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:


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.

On My Way: A New Mattress

A chemical free living space comes up in the number two position in Pamela Reed Gibson’s, peer reviewed study, Perceived Treatment Efficacy for Conventional and Alternative Therapies Reported by Persons with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), September 2009 issue; ergo, making the creation of a chemical free living space one of the best actions you can take (after practising the avoidance of chemicals to which you are sensitive to) to improve the state of your health. (The same applies for people who have chemical allergies, inhalant allergies, chemical sensitivities, Environmental Illness (EI), Environmental Sensitivities (ES): semantically, these are one in the same, therefore, the treatment is the same. (In Australia, there is no medical definition for this type of illness. Well there is; sort of: my treating doctor calls it inhalant allergies. I’ve been tested using various chemicals, and deemed allergic/chemically sensitive to them. But generally (apparently), there is no MCS in Australia, even if many people do suffer with it. Oxymoronic, yes?)

An extensive part of creating a chemical free living space is changing the area where we sleep: our beds, our pyjamas (our bed partners?!). For me, rather than flirt with ideas, trying them out to see if they worked or not, after finding the right property and making sure it was safe for me, I went straight for what I know works: a mattress made from certified organic cotton, made right here, in Victoria, by Organature, Australia.


One of the first things I did, after buying a hammock and experiencing the pure materialistic nakedness of sleeping out in the wild (okay, we know that it wasn’t actually out in the wild or while naked, it was out on a balcony while wearing cotton pjs!) was to purchase another one of these beauties from Organature. My challenge being that, this time, I had very little time, or place for that matter, to air it, out of the weather. (It’s not the smell that’s a problem; and there are no irritants, allergens, or chemicals in the materials that needed out-gassing, but as many of my readers know, when my sinuses are inflamed, breathing around any odours can be painful. However, there is good news in this post, that problem is diminishing into the background of my life! Still, at the time, before I recovered to this point, I had to air it just in case.) Now, Cotton absorbs moisture easily, and unless the sun comes out the next day to ‘wick’ away that moisture, mould can and will grow…

This dilemma was solved by the owner of Organature, Peter Byl’s son, Micheal, who kindly offered to air it in a bright sun-lit spare room of his house. Due to allergies, and chemical sensitivities in the family, he’s acutely aware of the basics needed to sustain a healthy life for a person who has this type of immune disfunction disorder: a low irritant, low allergy house! For him that means floorboards, and not using any artificial fragrances or petrochemical based personal care or cleaning products. Now this is not just due to his own allergies, or his father’s chemical sensitivities; no, the family have staked their business on making sure their whole lives are as free from chemicals as possible. Not just the chemicals that are problematic to them, but due to large and growing numbers of people in their customer base, they avoid most of the chemicals that are known irritants to human health. Now that’s what I call an ethical business!

Here is my mattress, once it was delivered (way back in March, 2013):
One Innerspring Organic Cotton Mattress from Organature

One Innerspring Organic Cotton Mattress from Organature

It aired for two days. Two. Days. And then bought it inside, did my usual trick of leaving it (all new items get this treatment) in the room overnight while I slept, then being fine with it (like I knew I would be), it became my new cushioning for my dream pod. (The reason I don’t have my other mattress, the one I blogged about here, at this new rental property, is I’m still trying to remediate items from the house of mouldy horrors. Dare I say, come next summer, when I can air that one too, and vacuum it, then I’ll give using it a go. Besides, I need it to sleep on when I’m back at that house two days a week, doing a zillion loads of washing, and, sometimes staying there overnight after or before going to Uni (depending on how my health is. I know, staying in a mouldy house when I’m already not feeling well is just plain dumb; but driving when not well is around forty-nine shades dumber.).

During the transition from sleeping in my cotton hammock, outside my new abode, to sleeping inside the house, I used a fold out camping bed for a couple of weeks. Now, my back was not as sore as what it was from when my dog jumped up into the hammock, in the middle of a cold night, crushing my hip (the type of pain that fades away once you have a good ol’ stretch and a long beach walk), but it was still not an ideal sleeping arrangement compared to having a good snooze on a real mattress—sans dog or not.

(Also, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be okay living in this house, there are a few things I’ve had to sort out, but nothing of any major concern, and certainly no mould issues; and that my dear readers, is a beautiful thing. I’ve had success in improving my health, and, as you can see in this post, I’ve had a lot of help. I can’t state clearly enough how important living in a clean, low-chemical emitting house is for a person sensitive to chemicals. Whatever it is that you’re reacting to, you need to get yourself tested and then find a way to avoid those irritants causing symptoms. And, as my treating immunologist pointed out to me at the start of this discovery (9.5 years ago), low chemical bedding and pjs are a necessity, and as well as those, a low chemical living space (and along with that advice, he printed out this study for me). And with these, my conclusion: bedding is the beginning of finding ones way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities!)

In the photo above, you can see that it’s wrapped in plastic but you can also see (look down the bottom of the image) that it’s also wrapped in a large cotton bag, which (and you can’t see this in the picture) has a draw string sewn into the top. This is how Organature deliver the mattresses. First it sits inside the cotton bag (which is also made from organic calico cotton and has many future uses—think curtains, camping sheets or anything else you are handy at sewing), then it’s slid into a thick plastic bag. Mine came in two bags. I don’t have any problems with plastic, thanks be to the wild unicorns that roam our fine earth (oh, sorry, that’s in the short story that I’ve been working on), but I do have problems—symptoms bought on—with exposure to petrochemicals, with diesel being the worst. So that’s why Organature took such great care with the delivery. And I was so, so chuffed to be able to use it within two days of it arriving.

From pack up to your door, the mattresses, and any other bedding ordered, are handled by people who are not wearing fragrance chemicals or anything that has come out of an aerosol can.

The cost:

One single mattress, cotton cover, summer quilt used as mattress protector

Mattress: $890
Cover: $57
Quilt: $120
Total: $1067
Delivery to somewhere far away: $100
I’ve bought many things from here, so they gave me a 10% discount on the bedding. (If only I could have bought more!) You can find out more about Organature bedding’s prices here. And for all you bargain hunters out there, they even have some treasures for you!

New, from Organature: Hardwood Bedframes, Futons and Bedside Tables (available painted in Livos or just plain butt naked)

Source: via The-Labyrinth on Pinterest

The transition from sleeping outside in the hammock to sleeping inside was made on a fold-out camping bed (for lack of no other bed), I had time to order the mattress and would’ve had time to air it for longer if needed. But I had no idea if I would be okay living here. I had a hunch. And a gut feeling. Besides, I knew I was okay outside, so that was a start; but there were a few small things that needed taking care of inside, and once these were, then I was pretty sure this was the place for me. And, even if it’s not absolutely perfect (what rental property is?), I can, and have made it work. It’s a dream come true…

And, although to start with, sleeping outside, was improved on by moving indoors and onto a camping bed, it still wasn’t an ideal sleeping arrangement  sans dog or not!

And, guess what? The dog is on her own blanket, sitting at the end of my bed right now! There’s actually no getting away from her…

Mattresses in the US

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkley and  New York

Nesting Instinct: Bedding Options for the Chemically Sensitive

“In the US, Mattress and bedding companies recommended by those with environmental illness include: Furnature, Green Nest, Heart of Vermont, Janice’s, Lifekind, Natura, Royal-Pedic, Savvy Rest, Soaring Heart, The Clean Bedroom, and Tomorrow’s World.”

Click here to visit for more fantastic tips

Further Links:

Organature (Kindly, Organature have been know to send out samples of materials they use so that people can test to see if they are okay with them before outlaying  money on a mattress.)

Blessed Earth wool mattresses available online, and in QLD, Australia. (Blessed Earth will send out samples of the materials used so that people can see if they are okay with them).

Bedding in Dallas that may be suitable for people sensitive to chemicals

Natural Sleep Store, organic mattress showroom, Denver, Colorado, US

Nesting instinct: Bedding for the chemically sensitive an excellent article with lots of lateral-thinking ideas for bedding options

A Safe Bed to Sleep In: J. Camphill an excellent article with ideas for people who cannot tolerate cotton

Another article about Organature

A bed made from cardboard

Cot vs traditional mattress for sleeping: Allergic to Life: My Battle

Dr. Grace Ziem’s Environmental Control Plan for Chemically Sensitive Patients: Controlling Exposures in your Bedroom

The Importance of Safe Housing: Seriously “Sensitive” to Pollution Environmental Health: Living With MCS/ES

Why I chose a Latex Mattress: Sarah Wilson

Did You know: If you live in the US and have trouble with organic cotton, it may be a mould issue, but, my Australian-organic-cotton-manufacturing sources tell me, it could because organic farmers over there grow cotton and peanuts using the crop rotation method. Therefore, if you are highly allergic to peanuts, then they are most likely contaminating the cotton!

What do you sleep on?

Are there any tricks you’d like to share with the ever-growing-and-increasing-amount of newly sensitive people who come across this page?

Sleeping rough, especially when already ill, can be awful, hey? I’ve heard some tragic tales, and some amazing, inspiring think-outside-of-the-proverbial-bubble solutions, too! Please share yours…

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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