard to "read" the VOCs levels in these products - the white ones and the synthetic might not be well tolerated. The purest one still shows high levels of VOCs but that is from alcohol. When the alcohol dries those are gone, all you have is the natural resin.

ECOS has a purifying paint. Zeolite is the absorptive ingredient in there which will absorb a little bit of VOC odour.

Clients have reported it did not work on sealing tung oil. I have only heard from one person that had success with using this to seal in fragrance.

To paint and seal over oil paint, you can get the best seal with shellac then AFM Hardseal.

For Sealing Wood


AFM Safe Seal normally is for sealing in offgassing materials  - usually for sealing in formaldehyde in plywood, particle board and OSB- not recommended by AFM for walls. It's low VOC.

For sealing melamine particle board - only seal edges with Safeseal

Sealing in terpenes

Clear Look - Shellac or if you can tolerate AFM products, you can try a topcoat of Safecoat Acriglaze, Hard Seal or Acrylacq. Shellac itself is good at sealing in terpenes.

Painted Look - One coat dewaxed Shellac - top coat any kind of acrylic or latex paint that you tolerate.

For shellac you make yourself, check out mix and the instructions there, they recommend how many lbs of shellac is needed with 90% ethanol.

If you just want to use paint over the wood, Safecoat Transitional Primer (low VOC, not always tolerated) (1 coat) followed by paint (2 coats).  Pearl will give the best sealing properties. This will help with terpenes. Though AFM is not the best-tolerated paint in my experience with clients.

Seal in fungicides

One coat Safecoat New Wallboard Primecoat and two coats of paint is the recipe. Or shellac.


To seal fiberglass - use shellac, and you can top coat that with AFM Hardseal if tolerated, to seal in the shellac or to add more sealing.

7. Making a Safe Room within a House

There are a few ways to make a safe room in a house.

Foiling a room

To create a non-toxic room in your home you can use Denny Foil, or heavy duty aluminum foil on the walls/ceiling/floor. These materials block VOCs (chemicals/toxins including mould). Heavy duty aluminum foil is much easier to work with than the thinner type used in cooking or the grilling foil. You may need several layers to totally block smells.

You want to use green Painting Tape for this as it will not damage the walls and is easy to remove - a healthy person could rip off/take down the whole room is probably 20-30 min (small room). The blue tape is more toxic so I wouldn't use that. You could use aluminum tape but it is very sticky and will leave a residue and will be hard to take off. Aluminum tape also smells much more than green tape, though the aluminum blocks most of the smell, the smell/VOCs do come in through the edges. Another very tolerable tape which claims 0 VOCs, but still smells a little like glue is SIGA Rissan. That is the most tolerable tape that is going to hold up, in my assessment.

Don't underestimate the smell of the tape when you have a whole room full of it. I can tolerate any tape in small amounts sniffing it right to my nose. I am unable to tolerate any tape when there is a whole room full of it. The larger the sheets of foil the less tape you will have. You can buy large sheets of foil radiant barrier at some places like Innovative Solutions.

I would not do this where you have colder air inside than outside (AC use), though it does depend on your outside humidity and dew point.

I have used this successfully on areas that were offgassing (a new door).

The only thing in the room should be clean bedding i.e. a new non-toxic mattress or camping cot (etc). New non-toxic bedding and pillow. Be careful with bringing in EMFs producing devices if you use foil. Practice decontamination and isolation - i.e. by new clothing for the bedroom and shower before entering. This will be a safe clean non-toxic place to sleep. It should help insomnia immediately. But be careful that when you open the window or the door that the air coming in might not be good, so this won't be a long-term solution.

If you have central HVAC you won't be able to isolate this room properly. You can in some instances block up vents but this can also cause trouble to the whole HVAC system.

Positive Pressure

You can do this with or without a vapour barrier, with just positive pressure, there are some instructions and discussion here and here.

Some people tile a room or put aluminum walls or glass up as a more permanent version of foiling walls. (Same risks with interior vapour barriers when doing this).

Creating positive pressure with IQAir
Another option is to redo one room with all non-toxic products including going as far back as redoing the walls, insulation and floors. As long as you have adequate isolation from the rest of the house that might work for you. Keep in mind, mould tracks in and cross contaminate much easier than VOCs. This should not be attempted in a significantly mouldy house. I can smell mould off most houses up to 100-200 ft away.

Positive pressure is easiest if you have a room within a room. I have done this with sheets of rigid foam. But polyethylene plastic, house wrap, foil or any other air barrier can be used. Having a room within a room simplifies problems you could cause by creating an interior vapour barrier (humidity, condensation in walls) as well as pushing air into walls with positive pressure. You want the room to be big enough to be able to put in a dehumidifier if needed, and a heater.

Some people have used positive pressure just in a room (with no barrier) which is the most risky way to do it.

To control for cross-contamination you need an entrance room as well. Use zipper doors. You may need to decontaminate in this room. (The other option is to have this open right up to an exterior door. A outdoor shower could be made in that case). When using a double room system, pressurize the main room at 2 pascals for pressure - as recommended by Carl Grimes. When using the entrance room, pressurize that with the air from the main room to control contamination from main house. The air that you are bringing in needs to be clean - if the house is significantly mouldy you can not bring in air from right outside for this to work.

You may choose a simple fan system or an ERV/HRV biases, or the IQAir intake kit to bring in air, depending on your needs.

8. Using Ozone for Fragrance and Smoke 

Most people don't recommend ozone because it's high risk. It's high risk in terms of the safe use of it if you don't know all the precautions, and it's high risk because of possible byproducts.

There are a few things I would still use ozone for. I have had a lot of success using high dose ozone on all metal trailers to bring down glue offgassing. I will use it to shock treat mould in certain cases.

It is often used successfully on fragrance and smoke odours, not in shock treatment doses, in lower doses. Lower doses are less risky. It is not usually successful with typical offgassing from building materials - I would not use it for that purpose.

For fragrance and smoke start with low doses for short amounts of time and stop if you are just starting to produce byproducts. Read my full post on ozone for precautions and airing out.

You don't need a super powerful ozone machine for lower doses and shorter times, a simple one like this will do.

See my post on ozone for more details and safety precautions.

You can use ozone more safely on objects and some furniture as long as you know what it negatively reacts with (and know what it can degrade), or are willing to experiment.

Mattresses & Bedding: Chemical-Free Options

Updated Winter 2019

First, a quick backgrounder on the Chemicals in our Mattresses

Conventional mattresses are usually made of polyurethane foam or synthetic latex which offgas VOCs. It's difficult to find out exactly which chemicals were used in a particular mattress. The worst offenders are synthetic memory foam, followed by polyurethane (though almost all polyurethane can meet CertiPUR certification which I discuss here), and then synthetic latex, which usually does not meet any green certifications on its own. Going with a spring mattress reduces the amount of foam and chemicals in it.

On top of that, flame retardants like TCPP, or newer chemicals are often added, and won't be listed anywhere in sight. Look for mattresses that specify no chemical flame retardants (see my post on flame retardants).

You also want to avoid mattresses that are stain resistant, as they contain harmful perfluorochemicals. Similarly, the chemical that makes sheets (and clothes) wrinkle-free releases formaldehyde. Some mattresses are also adding an antimicrobial agent which you would generally want to avoid (there are some natural antimicrobials that might be OK).

I recommend all of the products here, some of which have affiliate programs and some of which do not.

Non-Toxic Organic Mattresses

Natural Latex

Update: Warning about natural latex. I am getting reports from several different people on problems with natural latex. My 3-inch piece of latex started to "melt" after about a year. Another one of my pillows became covered in grey mould after two years in low humidity, in a new non-mouldy house I was healing in. Others have noticed issues of disintegration and mould. Another blog reader has just written to me to tell me that her natural latex bed went mouldy on the underside even though it was on slats and it was not in high humidity. I have since seen many other cases of this on a forum and from people writing to me. It is not clear if this is a defect (these were all different brands), or whether there is a certain condition that leads to the latex breaking down. Below is my original post about latex and other mattress materials. I still have a natural latex sofa and so far it is OK. I would not buy it again myself. If you do buy natural latex look closely at the warranty - it's unlikely it covers mould.


There are plenty of options for natural latex mattresses made in US and Canada. I have sourced the most affordable ones. (Make sure it is 100% natural latex, and test for odours/sensitivities to make sure it is tolerable).

Almost all of the green mattress brands offer natural latex, you can even find this now at Costco and IKEA (with some synthetic latex in it).

These mattresses range from $800 to $5000. Two of the most affordable options in the $800 range are by The Futon Shop and Organic Textiles.

The most economical option is to buy a 3-inch piece of latex. For around $200 (plus tax and shipping) you can get 3" natural latex from Amazon (queen). I find that 3 inches is very comfortable to sleep on. You could also add another 3 inch layer. You might want one side medium and one side soft to see which you like better. You will need to have a cover made.

People with MCS vary greatly in their ability to tolerate the natural smell of rubber and different brands work for different people. Here is a list of some of the ingredients that can be in natural latex. Essentia, which makes natural memory foam claims that the VOC levels of their foam (36 μg /m3) is about the same as that of natural latex. From my research, this is around the same levels as outdoor air - but it is not 0 VOC or 0 offgassing. 

Memory Foam

The only non-toxic memory foam out there is Essentia - this is also natural latex based. They have tested the VOC levels which are 36 μg /m3. They claim that this is the same level as natural latex and this is the same as "background levels". (For reference GreenGuard Gold levels are 220 μg /m3). As for background levels here is one study of background levels in houses in Germany. Here is a study showing outdoor levels of VOCs which are around the same level as this mattress claims are background levels. This mattress also contains the following essential oils - grapefruit seed, cone flower essence, and jasmine essence. I have tested a sample and it has a noticeable scent. Though I would not say it is flowery, it is a bit sweet. Test a sample before purchasing. It contains Kevlar as a flame retardant

Wool My Wool Mattress
I went with the purest and simplest option I could find which is a 100% wool mattress from Shepard's Dream. It is a (relatively) economical choice at $1585 for a queen (I have the skinny version pictured). It does have a wool scent and is firm as it gets compacted with time. If you don't like firm mattresses I would recommend using a topper with it or using the thicker version. I would buy this again. Shepard's Dream has a referral program so if you are happy with it then you can refer others and get store credit. I would love to use their products again in the future so if you did find them through me I would love if you would mention my name, Corinne Segura.

Layered wool Felt: For those with extreme sensitivities, a layered option that can be washed can be very functional. Heartfelt Collective sells wool felts that can be layered and washed. To put together what would come to about a conventional queen feel it would cost about $1900. But you may not need that many layers, or you can combine the woof felt layers with something else.

Savvy Rest makes a cotton covered wool mattress for $2000.

When looking at wool qualifications you may want to know about various factors, depending on your sensitivities, such as the chemicals used to process the wool and if any flame retardants are used. Certified organic wool is not that common, this link explains what it means. If a company claims all-natural, pure or eco-wool you will want to take a look at what they mean by that.

Conventional Style Layered and Spring Mattresses (Latex-Free, Polyurethane-Free)

The Futon Shop - has a good variety of mattresses, some with springs and coils will be more comfortable than conventional futons. Look for the ones without latex or soy foam (which is polyurethane). Their prices are fantastic starting at $330. (US only. They don't ship to Canada.)

My Green Mattress - A cotton and wool with springs mattress is $950 for a queen.

Naturepedic - Organic Cotton & wool (with almost no smell), polyester with springs $2000 for a queen. This is a very well liked and well-tolerated brand. There is one with no wool for those who cannot tolerate wool under the kids section, but it comes in a queen for $1600.

Organic Grace - Conventional style affordable organic mattresses. A queen without latex is $1800.

Savvy Rest - Check out their non-latex mattress for $2000.

Royal-Pedic - Makes a cotton and springs mattress (no wool) - no claims on organic cotton here. You can buy this in local stores, or on Amazon for around $3000.

Other Options:


This company will sell the organic cotton canvases and buckwheat hulls that you twist together yourself! (They don't deliver hull to Canada). A mattress topper or pad may be needed for comfort. Or, you could fill the canvas with organic cotton battingwool batt, or even recycled wool sweaters, and use the same twist system to make your own true DIY chemical-free mattress!


Futons are more affordable and often don't use flame retardants. Look for organic cotton or wool filled. Another cool option is kapok fiber futon which they claim does not compact as much as cotton and wool (coupon code 1021 for 5% off). Avoid conventional cotton batting which still retains a lot of pesticide. Look out for antimicrobial and even added pesticide treatments.


I have seen silk filled mattresses in the past, though they are hard to locate. May be good if you cannot tolerate cotton, wool, kapok or latex. Silk mattress toppers are easier to find and you could build them up to make a mattress.

Cotton Mat:

This organic cotton mat is thin but may be enough for some people who need a simple solution.

Beds Originally Made for Camping:

Or for a quick and easy solution maybe a camping cot will do! Let it offgas a bit first. The plus side is there is not much to offgas there, so some time in the sun should do it.

Sleeping pads:
For sleeping pads there are the basic foam ones, this aluminized Thermarest one being the most tolerable, and then there are the polyurethane self-inflating ones. I use the most deluxe Thermarest the 10 cm thick Mondoking, (it has polyurethane it in). I find it very comfortable. It takes a bit of time in the sun to offgas but many MCSers can use these. I used it after two days in the sun. After a week it was ideal for me. The general consensus for those with sore backs or who need the most comfort is a Thermarest on top of a camping cot. Though with the Mondoking you likely don't need a camping cot under it (though I would raise it or put a waterproof cover on it).

Poly fill:
Another kind of simple sleeping mat is a Nufoam polyester fiber mat. This may be more tolerable than the camping pads that have polyurethane, plus I find polyester does better with moisture than cotton and other more natural materials.

This phthalate and PVC-free TPU air bed by Lightspeed comes highly recommended by many extremely sensitive people. I found it offgaseed in 2 days. Another option for PVC free airbed is this polyester bed from Intex.

These solutions can be used inside for those with trouble tolerating regular beds or they can be used in high moisture places like tents and simple trailers or emergency shelters.

 Pillows and Sheets

For pillows you generally want natural fibres like wool or organic cotton. Kapok, or buckwheat are also good options. Never use non-organic cotton batting as the bats retain a lot of pesticides. Organic cotton batting sometimes still retains a strong smell from the oils of the cotton plant. I do like polyester because of it's more moisture resistant. I use this organic cotton pillow with polyester filling, but it still needs to be washed or aired out before use. This pillow with organic cotton filling is GOTs certified (chemical-free). I have one and it did have a strong cotton oil smell at first which aired out quickly. It also has a zipper so you can wash the case or pull out the cotton itself to wash it.

Coyuchi also makes organic sheets, pillows and other bedding that is made with the chemically sensitive person in mind. I highly recommend this company. They use natural dyes but the safest bet is always virgin fabric. If you react to the product you can return it. I've been really happy with all their products. (Also available on Amazon).

Cotton that has been processed into fabric (sheets, pillow cases etc) no longer contains pesticides in theory. But stay away from permanent pressed finish (wrinkle-free finish), and make sure the dyes are steadfast or all natural. Almost all cotton that is not organic has a chemical added to it and smells bad. Look for GOTS certified fabrics which is the best certification for non-toxic textiles.

I use GOTS certified sheets which usually need one wash to get the smell out (probably the smell of cotton oils). I use these pillowcases.

In a high moisture environment like a trailer, I use all polyester sheets and pillowcases.

NB (While we are on the topic of chemical-free fabrics here is a guide to buying chemical-free clothing or removing "sizing" chemicals and other harmful odours.)

Mattress Covers

If you have an old mattress and you want to block flame retardants from migrating out of the mattress, use a cover like Organic Lifestyle's Bed Bug Cover which is also waterproof and will protect you from dust mites and bedbugs. It has a pore size of zero. The polyurethane smells strong to me but after a lot of offgassing I found it to be good. Polyethylene covers are the least toxic but do not hold up very well after washing. There are polypropylene covers as well, they hold up a little longer than plain polyethylene. This cover is a mix of polyethylene and polypropylene and is reported to be very tolerable by someone very sensitive to plastic. They do not stop the offgassing from foam or scents that a mattress has picked up, unfortunately. If you do not have a choice but to use a offgassing or fragranced mattress and you want to block the smell you will have to cover it with Mylar (though those become dust quickly), the Mylar bags hold up longer but are harder to tape onto a bed. My preferred method to block offgassing (and protect from contamination) is using aluminized tarps and tape.

If you just want dust mite covers (that are not waterproof, and don't block flame retardants), I use these mattress and pillow protectors (non-organic but were good for me after one wash, I'm really happy with them as they have reduced my allergies).


My bed with Coyuchi blankets
I use wool blankets from Coyuchi - the natural colour with indigo stripes. It does have a wool smell, so if you are sensitive to wool try their cotton blankets. I really like wool because it's hard for me to stay the right temperature at night without them and I slept with the window open when my house was new. The wool blankets were a super good investment in my case, as they stopped me from waking up throughout the night due to being too cold.

The wool blankets are difficult for me to wash so I also tried an organic cotton blanket (this is thick and takes a long time to dry) and polyester blanket (cheap! from Walmart or Amazon). Both needed one wash at least.

Bed Frames

A metal bed frame that is powder coated would be a great option. This metal bed is inexpensive for a twin on Amazon.

Or, if you can tolerate the natural smell of wood, go with a solid wood bed frame, with solid slats (not laminated), finished with a natural finish.

For wood frames check out Organic Grace which has simple frames for $780 (queen, ships from the US).
For cool wooden headboards and frames with zero-VOC finishes check out Coyuchi (pictured below).

For something really simple and cheap this healthy Nomad Solid Hardwood Platform Bed (around a hundred for a twin) on Amazon is made of low odour poplar with solid slats.

IKEA sells solid wood frames but the slats are laminated. They claim the glues are "non-volatile and non-polluting".

Preventing Mould

When building a tiny house, find a way to incorporate slats under your bed. I see too many tiny houses with the mattress on a solid floor. This is not a good solution if you want your bed to stay mould-free. This is my loft on the left. The slats are built right into the loft. It works great!

In any house or trailer tiny or big make sure your mattress can breathe underneath (slats or box springs are used for a reason). Only certain types of beds like an air mattress may be able to go straight on the floor.

When camping I do think a waterproof cover is the best idea, in a trailer you may be able to use something simple like this for airflow, though I have heard that that is not enough airflow in many situations.

Disclosure: Some of the links to products on this page go through my affiliate partners and some do not. Whether a product has an affiliate program or not does not influence my choice of recommendations. If you are going to purchase any of the items listed here and if you found my site’s content useful, please consider purchasing through my links - it will not cost you any more. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through the Amazon links.

Passive House Tiny House - A Detailed Mould Preventative Build

Intro from Corinne

This post is about a meticulously built tiny home, designed to hold up in the long run to mould. The post is written by the owner/builder who did years and years of research and consulted with many building science experts. There was an extreme attention to detail on preventing mould. The main reason almost every house is mouldy is because of the many many mistakes made in most builds (in design and execution). These can be even more prevalent in tiny homes which are less regulated and often built by non-experts.

This post is mainly to serve as an example of the care, research, consultation and attention needed to build a house that will hold up to mould. The owner/builder, Terran, also has MCS. There is a focus on healthy materials in this post.

This post may have ideas you can use in your own build and it may also be interesting to see the kind of detail needed to carefully build a house. The build itself took over a year. This house uses many practices from Passive House building so there are some unique aspects, but many of these aspects can be applied to most tiny houses. Never simply copy someone else’s building practices without consulting with your own architect or engineer who specializes in mould prevention. If you change the materials due to availability, or your own sensitivities, or you live in a different climate your house will likely be different. We are also not presenting this as the perfect house to copy. Any ideas here should be reviewed by you and your experts. That is not a legal disclaimer, that is just what needs to be done to build a home that will last. Keep in mind even among experts there is disagreement on building systems. However, I do think there are some unique and valuable ideas here.

This post does not go over every detail of the build, as that would take a whole book. But it does cover the main tricky areas, as well as the main materials used.

Even if you choose just to look at the pictures or watch the video (coming soon - I will post it to my Facebook page), I think this will be interesting to anyone looking to build or renovate, whether you are a beginner who does not know the full complexity of housing systems or an expert in building science.

I am very excited about this post. I think it adds something really important to the tiny house conversation.

The following is written by Terran and has a few comments inserted by me. It has been edited for grammar and length by me. The owner himself will be away from the internet for the next 3 years, so he will not be available.

This post is not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned. I recommend all of the products in the post, some of which have affiliate programs and some of which do not.



About three years ago I set out to build a Tiny House to help with chronic health problems I’ve had since childhood. The structure would need to be free of chilling drafts during colder weather (it gets down to around -30 F), free of building materials that caused Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT), have a good (and properly sized) supply of fresh air in the form of Heat Recovery Ventilation, and would need to be as efficient as possible. Early on we struggled to find materials that would fill these needs. We thought it seemed likely that we would wind up building more or less another version of the kinds of structures that have made life challenging for me in the past. But then a retired contractor mentioned Passive Haus/Passive House (PH) to me.

For several months, I’ve been living in the final product of what we built, and it has changed my life. It is by far the most beneficial structure for my health that I’ve ever lived in. Because of that, I really wanted to take the time to explain our build. I’d be really happy to know that others in the Tiny House community might be able to build on what we’ve done, and improve it. They’re awfully small spaces to share with moldy surfaces and cavities of walls, roofs, and floors that have moisture issues over time. I have heard horror stories of how much these factors can impact Tiny House occupants.

The envelope design we settled on has a number of points where it differs from other Tiny Houses I’ve seen, so I’ll try to explain why and how it differs in this post.

I’ll start with how we went about planning the design.

Part I: Design and Testing

During the early part of the planning phase, the amazing and kind Hans at Pinwheel Structures in Ontario, Canada suggested that I try using U-Wert in order to test moisture and efficiency performance of my wall, roof, and floor assembly ideas. U-Wert (German for “U-Value”) is a program that people can use for free online to perform basic WUFI-style analyses of any given assembly in their building envelope. There are more advanced features available through subscription.

The English version of the program itself is still partially in German. There are full listings of analysis information for nearly all brands and styles of Passive House Certified Materials, as well as a wide selection of the other common building materials. The listings include factors like permeability, u-value, thermal delay, thermal mass, and nearly all the other important statistics for Passive House consideration. Once putting together a given assembly design, one can set interior and exterior temperature and humidity to see how the assembly performs under different conditions. Because I figured I only had one shot at getting our design right, I got a little addicted to the program.

At 475’s recommendation, I also bought a copy of the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP). The PHPP was learnable, with some real attention and effort, for a layperson like myself – and the amount of climate-based information it offered was invaluable for understanding what’s required to build a Passive House.

After working with the PHPP for many hours, I was able to get a sense of how much energy I’d be using for the plan I settled on. What I needed was a design that could be potentially mobile, was specifically designed around environmental health issues, and that fit into an incredibly small budget. The home will also be empowered by the fact that it can be physically moved (and therefore re-oriented) each season, to give it the best performance for any particular time of year.

After more U-Wert and PHPP test-runs than I could count, we settled on a design that has a few calculated risks, largely for the sake of maximizing foam-free efficiency. I want to be sure to explain those.

Part II: Walls, Roof and Floor


The first of these risks is that instead of using a continuous layer of exterior insulation, such as Gutex (covered by battens and siding as normally prescribed) we chose to go with Facade-Grade Thermacork. Facade Thermacork has essentially the same u-value as wood-fiber insulation, but can be left exposed to the elements for a lifetime, and is designed and tested to stand up to almost any kind of natural exposure (except woodpeckers…it doesn’t like woodpeckers! Just put up some mylar balloons when it first goes in, and they’ll stay away).

This function of Thermacork is not a risk, it’s been relatively well tested in many places around the world and is undergoing some data collection in the temperate rainforest of Washington State. The risk for us is that we could not find anyone who had used Thermacork on a Tiny House and then moved it on the highway. Some of the people we spoke to about the idea seemed completely unworried about the material in highway conditions (after all, it survives extremely high winds on building exteriors all the time). Others felt we might want to plastic-wrap the house if it ever gets moved. We’re thinking we’ll probably be safe and wrap it, just as most conventional mobile homes are wrapped for transportation. This seemed like a reasonable risk to take, as we’re not planning on moving the house often (only once or twice in its lifetime, if needed).

Additionally, the Thermacork allowed us to save a great deal of weight over the normal exterior insulation-batten-siding approach – no matter how we sliced or totalled different materials. Thermacork also had a major advantage for sound: one inch of it cancels as much as 50 dB equivalent.

Most importantly, though, the Thermacork saved us space. After repeated U-Wert analyses, it became clear how important every inch used for insulation can be in a Tiny House, due to size restrictions. Tiny Houses generally need to be less than 8’6” total width, and less than 13’ 6’ total height for road legal transport in most areas. Additionally, since we were trying our best to make sure that the structure could be certified as a legal residence (we are now nearing receipt of a Certificate of Residence or Occupancy) we had to hit the International Residential Code (IRC) requirement of 7’ interior space in length and height of all habitable areas. These factors place a clear limit on how much space there is in a Tiny Home for insulation.

A note on foam vs other insulation: Under these circumstances, foam can be tempting. It’s light, it appears to have the maximum R-value per inch of all available insulations save for Vacuum Insulated Panels (VIPs). It can also come in differing forms (spray, board, roll, exterior roofing spray, etc.). However, even the most trustworthy professionals in the foam industry I spoke with emphasized that spray foam will lose significant R-value over the course of its life. It will be dimensionally unstable, eliminating its proposed air-sealing value, and potentially creating gaps in wall-cavities over-time. It is expensive. Almost all foam is heavily vapor-closed, and so does not allow breathing of moisture in most building assemblies like ours. Most of it also outgases for the life of the product, and spray-foam can lead to disaster if minor aspects of the install go astray. For more information on why we chose to avoid foam in our build, please see 475’s excellent blog series “Foam Fails.”

A final note on our framing design: it could be said that we took a risk by utilizing advanced framing techniques for a mobile design. This has become a commonplace approach among Tiny House builders, but it does require care. The architect who volunteered to help us, John at Rebuild Studio, as well as the seasoned framer we consulted with, took every opportunity to emphasize that. We made sure to install metal braces at pretty much every connection point (between floor and wall framing, between roof rafters and sill plates, etc.). Our framing consultant really did want to see us use 2x6’s – rather than the Tiny House standard 2x4’s – and for a lot of reasons (see the “Interior” section on Windows, Doors and Interior) we decided to go with that suggestion.

Here are more pictures of the framing.


This leads me to the second risk we took: an R-60-ish roof full of Roxul. If we had anyone nearby who could do dense-pack cellulose affordably (or there was a machine we could rent nearby to do it affordably ourselves), I would have insulated the roof with cellulose to be sure we got the weight balance right. Aside from the sheer lightness of cellulose, dense-packing cellulose or fiberglass might have also allowed us to save considerable additional weight by removing some of the secondary stick-framing we put in, in order to add additional layers of Roxul around an interior thermal break space. There are also fantastic cellulose batts on the market, but they would have cost us about twice as much as Roxul (due to the fact that we can easily drive across the border into Canada and buy Roxul near the factory).

I want to highlight this risk, because I would not want anyone else to take the same approach we did, only to find that their building is top-heavy and dangerous. I have not taken our Tiny House on the road yet, and so I cannot confirm that it will be functionally balanced. Based on our best weight calculations, and the considerable weight of the floor assembly and heavy-duty trailer we built on, we felt like the building would be alright travelling at moderate speeds. Here on the build site, it has never so much as swayed a millimetre. But I remain agnostic about how this aspect of our build turned out, and we may not know for many years how it will fare on the road.

That R-60 roof value was very challenging to reach without foam, we had weight restrictions, and it required some sacrifice in space. Many Tiny Houses really skimp as much as possible on insulation in the roof and floor, so that they can have enough space for a functional lofted living/sleeping area. A major factor that encouraged us to go with our approach is that, due to the IRC’s size requirements for habitable spaces, most Tiny House lofts are illegal for sleeping or any other habitation activity. Knowing that, we were willing to sacrifice a loft. Instead, we made what is essentially a permanent bunk bed – and since one of the main concerns I’ve heard with Tiny Houses is closet space, we made it into an inexpensive pull-out closet. There would have been no way to make a legal living space underneath. We could have also gone with the approach of putting the bed underneath a platform living space, and rolling it out on casters (to see how this approach works, see the Minim House. If I had needed a larger bed, that is most certainly how I would have done it (and I would have made sure to get an out-swing door, rather than an in-swing!)

Floor Assembly

Another aspect of our design that might require some explanation is the floor assembly. We went through a number of ideas for how to create a truly thermally broken Tiny House floor. Along the way, we also had to face the fact that there were no known ways around using vapor-impermeable materials for the interface between the floor frame and the trailer – at least none with proven longevity. I really wanted to be sure that the floor had vapor permeability because I’ve seen deconstructed Tiny House floors that had gone rotten after some years due to impermeability issues. Floors, especially those elevated off the ground and exposed to air and wind, can really have a tendency to deal poorly with vapor drive. They are the coldest assembly in a Tiny House. After some great advice from many professionals, we decided on using ¾” marine-grade plywood for the underside of the floor assembly – with some added tricks and layers.

Floor Trick 1: We built the floor upside-down, in sections that we could manipulate without heavy equipment. While the marine-grade ply bottom was exposed, we taped all ply seams with Extoseal Finoc, as well as all parts of the ply that would interface with the trailer. The not only provides a great self-sealing water-proof layer but also enables meaningful amounts of capillary action to wick away any moisture that comes between the floor-frame and the trailer in those interface spots.

Floor Trick 2: We then coated the remainder of the exposed marine-grade-ply-surface with Prosoco R-Guard Cat 5, which was extremely impressive. As many Passive House Professionals have pointed out, relying upon liquid-applied layers for air and moisture sealing on walls and roofs can be unreliable. Many such layers can fail over time. Also, they are not produced in a factory (like Solitex Mento or Intello) and are essentially “manufactured” on site. This creates significant added potential for failure/error during application and curing. However, in our case, we were not relying on the Cat 5 for air sealing, since we would be taping all seams by the end of the install. What we wanted was a thick, durable protective layer over the ply surface that would completely repel water, and be moisture permeable from the interior. CAT 5 fit that description very well: it’s thick, water-immune but breathable, and incredibly strong (almost like dolphin skin when wet). Prosoco’s amazing field rep emphasized that Cat 5 should always be covered and protected by rain-screens, etc., as it can definitely be damaged. However, because our application was sheltered and downward facing, and we were not covering the surface with siding or anything of that nature, we felt all the more confident that we would be able to patch the material over time with a brush-stroke or two anywhere it might get damaged during sitting or road-travel. We figured we’d just schedule logical times to check the surface and see if it needs repair (zero repairs needed so far). Although the material should never be exposed directly to the sun and other elements, because we were installing on the underside of a floor-frame and taking the above precautions, Prosoco agreed that this was a feasible approach for our application.

Floor Trick 3: After a lot of consideration, we settled on putting the thermal-break layer for the floor to the interior. Placing a thermal break to the exterior of a THOW floor frame either left significant thermal breaks (as in insulating the trailer frame), created a danger of decay (SIPS), or other problems. Placing the continuous layer of insulation inside the building envelope allowed us to not only to ensure we had a robust thermal break but gave us the ability to build our floor sections with 2x8’s (again, without heavy equipment) because we would not need to lift the added weight of wood-fiber insulation board with the sections, during placement on the trailer.

Floor Trick 4: The engineer we worked with said that we should use stainless steel bolts and nuts to be sure we had enough strength, and he gave us a pretty large number to install. It was a really fail-proof way to ensure connection to the trailer – and will allow the Tiny House to be removed and put on another trailer or a foundation when this trailer reaches the end of its life. Because our floor frame was so thick, we had to use an extremely long metal drill-bit meant for aircraft, but it was available locally and worked very well (with a lot of elbow grease – Kangaroo Trailers makes a seriously beefy trailer). Dave at Kangaroo was able to get us additional attachment points via welded flanges on the sides of the trailer, and very well-made cross-bars going across the center. His design also saved significant amounts of weight over many of the other approaches we’d seen – while still keeping a maximum amount of strength on the main frame and the tongue.

We had been hoping to avoid the use of sheet-goods with formaldehyde of any kind on the interior of the structure, so we used tongue and groove pine instead. Above the pine, we installed the wood-fiber insulation, and above that, we laid Intello Plus and connected it on all junctions with the wall membranes. This very effectively sealed the pine out of the interior living space. However, we were left with a surface that would have been difficult to install a conventional floor over (i.e. the top of wood-fiber insulation, with relative blindness to the studs and tongue & groove below).

Floor Trick 4: In the end, after a lot of research, we used Marmoleum Click for our finish floor. Marmoleum makes the only linoleum certified by several international health organizations – and takes great care to ensure that all materials used in their products are low-off-gassing. Running a simulation of the product in U-wert (using the top-surface, the low-VOC MDF, and bottom cork layer) tested to have acceptable vapor permeability – although we were never able to get official perm ratings from the company.

More pictures of the flooring process here. 

Part III: Air Sealing, Ventilation, and Heating

Because we wanted to avoid drafts, foster dry wall cavities, avoid the formation of mold throughout, and have good control over the interior air-quality of our Tiny House, air-sealing and ventilation were incredibly important to us. We were extremely happy to find products that worked perfectly for these purposes and had extremely rigorous testing and research backing them.

Air Sealing

We used a carefully detailed continuous layer of Solitex Mento 1000 as our primary exterior air-sealing layer, and vapor-permeable secondary Weather Resistant Barrier (WRB).

We applied a similarly detailed interior layer of Pro Clima’s Intello Plus as our interior air-sealing layer and intelligent vapor control layer.

We then applied Tescon Profil tape for all our window connections to the interior and exterior membranes (taking care to seal and connect the junctions between Mento and Intello). We also used Tescon Vana to seal the seams of the exterior sheathing as a back-up, to help ensure we got a good air-seal – since it was our first time around the air-sealing-block. 475 believes in redundancy, and although taping all plywood seams below a layer of Solitex Mento is not a step they suggest, we really wanted to be sure we got a proper air seal, regardless of any novice mistakes.

Along the way, we sealed all seams and penetrations of the interior and exterior membranes with Tescon Vana as well.

Extoseal Encors was used for all the window and door sill-pan details. Encors is able to flex and shape itself around corners in ways that are genuinely unbelievable, especially when compared to normal materials – and its self-sealing and waterproofing capabilities are essentially superpowers.

We also wanted to experiment with trying to save vertical space by using Solitex UM on the roof. This allowed us to save the inches of vertical space that would have otherwise been taken up with battens, while still allowing moisture from under the roof panels a pathway out from under the standing seams. We had to take special care when lapping the drip-edges to be sure the moisture would escape on the mesh, as planned, and also had to take a lot of care while installing the roof panels over it, but we all wound up being impressed with the functionality of the membrane design Because we had to have some extended conversations with 475 about how to detail this particular process, and we haven’t seen it elsewhere on the 475 blog, we wanted to list the steps here:

Install Wood-Fiber Insulation properly over the roof sheathing.

Properly stretch, mechanically fasten, and tape the Solitex UM over the wood-fiber insulation.

Make sure to properly connect the Solitex UM (or plan so that you can connect it later) to the air-sealing layer over the walls.

Be sure that you are placing the edge of the mesh so that it allows water to drip properly over the edge of your roof, and not down behind any part of your wall.

Integrate the fabric part of your Solitex UM properly with your wall’s air and weather barriers so that there are no gaps.

Follow manufacturer’s instruction for the proper order of installation of the Standing Seam Roof panels, drip edges, etc., while taking the following steps:

Each time you fasten any material through the Solitex UM, cut a small slit in the mesh layer above the fabric, to be sure that your fastener doesn’t catch a strand of the mesh, and leave a pathway for moisture to travel along the fastener, and below your fabric.

As you place the roof panels, fasten them through backer plates to ensure that the fasteners do not damage or puncture your insulation board.

A final note on Solitex UM: If you’d like to experiment with saving wall space, you can also use this on the exterior of your walls, instead of battens, and apply your siding directly on top of it.

Here are some detailed pictures of the roof install. 


For ventilation, we went with a pair of Lunos E2 units, and an eGo for the bathroom fan. The units provide pressure-balanced ventilation, and the upper end of their CFM capacity is more than what we wanted for the tiny space, even given how much I appreciate fresh conditioned air. Despite that, I would not recommend using just the E2 units without a proper bathroom fan of some kind. E2 pairs are not rated for enough moisture to be used in a bathroom. In the warmer shoulder months – when it’s often too cold or wet to comfortably open a window, and too warm for the air to tend towards dryness - it’s really important to get shower moisture out of the bathroom effectively. Using both the E2 and a bathroom fan (especially the eGO) made the humidity manageable. With the smallest 25 pint Kennmore Dehumidifier (Note from Corinne, they no longer make this size but this is another good dehumidifier) the house has been able to maintain 50% humidity or below at all times, even during the wettest moments of the summer months (most of the time the dehumidifier is not needed, but when it is, it clears out the humidity quickly, and much more effectively and reliably than any of the smaller options I looked into). Here is a good and well priced humidity meter. A bathroom fan also ensures that unpleasant bathroom odors do not become a problem. (As an important side note: Lunos HRVs should always be located at least 1.5’ from the ceiling in any location. These are often not placed correctly.)

The final piece of the ventilation picture was a 24” recirculation range by Summit (Note from Corinne, I prefer for this to vent the humidity to outside like this one). It’s the only model we found that was small enough for us, and in our price range, and it does the job well enough. I had to remove their foam filter (which was supposed to be what caught non-oil food-particulate, but was shockingly diffuse, and wasn’t even cut to the right size) and replace it with cut-to-fit carbon. I was happier with the carbon than a cheap foam filter anyway. Overall, the quality is a bit lower than I had hoped, and it doesn’t effectively catch all the cooking vapors, but with our mini-split circulating air (see the next section for more information) an E.L. Foust 160R2 air-purifier, and the Lunos units running, I’m able to get the air fresh within a reasonably short amount of time after cooking. I’ve lived in tiny houses before that became very moldy as a result of not being able to effectively vent and/or filter the steam from cooking – and the food particulate within it that creates the odors.

Heating and Cooling

For heating, we decided on an LG Artcool Premier mini-split heat pump, which is LG’s highest efficiency model. Mitsubishi makes the lowest BTU output model on the market at 6,000 BTU’s, and their models have fantastic quality and durability. I have relatives who’ve owned their units for years now and have also made many calls to local HVAC companies, as well as Mitsubishi and Ecomfort’s customer service staff. All the agents I spoke with were very candid about the different brands and models. Given all of that, as far as well could tell from initial research, the smallest Mitsubishi unit seemed like the best for tiny spaces. So why did we choose the LG Artcool Premier? It turns out that even though the smallest LG Artcool Premier model puts out 9,000 BTU, the inverter LG uses allows the unit to step down heat output to just a bit less than the Mitsubishi Unit (at least at the time of my research, that is what both companies confirmed for me, when I contacted them about the numbers). This actually put the LG unit closer to the number the PHPP gave for the total BTU’s we’d need to heat our house (PHPP will tell you exactly how large your heater needs to be, among many, many other useful things). So in this case, the LG unit will be able to almost match its output to our exact needs, under any circumstance. As it turned out, the small amount of research I’ve seen from the Department of Energy indicates that having units be oversized for the space and unable to step down to the given needs, is a major factor decreasing efficiency.

Another factor is that the Mitsubishi unit automatically shuts off at around -13 F according to the submittal. The LG unit does not have an automatic shut-off. Field reports from users as well as the company would indicate that it can continue to put out enough heat to heat a tiny space like ours down to as low as -20 F. So in the end, the fact that our unit puts out 9,000 BTU is not a problem due to the inverter flexibility, and the extra BTU capacity also gives us some extra breathing room to keep using the unit as temperatures drop into negative digits.

Beyond all that, the LG was significantly less expensive, which I appreciated. You also get some additional items that cost extra with Mitsubishi (like the drain-pan heater). The folks I’ve spoken with who’ve installed these units have emphasized that they tend to have very few problems – IF, as with any brand, they’re properly installed by a professional, and well maintained. At this point, we can heat and cool (and ceiling fan!) the house for around 200-300 watts in most cases. This is amazing. The dehumidification function is disappointing, and in general please remember to use the “self-cleaning” setting on the remote if you buy one. Running A/C and dehumidification on these units can lead to them developing some mold after a while, if you don’t run the fan enough to dry the fins out.  The “self-cleaning” setting does that to some degree, but I try to run the fan function as much as I can, and that also keeps really good air-mixing going in the house (and helps make up for the fact that we placed the Lunos Units too close to the ceiling!)

One final note about mini-splits: our installer seemed short on time, and insisted that he wanted to put the indoor unit on the same wall as the exterior compressor. This is not what we had previously planned on, and came as a surprise. Unfortunately, this meant that it was not only right over the foot of the bed, but would be somewhat obstructed by the only cabinet we had installed. The location worked out fine, and it heats the space wonderfully regardless. However, I hope that if you’re thinking of getting a mini split for your Tiny House, you might be able to account for putting it in the spot that will be most straight-forward for the installer (and least expensive for you). By having the lines from the indoor unit come straight out the wall above the outdoor unit, we saved him an immense amount of time on working with the copper lines, etc..

Part IV: Windows, Doors, Interior and Framing Details


Windows, for a Tiny House on Wheels (THOW), were items that we had to research and reflect a great deal on. There are many different standards for what counts as “high performance” windows, depending on who you’re talking with. For a certain section of the market, Marvin and Andersen are considered high performance and efficient. We’d had experience with them in the past, and although we were pleased with the workmanship and quality of service, they always became drafty in our region and could be frigid to sleep near.

In sections of the truly high-performance market, we found triple and quad-pane windows that were of incredible quality, but also way outside of our weight allowance and budget. Luckily, we found that there is a small section of the Passive Haus and high-performance market that has been working with Heat Mirror technology – which is essentially a special kind of heat retentive film used in place or ordinary sheets of glass. It is cost-effective and comes close to being in the same range of efficiency as panes of glass. However, after speaking with some fantastic (and very honest) engineers at companies with some experience in Heat Mirror use, it sounded like most of them hadn’t really figured out how to make the technology reliable in the long-term. Right around then is when we were referred to Alpen High Performance Windows.

Alpen (formerly Serious Windows) has arguably more experience with Heat Mirror technology than any other company in the industry. They’ve learned how to secure and seal the Heat Mirror film properly, as well as suspend the film so that it does not sag or cause distortion over time. They’re accustomed to using Heat Mirrors between glass of varying thicknesses and types, for all applications – and they do so for both triple and quad-pane units. This saves enormous amounts of weight. Their manufacturing takes place in-house at their factory in Colorado – so they are able to have excellent levels of quality control over both the process and the product. After a lot of pricing and research, I honestly cannot recommend any other company for high-performance windows to be used in THOWs.

They were also able to work with me to eliminate PVC from the windows I bought (replacing PVC glass stops with aluminum ones – the rest of their windows are made from an amazing low-toxicity fiberglass). I found the PVC used in many PH windows to be a major problem in a tiny space, and many companies unavoidably include PVC and do not offer any flexibility to allow you to eliminate it. All of the people I spoke with at Alpen were wonderfully kind, and either had the information I was looking for or readily put me in touch with someone who did. If you’re looking for PH Certified Windows that will fit into the weight constraints, efficiency standards, and budget for a Tiny House, I just can’t imagine buying anything else. For those who are very sensitive to off-gassing VOCs from window seals, there will be some of that with Alpen windows – as with any window. People like us just need to plan some time in for things of that nature to off-gas before moving in. It didn’t take long before they were fine for me. I’ve never felt uncomfortable in front of one, even in -20 F weather – and I haven’t yet seen even a speck of condensation on them (although the space has been extremely dry during the winter much of the time, often sub 30% humidity).

Here are more photos of the window install.


Researching high-performance doors for a tiny space was similarly challenging. Again, weight was an issue for the extremely high-quality PH certified doors I saw – we just wouldn’t have been able to balance it properly, or account for it in the overall weight budget. They were also incredibly expensive and outside our financial budget.

Due to a recommendation from Alpen, and other folks we spoke with, we began looking into local ProVia dealers. They make high quality, well-crafted steel and fiberglass doors with R-values around 5, solid air-sealing values, and options for quality multi-point locks. Just about a year before we contacted them, ProVia began manufacturing what they’re calling the “Embarq Door.” They claim that it’s the highest R-value unit on the US market, and many reps at their company seem to consider it to be the ultimate in high-performance entryways. Although I feel someone at the company should inform these employees that there is an entire world of PH doors out there – many of which blow the Embarq away in pretty much every category. I hope more people get a chance to look into it and see if it’s a good fit for their project. It has some improvements to make, but it’s a very high-quality American made door, for a decent price (depending on where and how you buy it).

The Embarq door is R10. ProVia built it more or less like a vault-door: with a tapered interior edge Based on our research into door options, it came in at between ½ and ¾ the cost of a certified PH door, depending on the given model and quote. The Embarq makes use of ProVia’s impressive Signet fiberglass technology – which is not only light but can also imitate a number of different wood grains, to the point of being almost indistinguishable from wood from six feet away.

On the downside, ProVia hasn’t yet figured out how to use multi-point technology in the door (due to the vastly increased thickness over their standard doors). Because of this factor, and the fact that they're still tuning their manufacturing process for such a thick slab, the air-sealing figures suffer a bit compared to their normal doors – despite the multiple layers of seals they use. They seem to be figuring out the manufacturing process and how to work around the slab thickness and seals, which can make for tricky installs – especially if you’ve ordered a wide-jamb door, as we did.

For our interior bathroom door, we picked up a free slab with hinges from Craigslist.  I apologize to those who were hoping for something prettier!

Interior Framing Details

On the interior of our envelope, after much debate and reflection, we decided to go without a service cavity in the walls. This is not a choice that we made lightly, and I wish we’d been able to include one. Because we had the space, we were able to use a service cavity in the ceiling – and we packed as much electrical into that as we could, and fit 100% of the plumbing into the interior bathroom and countertop space. For what little wiring was left over in the exterior walls, we settled on surface-mounted outlets which allowed us to avoid large holes in the membrane. Air-sealing a Romex cable is pretty straight-forward with Tescon Vana and it saves a lot more air-leak risks than a larger hole. We did use one air-sealing outlet-box from 475, and it was awesome (i.e., sleek, space-saving, easy, effective, etc.). If I had the chance to go back to the electrical phase, I’d just use the air-sealing boxes everywhere instead of the surface mounts. If I had a chance to do the whole project all over again, I would want to do a full-on service cavity in the walls.

Here are more pictures of the electrical.

Using a service cavity is the best way to assure a fully intact and functional interior membrane, and it just makes everything in the finish phase more straight-forward. In our case, we would have either had to trade the 2x6’s we used (to increase structure and insulation) for the service cavity space, or make the interior an illegal living space by making it smaller than 7’, side to side. We made the best choice we could at the time, and I was very focused on trying my best to get as efficient and moisture-sound as we possibly could.

As an additional note on where I was coming from, no matter how I configured it, U-Wert consistently showed us significantly better efficiency and moisture numbers for a 2x6 wall cavity with 2” of exterior insulation, than with 2” of exterior insulation, 2x4’s and a 1.5” service cavity. I don’t know if this was just a glitch in U-Wert, but especially the moisture performance calculated as clearly superior, even when using a 2.5” service cavity. I think this might be due to the fact that the inboard membrane had all of the insulation to the exterior of it so that the total amount of wall insulation was not broken up by a second set of framing members, and the membrane. U-Wert also showed a clear improvement in moisture performance when the service cavity was left un-insulated, so I imagine that the additional insulation on top of the Intello created more of a temperature difference between the inside air and the Intello’s interior surface, which made for greater condensation risk there in the winter. I hope those who are much more in the know than myself, and with expertise in WUFI, will chime in with their thoughts. Obviously, both wall cavity sizes are far, far smaller than any truly Passive House in the Northeast. Based on my tinkering with U-Wert, I do not imagine anyone with a Passive House in this region would see moisture dynamics of that kind in their assemblies, due to the much larger amount of insulation exterior to the Intello. The U-Wert analyses certainly support that idea – and I can see that principle at work in how the numbers for our roof assembly worked out. Because of the greater amount of insulation exterior to the Intello membrane, we could have easily insulated the service cavity without much condensation risk. However, given that we wanted to squeeze as much insulation into the walls as we could, we just couldn’t see making wall service cavities and not insulating them.

To moderate the risk we faced by not using a service cavity on the walls, we worked with John Kingsley, at Kingsley Woodworking in Ithaca NY, to come up with a creative approach. John was the only person we found who could mill us ½” Poplar T&G panelling (or ½ panelling in any wood species). He did a beautiful job milling and sanding it. Because John knew we were trying to save weight, he mentioned to us that he could remove a small rectangular portion of wood from the back of the panelling, without compromising the structural integrity. He calculated that this would save us quite a significant amount of weight over the whole structure. Once we saw the kind of thing he was talking about, we also felt like the extra space behind our panelling might provide a least a little bit of additional room for moisture and air exchange, which helped us feel a bit better about not having a service cavity. Because we knew at least some of the panelling would have to be in direct contact with the Intello during its least permeable mode, we made sure to paint all four sides of the panelling boards with highly permeable Romabio mineral paint. Romabio felt that the paint did a good job of protecting wood from liquid moisture, while at the same time remaining vapor open. We won’t know whether this approach worked until some years have passed, or we cut a panelling sample to see what it looks like on the underside. We look forward to seeing what the results are though.

There were a lot of approaches we took with the interior, in order to try to maximize the efficiency of the space or minimize weight while maintaining high-quality.


Eco Supply Center, which was the source of our Facade-Grade Thermacork, also very kindly walked us through the process of buying and DIY-ing Richlite for our countertop. Richlite was by far the best material we found for this purpose, after a lot of searching and ordering samples. Richlite is 0 VOC, waterproof, far more durable than wood, and weighs a tiny fraction of stone or other high-quality non-paper-based solid-surface options. Cutting and installing it ourselves was a little daunting, but between the amazing assistance from folks at Richlite, and the great people at Eco Supply Center, we were able to do it (at least to our standards!). In the end, we were able to use a totally normal saw blade for the cuts, but it did need to be high-quality, and sharp – at least in the beginning. After making our cuts, the Richlite dulled our blades to the point of them being basically useless. We certainly took that as a testament to how robust the material is, and it was great to be able to DIY it since most other non-wood countertop materials must be cut with professional equipment.

Part V: Water and Electrical

Water Heater

The folks at Stiebel Eltron were an incredible resource for water heating. I searched an awful lot for a hot-water heater that would allow us to avoid plumbing propane (and re-filling propane tanks) and would give us on-demand levels of efficiency for the small amount of hot water I needed. All the on-demand electric water heaters I found required much more amperage than we would be able to run to the THOW, even the amazing range of on-demand units that Stiebel Eltron makes (their lower-flow, lower-power sink units just weren’t designed to put out enough water for showering).

After using an incredibly effective little 6-gallon water heater in India, I started looking into similar options on the US-market but found them to be generally unreliable based on reviews. They were disappointingly inefficient. They were also not built for long-term serviceability and became trash as soon as most anything needed to be replaced. Stiebel Eltron makes by far the most efficient small-tank water-heaters on the market, and during my search, they released their 6-gallon model. It is serviceable across the board, and replacement parts are available through Stiebel Eltron for anything you might need.

In my experience, with a low-flow shower head from Niagra I can have all the water I need to take a more-or-less normal (though by no means long) shower, so long as I make sure the tank is up to temperature before I start. It takes some care and practice playing with the hot and cold, and my preference is to keep the tank temperature right about 115 through most of the day, then turn it all the way up before taking a shower, and wait for it to get up to temperature before jumping in (there is a light on the side of the unit so you can tell when it’s running, and when it’s up to temperature).

The unit has been extremely quiet and draws 1300 watts when in use (according to the literature, it has around ½ KW standby usage per day, at 120 F, if you leave it on all the time). That was low enough to fit within the bounds of the underground electrical service we were able to run to the house, and I am extremely grateful for that.


Along with an induction cook-top, and the previously discussed heat-pump mini-split, everything fit just fine into a 50 amp service. With some care, we could run the house on an extension cord in the future if needed – and we’re now all set to run on renewables like solar, if I ever have the money for them. After talking with a number of people in the industry, it seems like with decent sun exposure, we would need very, very little in the way of a solar array to off-set the entire foot-print of the THOW.

And here is one last album with general construction details!

Closing Thoughts

I hope that we might have shared something here – either through the text, video, or pictures – that will be helpful to others. There are so many good intentions in the Tiny House community, and I worry that far too many people wind up with spaces that fall short of what they expected in terms of comfort, health, and efficiency. I’ve been inspired by folks who broke out of the main-stream to experiment with addressing those problems – like Robert and Samantha at Shedsistence, and Leaf House in Canada. I hope we can all work together to make tiny structures live up to their potential, and become healthy, comfortable, efficient, affordable, and legal spaces for people to live.

-Terran (owner/builder)

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