Definition of ‘Safe’: 1. [ predic. ] protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost. 2. not likely to cause or lead to harm or injury; not involving danger or risk.
To build a safe home for someone who is so sensitive to chemicals that they are having trouble living comfortably without pain can be an enormous task. I know this because I’ve just spent the last three years designing the house, testing the building materials, sourcing the workers and also the products needed to build an Eco-friendly, Allergy-free House. And, as difficult as this has been, and I am nowhere near the most sensitive of all my chemically sensitive brothers and sisters, I’ve learnt to have an exquisite understanding of the trials and tribulations encountered on this project of trying to create a safe place to live.
The last three years of my life have been hell; so I really need this safe place.
A place where I can walk on tiles instead of foil; a place where I can sleep without getting sick from neighbours’ chimney smoke; a place where I can be well enough to cope with going to Uni one day a week; a place where I gain enough tolerance to chemicals back that my partner doesn’t have to shower every time he comes in after being near fragrance wearers, the petrol station or in the supermarket aisle (where cleaning products’ VOCs from the cleaning aisle adhere to his clothes (and the little hair that he has)); a place where I’m not exposed to moulds, especially outdoor moulds making their way inside; but most of all I just want a place that’s safe. A place where I can just be without being sick. (Something we all deserve!)
Whether you consider yourself to have, or have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or you just have a few chemical sensitivities, you need a safe home before you can even begin to recover. Whether you or a family member have inhalant allergies, asthma or another condition impacted on via human produced chemicals or natural substances, before you can begin to recover, seriously, a safe home must be created. A study by Pamela Reed Gibson titled, ‘Perceived Treatment Efficacy for Conventional and Alternative Therapies Reported by Persons with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity‘, lists a chemical-free home (after chemical avoidance) as the top second successful treatment for people with chemical sensitivity. I’m holding on tightly to that piece of information right now.
So how long does it take to create a safe home for someone sensitive to chemicals (like, a lot of chemicals)?
Well, the answer to that is as vast and varied as the symptoms and the chemicals to which we, as individuals, try to avoid. Also, I think this is a project that may take time due to a lot of stopping and starting because it’s so important to get the living space right; it’s worth actually taking your time rather than just slapping something together that turns out to be intolerable. The answer to this question came to me in the mail not long ago. A friend whom I’d shown my house plans to wrote back to me and said: “Don’t rush into this. Take as long as you need to get it right.” This was coming from a person who has MCS; someone who has successfully built themselves a safe home; someone who was once very sick and has now experienced a huge recovery in health. Inspiring much? I’ll say!
So what type of house does a chemically sensitive person need built for them?
When I asked my specialist just exactly what type of home we needed to build for me to be able to avoid symptoms from chemical exposure within my living space, he said: “You just need a normal house built without chemicals you are reactive to.” This was a relief because I was starting to think about straw bale and mud bricks, you know, natural materials, which are fine if that’s what you want or need but I wanted to build a house that fits into the urban landscape. Something that can be resold further down the track; something that goes up in value; something that won’t leak or grow mould. Concrete, brick, stone, wood and cement sheeting is what we decided on.
Because of the testing that I’ve undergone with Allergist and Immunologist, Dr Colin Little during the last decade, I know exactly what chemicals I need to avoid: carpet, pine, VOCs, mould, woodsmoke, petrochemicals, solvents and fragrances, so I guess that’s a map I’m very grateful for.
We bought our little block of land in 2012 and, by 2014 our plans were finalised. (However, early this year, after applying for a financial loan, we had to reconfigure our plans to fit our budget–it was that or over extend ourselves.) I began testing products mid 2012, and, mostly, apart from paints, sealants, some kitchen materials and plaster top coat, all our building materials have been tested and decided upon. This would have to be the most demanding part. Here’s a selection of building materials and chemicals that have been tested and that have been deemed safe:
Spotted gum from Woodform (however, we are using blackbut); another section of wood painted in Intergrain (prepared and posted out by Woodform; Ardex low VOC wet seal; Ardex low VOC glue, Latacrete, low VOC wet seal; Neemaboard (UPVC board to replace chipboard), possibly for our kitchen; Modakboard, for our walls and upper floor; oak for the kitchen doors; stone for benchtops (which we may not use because we can’t find a suitable sealant); Zennit (Deceuninck) uPVC windows; and finally, plaster base coat by Boral.
These are inside my rental property right now. I sleep near them! I’ll post about the testing process later; it will be great to compare notes with others on this important task.
Since I took that photo we’ve tested a few more products, plus there are a heap of heavier building products outside on our deck, but as you can imagine, this is a lot of testing. I’ll do an update post later on the rest of the products. The point in showing you all this is this: don’t rush into creating a safe home for yourself or someone you care about. I know it can seem to outsiders that we are being overly fussy or anxious; that perhaps we should just jump in an decide and just bloody get on with the project. But what are the consequences if we don’t get it right? Well, for me, if I don’t get it right, I won’t have anywhere to live. Once the build is finished and the loan repayments come into affect [effect/affect?] for me, then I won’t have this rental property anymore. This is incentive enough to get it right! (I do joke about having to live in my car but this is not funny at all because I get so ill even after two hours in it.)
How about you, how long do you think is a reasonable time to create a safe home? Do you have any experience in creating one? Please, do share. (I’m open to input on my choice of building products too… )