McMansions for People with MCS and CIRS

Why is this house taking so long?

It’s taking us a an extended amount of time, more than 12 months now, to build our Allergy-free House. A good friend who built their own safe house, and has now recovered, told us,

“Take your time. It’s better to get everything right, rather than make a mistake causing your house to be intolerable and unliveable!” 

Seems we have taken this to the extreme as I’ve been watching houses go up in our area that only take 6 months to completion. Houses without eaves, I might add!!!

The first hold up: Back at the draft stage, with Eco Draftsperson, Quin Wyatt, we had our house plans re-sized and scaled down—due to budget restraints—the Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House project became around 10 square metres smaller. When Dan’s finance manager said to us, “It looks like a bloody McMansion!” and, “Spend a few k now; and save 100 k off the price of the build.”, we were like, “Sure.” Seriously, I moved out of the city, away from big houses with no eaves badly positioned on small blocks of land so that I could build a home to recover my health in; an ecological, chemical free, passively heated and cooled, with hydronic heating for those nights when the bones are sore. (For the allergy-friendly heating, we used a company called Hydrotherm; I have a post coming up next about the installation and excellent service we received from this company in regards to the system itself and how awesome they were with all my allergies.) But while all this was happening I was in a mouldy house of horrors with an ERMI of 17. And another mouldy house before that. I’m in a much better place now.

:)

Our home is our castle; but it’s certainly not a resource guzzling McMansion! It never was but it was mahoosive for only two people. (Child left the nest.)

So we made the castle smaller.

A sun study of an eco-freindl y house. It shows sunlight splashed across the room in June, which is winter in Australia

A sun study of an eco-freindly house. It shows sunlight splashed across the room in June, which is winter in Australia ~ Virtual house photo by, Draftsperson, Quin Wyatt

This made our heating cheaper also. Thanks, Hydrotherm. (Not sponsored.)

So we had the pleasure of trying out Quin’s new software, focusing on some more eco-friendly and money saving aspects of the house, and we got to see the above sun studies in all it’s virtualness; and the house and cottage on a smaller scale.

(These photos mean a lot to me: 12 months ago, I was flat in bed with what looked like SEID/CFS/ME: I was stuck in a mouldy house, laying in bed with 10 day headaches. Looking at these future-safe-house photos just forced me to focus on a positive future. Thanks, Quin.

Oh, how I needed the sun on my skin at a time when I was stuck indoors: sick when I stayed inside; and sick if I went outside. But these photos represented the future to me. (You can read a blog post I wrote for Quin, here.)

The future is now; and it’s good. The headaches are gone; and I have sun on my skin. In the house, most days.)

Our house has come along, stumbling and fumbling along. Many headaches&amp—of the metaphorical kind—and a zillion worries of immense proportions. I’m at a place now where I cannot rent a house due to severe chemical sensitivity caused by CIRS; at place where if I have to I will sleep in a van in the state forests with my boyfriend’s dog, Bella; a place between here and now.

Sitting in my upstairs #bathroom in the morning sun while work goes on around me. I love how, even though we had water come into the property and we’ve had to replace wood panels because of mould, and we need to get #barwonrestorationservices in with #HEPA #Scrubbers before putting up the walls, my health, headaches and other symptoms ease of tremendously whenever I visit. And there is dust and mud all around the place! It’s been a tough #winter for me but as soon as I’m in #freshair and #sunshine, I just know ? that the #buildanecofriendlyallergyfreehome project is going to be all right. #pristinecarpentry and #zenitwindows were here today to help get this place to #lockup Dream bathroom: here I come??

A photo posted by Michellina (@michellinaoutofthelabyrinth) on

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—By The Allergista: What are Your Countertops Hiding?

Hi! I’m The Allergista!

The Allergist, aka, Jennifer from the blog, The Allergista

The Allergist, aka, Jennifer

In 2010, all of a sudden I was dealing with horrible oozing rashes on my legs and arms. It seemed to keep spreading… and spreading. Medications helped for a day or two and then I’d slide even further downhill. I ended up being diagnosed with a list of allergies (I have 24) and eczema. As opposed to taking harsh oral steroids (Prednisone) for the rest of my life, which the doctors recommended, I decided to avoid my allergens instead. It’s been QUITE the journey. Michellina has so kindly allowed me to talk to you guys because she is AWESOME like that. With her medical condition diagnosed as Inhalant Allergies… she knows what it’s like having to avoid an annoying amount of things. It’s nice to have other people who “get it” because most people don’t understand how much I had to change my lifestyle in order to deal with these issues!

So let’s get on with it, shall we? What I want to share with you today has to do with laminate countertops. Aside from being a poor imposter for wood, I never thought anything bad about them until I discovered what was in them. It all goes back to my eczema… I kept getting a really intense little rash on the underside of my right wrist. This made me think about what my wrist was touching all day and I realized that EXACT SPOT was touching the counter my work computer sat on. Thinking it may be due to cleaning products used on the counter, I started cleaning it with just water… but it didn’t make a difference. My next solution was to tape pieces of laserjet paper to the counter, preventing my wrist from actually touching it. This did the trick! And it proved to me that the actual countertops were what was bothering me…. but why?

I started doing some digging online. I wanted to know what laminate countertops were made of and how they were made… hoping this information would shed some light on what was really going on. As I dug deeper and deeper, it all made sense: cheap laminate countertops are often made with polyester resin. My skin HATES polyester! Any time polyester sits on my skin for more than 5 minutes, my eczema flares up into a mess of itchy red bumps. Not only did I learn that polyester is used in laminate counter tops, but polyester resin is created by propylene glycol reacting with a dibasic or polybasic acid. PG is another one of my allergens… veeeeery interesting! I explained my findings to my dermatologist and she wrote a doctor’s note saying that in order for me to be in a healthy environment, I need to be protected from laminate countertops.

These days, my desk at work is covered in glass which I LOVE. Not having to worry about if I’m touching my desk or having to DIY my way around it is pretty awesome.

Polyester resin doesn’t stop at counter tops, though. Here are some other places you’ll find it:

  • bathtubs
  • boats
  • in construction as an adhesive
  • fiberglass
  • luggage: as adhesive holding on the metal hardware
  • coats
  • outdoor furniture
  • packaging: bonding the plastic and cardboard together in blister packaging
  • underground utility boxes
  • sheet moulding compound
  • automotive panels
  • carbon fiber
  • kevlar

I really wish that there were strict laws around labelling the content of EVERYTHING… not just food. And actually, the laws around ingredient labels on food aren’t that great. I talk more about that here. In the last handful of years, this is just one of the sneaky ways my allergens were messing with me and my eczema. I’ve learned a LOT. In an effort to help you guys out, I sat down and thought of all the different ways my health has been secretly disrupted. I came up with nine! I organized them all into a nice little 2-page PDF which you can download by clicking the glittery button below:

Cheers to taking control and leading a healthier life!

 

XOXO,

Jennifer

 

Click Button to visit The Allergista: 9 things that could secretly be disrupting your health

Click Button to visit The Allergista and download: 9 things that could secretly be disrupting your health

Sources:

MSDS for Propylene Glycol (Polyester): http://msdssearch.dow.com/PublishedLiteratureDOWCOM/dh_006e/0901b8038006e13c.pdf?filepath=propyleneglycol/pdfs/noreg/117-01785.pdf&fromPage=GetDoc

Lyondell: http://www.lyondellbasell.com/techlit/techlit/2412.pdf

Shell ~ propylene product derivatives: http://www.shell.com/chemicals/products-services/our-products/propylene-oxide-derivatives/propylene-glycols/product-overview.html

Polyester Resin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyester_resin

Us Composities ~ Polyesters: http://www.uscomposites.com/polyesters.html

Moulded Fibreglass and Polyester Resins: http://www.moldedfiberglass.com/materials/polyester-resins

eHow Facts on Polyester Resin: http://www.ehow.com/facts_5043005_can-polyester-resin-make.html

PubMed: Systemic contact dermatitis from propylene glycol

PubMed: Contact allergy from propylene glycol

The Kitchen Series

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—Oak. Glass or uPVC or Composite Panels?

 An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—By The Allergista: What are Your Countertops Hiding?

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—Ecological Panels, and Building Biology Service, EcoLibria

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—uPVC Board

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—Benchtops

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen ~ A Recap on the Low Irritant Kitchen

Hi, I'm Jennifer, and I sometimes guestblog over here at the Labyrinth!
Back in 2010, I was diagnosed with a long list of allergies, eczema, lactose intolerance and vitamin D deficiency. It was a complete lifestyle change... and in the beginning, it was hard. Endless hours were spent doing research and the more I learned, the more my skin and health improved. I want to share that valuable information with all of you who are dealing with the same struggles! If you'd like to read more, visit my blog, The Allergista!

D&C Fear Concreting

The project, Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House, now has a concrete slab as the foundation for what’s to come. After living in The House of Mouldy Horrors back in 2012, when I got sick, where the slab edges in the three bedrooms, including the main, that ran parallel to the garden and concrete driveway outside was leaking water, drying out to effervescent white in summer to wet patch in winter (the solution was to tar it, which we couldn’t). At night time, the damp night air stunk of soil, and ruined my health, I’m sure; while back at the farm house my health was fine enough to go back to school until I lived in that house with a ‘faulty’  slab. However, this slab is different: its smooth, with neat square edges, perfect lines; it’s solid as a steel-grey rock with a texture smooth-as-a-polished-knife.

Daniel Fear concreter: House slab, garage slab and cottage slab for the 'Build and Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House' project

House slab, garage slab and cottage slab

After the moisture ingress issue with the slab at my last residence, ‘The House of Mouldy Horrors’, back in 2012, the place where my health deteriorated after exposure to mould caused by the quagmire of soggy soil surrounding the slab edges, we knew we had to find a good concreter who could lay us a chemical-free-as-possible slab with no petrochemicals or solvents used on site or on it;  one that would serve as a solid foundation for our blog project, Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House; but most of all, one that wouldn’t expose me to unnecessary chemicals most especially mould!

After shopping around via phone interviews, and gathering four different and varied quotes, I found this great concreting business:

DC Fear Concreting: tradespeople used in the book 'Build an Eco-friendly, Allergy Free House'

Daniel from D&C Fear Constructions Pty. Ltd.  

Location: 58 Lake Avenue, Ocean Grove, on the Surf Coast of Victoria, Australia.

P: 04 0369 3794

Daniel Fear and his team where not only helpful, respectful and careful in helping me stay safe within the parameters of my medical condition but were active in doing so. You can tell when a tradesperson is going to be helpful straight off the bat: They convey an understanding immediately, often asking questions with the gist of, How Not to Make you Sick. In my mind it’s pretty simple: I tell the dude or dudette that I need to avoid any exposure to petrochemicals, solvents, cleaners and any chemical not tested by us. (I also email or hand over an Allergist’s letter to all people we consider hiring.) After a couple of chats on the phone, we met up at our block and, yes dear readers, he was free of after-shave, fragrance and sprays.

Some people just get ‘it’ when asked, thankfully.

Yes, I know. I base my tradespeople reviews on whether they are wearing chemicals (dispersed onto their person via sprays from deodorants and fragrance—like, for real—I can tell even if it was sprayed on yesterday because it’s not as volatile and, when I breathe it in, it doesn’t sting my eyes not even one quarter as much.). The mantra I always say to all people whom I’ve asked to go fragrance free:

It’s not the smell; it’s the chemicals.

For the slab this wasn’t so important, but when I visited after it was finished, the place didn’t reek of petrochemicals. I was happy.

Also, when I arrived at the Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House project site on day 4, the last day of the concreting job, our load of hardwood (from Calco) for the house’s frame was just arriving on a big bloody truck, spewing out diesel fumes into the air.

11262015AllergyFreeEcoFriendlyHouse_127

Not one to trust my boyfriend to take a photo (one in portrait and one in landscape) with correct white balance, a steady hand and sharp focus and from the right bloody angle, I popped on my 3M mask, assessed the wind direction and jumped out of the car to get some shots. (The ones with all the concreting action.) I noticed two things straight up: The jerry-cans of petrol were kept off the property by the gate [tick]; and, as I went to walk near the entrance to the block, Daniel, picking up a petrol can, asked,  “Do you want this moved?”, I said “no” cause I was leaving after getting my shots… (Like about 20 clicks of the camera and I was out of there.) But that’s my point: tradespeople taking our medical condition seriously. What can I say, make it happen.)

I cannot recommend D&C Fear Concreting highly enough for people who have allergies, chemical sensitivities or conditions relating to respiratory symptoms.

Dan and I came back later to check out our slab. Back when I imagined the concept of actually having a slab, I thought we would have a slab picnic but, due to some friends‘ advice, I was just playing it cautious by totally avoiding sitting on it for a few days until it was completely dry.

But here I am, contemplating the end result and feeling like I’m in a dream. Me? In my own house? It’s actually happening.

 

 

Click on of the images below for a slideshow of the action.

Our eco-designer specified for the slab to be 200 mm high. And most of the north-facing windows are large, coming all the way down to the floor so that it can absorb the sun’s heat in winter. Our eaves come out 600 mm so that the higher-in-the-sky summer sun is blocked by them, therefore, allowing the slab to stay cool because the sun is kept of the windows (I’ll blog more on this issue once I get time to post my research online.)

More on Thermal Mass

In rooms with good access to winter sun it is useful to connect the thermal mass to the earth. The most common example is slab-on-ground construction…

A slab-on-ground is preferable to a suspended slab in most climates because it has greater thermal mass due to direct contact with the ground. This is known as earth coupling. Deeper, more stable ground temperatures rise beneath the house because its insulating properties prevent heat loss. The slab assumes this higher temperature which can range from 16° to 19°C.

In summer, the earth has the capacity to ‘wick’ away substantial heat loads. It also provides a cool surface for occupants to radiate heat to (or conduct to, with bare feet). This increases both psychological and physiological comfort.

In winter, the slab maintains thermal comfort at a much higher temperature with no heat input. The addition of passive solar or mechanical heating is then more effective due to the lower temperature increase required to achieve comfortable temperatures.

Use surfaces such as quarry tiles or simply polish the concrete slab. Do not cover areas of the slab exposed to winter sun with carpet, cork, wood or other insulating materials: use rugs instead.

Chemical-based Curing Agents

Daniel also suggested not using a curing agent as they often contain petrochemicals because they’re oil based. I’ve even read about US companies pouring diesel over it to assist in curing correctly. However, even though chemical-based curing agents do guarantee the slab will cure perfectly, they may or may not be suitable for people sensitive to chemicals; it will depend on the individual and their sensitivities.

More from Holcim Australia:

Reasons for Curing:

To sum up the advantages of careful control of moisture and temperature in curing:

  • The strength of concrete increases with age if curing conditions are favourable. Compressive strength of properly cured concrete is 80 to 100 per cent greater than the strength of concrete which has not been cured at all;
  • Properly cured concrete surfaces wear well;
  • Drying, shrinkage, cracking is reduced;
  • Greater watertightness of constructions is assured;

Points to keep in mind when curing:  

  • Start curing operations as soon as possible after concrete has been placed;
  • For proper curing concrete needs moisture;
  • Continuity in curing is a must; alterations of wetting and drying promote the development of cracking;
  • If during curing the concrete is allowed to dry out – as may happen in hot weather – the chemical stops right at the point where the concrete loses its moisture;
  • The ideal curing temperature is 23°C;
  • Cure concrete for at least 7 days;

From Ei Wellspring, Things to Watch Out For:

  • Besides avoiding the concrete additives, there are various other pitfalls.
  • As mentioned some contractors pour diesel fuel [or other chemicals,which may or may not be safe for you to use] over a finished concrete slab to create a nice finish.  This happened for an MCS house.  They were unable to correct the problem in any other way than cover the slab with a heavy membrane and then pour a new slab on top.  This worked well, but cost a lot of money.
  • a barrier will also block any radon gas that may come from the soil, especially in areas with bedrock.  It is best to use multiple overlapping layers.
  • Make sure the slab inside the house is not exposed to the outside, or there will be great heat loss.  Such errors have been seen where the slab under the house extends out on a small patio or walkway.  Such thermal bridging is especially important to avoid when the slab is heated with an in-floor heating system.
  • Insulation used in the foundation must be designed for this use.  Inappropriate insulation may compress or disintegrate over time.  In America, proper insulation boards are rated for “direct burial,” and are generally referred to as “blue boards.”
  • Make sure any gravel trucked in is clean.  It is not unusual for such a load to be contaminated with oil spills or other contaminants.  Make sure it comes directly from a gravel quarry, and inspect each load.
  • Decide in advance what to do with any leftover concrete.  The driver cannot take it back, it has to be dumped or used somewhere on your property.  One option is to spread it on the driveway, where it turns into gravel.

The company, Termimesh, came while the slab was being poured so they could install a special type of mesh, which will protect our house from termites without using poisons; but more on this, as promised, soon.

IMG_1465

Dan the Vegan Eco-Builder Man

Dan is the builder of the house, it’s his actual responsibility to get it right. If this house doesn’t work, we will need to sell it and go back to Mt Macedon Ranges but for now, like ten years or so, we’ll have to live here. We need to get this project done right. Also, even though I buried Ganesh in the backyard for good luck, asking him to bless our digs and remove all obstacles placed in our way, however, I still wanted to follow the Greek tradition of putting a coin in the slab for extra good luck. This didn’t happen because there was just too much action going on at the house during the concreting process; instead, I’ve jammed a 50 cent piece Anzac coin under the side front door part of the hardwood frame (post coming up on the frame soon).

I can tell you about some old-school Macedonian stories related to mythology and luck when it comes to ‘blessing’ a new house that would make your vegan (if you are one) head spin:

But instead, I’ll leave on this note from Latman 100 from the Coin Community:

“I am a builder, and people still to this day request to place coins either in the slab or in some other part of the house. The strangest thing I have ever seen was a goat head placed in the slab of a house we built for a Macedonian family. Something to do with an old tradition.”

But I’ll save the details on this particular mythology for another blog post.

More

EI Wellspring: Building a Concrete Foundation for a Healthy House

Green Home Guide: Is concrete flooring eco-friendly? What’s the best way to finish it—stain, paint, polish?

Toxipedia: Dangers in our Home, Mould and More

The Labyrinth: DuPont’s Worst Nightmare

The Labyrinth: Reece Plumbing

The Labyrinth: KLM Plumbing

The Labyrinth: Modakboard

The Labyrinth: How Long Does it Take to Create a Safe Home

The Labyrinth: Building a House with Ganesh (Yes, I do love mythology.)

Coming up

The Labyrinth: The Steps to ‘How to Get a Low-toxic, Water-tight Slab’

The Labyrinth: The Steps to ‘How to get a Termite Proof Slab with without chemical-irritants with Termimesh’

The Labyrinth: More Research on ‘How to Avoid Slab Moisture Ingress’

The Labyrinth: Passive-Heating and Cooling in Eco-House Design

The Labyrinth: How to Test for Chemical and Natural Compound Tolerance to Building Materials and Products

The Labyrinth: Pristine Carpentry

The Labyrinth: Calco (low-toxic, chemically-irritant wood building supplies)

The Labyrinth: A Hardwood Frame

The Labyrinth: Shoji Doors

The Labyrinth: my up-and-coming book: Freedom: an allergy-free, eco-friendly house

 

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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