Our house can be viewed from several different angles, many
of which ended up having overlapping requirements:
- Non-toxic and allergy-free
- Energy efficient
- Durable, long lasting and low maintenance
- Handicap accessible
The specific design guidelines that had to do with the non-toxic,
allergy-free nature of the house were the following:
Standard residential construction techniques result in buildings
that allow a lot of air to come in from the outside, through various
cracks, seams and other openings. Since this air would carry outdoor
allergens indoors, it was decided to use air-tight building construction
techniques, so that we would have 100% control over the quality
of all air coming into the building.
Wood is normally used to frame the inside and outside walls
of homes. I decided to use metal instead of wood because construction
lumber is often treated with toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde,
fire retardants and sometimes pesticides. Over the years, wood
can rot, possibly exposing us to high levels of mold. Wood can
also get termites, which normally requires treatment of the entire
structure with high levels of pesticides. Because of my family's
sensitivity to such chemicals, an infestation of termites would
mean that we would have to move. It also turns out that we're
sensitive to chemicals called terpenes that are present in wood.
And finally, it's also nice that metal lasts longer than wood
and that it can't burn.
Minimize Use of Plastics, Glues, Paints and Other Toxics
The fumes from most plastics, especially softer ones, have
been shown in the scientific literature to have unhealthy effects
on some people. Similarly, most glues and paints give off volatile
organic chemicals that can linger in interior air for months or
Minimize Places Where Mold Can Grow or Dust Can Accumulate
Because my wife and I are very sensitive to mold, we wanted
to make sure that there were as few places as possible in the
house where it could easily grow. This meant eliminating grout
and other seams in showers or on counters where possible, for
example. It also meant giving some thought to our closet spaces,
to make sure they wouldn't turn into dust traps.
No Natural Gas Indoors
Natural gas and its combustion products are known to damage
the immune system. Although some health advocates believe that
cooking on natural gas is superior to electric, our doctor highly
recommends that people do not have gas inside their houses. The
reason is that gas appliances have a tendency to leak gas into
the surroundings and to be inadequately ventilated.
Cars give off all sorts of toxic fumes, from gasoline, lingering
engine exhaust, lubrication oils, "street" grime, hot
tire rubber, etc. Rather than letting those smells into the house
every time we open the door to the garage, we decided to have
the garage be detached.
As with most people building a home, we also had a number of
design guidelines that pertained directly to our own personal
taste. This is the kind of thing that makes a house comfortable
and livable. Although the house was to be "clean", we
certainly didn't want it to be "sterile".
- One story (no stairs is safer both for small kids and for
- Handicap accessible throughout
- Use of the Chinese feng shui principals where possible.
This is an ancient "art of placement" that has helped
some people feel better.
- A separate "project room" for the occasional smelly
art project, and to store things we might want to keep that don't
exactly fit in with the non-toxic nature of the rest of the house.
- Home-run telephone and cable TV wire, in preparation for
a later house-wide computer networking and home automation system.
- Energy efficient structure and appliances
The design was started in January 1994. We found the land we
wanted to build on in February, and the purchase closed in March.
The design was finished in August. The contractor started work
in late September. The house was finished in February, 1996, seventeen
months later, or 25 months from beginning to end.