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.

FireCrunch: Magnesium Oxide (MgO) Board

MgO Board in Place of Particle/Chipboard Walling and Flooring

(Post updated:  6 January 2017: Modakboard is now known as FireCrunch!)

(Post updated: 12 February 2017 to reflect the name change of Modakboard to FireCrunch and other details to do with waterproofing for mould sensitive people–but another post on that later. (If you need to know, like, now!, of a low VOC waterproofer, then we are using Laticrete low VOC waterproofing. And I’m fine with it within 24 hours. Always test a product for yourself and don’t rely on others. Ask your doctor or health professional always.)

(Also note: since using this product I have heard horror stories in regards to MgO board from particular companies I won’t name. (Lol, I’m not Derryn Hinch of the building industry.) You really, really need to test the product as a sample first.

Ask them to wrap it in aluminium foil when they post it out; and to please not handle it while wearing aftershaves or aerosol sprays.

IF the product is okay: put it in writing that you want the same batch put aside. Put a deposit of it for sure. And send someone to check where it’s stored: mould, pesticides could be an issue if that’s your chemical irritant. Our floors, using FireCrunch, have been in for six months now. In my opinion, MgO board needs to be sealed if it’s going to get wet by the weather or spills because unless you dry it within a day or two, it soaks in. Still, perfect as flooring and I can’t wait to update on the walling coming up! But remember there are crappy companies overseas making crappy MgO Board. It’s a thing. Be careful.)

FireCrunch MgO as Plaster Walling

In an attempt to Build an Eco-friendly, Allergy-free House, we have extensively tested a batch of Magnesium Oxide (MgO) board to use as flooring and walling. Due to the results of testing the sample and such positive feedback on their reputation, we’ve decided to use the brand made by a company called FireCrunch. Our particular batch, already tested, has been put aside by FireCrunch for us so we can use it inside our house in the coming months.

What exactly is Magnesium Oxide Board (MgO)? 

It’s a mineral-based, mould-resistant wall sheeting that can be used as a replacement for the plasterboard used as walls. (It can also be a part of other green building products such as Structured Insulated Panels (SIPs) that have Magnesium Oxide cement in the panels, which makes them able to be structurally loaded. Some SIPs also have foam and Mgo in them. SIPS might be green and environmentally friendly and all that but some also have styrene foam in them, which is not health-friendly for some people. (However, we are using panels made from just MgO! So when FireCrunch is used throughout this post, I’m talking about just the MgO board used as walling.) You can see an example of FireCrunch’s External Mgo Panels, here. Often called ‘SIPs’ (Structural Insulated Wall Panels. I reckon these could be useful to people with medical conditions with chemical sensitivity as a problem.)

What’s Wrong with ‘Traditional’ Walling?

The issue with plasterboard (also known as drywall) is if it gets damp or wet it can be the perfect host to mould growth; and if there’s a plumbing or wet weather leak, also getting it wet, then there will be mould growth. It’s a given. Plaster can be a petri dish for people with any immune issues. Mould loves cellulose, its food source. Plaster has a paper (cellulose) backing on it that serves up as a ready-made instant food for mould—just add moisture! And, if the plaster gets repeatedly wet, or even just damp, the plaster itself begins to break down and becomes a smorgasbord for many different species of mould, particularly the toxic black mould, Aspergillus. FireCrunch, unlike other materials, is completely impervious to mould because it doesn’t break down, therefore, there’s no cellulose for mould to feed on.

And that’s why we chose this type of wall sheeting. FireCrunch, themselves, have been very accommodating in sending out samples of their flooring and walling. They arrived in an envelope separated from any advertising literature (as asked) and were not handled by anyone wearing fragrances or spray deodorants (as asked). They had no detectable odour, and no noticeable chemical contaminants.

We’ve taken the added precaution of making sure that the batch where our sample came from is the same batch put aside for our use.

Our samples of Modakboard: 10 mm tapered edge (walls); and 20 mm tongue and groove (floors)

Our samples of FireCrunch: 10 mm tapered edge (walls); and 20 mm tongue and groove (floors)

Testing

I tested the samples by wrapping them in foil, then later, when I was sure that I wasn’t sick from any chemical exposures (like fragrance or woodsmoke), I held them up at face range to see if there were any fumes or scents that effected my breathing. When I was sure this was fine, I left them on my bedside table overnight. In my opinion, these boards are a pretty inert product. (Note: this is just how I test products and chemicals. I recently spoke to someone else who said putting a product in their living space could seriously impact on their health. I think some people may use kinesiology, but for me I’d much rather go on whether it effects my eyes or my breathing. It’s the chemicals not the smell that I need to judge carefully.)

Benefits of FireCrunch

  • Fungus resistant
  • Fire proof to 1200ºC
  • Termite resistant
  • Mineral based, eco-friendly product
  • Increases the R-value (thermal capability) of any building (or products used in conjunction with it such as insulation)
  • No formaldehyde
  • It’s recyclable

More on Fire Resistance

We’re building on the edge of a National Park and have a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) of 29, which means ‘Increasing levels of ember attack and burning debris ignited by wind borne embers together with increasing heat flux’. (A high risk but not the highest, which is a BAL of 40.) FireCrunch is applicable in BAL 12.5 to 40 and FZ flame zone regulation areas and meets the AS 3959 requirements, when used to protect exposed timber framing eaves joists etc., under AS/ NZ 3837 materials.

You can find more on Modakboard’s fire resistance capabilities here. And you can watch the video of the CSIRO testing done on a house made from Modakboard and insulted with straw-bales, which is exposed to a recreation of a severe firestorm, here. The Modakboard (MgO) is exposed to flames reaching 1000 degrees Celsius on the outside, yet sensors inside only register 35 degrees Celsius. (The Black Saturday bushfires reached 1200 degrees Celsius.)

Material Safety Data Sheet

The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Modakboard states the composition of the product as:

  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Perlite, Woodchip
  • Fibreglass/Composites

They also state that there are ‘no formaldehydes, silica, heavy metals, organic solvents or asbestos’ are used in the manufacturing process.

You can read more about this, here.

DragonBoard: Hurricane Tested in the US and Canada

In the US, another manufacturer of Magnesium Oxide board called Dragonboard, have tested the product for use in hurricane-safe buildings. So coupled with it’s mould resistance, it’s just as useful in a natural disaster caused by a hurricane as what it is in one caused by bushfire!

These qualities make it inert and a much safer option for people with allergies, chemical sensitivities and respiratory and/or immune issues as well because the board is inert from outgassing chemicals (so long as it’s stored in a chemical free environment and doesn’t have any chemical based products applied to it). (This could also be why we, as chemically sensitive patients, need to make sure that we are getting the same batch as sampled; because, as far as I know, at this time in Australia, all MgO board comes from China. And seriously, given their exploding factories with unregulated dangerous chemicals in them, who knows what else the boards (and all building products from China) are exposed to before they are shipped out?)

For Use In:

Walls and Ceilings

Magnesium Oxide Board is an ideal product to use as ceilings and walls instead of plasterboard. It screws into place and is finished just like regular plasterboard. However, with low VOC products suitable for people with chemical sensitivities! (See up-and-coming‘Finishing’ post for further information on the process.) We are using the modakboard with a tapered edge for the interior walls and ceilings. You can check out the installation manuals for interior walls here. And the installation manuals for ceilings here. Installation manuals for exterior walls can be downloaded from here.

Flooring and Decking

It can be installed as flooring replacing conventional flooring such as particleboard (chipboard) or cement sheeting. It’s then suitable to lay tiles or floorboards over. For floors, FireCrunch comes in 20 mm tongue and groove for easy install of decking and flooring. We are using it as the floor upstairs on our building project. And as the floor on the back verandas (upstairs and downstairs), which will then be tiled. (Our front upper and lower decks are going to be Blackbut supplied by Woodform Architectural Timber; but more about this coming up soon.) We are using the 20 mm tongue and groove FireCrunch for the decks. Installation manuals for flooring, for both SE and TG can be looked at here.

Flood Prone Areas

Homes built in areas prone to flooding can make great use of FireCrunch because of its inertness and ability to withhold its form if submerged in water. It can be removed, dried, then replaced (once the installation areas have dried) and the plaster re-finished and re-painted. And because it’s mould-resistant–if sealed-!-after it’s re-installed it won’t cause the additional health risks associated with living in water-damaged buildings.

You have 24-48 hours to dry water damage if you are mould sensitive!

For people with allergies, chemical sensitivities or respiratory illness this product is a godsend if used right.

However:

FireCrunch is easy to use but is not the same as other building products therefore FireCrunch must be installed in accordance with the installation manuals available from this website (See support and FAQ) Click here. Failure to do so may result in damage to the board and will be void of warranty.

Formaldehyde Free

This is a huge plus for people who are sensitive to chemicals or/and suffer with respiratory illness. Actually, for everyone this is great, yes? Further information via the MSDS can be found here: Modakboard

The Modakboard Fiasco, if You’re Interested

Australia Building Code (ABC) Standards

There has been speculation and innuendo about Modakboard products not meeting the ABC standards. CSIRO has proven this to be wrong. Modakboard meets full certification.

“All ModakBoard ( MgO) products are made of non combustible materials this was confirmed by the CSIRO in the original fire test achieving AS / NZS 3787.

ModakBoard FIRE RATINGS TO FRL 90/90/90 re confirmed with 75 kg Fire batts.

  • CSIRO additional FIRE TESTS fully exonerate Modak Board products, and are ‘again’ independently declared fully compliant by CSIRO in subsequent testing.
  • Tests show the original Chinese reliance tests by (CNAS) China and previously approved by Certmark were exactly the same in result and non-combustibility in CSIRO tests”

The following is from documentation I received in October from Peter Jones of Modakboard:

“FEDERAL FIRE CERTIFIER CERTMARK CMI… QLD
PUTS MODAKBOARD “UNDER FIRE’… CANCELS CERTIFICATION… AND GETS IT WRONG … JULY 2nd 2015

The good news for all our customers is …

CSIRO FIRE TESTS CONFIRM ALL MODAKBOARD FRL CLAIMS ARE CORRECT. Same product and same fire rated ability.
ModakBoard prepares legal action in damages claim for itself, suppliers, customer users and professional bodies, who have all experienced losses both financial and reputational for recommending a product that was later wrongly suspended and stated to be a “non conforming” fire rated product.

All ModakBoard ( MgO) products are made of non combustible materials this was confirmed by the CSIRO in a fire test achieving AS / NZS 3787 ( attached)
ModakBoard FIRE RATINGS TO FRL 90/90/90 re confirmed and fully certified by the CSIRO September 2015 ( certificates attached )”

You can read more about this issue here

And you can find FAQs here

And you can find the installation manuals here:

MBA Manual External Walls 2015
MBA Manual Ceilings 2015
MBA Manual Internal Walls 2015
MBA Manual Floors & Decks 2015
MBA Manual Wet Areas 2015

If Sourcing Magnesium Oxide Board Overseas

If not in Australia: Magnesium Oxide board is sold in North America under the product names Dragonboard, in the US and Canada; MagBoard, in the US; Magnum Board, in Canada; and Strong-Enviro Board, in the Philippines.

The Labyrinth will be featuring more about Modakboard as the project of building an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House goes along. Stay tuned for more.

Have you used MgO board? Do you have any ideas on how it can be used to create safe housing for people sensitive to 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.

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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