Radiant Heat Fights Allergies with Hydrotherm Hydronic Heating (Part I)

hydrotherm hydronic heating for build an eco-friendly, allergy-free house project

Hydrotherm hydronic heating installers arrive for the Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-free House project

The Build And Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House (BEAH) project had stage 1, the ‘fit out’, installation for hydronic heating: 2 floors, one cottage done a while back. Everything had been planned with the usual military precision and attention to detail: It was a busy two days! And to top it off we had Jacob Maggs, our masterfully-EMF aware electrician on the site working his magic, re-jigging wires, lowering the electromagnetic fields to-be around the bedroom (that’s another post in itself. I do not have EHS (Electromagnetic Sensitivity), however, I’ve included research on building to low EMF standards in my book, Freedom: an Eco-friendly, Allergy-free Home… While also taking precautions with the BEAH project. For now, go to EI Wellspring for the safest information on building low-EMF style.)

Yes, I sent all of our workers’ the doctor’s letter just like always when dealing with companies, businesses and tradespeople.

The Hydrotherm crew arrived like a bunch of scent-free superheroes: no fragrance; no sprays.

Hydrotherm hydronics

Hydrotherm had specified my medical condition’s needs in the actual quote so everyone on the job new about it. Along with AESSRA ‘How to be Fragrance-free’ brochures, I supplied spray cans of ‘QV Naked’ spray deodorant (with the choice of aluminium or not) or a roll on, one for each crew member. (Hot tip: for tradies who leave it there, put their initials on the lid) I like it when workers take it home with them, like a gift. It’s a lovely thought knowing you may have changed someones preferences from chemical irritants, like fragrance, to less-toxic products.

As an example, here’s what I got in writing from one of the managers via email:

“We are happy to comply with all of your needs regarding your respiratory system. As discussed, we are happy to use silicone provided by yourself. We would anticipate a maximum of 6 tubes needed but that would be dependent on the type of joists used.”

With this on our final quote:

Written on our quote, after explaining my 'allergies' to fragrance

Written on our quote, after explaining my ‘allergies’ to fragrance

We had 6 tubes of Selley’s 3 in 1 silicone (lasts up to 5 years) ready for on the day; however, we have been changing the silicone on any external areas to Sikaflex, then going over it with mortar, due to the need to have all external holes in the building watertight as possible. (The Selley’s tested safe for breathing, the Sikaflex, not. However, it’s used on the external part of the building so should be fine.)

The Hydrotherm guys were obsessionally organised, which I found pleasantly unusual in the tradie world…  And they travel out to wherever you are. And did I say they clean up after themselves?

Hydronic heating for allergies

Organisation, plus!

But First!

Hydronic Heating as a Source of Warmth for the Chemically-Sensitive Patient

My treating Allergist and Immunologist, the renowned Allergist and Immunologist, Dr Colin Little, in Mt. Waverly, Victoria, Australia, has a lovely, warm clinic with hydronic heating panels installed.

They have a fragrance free policy there so it’s actually a comfy place, where you can relax waiting for your appointment, especially when it’s cold outside, and still be able to breathe comfortably.

Fragrance free door sign. Dr Little: 324 Stephensons Rd Mount Waverley, VIC 3149

Fragrance Free Door Sign: Dr Little’s Rooms: 324 Stephensons Rd
Mount Waverley, VIC 3149

One of the information sheets he gave me when I tested positive to burnt gas, said: “Hydronic Heating, coil or panels”, are the safest heating option for those sensitive to chemicals or with respiratory illness!

Of course, being a renter, I’d struggled with heating for years. As we all often do.

All of the rentals I’ve stayed in over the last 10 years, I could use the air-conditioning but I struggled to find a heater that didn’t hurt to breathe around, failing with:

  • oil column heaters (the enamel or plastic dials); in an old one once, it was the oil itself that was a problem;
  • convection panel (burnt dust);
  • the Nobo convection heater (well famed in MCS circles) (perhaps I had the wrong model but something inside burnt fumes making me ill for years each time I tried it. No smell just chemicals burning off, it was like the layer that it comes with they recommend you burn off for 24 hours first);
  • And, the worst, I tried the old-school coil heaters that burn dust continually…

…burning dust was an awful problem for me, setting of the diagnosed Alodynia on the left side of my face, so painful (little did I know, inhaling ‘mustiness’  and having MaCRONS (sinus strep infection) was/is my main sinus problem!)

For years I struggled with the only two types of heating I could use: the split system (so long as it was newish with clean filters (no apple caichen (scented) technology (‘ambient scenting’ from Kensington or Fuji (Fuji’s come in a foil packet and are optional to install.) on low heat so as not to cause outgassing in the foil-covered rental; however, I’ve also found these machines to sometimes be mouldy; last, and what I’m left with at the moment: the small Arlec air heaters, replaced each year as they collect dust in the fans. It was a nightmare thinking back on it; and I don’t know why anyone with an illness related to chemical sensitivity, asthma or any respiratory disorder wouldn’t choose hydronic heating, given the opportunity.

“It’s not as expensive as you might think; and if you go with the right company, like Hydrotherm, you’ll get a great price.” ~ Michellina van Loder, CIRS patient

I’ve spent many winters in pain from various heaters outgassing noxious chemicals to which testing shows I’m sensitive to, causing my sinuses to feel like they’re screaming in pain; yet not wanting to turn the heating off due to ice-cold Melbourne nights, I’d put up with it. (I’m also sensitive to breathing cold air: my sinuses and that old pain in my head that gets set off from mould exposure. You know it’s freezing here, on the coast of Victoria, Australia, right?)

Testing

Medical ‘Allergy Sublingual’ type testing showed:

  • ‘burnt gas’, from gas heating and cooking;
  • ‘formaldehyde’ often found in new heaters, paints that are not powder-coated
  • formaldehyde found in PM2.5 particles in wood-smoke, sometimes from burning off or most likely, wood-fire heaters polluting the outside air making its way, rudely, inside.

What is Hydronic Heating, Exactly?

From Bosche:

Hydronic heating is a method of heating utilising heated water to distribute warmth throughout a building. The benefits of hydronic heating Hydronic heating offers superior comfort, operational efficiency, and silent operation. It is also known to minimise the negative effects to allergy and asthma sufferers caused by the circulation of airborne particles, such as pollen and dust, that occur with alternative heating technologies employing blown air.

Why we Chose Hydronic Heating?

So I can see why the good doctor gives his allergic and chemically sensitive patients information sheets on Hydronic heating seeing it is the safest type of heating system for people who are immune compromised, have CIRS, MCS, ME, CFS, Asthma or any respiratory illness where irritants can impede on existing health conditions and diseases:

  • because the panels (or under floor coils) don’t collect dust, burning it when switched on, often inflaming airways;
  • clean air;
  • no VOCs gives the hydronic system the five-star advantage over all other heating systems;
  • they don’t exacerbate chronic illness like burning gas, twin-system air-conditioners—that can, and often are, mould contaminated—and hydronic heating doesn’t dry out the air or the eyes;
  • They can’t go mouldy or collect cellulose to make mould;
  • The heat dispensed from the panels is an ambient, warm heat, emanating from powder-coated panels. It cannot pick up unwanted scents or fragrances from visitors, like heaters than have air intake and outtake vents and filters do;

Even EI Wellspring, a reputable US source often used with confidence by downunders says:

“A hydronic system is one where water carries the heat and coolness, instead of using air.  Hydronic heating is common in Canada, the northeast United States and Scandinavia.  Such a system can be designed to be completely free of noise, moving air and EMF, but they are costly.
 
A boiler (which can be a regular water heater in some cases) heats up the water, which is pumped around by a small circulation pump.  If desired, the boiler can be located in a shed outside the house, even away from the house.  The boiler can then use either electricity or gas (propane or natural gas).  If using gas, it is best to locate the shed down wind from the house.
 
The hot water coming into the house can either circulate through a slab floor (in-floor heat), through radiators, or go through a heat-exchanger mounted in a conventional forced-air system.  When retrofitting an existing house, upgrading an existing forced-air system may be the most economical choice.

US Information on MCS Friendly Hydronic Heating

“A special type of radiator can both be used to heat and cool a room.  Burnham Hydronics (1-888-432-8887) makes the Duo-Rad, which requires a fan to run continuously.  Edwards Engineering (1-800-526-5201, www.edwards-eng.com) makes the very sleek looking Valance system, which does not require any fan at all.  The author is not aware of any EI person who has actually used either of these two systems
If using radiators, make sure they have a baked-on powder coating.  Painted enamel and simple cast iron radiators are apparently not well tolerated…”

Read more on Heating and Cooling from EI Wellspring

Hydrotherm’s panels are powder-coated.

If the House is an Eco-House with Passive-heating and Passive-cooling, does it really need Hydronic Heating?

Yes, but you need to be active in using it each day, it still fits in well with a passively heated and cooled house because on the colder, no-sun days, it will remain on 22c; and on sunny winter days, it may need to go on 12c to keep the house toasty warm. Of course the front of the house, the north is warmer due to its design but the southern ends of the house can get cold, freezing at night. I know, I’ve had to sleep there a few nights… By having a heating system I can afford to run, I can heat the whole house therefore lowering the risk of mould growing due to cold air in the form of moisture vapour [Think fog, mist, humidity levels!)

Hydrotherm Part I: Radiant Heat Fights Allergies with Hydrotherm Hydronic Heating

Hydrotherm Part II: Why Hydrotherm Hydronic Heating is a Breath of Fresh Air

Hydrotherm Part III: Hydrotherm Hydronic heating for our Eco-friendly, Allergy Free House

Hydrotherm Contact Details

Hydrotherm: Hydronic Heating

Greenheat: Hydronic Heating

Hydrotherm Instagram

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.

A Custom Hardwood House Frame by Calco

The choice for a house frame, breathing-wise, was slim: hardwood or steel. We chose hardwood because it’s less volatile than pine, which has different terpenes. I will be getting stuck into a post sharing my research on building with a steel frame, as it seems like the obvious choice for people with MCS/and or CIRS aka mould illness or Lyme. I think I’ve found some good tips on how to build using a metal frame–so long as the correct amount of thermal break has been created to stop condensation. Condensation. That’s why we chose wood, so long as it’s protected from direct water damage, it can absorb a small amount of humidity then release it back into the air.

Sourcing a custom kiln dried hardwood frame wasn’t as easy as Dan and I thought it would be. We tried several places, starting to feel as if what we wanted was just plain wierd. People told us we wouldn’t find it. So we just asked other people… I know of people who have MCS and have successfully built using hardwood. So why was finding so hard?

Our talented carpenter, Damien, from Pristine Carpentry tried a few places also, finally coming up with Calco. He explained my condition to them. And I didn’t even have supply my usual doctor’s letter for them to get it. Don’t you like it when that happens?

Calco were so awesome they even gave us nails so I could test them. Nails? Yep. The nails are sold in packs of ten and they’re glued to blocks of wood for ease of use. This way, nails are kept straight and they’re not all over the place for the workers. So when Calco found out about my condition (which was diagnosed as inhalant allergies at the time but now has the addition of CIRS to the list of conditions that cause sensitivity to chemicals [read: a pain in the ass!]), they decided to give us the nails embedded in glue just to make sure they were not going to cause any symptoms. Perhaps they thought I was going to handle them myself? Or maybe that I was way more sensitive? Sensitive like some of you out there, perhaps. I appreciated the care they took to check the nails were fine to use.

Nails from Calco Timber and Trusses

Sample of hardwood for frame and nails set in glue, kindly from Calco Timber and Trusses ~ for testing purposes

You know, when you’re sick as you’ve ever been and totally anxious about house materials? (“It only takes one thing to ruin the whole house,” I’ve heard often. Stories abound of other MCSers who’ve had tradespeople agree to use products tested for that person’s particular chemical-irritant sensitivities but have then forgotten or negligently used their own noxious product; therefore, making the house unliveable), so when businesses take the time to check even the tiniest possible risk, it makes life a whole lot easier to deal with because you feel like people are on your side. And they are on your side. At the same time, don’t assume just because you tell someone you’re sick they will take it seriously. You just have to ask lots of questions and see if they’re up for the job. Always go with your gut, or put it in writing. It only takes an email.

From my experience, Calco Timber and Trusses don’t just want to sell just a product or a service rather, they want you to be successful with your project and happy with their product.

The only hardwood that couldn’t be sourced by our builder’s carpentry team were the balcony posts: hardwood just didn’t come in that size; not at the time we were needing it, anyway. Besides pine, which is out of the game because of terpene sensitivity (and I wrote about that here), so we were left with Cypress (also a type of pine but to be used on the outside of the building). When Pristine Carpentry first gave me a sample, it was a brand new freshly cut piece, plus it was raining: it stunk like burnt wood, stinging my nasal passages: not forgetting that I was living in a water damaged house and that my sinuses felt like I’d been hit in the face with a cricket bat, which, inhaling mould explains why it hurt so much to breathe, so I decided to test it further rather than just basing my decision on that one reaction. A few days later, after the sample had been left in the sun, it had a faint odour of wood. That strong smell that felt like a smack in the nose was gone so we took a punt on using the Cypress, sealing it with Intergrain low VOC wood stain, and, guess what? It’s fine, for me anyway! Looks sexy too.

We do have to make some adjustments to the posts to make them comply with our BAL level, which I’ll go into later, to do with the BAL (Bushfire Attack Level) in our area but I’ll post on that in a seperate post when the time comes. This house could take a while to build ~ I’m hoping I can get some sponsors who want to run their add in my sidebar ~ on the condition their product is cool for people sensitive to chemicals/and or mould. But back to the Cypress:

It’s wrapped in plastic and specifically says to keep it wrapped until painting time. We didn’t do that: we had the builders and carpentry team install it naked. Then handy man Dan painted it with Intergrain Low VOC paint in Tasmanian Oak.

 

Calco Trusses and Timber

Calco Trusses and Timber: Cypress Pine Posts for the balconies

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Calco Timber and trusses

Calco Timber and trusses custom built house frame (flooring is 20 mm MgO Board by Firecrucnch)

The timber arrived in perfect condition, mould free too.

Slide show: The evolution of erecting a house frame

Calco Details

62 Barwon Terrace, South Geelong

p: 03 5221 1655

f: 03 5221 9788

Trusses:truss@calco.com.au

Timber Sales:sales@calco.com.au

Administration:geelong.reception@calco.com.au

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 House Frame, Expertly Installed by Pristine Carpentry

Due to my personal symptoms with mould and terpenes, especially pine terpenes, we chose to have a hardwood frame. I know of other people who’ve built houses over 20 years ago and they have allergy-free homes made using hardwood for the frame. So, you think it would be easy to source new, kiln-dried hardwood for a house frame, right? Well, it wasn’t!

With a great stroke of luck, Dan found the perfect carpentry team: Pristine Carpentry! He drove around looking at new houses around Pt Lonsdale; often the builders put signs up the front of their builds to say who did what. Dan said some of the houses looked shoddy but the very next day he was walking closer to where I was renting and saw a house that he thought looked perfect. He has high standards, being a handyman, himself! This house was being built by Pristine Carpentry and went up in record time while still remaining perfect looking, not at all like the messy building sites you often see. So Dan went back and spoke to them and grabbed a business card. So glad he did!

But before we even found our carpenter, our builder and us tried calling around other places and were told it’s not possible to find hardwood for a house; especially if the frame is custom built—as specified by our draftsperson. We believed that until we spoke with Pristine.

Pristine Carpentry and Builders: the best carpentry team!

Pristine Carpentry and Builders: the best carpentry team!

Our carpenter had to source it specially from Calco ~ Trusses and Timber.

Calco Trusses and Timber

Calco Trusses and TimberCarC

We met up with Damien, the head of Pristine Carpentry, and worked out how we were going to go about sourcing the hardwood, testing materials, and sorted out schedules. He was so awesome with the chemical side of it; didn’t miss a beat and asked his crew to use the products we provided. They smoked outside, which was great too! Our builders looked over the contracts and pricing and all was well and good.

The one thing I can say about choosing a carpenter, or anyone who is going to be touching your hardwood frame, is choose someone who knows how to work with hardwood. This is immensely important. Otherwise you’re going to have workpeople who are just plain annoyed and cursing because their tools keep breaking (Yes, I watched this happen with three tradies): Pine is a much softer wood than hardwood; drills and what not get put to the test when used with hardwood. I watched one tradie go through three drills in a day!

It only took 10 days for them to get the bottom floor built. If not for having to wait on Boral Bricks, the top floor would’ve been done next but then we had no bricky because by the time the bricks arrived, our bricky was booked on another job. Mad scramble to find another bricky. Finally, once we found a decent bricky, the second floor went up just as quick (The roof was put up before this by ‘Blessed Roofers’.) and it began to look like a house. A safe house.

Custom built hardwood frame by Calco Trusses and Timber, installed by Pristine Carpentry

Custom built hardwood frame by Calco Trusses and Timber, installed by Pristine Carpentry

(The flooring is 20 ml FireCrunch MgO Board, previously called Modakboard, used instead of particle board, which I wrote about here.)

Another thing that we found most impressive was the way Pristine Carpentry handled our shoji door cavity slider problem: businesses who supply cavity sliders don’t make them in hardwood or oak or anything besides pine. Once our team found this out, they were like, “Oh, well, we’ll just make them up out of hardwood!”

It was to our delight and surprise when Damien turned up the next day with all 7 cavity sliders, handcrafted from hardwood.

It cost a bit more but was worth it as it was our only option; besides, they look great. All up we have 7 cavity sliders.

Did I not tell you this team of carpenters are awesome?

Okay, so now I show you what I’m most impressed with. Dan, not so much. I’m a bathroom girl. Love a good soak; and have been planning my upstairs bathroom for a long time (Dan can have control of the downstairs one.). It’s taken two years to get to the look right in my head: floor to ceiling travertine look-a-like tiles from Bella Tiles in Ocean Grove (awesome people for us allergy sufferers because they too, understood our situation and were most helpful as they have tiled a whole house for someone else with the same condition as me: extreme mould illness. Fantastic show room too! They also come up on the list of Top ten tilers in Ocean Grove’. 

(The blue tiles are for the downstairs bathroom to break it up a bit. Oh, sorry, am I taking control of the downstairs bathroom? Best leave that for Dan, but yes, he does like the blue tiles I chose.) Think of a bathroom carved out of the mountainside in Turkey, which is where real travertine comes from (real travertine needs epoxy and coatings of just too many chemicals for us to risk. Then there’s the price… But I’ll be posting more about bathrooms, safer products, etc. later.

Travertine look tile from Bella Tiles in Ocean Grove

Travertine look tile from Bella Tiles in Ocean Grove

So this is downstairs bath hob created by our carpentry team:

And this is the upstairs hob. As you can see, I’ve been playing around with design elements and accents already. It’s all in the planning, you see?

Pristine Carpentry Crew

Pristine Carpentry Crew

Pristine Carpentry: Phone 0417 573 832

So what have you used as a house frame? And how has it worked out in regards to your medical condition?

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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