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


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


Timber Sales:sales@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.

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 ~ uPVC Board

uPVC Polymer Board

Due to my sensitivities to terpenes, as tested and diagnosed by my Allergist and Immunologist, Dr Colin Little, I think we will be using uPVC (or PVCu if you’re in Europe) board for the cabinets, not the doors, just the carcass. Think pharmaceutical bottles: hard white plastic. Well this board is like that but baked so it’s even sturdier. Pine is a huge problem for me due to the terpenes (the frame of our house is made from hardwood, which I will be blogging about next. Hardwood is not generally used in kitchens unless it’s a softer wood like oak, which is costly. (You can read more about oak as doors here [link coming soon].) (And you can read more about a Green and formaldehyde free chipboard/particleboard, Ecological Panel, here.)

What is uPVC?

Regular PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a common, strong but lightweight plastic used in products such as underground piping (Due to the PBA’s contained, we used it only for the outgoing sewage pipes.). It can be made more pliable with the addition of plasticisers, which may contain phthalates. If no plasticisers are added, it is known as uPVC (unplasticized polyvinyl chloride); or in the US, it’s called  ‘vinyl siding’ or rigid PVC. So the ‘u’ just means that it’s un-plasticised, more durable and a harder product without the plastic softeners such as phthalates!

Is it Safe for People with Health Issues?

From Diffen, where you can compare anything:

Safety and Risks

PVC-coated wires can form HCl fumes in a fire, which can be a health hazard. Plasticizers may leach out of PVC into the environment.

Phthalates are what allow PVC to be flexible. Some of the phthalates used in PVC have been restricted or banned over the years, and many others are being replaced with safer phthalates. Dibutylbenzyl butyl, and DEHP are some of the more commonly banned or restricted phthalates.

To date, there are no mainstream concerns regarding the use of uPVC, which does not use phthalates or BPA.

Read more about the differences here

modern contemporary kitchen

(Source: image from Pixabay)

What if you’re Chemically Sensitive to Plastic?

It probably doesn’t need to be pointed out that if you have contact allergies, inhalant allergies or sensitivities to plastics, then you wouldn’t use this product. Personally, I have tested it extensively (meaning slept with it on my bedside table, and later, held it to my face, and placed it in the sun to see what happens when it heats up…). I don’t have breathing problems with plastic; ergo, plastic bags from the supermarket cause my eyes, nose and upper respiratory irritation due to the cleaning chemicals and fragrances embedded in them just from where they are stored: in shops that sell chemicals alongside foods?! (*Don’t worry; it’s perfectly safe to eat bread that tastes like cleaning chemicals*) I’ve also asked my doctors, both specialists in allergies and sensitivities, about using this uPVC in our window frames, and possibly our kitchen. uPVC is on my safe list. You need to check before adding it to yours or someone else’s who has sensitivities to chemical irritants. It’s also noteworthy that many people who suffer physical symptoms from exposure to plastic, often, due to petrochemicals, or it’s the plasticisers that make PVC soft for other uses, like dog or children’s toys, that are causing the issues. (Yeah, I see that, due to phthalates, they may not be safe for anyone! The book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck gives good examples and citations on this issue.) However, this is not a rule. We are all so different; and, I am not a scientist or a doctor, just in case you didn’t know!

It can be confusing, I know. If you just remember the ‘U’, which stands for unplasticised and means it’s a different material than PVC, which is the softer plastic, often containing PBAs and/or phthalates  depending on where it is sourced from.

Some uPVC products are stabilised with other chemicals; but I’ll get to this with my post on uPVC windows from Zenit Windows asap. Just because we are chemically sensitive, in my opinion, it doesn’t mean that we need to live without chemicals. They are useful; we need them! They can help us solve many of the issues we have to deal with. Again, there are no rules; we are all different. I think people who are mould sensitive may do better with this type of material due to the fact it cannot absorb water.

Use in Outdoor Kitchens

uPVC board is used to make outdoor kitchens because it is resistant to mould and moisture buildup. Your Custom Cabinets in Geelong kindly gave us a large sample piece to take home for testing purposes. Now this was before we decided on the Zenit uPVC window frames, so I was dubious because of the uPVC and tips from some solid sources on the internet in regards to choosing products for people with chemical sensitivities, however, the anti-mould factor won my attention because this board is mostly used for outdoor kitchens as explained by Rod during our outdoor meeting.

More from ‘Your Custom Cabinets’ Outdoor Kitchens

“Take advantage of your outdoor living area with one of Your Custom Cabinets outdoor kitchens. Transform your backyard, patio or entertainment area with custom cabinets or an outdoor kitchen or barbecue. Talk to Your Custom Cabinets joinery for ideas on benchtops, cabinets and shelving and we can custom build the perfect outdoor entertaining area for your home.”

The board is mould proof, inert, and baked so that it’s hard. I have heard, from other sources, that if painted in 2pak (which is baked on just like powder-coated paint) and left to bake in the sun—as outdoor kitchens are left to do—and, if not under the cover of a veranda or similar structure, the paint will fade, especially the darker shades. However, indoors, we won’t have this problem.

How does it Feel to Touch?

If I were to describe how it feels: it’s dense, heavy and solid with know porous areas; it’s also smooth and impervious to water.

My first question about this product: VOCs, give me data on that, please

First, we will clear up the brand name issue: The board was marketed as Neemaboard, however, it’s now Cowdroy. It could also be sold under other names, if you know of more brands or places who sell products like this, please drop a comment down below. It will be most helpful for those of us who must think outside the square bubble for health issues.

MSDS for Cowdroy Board

My readers know I get excited when businesses are transparent and just hand over MSDS and other information such as:


SAFETY DATA …………………………………………………………………………..15th Jan 2015

The Wetline and Signline board supplied by H.M. Cowdroy , are a foamed PVC extruded board. Wetline and Signline do not contain any hazardous chemicals and as such are not scheduled under the G.H.S ( Global Harmonized System of Classification and labelling of Chemicals )

As a guidance to composition and safety when working with these board, we issue the following synopsis on safety data information, supplied to us by the manufacturer.


Foamed PVC board, available in the Australian market under the brand names WETLINE and SIGNLINE.


Poly Vinyl Chloride ( P.V.C) with a Calcium Zinc based stabiliser .

NO Lead or Organo- Tin additives are used in the manufacture of this product.

Hazard Information

Wetline and Signline , are non –harmful in the solid state .

Working with these products

Normal safety equipment, Goggles, Gloves , and Dust masks should be worn when cutting or machining this product .

For high speed cutting or machining, extraction and ventilation is recommended to remove fumes and dust.


If dust particles are inhaled, move to an area free of dust, preferably in the open air

Seek medical advice if discomfort persists.


Rinse mouth to remove particles, and drink water as required.

Contact with eyes

Contact lenses ( If worn) should be removed , flush eyes with clean fresh water , holding eye lids apart , until all dust and discomfort is removed .

Seek medical advice if discomfort or irritation persists.

Contact with Skin

If irritation to skin occurs, remove contaminated clothing , wash skin with soap and water ,and dry ,

Seek medical advice if discomfort or irritation persists.

Disposal of product

Do not incinerate, check with Local Authority guidelines relating to disposal of waste.

Fire Fighting Measures

In the event of fire, instruct personnel to evacuate the area, and inform Fire Fighters that the board comprises of P.V.C compounds and Calcium Zinc based stabilisers .

If fire extinguishers are used, Water, Foam, or Dry Powder are suitable.

How to Know if This is the Right Product for Your Allergy-Free Kitchen

Personally, when I asked my treating Allergist and Immunologist, who said, “It should be fine.”, I trusted that because I’ve been treated by this doctor for over a decade.

I also tested the large piece, given to us by Rod Bird at Your Custom Kitchens, who I found on Houzz, via just breathing near it. Later I put in out in the sun, then held it up to my face. I don’t recommend others do this; it’s just something I felt safe doing.

Some people practice Kinesiology; or go and see one themselves to find out if a product or chemical is suitable. I, however, will always trust my own bodily physical symptoms over what any therapist or doctor says. But just know, especially if you are skeptical of Kinesiology, this is the only way some people can test products because they are that exquisitely sensitive to so many substances, that they have no choice; so you need to just stand back and respect that method if someone tells you about it! (Also note, you can learn to do this yourself, I hear on the GE-free, organic grapevine!

If in doubt, trust your own instincts. If in doubt of your medical practitioner, get a second opinion or even a third!

More about ‘Your Custom Cabinets’:

Your Custom Cabinets is owned and operated by Rod Bird with over 30 years experience in the industry. We design, create and install Kitchen, Bathroom, Laundry and Living spaces cabinets shaped to suit your lifestyle.

Services Provided

Your Custom Cabinets can provide everything from design conception through to hassle-free installation of cabinets crafted to meet your individual requirements. We can also fully co-ordinate all trades people needed for your project.

Areas Served

Geelong, Bellarine Peninsula, Surf Coast, Ballarat, Colac and Melbourne.

Mobile: 0418 526 990

Email: rod@yourcustomcabinets.com.au

Business Hours

Monday – Friday

7.30am – 4.00pm

After hours by appointment. Or you can fill in their contact form, here

Building Biologist Recommendations for Outgassing Our New Kitchen

Whether we choose Ecological Board or Cordory, uPVC board, for the cabinet frame, or I find another product) we have planned an outgassing process (used over in the states; now adapted for summer Australian climate. (My caring vegan man, Dan, has developed this procedure over the last decade. The plan: bake the house when it’s new, sure, but renowned Building Biologist, Raphael Siket, Director of Ecolibria here in Torquay on the surf coast of Victoria, Australia, Victoria, has suggested we order the kitchen as soon as possible; then, laying the pieces out on specially placed shelves to get the outgassing treatment right before installation.

Ah, but what about when the kitchen heats up?

This was a question put to me on one of the local forums here in Australia where we discuss all things relating to living with allergies, food intolerances, mould and medical conditions relating to chemical sensitivities. Hopefully, when our kitchen heats up this won’t be an issue because we’ve already sped up the process using this exact procedure. If it is, I have to stay upstairs with stairwell door closed until it’s ready; however, this is the plan:

  1. Order the kitchen panels weeks, months even, before installing them;

  2. Place them inside the house where there is good air-flow;

  3. Set up some shelving against the wall in the kitchen area (of course the space is empty so there’s lots of room)

  4. Have fans running, pointed in the direction of the temporary shelving;

  5. Place the pieces of kitchen boards separately on the temporary shelving;

  6. Give them a wipe over with a solution of bicarbonate of soda, vinegar or you preferred cleaning product (I usually use Seventh Generation Free and Clear: All Purpose Cleaner but in this case, I’d start with the bicarbonate of soda as it absorbs chemicals, odours etc.);

  7. Make sure there is plenty of airflow between the boards, which are holding the panels to help them outgass their ‘newness’;

  8. At a temperature of 30-40 Degrees Celsius, heat the house up periodically, for 12-24 hours each time to bake out any wood terpenes, chemical-irritants (depending on what product you choose to use) or any residual odours left over from handling or manufacturing; keep the fans running as this will help the process along nicely;

  9. After each baking session, turn the heat off completely, leave the fans running and open all the windows of the house (ceiling fans will help greatly at this point).


Book about plastics, chemicals and their ability to build up within humans and animals: Slow Death by Rubber Duck

More on testing via Kinesiology: Australian Kinesiology Association

My Chemical Free House: A Non-toxic Kitchen

The Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free 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

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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