Virtual Eco-House Tour

All readers, welcome to our home:

My safe, allergy-free and eco-friendly home. Ready for the tour we promised? Take your shoes off. Only socks or Japanese slippers allowed. 

“Would you like a cup of coffee or tea? Do you take sugar? Soy milk okay? A herb from the garden perhaps?”

[Miche pops the kettle on.]

“Why, thank you for going fragrance-free. I really appreciate it; and it’s so lovely to have you here to visit! xx “

“Here,” Miche says while holding out a bright flowing fabric with a flock of exotic birds scattered across it (or a white Tyvek suit–your choice), “Pop on this will you? It’s just to protect the furniture from any washing powder or fragrance residue on your clothes.”

It’s an exciting day: Because today, I warmly, virtually invite you into our home by taking you all on a Virtual EcoHouse Tour, using the latest technology in architectural drawings for our ‘Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House‘ Project, These were done by Eco Draftsperson, and our friend, Quin Wyatt; he’s known as an ‘EcoDesigner’ around the Peninsula Coast (I am on Victoria’s Surf Coast near Queenscliff but I was just 1 hour by boat away at Portsea: the air and seaweed, beaches are mostly the same. Except we have marshland that rubber boots won’t help you with, it sinks that much, which makes it a perfect haven for birds. So it an actual Marine National Park with a few different things going on: Army training, hooded plovers, Mud Island (sink in sand there for sure!) all types of bird and seagrass.

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Black footed albatross (image source: Pixabay)

Why we are taking so long to build:

Our house is smaller, which is why it took another 6 months to get started because of the re-sizing. Plus all the testing of the products. Then we had to wait on Boral Bricks by 3 months, luckily, Ashley from Boral in Geelong made up for this by giving me a heap of research about mould and bricks and how to remove the horrid stuff. We are supposed to be at lockup stage by now. Been told hold ups are normal on this business. Issue is we need to be locked up before the rains come.

It was downsized by 10 square metres, which is like the size of an average room. This took a load of the cost of the build. The front balcony was rejigged so that it didn’t form part of the indoor area by intruding into the house, which would have looked more contemporary modern; instead it’s just your old-school 6 post balcony. This way if there’s ever a leak it won’t flood into the house, it ill run straight off the balcony. Smart thinking, Slobodan <3 And, it still works as an eave for the passive heating and cooling effect.

Passive Design Coupled with Ideal Orientation

A good ecologically designed home, utilises orientation because the way the house faces, which is to the north, plays an enormous part in passively heating and cooling the home. So long as the occupants are active in summer by closing blinds and roof-window blinds early in the morning, closing off any rooms that catch warmth on days of high heat; only opening up again at night, putting on fans and opening windows strategically positioned to cross-ventilate, which will also allow thermal lag to cool your house off, you too can design an eco-home.

Ideally, the home should be placed so the living areas faces north (south if you’re in the US, I think, correct me if I am wrong) to take advantage of the winter sun. The eaves overhang 90 centimetres to block out the higher-in-the-sky summer sun, while allowing the lower-in-the-sky winter sun into the house, warming the tiles or polished concrete floor.

Because the Zenit thermally-broken, double-glazed uPVC windows are designed to go low to the floor, the sun hits the concrete warming it in winter while the concrete acts as the thermal mass (unless you cover it with carpet or something else, which acts as insulation or has rubber in it that will impede on this all-important function). Coupled with the Hydrotherm Hydronic panel heating, the most allergy-friendly heating possible, the house will always be a warm home. On sunny winter days we won’t need heating as the sun heating the thermal mass will be enough, even at night when heat from the slab is released via thermal lag, or if closed up, the thermal lag will still be keeping the place warm as the temperature drops outside. But more on the other eco-friendly elements that help facilitate a truly efficient home later…

The cottage is in the far right hand corner. The Garage is seperate, with a breeze-way as specified as what Interviewee, Katryn Treat said when I asked her what she would do differently if building again,

The cottage is in the far right hand corner. The Garage is seperate, with a breeze-way as specified as what Interviewee, Katryn Treat said when I asked her what she would do differently if building again,

The little cottage out back, the one for fragrance-free visitors to stay in, had to lose its bathroom, which is no big deal: there are two inside the house. Both run on filtered rain water supplied by EcoBright Tanks (all stainless steel! No plastic lining!), then town water if the tanks become dry. (If you have advice on tanks please share below.) The toilet is fully ecologically minded, with it’s own 2000-litre-rainwater tank too. We’ve got this tank covered with Reece plumbing in Drysdale. And our plumbing was done by KLM Plumbing whose team went fragrance-free; I highly recommend their services if you’re on the Surf Coast or the Bellarine Peninsula of Victoria, Australia!

We also have an outdoor shower: visitors Beware: Come fragrance free or go nude and wash outside in the garden of Eden.

Nah, just kidding, the outdoor shower is for the dog and beach visits!

:0

Yes, we will give our composting toilet back to Natural Event at the end of the build. It’s still working out really well feeding the soil of the neighbour’s apricot tree, I’m sure.

One positive that came out of halving the garage is that now we have all this space between the cottage and garage. Is the extra room for gardening and paving areas: bonsai garden, outdoor shower. This space is a medium sized courtyard that’s surrounded on three sides by the brick fence separating ours and our neighbours property and the brick walls of each out-building.

Oh, and the other brilliant thing about kids flying the coop is the room for a proper yoga room and gymnasium.

Now just notice where the sun falls and the time of the year and day. This will show how it’s positioned for good orientation taking advatage of the full northerly aspect so on winter days the sub comes right on in. Quin Wyatt did a remarkable job designing and then re-designeing this house to suit my needs. 

We did this re-jigging of the house via Skype last winter when I was horribly ill from Pullaria mould and possibly the mould in the room with the water-damaged ceiling. [Update: I’ve since been diagnosed with CIRS, so it’s not just Pullaria mould that was the problem.) So I wasn’t exactly coherent but luckily for me Quin and Dan and I worked it out: We have an unusual front balcony, which I will show you all later. Welcome to my prototype for an Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly House!

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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-freindl y house. It shows sunlight splashed across the room in June, which is winter in Australia. This is not our kitchen just a generic image of the design. Pretty cool, hey?

If you take a look at the sun study done for June, which is mid-winter, and since 2012 and living in two water damaged buildings (WDB), I’ve suffered every winter since due to outdoor moulds; now when I was in mid-winter of last year, sick as I’ve ever been (before CIRS diagnose), I took impeccable comfort: the type that just wraps you in cottonwool, allowing you to feel everything is going to be alright, that type of comfort, when looking at these photos. The sun coming through the window. Picturing myself in our safe house. Knowing all is going to be just fine.

On another positive, it’s near close to all bricks and mortar now, and I’m busy, busy, busy, testing and organising samples, asking, sometimes hounding for MSDS and product contents. I’m finding there are two business models:’ don’t share a thing’ and ‘here you go’ when it comes to building products and materials… especially MSDS or proof of composition of materials of VOC release per cubic metre. Also, Australia is lacking in ecological products; but we do have access to some incredible European products.

So this is the roofline of the house:

The front of the 'Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House' project

The front of the ‘Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House’ project, which I am also writing a ‘How to’ Book about the Process itself

I know you are picking up the Japanese them now. Do you like the design so far? Ant questions on passive design?

More

Where we are getting the doors: Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Modified Shoji Doors

All the posts on ‘Build an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House

Quin Wyatt Building Designers: Created This House Around my Allergies and our Environment!

Stainless Steel Rainwater Tanks: EcoBright Tanks (I’ve a post coming up on rainwater tanks (the 3 companies in Australia who sell them!) and on catchment and delivery systems to the bathrooms. Full Eco Housing ideas coming up.

Hydrotherm Hydronic Heating, the best heating for people with chemical sensitivities or allergies (also the best price out of many quotes)

Natural Event Portable Compositing Toilets (no head splitting chemicals)

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.

We Wrapped our House in Plastic

Two months ago, where I live on the Surf Coast of Victoria, Australia, we experienced 3 days of wet Melbourne pouring rain, amplified. Not only was I sick from outdoor moulds but I knew the house was getting wet, if not water damaged: We were lucky, After Geelong’s (apparent) one-in-one hundred storm, our house took in water while only at slab, hardwood frame and roof stage. A lot of rain likely went into the slab. Concrete sucks up like a sponge. Luckily it was already cured, which makes a massive difference. After drying it out during a week of lucky, Ganesh-inspired hot weather. We were at the plumbing stage with KLM plumbing, and, thankfully, the house was kept clean of saw dust and other debris by them. After watching the weather over a two week period while the place dried out, we then wrapped the whole building.

Geelong's One-in-One Hundred Storm caused water damage to buildings in many houses

It’s a Wrap

We wrapped the house with Kingspan Aluminium Foil the day before. And, the next day, even though I was sick from the day before, we wrapped the upper half of the Build an Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly House project in plastic.

We used heavy-duty plastic, the type which is purpose built as a water barrier to go under a concrete slab, I think our carpenter, Damien suggested this. It works. With thousands of staples holding it on to the frame, it’s keeping wet weather out of our house. The bricks will be going up soon, fingers crossed, Ganesha blessed, the Boral bricks will not be any bloody later than this. (Boral Bricks were supposed to be here by xmas so that the bottom half could’ve been finished by now. Alright, let’s not ‘should’ all over ourselves, now shall we?

However, it was an ass of a job: the fumes from the plastic, holding roll after roll near my face and body, during hot weather is not something I’ll ever do again! I have a list of handy tradespeople who I know I can call and find at least one of them to do that job. Actually, Dan did ask our carpenter, Damien from Pristine Carpentry if he would do it but we decided to wait the weather out, wrapping at the perfect time: right before the next rainfall. (It had three weeks to dry out. We tried to wrap a part of it for a few rainy days as well but were yet to develop a technique that was safe. We worked out a way where, with someone else holding the roles from the inside, Dan could hang out on the outside and staple the plastic to the exterior of the house.)

We finished just as rain fell. We copped only a 1 ml of rain. And our house is now protected from water damage. 

I can rest easy now, knowing the house won’t get wet. My Dan has always been my hero but after this effort, he was just so great, as was I for even holding up to it. He took the next day off  work to look after me; and had another day off to take me for a blood test, one that had been previously put on ice, and needed to have two seperate tests run on it from two departments in the same building, it had to be retaken because the laboratories in those two departments wouldn’t run two tests on a singular vial of blood. So off I was to the clinic again: this the day of wrapping with plastic! Just the car visit and the pathology visit would have knocked me flat for the day anyway.

But no, I insist on standing on the upper floor of a building without walls or balcony railings in hot windy heat, drying my eyes and innards and making myself so nauseous, I had to wonder what the Hell we were actually doing out there like that. Him hanging out of windows; me ready to grab him by the back of his shorts.

So glad that day is over. 

Both jobs, the Kingspan Building Wrap (I have a detailed post about this process coming up along with some video footage of the process) and the Plastic Wrap (and a post of this abominable task) wrecking me. It just flattened me into bed for 3 days after. I’ve lost my tolerance and can notice my my health is impacted on via lawnmower fumes and washing powders etc. I just feel more sensitive. My head aches deep inside. However, I know that if I rest in my foil lined palace with the air filters running, this will pass. At least I can type and use my brain, which is always a bloody plus!

The following make great pictures for my up-and-coming book: Freedom: an allergy-free, eco-friendly house. [link to cover on iTunes coming up] but for now, here they are at The Labyrinth blog:

 

The Steps to Building an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free house

The Steps to Building an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free house and the tradespeople and companies we used (So far we have been really lucky with the team of people who we’ve found to help us build a low-toxic house.):

Design your house. We used Quin Wyatt, eco-Designer, and new beforehand, via testing with a doctor, what to avoid using before hand, plus, and apart from the actual style and design (the look), we knew exactly what we wanted: allergy-wise

Find your workers (yes I have a post: How to Find or Organise Fragrance Free Workers [post coming up]

How to Test Building Products and Products for your own or someone else’s Suitability [post coming up]

How to Apply to Council so that it passes through quickly [post coming up]

A fully, well-cured Concrete Slab, solid as a Rock from D&C Fear Concreting

Low-toxic Pluming installed by a fragrance-free plumbing team: KLM Plumbing

Choosing Fittings for the bathroom, kitchen and laundry: @Reece Plumbing

Choose your internal Building structure: We went with Hardwood from Calco [Post coming up]

Build a frame: we went with Damien and his team from Pristine Carpentry [Post coming up]

Choose a roof style, find a roofer [post coming up] , which are often, but not always a plumbing and roofing job (because plumbers and roofers often do both); We have the maddest Japanese style roof, which we are over the moon about, installed by Yeo Roofing and designed by Quin Wyatt, eco-draftsperson.

Kingspan Building wrap: FOR WRAPPING HOUSES THIS TIME

Virtual House Tour: using Sun Study Designs made by Quin our eco-draftsperson [up-and-coming post]

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.

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.

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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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