How Long Does it Take to Create a Safe Home?

Definition of ‘Safe’: 1. predic. ] protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost. 2. not likely to cause or lead to harm or injury; not involving danger or risk.

To build a safe home for someone who is so sensitive to chemicals that they are having trouble living comfortably without pain can be an enormous task. I know this because I’ve just spent the last three years designing the house, testing the building materials, sourcing the workers and also the products needed to build an Eco-friendly, Allergy-free House. And, as difficult as this has been, and I am nowhere near the most sensitive of all my chemically sensitive brothers and sisters, I’ve learnt to have an exquisite understanding of the trials and tribulations encountered on this project of trying to create a safe place to live. 

The last three years of my life have been hell; so I really need this safe place. 

A place where I can walk on tiles instead of foil; a place where I can sleep without getting sick from neighbours’ chimney smoke; a place where I can be well enough to cope with going to Uni one day a week; a place where I gain enough tolerance to chemicals back that my partner doesn’t have to shower every time he comes in after being near fragrance wearers, the petrol station or in the supermarket aisle (where cleaning products’ VOCs from the cleaning aisle adhere to his clothes (and the little hair that he has)); a place where I’m not exposed to moulds, especially outdoor moulds making their way inside; but most of all I just want a place that’s safe. A place where I can just be without being sick. (Something we all deserve!)

Whether you consider yourself to have, or have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or you just have a few chemical sensitivities, you need a safe home before you can even begin to recover. Whether you or a family member have inhalant allergies, asthma or another condition impacted on via human produced chemicals or natural substances, before you can begin to recover, seriously, a safe home must be created. A study by Pamela Reed Gibson titled, ‘Perceived Treatment Efficacy for Conventional and Alternative Therapies Reported by Persons with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity‘, lists a chemical-free home (after chemical avoidance) as the top second successful treatment for people with chemical sensitivity. I’m holding on tightly to that piece of information right now.

So how long does it take to create a safe home for someone sensitive to chemicals (like, a lot of chemicals)?

Well, the answer to that is as vast and varied as the symptoms and the chemicals to which we, as individuals, try to avoid. Also, I think this is a project that may take time due to a lot of stopping and starting because it’s so important to get the living space right; it’s worth actually taking your time rather than just slapping something together that turns out to be intolerable. The answer to this question came to me in the mail not long ago. A friend whom I’d shown my house plans to wrote back to me and said: “Don’t rush into this. Take as long as you need to get it right.” This was coming from a person who has MCS; someone who has successfully built themselves a safe home; someone who was once very sick and has now experienced a huge recovery in health. Inspiring much? I’ll say!

So what type of house does a chemically sensitive person need built for them?

When I asked my specialist just exactly what type of home we needed to build for me to be able to avoid symptoms from chemical exposure within my living space, he said: “You just need a normal house built without chemicals you are reactive to.” This was a relief because I was starting to think about straw bale and mud bricks, you know, natural materials, which are fine if that’s what you want or need but I wanted to build a house that fits into the urban landscape. Something that can be resold further down the track; something that goes up in value; something that won’t leak or grow mould. Concrete, brick, stone, wood and cement sheeting is what we decided on.

Because of the testing that I’ve undergone with Allergist and Immunologist, Dr Colin Little during the last decade, I know exactly what chemicals I need to avoid: carpet, pine, VOCs, mould, woodsmoke, petrochemicals, solvents and fragrances, so I guess that’s a map I’m very grateful for.

We bought our little block of land in 2012 and, by 2014 our plans were finalised. (However, early this year, after applying for a financial loan, we had to reconfigure our plans to fit our budget–it was that or over extend ourselves.) I began testing products mid 2012, and, mostly, apart from paints, sealants, some kitchen materials and plaster top coat, all our building materials have been tested and decided upon. This would have to be the most demanding part. Here’s a selection of building materials and chemicals that have been tested and that have been deemed safe:

FullSizeRender

Spotted gum from Woodform (however, we are using blackbut); another section of wood painted in Intergrain (prepared and posted out by Woodform; Ardex low VOC wet seal; Ardex low VOC glue, Latacrete, low VOC wet seal; Neemaboard (UPVC board to replace chipboard), possibly for our kitchen; Modakboard, for our walls and upper floor; oak for kitchen doors; stone for benchtops (which we may not use because we can’t find a suitable sealant); Zennit (Deceuninck) uPVC window frames; Victorian Ash for the staircase, from Coastal Stairs; and finally, no VOC plaster base coat by Boral.

Spotted gum from Woodform (however, we are using blackbut); another section of wood painted in Intergrain (prepared and posted out by Woodform; Ardex low VOC wet seal; Ardex low VOC glue, Latacrete, low VOC wet seal; Neemaboard (UPVC board to replace chipboard), possibly for our kitchen; Modakboard, for our walls and upper floor; oak for the kitchen doors; stone for benchtops (which we may not use because we can’t find a suitable sealant); Zennit (Deceuninck) uPVC windows; and finally, plaster base coat by Boral.

These are inside my rental property right now. I sleep near them! I’ll post about the testing process later; it will be great to compare notes with others on this important task.

Since I took that photo we’ve tested a few more products, plus there are a heap of heavier building products outside on our deck, but as you can imagine, this is a lot of testing. I’ll do an update post later on the rest of the products. The point in showing you all this is this: don’t rush into creating a safe home for yourself or someone you care about. I know it can seem to outsiders that we are being overly fussy or anxious; that perhaps we should just jump in an decide and just bloody get on with the project. But what are the consequences if we don’t get it right? Well, for me, if I don’t get it right, I won’t have anywhere to live. Once the build is finished and the loan repayments come into affect [effect/affect?] for me, then I won’t have this rental property anymore. This is incentive enough to get it right! (I do joke about having to live in my car but this is not funny at all because I get so ill even after two hours in it.)

How about you, how long do you think is a reasonable time to create a safe home? Do you have any experience in creating one? Please, do share. (I’m open to input on my choice of building products too… )

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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