Emergency Housing for MCS / CIRS

Emergency Housing for those with Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) and Mould Sensitivity

Updated in Spring 2019

Here is a list of some housing ideas for those with environmental sensitivities needing immediate or temporary safe housing.

For help setting up a small structure or tiny house or making a plan for an avoidance sabbatical you can schedule a one-on-one consult with me. 

This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

KOA Cabins

KOA cabins are located across the US and Canada. The cabins are made from mostly safe materials (mostly wood) and have been reported to be good places to stay for those who are environmentally sensitive. Ask if the wood has been stained recently. The bathrooms are separate and may or may not be mould-free, depending on the location. Recently I'm hearing reports of these having gone mouldy. If the foundation or roof is not done right there is a good chance these could go mouldy. Often newer is better for mould.

Home Made Tents

from: www.miketyka.com/projects/desert-dome/
Regular tents can be difficult because of the chemicals used on the fabrics, the lack of insulation and the tendency for them to go musty very easily and be a lot of work with the airing out and drying out. I have a preferred tent which is an off the ground tent in my post on camping gear.

Reflectix Tent 

Reflectix provides some R-value and reflects light so that should work in a lot of different climates, though the seams will reduce the insulative value and add more glue and more potential for leaks. There are simpler designs for the structure that will reduce seams.

You can't buy these - you would have to look online for the metal structure, then buy the Reflectix, foam, aluminum tape and duct tape and then have someone make it for you. The tape may make this intolerable for some. And this also lacks air flow. 

You would also make at least one triangle out of polyethylene or an EVA Shower Liner so that you have some light. But have a flap of Reflectix over it that you open and close over this "window".

Kim's tent via Paradigm Chage.org
Kim is a sensitive person who has made a tent out of Tyvek which she tolerated well when extremely reactive. This is a plastic used as housewrap.

There are so many options here on what you can build an emergency tent out of. It all depends on what you can tolerate. It may not last forever but it may give you some time to find another option or even bring down your MCS which will open up options. 

Other materials you could use: polyethylene, tarps, even hemp fabric if you are not expecting rain and don't have high humidity.

When Sara was an extreme reactor, she made a simple structure out of XPS foam boards. The two inch boards of XPS (usually Owens Corning brand can be found easily) have a high insulative value. She arranged them in a tent shape, the groves in the edges holding them together. Rocks at the base pressing them together. Of course you could use tape if you can tolerate that or put plastic over the whole thing.

This is my version on the left made of polyiso foam. This is a "foam tent" used inside a non insulated trailer that was cold and still offgassing. I hooked up a Panasonic ERV and ran fresh air into the tent at night via a 4 inch aluminum tube. The opposite end of the tent had a 4 inch hole for air to exit. This is a highly effective way to deal with offgassing - fresh air is pouring through, though it can be difficult to control the temperature and humidity this way. 

Inspired by the idea of a foam shelter, I have made two highly insulated shelters with ridged foam, raised off the ground and covered in a tarp. A wood structure like mine pictured, may be needed to protect from wind and snow. 

I built this structure on the left for one of the shelter. The frame was covered with a tarp and inside on the plywood platform was a box made out of foam. This shelter worked extremely well though there are things to keep an eye on in the long term. Here are some video tours. The whole thing was completed with some volunteer and some paid labour for 1000 CAD. 

Such a robust frame is not always necessary. You can build the plywood platform, with foam box on top and simply string a tarp over this if you don't have strong winds or lots of snow. 

This is the same structure with a tarp over it and the XPS foam box secured with tape inside. The design can be improved by fixing the tarp, painting the foam structure and using clear tape. 

Please contact me for details if you want help setting something like this up.  

Here's another example of a foam box. Just don't put it right on the ground like they did here, and you want another cover on it. This is polyethylene foam which is much more unusual. 

Insulated/Aluminum Tents

These tents are insulated and the foil on the inside will also block most of the VOCs from the fabric on the outside. They say you can sleep in them down to 0 degrees Celsius. They are 600 USD. They look like they would have problems with air flow and condensation inside. As well as being straight on the ground, but they may work for some people. 

shift pod
There are other similar tents cropping up that were designed for Burning Man festival. The shift pod for 1300 USD is similar but with the reflective layer on the outside. This will help reflect the sun and keep cool in sunny weather when there is no shade. But I don't know how this will perform well with condensation inside. The best of the typical tents have an internal mesh layer, then a gap with a rainfly on top. If you don't use that system you usually end up with condensation. 

For a lot less you can get a simple aluminum lined small sleeping tent. It's not insulated but the aluminum on the inside is more tolerable than the usual tent materials and does reflect heat inside. 

Bubble Tent

source http://dornob.com
These cute domes are very photogenic.

They include a fan that circulates fresh air.
Though they would still be impractical for hot or cold weather. You could add shade when it's sunny unless you are somewhere very cold, then the sun might be an advantage. 

The bubbles available in North America are made of PVC which is toxic and needs a good amount of time to offgas. 

Regular Tents
My favourite tent - Ozark Cot Tent

There is no perfectly chemical-free tent, The most tolerable brands include Ozark, Big Agnes, REI, LL Bean, Colman, and Lightspeed. Everyone is different. Moonlight makes flame retardant-free tents coated with silicone on the outside and polyurethane on the inside.

Here is my post on safer camping gear which goes through all the major brands that folks do well with. In the post I also discuss canvas cotton and hemp for really dry climates (temporary use). 

Yurts & Huts
photo from yurts.com
Yurts are often tricky for a few reasons. They are normally made out of PVC which takes time to off gas. On top of that they are difficult to insulate, although one could just use them as an uninsulated tent. The wooden framing can be susceptible to mould if there is a lot of condensation inside or with high humidity inside, which can happen when heating up a small space. The wood also might be treated and could cause reactions. 

There are yurts that have metal framing which may be preferable for some people. You could create your own outer yurt cover by using a more tolerable material, although it will not be as long-lasting as PVC. If you want to create a short-term yurt, or rather a glorified tent, you could use material used to make a tent, or you could use polyethylene sheets that are used for greenhouses, or tarps. One really positive design feature of yurts is that they are lifted off the ground on a platform. 

Metal yurts may work for some. I have looked at those in the post on simple shelters

These glamping tents by sweet water bungalows are PVC, with a canvas top (prone to mustiness), but the guide and framing could be used to create a tent with a plastic of your choosing. Just keep in mind polyethylene is not as durable, but is less toxic. 

I wouldn't use canvas for anything other than a short and dry camping trip but without the breathable roof these are prone to condensation.

Conestoga huts have a simple design for a little hut/glorified tent. A simple design that goes up fast is a big benefit. I have not been able to review these plans for mould preventative building, but it's an interesting design. If you don't insulate this it shouldn't be a problem. If you do want to try these with insulation please reach out to me or an expert in building science. I am not presuming these are a mould safe design. 

Shed in Backyard

Steel sheds can be bought from hardware stores for 700-1000 dollars. You will also need to build a foundation, pay for labour to set it up, caulk the whole structure and likely put in some insulation. For everything you need to know about setting up a shed to live in see this post by EI Wellspring.

Sheds are not as easy to take down as you would expect.

There are also wooden and plastic sheds. I have seen some good little wooden shed kits made of solid wood. Raise them off the ground and cover with a tarp above that is not touching the shed. I like cedarshed.com for those who can tolerate cedar. Check out the wood first, see how it was stored and test it for reactions. 

Hard plastic sheds will work for many people. The more flexible the plastic the more it offgasses. PVC should be avoided where possible.

Glass Enclosures 
A greenhouse can be used for backup shelter, it gets very hot when the sun hits them in warmer seasons and can dip really low at night in colder temps. But some people have used them successfully. Margaret talks about her experience with them here (pictured left). 

Other glass/metal enclosures brands are Handi Hut and Four Season.

I designed an all glass on the interior shelter with insulation on the outside. This was designed for a time that I could not have metal or wood inside touching me. The walls and floor were glass. The ceiling would be easier to make out of metal. The shelter was raised off the ground on a platform. Outside of the glass was 2 inches of foam insulation. To hold this insulation on, the exterior framing (outside of the foam layer) was attached by drilling through the foam and glass. The foam needs to be airtight to the glass. A tarp should cover the shelter. This has not been tested yet.

Back of a Pick-Up Truck

Try and find an aluminum canopy for the back of the truck. The bed liner may need to be offgassed or can be covered with Reflectix. If ordering a brand new truck you can request no liner.

Cargo Trailer

Details on converting a cargo trailer safe in this post. The company WeRoll can customise these and they have more robust roof lines compared to the standard models. 

Creating a Safe-Room in Your House

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 type used in cooking. 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 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 and offgasses more than green tape. 

I would not do this where you have colder air inside than outside (AC use). 

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

Cover outlets. As for light fixtures, I would go around them.

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. 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 can't foil the walls you can make a room within a room and use positive pressure as explained here in this post. You can use foam, plastic or any air tight material. Isolate that by using positive pressure which will work to reduce chemicals like offgassing. That can be a solution for someone extremely sensitive who has trouble with offgasssing. 

You can find more information by researching isolation rooms. 

Renting a Natural Home 

Staying in a cob house (or straw bale, adobe, light straw-clay house) can be a really good option

Ecovillages may rent out rooms in natural homes and there is a possibility of getting in on the communal meal plan as well. Search for some in your area and ask about monthly stays.

I have seen some natural homes listed on AirBnB as well as on lists of intentional communities/ecovillages. 

Always ask about propane, natural gas, cleaning products, and water damage. I have found that is wet/cold climates cob and similar materials do not hold up to mould after a few years. Slabs and roofs often have mistakes that lead to mould. Green roofs can be very problematic. Amateur built houses are especially prone to mistakes that lead to mould. This type of building is best when raised off the ground, or with a simple roof, otherwise don't bank on this being safe if more that 1-3 years old. 

Ecovillages are also a good place to set up a tent where you might have access to outdoor bathrooms and kitchens that are more MCS safe than campgrounds. It may also be a safer environment for those traveling solo. I have used the Intentional Communities website, Google for places near you, and the site wwoofing. If you have physical energy you can work on a wwoofing site in exchange for free rent (camping or small cabin usually) and often food. Another option for those who have energy to do work is remote cabins that are advertised on Craigslist where you do some house and yard work in exchange for rent. The cabins might not be safe, but this could be a free spot to camp or live in a trailer. 

Other Emergency Housing

We should have emergency and long-term safe housing for people with MCS. Check out the Environmental Health Association of Qu├ębec if you are a Quebecer. 

For housing listings in the US and Canada, join EI Safe Housing on Facebook. 

When I come across AirBnBs, hotels and short term rentals that look safe I list them here on my Pinterest page. While many turn to AirBnB or other short term rentals in the beginning this can be a difficult and sometimes impossible road if one is super sensitive and/or masked to mould. 

Did you find this post helpful? If so you can buy me a coffee to support the research behind this blog. Thank you!

Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 5 years of experience helping others create healthy homes. You can schedule a consult for one on one assistance with setting up emergency shelters and tiny homes.

I have spent a couple years in tents, small structure in order to heal from extreme chemical sensitivity. 



Anaphylaxing said...

What a great post! I'm' going to check out Tu Tuf. I have never tried it. Thanks!

Romilda Gareth said...


Kate H. said...

Really great post!!!!

Enndery Ashwin said...


Annie Carvalho said...

I'm living in my van and loving it!

Sophie Whiting said...

Good for you. Great.

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