Category A Healthy. House

Acute Exposure to Pesticides with Long-Term Consequences

Louise Pape’s life changed drastically in 1993. On a warm spring day, she and her husband were slowly driving home with the windows rolled down to en­joy the cool breeze. At the roadside she spotted a man from a tree care company wearing a gas mask and spraying pesticides on the trees with a large hose. Louise suddenly felt a shower of chemicals on her face, in her eyes, nose, and mouth, as the sprayer overshot his target. She later learned that the pesticide was a mixture of malathion and car – baryl (Sevin).

That incident was the beginning of a night­mare illness for Louise, an environmental planner who, ironically, had just finished developing a safe pesticide plan for her employer, a transnational corporation. She was disabled for several months with flu-like symptoms, aching joints and muscles, severe headaches, dizziness, thyroid problems, insomnia, and shortness of breath. She was of­ten bedridden and sometimes lapsed into a near comatose state upon reexposure to even minute amounts of pesticides. Louise eventually devel­oped full-blown multiple chemical sensitivity disorder. For four years, she was virtually home – bou nd, stil I unable to tolerate the trace amounts of pesticide and other chemical exposures that occur

EPA, in the face of overwhelming evidence of negative human health effects, does decide to ban a pesticide, the process is slow and fraught with compromise. For example, on June 8, 2000 the EPA agreed to phase out home and garden uses of chlorpyrifos,5 a known neuro­toxin that is the active ingredient in Dursban and Lorsban. Between 1991 and 1996, more than 17,000 cases of unintentional chlorpyri­fos exposure were reported to poison control during routine activities out in the world. Despite her illness, Louise and her husband have become articulate spokespersons in educating the public about the hazards of pesticides and other chemi­cals. The ranch home they built in 1995 has be­come a model for nontoxic living.


Many of the most harmful pesticides fall into three categories: organochlorines, organophosphates, and carbamates. In the above case, the onset of ill­ness was associated with a single large exposure to an organophosphate and carbamate mixture. The cause of the prolonged illness was obvious. In most cases, however, the cause is not so obvi­ous. Many people are exposed to repeated low – dose applications of pesticides, which can result in general malaise with flu-like symptoms, chronic fatigue, and subtle neurological deficits. When patients complain of such symptoms to their doc­tors, they are rarely questioned about exposures to pesticides or other chemicals. Most emergency room doctors are familiar with acute pesticide poi­soning, but few physicians have knowledge of the long-term, chronic effects of pesticide exposure.

centers. Although less toxic and nontoxic al­ternatives are available for all chlorpyrifos ap­plications, more than 11 million pounds of the ingredient were being applied annually. The phase out allowed:

• home and garden use sales to continue through December 31,2001

• existing stock to be sold in retail outlets until depleted

• continued use on food crops (except to-

Toxic Byproducts of Combustion

Gas, oil, coal, wood, and other fuels burned in­doors consume valuable indoor oxygen unless air for combustion is supplied from the out­doors. In tight, energy efficient buildings, these fumes can cause serious health consequences.

Подпись: Plastered walls, recycled wood flooring over radiant floor heating and specialty finishes are used in this straw bale home in New Mexico. Interior view shows deep window seat in the country kitchen. Architect: Baker-Laporte and Associates; Builder: Prull and Associates; Photo: Julie Dean.

Indoor combustion is found in fireplaces; woodstoves; gas-fired appliances such as ranges, clothes dryers, and water heaters; fur­naces; gas – and kerosene-fired space heaters; and oil and kerosene lamps. Some of the po­tentially harmful emissions include nitrogen dioxide, nitrous oxide, sulfur oxides, hydro­gen cyanide, carbon monoxide, carbon di­oxide, formaldehyde, particulate matter, and hydrocarbons from natural gas fumes such as butane, propane, pentane, methyl pentane, benzene, and xylene. The indoor levels of these pollutants are determined by the amount of fuel burned and the rate of exchange with out­door air.

What are some of the potential health

effects of combustion byproduct gases? In a study of 47,000 chemically sensitive patients, the most important sources of indoor air pol­lution responsible for generating illness were the gas stove, the improperly vented hot wa­ter heater, and the furnace.2 Hazardous fumes can leak at the pipe joints and remain unde­tected, especially if they occur under floor­ing. In addition, every pilot light adds fumes, and the burning process itself releases fumes into the air. The primary effects of exposure to gas fumes are on the cardiovascular and ner­vous systems, but they can affect any organ of the body. Some of the earliest symptoms from exposure to gas fumes include depression, fa­tigue, irritability, and inability to concentrate.

Carbon monoxide is commonly produced during incomplete combustion, especially from gas-fueled appliances. Carbon mon­oxide quickly diffuses throughout the entire house. Typically, these appliances must be re­moved from the homes of chemically sensitive patients to restore their health. Chronic expo­sure can result in multiple chemical sensitivi­ties because carbon monoxide has the ability to interfere with the detoxification pathways in the liver, allowing the accumulation of toxic substances. Other effects of chronic carbon monoxide exposure include heart arrhyth­mia, decreased cognitive abilities, confusion, and fatigue.

Carbon dioxide is produced from burning natural gas. Elevated levels result in decreased mental acuity, loss of vigor, and fatigue. Nitro­gen oxides are also released from gas appli­ances. A major source of contamination is the gas stove, particularly older models with pilot lights. These gases are known to impact the nervous and reproductive systems.

Coal, gas, and woodburning fireplaces that are not equipped with sealed doors emit par­ticulate matter as well as toxic fumes. They also consume indoor oxygen unless fresh outdoor air is supplied to them. Particles not expelled by blowing or sneezing can find their way into the lungs, where they can remain for years.

It is important to mention that when an automobile is parked or operated in an at­tached garage, gas, oil, and other volatile or­ganic compounds diffuse into the structure and will affect air quality in the home. Garages therefore must be properly isolated from the main structure.

Well-ventilated and well-sealed sources of combustion can be operated with very little degradation of the indoor air. However, even sources of minimal exposure must often be re­moved from the homes of chemically sensitive patients to restore their health.


Although some pesticides may technically be considered VOCs, these often odorless and in­visible substances have become such a health threat that they warrant a separate discussion. Pesticides, or biocides, are poisons designed to kill a variety of plants and animals such as in­sects (insecticides), weeds (herbicides), mold (mildewcides), and fungus (fungicides). They were first developed as offshoots of nerve gas used during World War II. Most pesticides are synthetic chemicals made from petroleum. They are composed of active ingredients — the chemical compounds designed to kill the target organism — and inert ingredients — chemicals that deliver the active ingredients to the target, preserve them, or make them easier to apply.

Many people believe that the pesticides they buy, or those used by lawn and pest con­trol companies, are “safe.” They assume that the government is protecting them; that pes­ticides are scientifically tested; that if used ac­cording to the instructions on the label they will do no harm; and that the products would not be on the market if they were unsafe. All of these assumptions are incorrect.

EPA registration does not signify pesticide safety.3 The EPA approves pesticides based on efficacy, not safety. Efficacy means the pesti­cide will kill the targeted pest. Out of the hun­dreds of active ingredients registered with the EPA, fewer than a dozen have been adequately tested for safety.4 In fact, it is a violation of fed­eral law to state or imply that the use of a pesti­cide is “safe when used as directed.” When the

Sources of Indoor Pollution

Indoor air pollutants can be classified into five main categories: volatile organic compounds, toxic byproducts of combustion, pesticides, electromagnetic fields, and naturally occur­ring pollutants. Each category of pollutant is described in a following section.

Volatile Organic Compounds


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Sources of Indoor Pollution

Organic compounds are chemicals contain­ing carbon-hydrogen bonds at the molecular level. They are both naturally occurring and

manufactured. Most synthetic organic com­pounds are petrochemicals derived from oil, gas, and coal. Organic compounds can exist in the form of a gas, a liquid, or solid particles. Substances that readily release vapors at room temperature are called volatile organic com­pounds (VOCs). This outgassing is a form of evaporation of volatile compounds contained in solid material and results in a slow release of chemicals into the air.

VOCs constitute a major source of toxic overload and can threaten individual health. Any organ of the body can be affected. Some of the more common symptoms include rashes, headaches, eye irritation, chronic cough, chronic sinus infections, joint and muscle pain, memory loss, inability to concentrate, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and an increasing number of allergies.

Organic compounds can be classified into three categories based on derivation from pe­troleum products. The primary organic com­pounds include components directly derived from gas, oil, and coal and include propane, butane, benzene, xylene, paraffins, toluene, and styrene. These products are then used to derive the intermediate substances such as formaldehyde, phenols, acetone, isopropanol, and acetaldehyde. The end products produced include solvents, waxes, lacquers, synthetic detergents, synthetic fibers, and paints. Com­mon sources of volatile organic compounds occurring in the indoor environment include:

• plywood

• particleboard

• wood paneling

• carpets and carpet pads

• insulation

• paints

• finishes

• solvents

• adhesives

• synthetic fabrics

• cleaning products

• body care products

• mothballs

• insecticides

• aerosol products

• art and hobby materials

• dry cleaned garments

• air fresheners

VOCs can also be generated from natural sub­stances. These include terpenes, which outgas from wood, and aromatics from natural oils. Some more chemically sensitive individu­als react to naturally occurring VOCs. These individuals are urged to test their reactions to each product before making a major pur­chase, even if the product is derived from a natural source.

You are undoubtedly familiar with the distinctive smell of a new house. The odor is composed primarily of outgassing chemicals from toxic volatile organic compounds. Some building products now report the parts per million of VOCs on their labels, but this infor­mation can be misleading. Yes, it is true that the fewer parts per million the better, but cer­tain chemicals such as dioxin are not safe in any detectable amount.1 One of the goals in constructing a healthy house is to reduce the use of toxic VOCs.

How Much More Will It Cost to Build a Healthy Home?

Assume for a moment that you are house hunt­ing. Your real estate agent contacts you and is very excited about a real bargain, a house go­ing for 20 percent less than market value. Upon further inquiry, you learn that the house con­tains lead paint and asbestos insulation and sits on a bed of radon-emitting granite. It is lo­cated in a flood plain, has poor drainage, and smells a little moldy. The previous owners have died of cancer. With this new information, the home now seems to be less than a bargain.

Our health is priceless and when buying, renovating, or building a new home its ability to nurture health should be our top priority. Unfortunately we are faced with a building/ real estate industry that does not make health a top priority. Builders often include many amenities such as three-car garages, whirlpool baths, extra rooms, and fancy fixtures, fau­cets, and appliances while ignoring even sim­ple health safeguards such as nontoxic paints, floor drains, and carbon monoxide moni­tors. Appraisers focus primarily on size rather than quality, and real estate agents often pro­mote the visual cosmetics of the home. How­ever, much of what makes a home healthy is not visible to the naked eye. This book is about how to avoid substances and building prac­tices that are as harmful to your health as lead, asbestos, mold, or radon but are commonly used in construction today. It is for the home­owner, builder, and home designer who wish to make health a priority in creating homes that are responsive and nurturing for all who live in them.

How much more will it cost to build a healthy home? This is frequently the first question posed to Paula by her clients. The an­swer usually lies somewhere between zero and 25 percent more than standard construction. In some cases, little or no extra money is re­quired to build and maintain a healthy home. A few examples are listed below:

• Additive-free concrete costs no more than concrete with toxic admixtures, provided that climatic conditions are appropriate for the project.

• Zero-VOC paints are now readily avail­able through most paint manufacturers.

• Shortening wiring runs with careful plan­ning not only will reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields but also will save money.

• Unscented and nonchlorinated cleaning products cost no more and can be just as effective as compounds containing harsh chemicals.

In other cases, healthier alternatives are more expensive initially but more economical in the long run. For example:

• The most inexpensive types of roofing to install are comprised of tar and gravel or asphalt shingles, but the useful life of these products is much shorter than that of many of the less toxic roofing systems discussed in Division 7.

• Although forced-air heating is less expen­sive to install, a properly designed gas-fired, hydronic radiant floor heating system is not only more comfortable and healthier but also virtually maintenance-free. Higher initial installation costs will be outweighed over time by lower heating bills and more comfort.

In some areas your decision to “go healthy” will cost more, and you will be faced with some difficult choices. We will try to offer you facts and a range of alternatives so that your choices can be well informed. In many instances there is no right answer. Sometimes your decision will come down to a trade-off between luxury and health. But then, what is luxury without health? You could ultimately spend a for­tune on medical bills and lose your quality of life, as have the people who have shared their stories with us in the case studies throughout the book.

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Furthermore, as responsible citizens of the world we must weigh our building choices from an environmental perspective. The cost to the environment of many current building practices is astronomical. Our children and grandchildren will ultimately pay for our ex­cesses and waste. To weigh the environmen­tal cost of our choices, we must consider their lifecycle impacts:

• We can choose products that are locally produced from renewable resources.

• We can choose to build less by building with well-designed and efficient plans.

• We can build-in energy efficiency and lon­gevity.

• We can make solar heating, solar electric­

ity, water catchment, and ecological waste management our budgeting priorities.

A Healthy. House

For this 3rd edition of Prescriptions for a Healthy House we would like to thank our readers, who over the years have used this book in search of a healthier way to build their homes. We thank the folks at New Society Publishers for keeping us in print and inviting us to update our information to make this work current in a rapidly growing field. We also want to take this opportunity to thank them for their ex­ceptional vision in publishing a whole roster of books for creating a better world. We wish to acknowledge our editor, Diane Killou, for her thoughtful, skilled, and thorough work.

Many thanks to Jesus Bendezu and Liz Jan from the Baker-Laporte office for their re­search assistance, to Stephen Wiman for his review and additions regarding water puri­fication, and to Toni and Paul Fuge for their review and updates regarding sustainable for­estry.

We are grateful to the many Building Bi­ologists who have taken time from their busy careers to enrich the 3rd edition with their informative essays about various aspects of the Building Biology approach to healthy building. Thank you, Warren Clough, Mary Cordaro, Andre Fauteux, Rowena Finegan, Larry Gust, Katharina Gustavs, Ernst Kiesling, David McAuley, Peter Sierck, Will Spates, Dan Stih, George Swanson, Athena Thompson,

Vicki Warren, and last but not least Helmut Ziehe, founder of the International Institute for Bau-Biology & Ecology in Clearwater, Florida, teacher and mentor of many of us who are concerned about healthy homes.

The authors wish to thank the many peo­ple who offered their guidance, expertise, and encouragement in the completion of the origi­nal manuscript. Special thanks go to Pauline Kenny for her tireless efforts and computer wizardry, which helped transform the data into something that resembled a book. Our gratitude goes to Will and Louise Pape, who graciously offered their ranch as a working re­treat center and gave practical advice and in­spiration each step of the way.

Paula would like to acknowledge her hus­band, Robert Laporte, not only for his patience in living with a “writing” partner but also for the teaching and inspiration he has shared with her in the field of natural building.

John Banta wishes to thank his wife, Trisha, who has patiently endured her husbands au­thorship of two books in one year, and James Holland of Restoration Consultants, who has continued to be a personal mentor.

Paula Baker-Laporte, FAIA, BBP John Banta, CAIH Erica Elliott, MD

By Helmut Ziehe

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I am honored to be asked to write the foreword for this book, which I find extraordinarily suitable for practical use by architects, build­ers, and homeowners. Building professionals, who already understand the complexities of conventional construction, can now learn how to incorporate the principles of Bau-Biologie (Building Biology) into their buildings in or­der to make healthier places to live.

Bau-Biologie is a German word. “Bau” means building and “bio” comes from the Greek “bios,” meaning life or mode of life. Combined, the words refer to how buildings influence life, or the relationship between buildings and life. Bau-Biologie has two as­pects. One is the study of how building materi­als and construction methods impact human health and how this knowledge can be ap­plied to the new construction and the modifi­cation of homes and workplaces. This is what we call basic Bau-Biologie. The other aspect is ecological and is concerned with the im­pact buildings have on the environment. The words Bau-Biologie and Building Biology are used interchangeably and are trademarked in the United States.

The Bau-Biologie movement began in Ger­many some 40 years ago. A number of con­cerned professionals from various disciplines noted a general decline in health following
the post-World War II surge in construction. Hubert Palm coined the term Bau-Biologie and wrote a book about it. Gustav Freiherr von Pohl did some research on water veins and their influence on peoples health. Anton Sch­neider, a wood specialist, and some colleagues formed a group and taught Bau-Biologie at a vocational school in Rosenheim, Bavaria. Af­ter a successful start, the program became the Institut fur Baubiologie und Okologie Neu – beuern (IBN). Under Anton Schneider, the IBN flourished. Through courses, seminars, books, and a magazine entitled Wohnung und Gesundheit, it soon gained a reputation in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Neth­erlands and throughout Northern Europe.

I first studied Building Biology after an “aha” experience in North Africa in 1980 that changed the course of my career and life. I was the resident engineer for a new city of 90,000 inhabitants. It was a nice design, but the build­ing materials were wrong! Concrete was the basic material. They had sand in abundance, and everything else had to be imported. One – to three-story houses were built, but the mis­take was that these concrete buildings heated up so much that even air conditioning could not bring substantial relief. The people were forced to live in these houses, but the majority refused, living in tents instead.

I found the solution by looking at houses dating back as much as 4,000 years that used clay as the basic building material and covered walkways for shading and ventilation.

Very simple! The new town designers and the local committee were unwilling to accept the truths in my observations about the genius of the indigenous architecture and the short­comings of the modern buildings we were imposing on these people. This eye-opening experience led me to forsake my education and my career as a modernist architect and to embrace the precepts of Bau-Biologie. I had no intention of going back to a conventional architectural practice once my job in North Africa was finished.

After leaving North Africa, I lived in Eng­land, where I became aware that Bau-Biologie education was not available in English. I con­tacted Anton Schneider to study and eventu­ally translate the Correspondence Course. This led me to found the International Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology (IBE), first in Eng­land and then in the United States. Eventually the knowledge of Bau-Biologie was dissemi­nated to other English-speaking countries.

In England in 1984 I worked on the trans­lation and began determining if there was indeed an interest in Bau-Biologie in the English-speaking world. The translation went well, even with a manual typewriter and freez­ing conditions, but over a period of two years I had only twelve students! However, one of the students was David Pearson, who promised to write a book on Bau-Biologie. The Natural House Book appeared some two years later.

In 1987,1 relocated to the United States. In the beginning I worked alone in my new Flor­ida residence and the Institute started slowly. At that time in North America there were very few people focusing on the built environ­ment and its relationship to human health. Of note were the human ecologist and physician Theron G. Randolph, the architect Richard Crowther, and the writer Ken Kern (author of The Owner-Built Home).

When a reporter asked me in 1989 how many students I had, I answered: “Only eight.” He replied: “Everyone has to start small” A big boost came shortly afterward as a result of an article in East West Journal, which initi­ated a surge of public awareness of and inter­est in Bau-Biologie. Another very important event was meeting Wolfgang Maes, a very suc­cessful Bau-Biologist from Germany and ini­tiator of the Bau-Biologie Standards. He pro­posed seminars and came from Germany to help run the first three. They were a great suc­cess. John Banta was among the first graduat­ing students.

With the computer age underway, the course material could be fine-tuned. I was no longer capable of doing all the work of the In­stitute alone. My staff and I refined the original Correspondence Course and created a Mini­Course, now called IBE 111 — Natural, Healthy Buildings: An Introductory Overview of Bau – Biologie Principles.

During the following years I was invited to numerous events in the US and abroad, including an invitation to speak in Quebec in 1993; the AIA Chicago annual conference; various exhibitions in Austin, New York, Seat­tle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Phoenix; and many feng shui conferences throughout the country. In the midst of all this were invi­tations to Indore and to Bogota, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo, leading to the dissemination of the Building Biology prin­ciples into the Latin American countries and the translation of the Mini-Course into Por­tuguese. Without my actually traveling there, IBE established a presence in Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand, one of my stu­dents, Reinhard Kanuka, founded an institute and offered the American translation of the Correspondence Course to his students.

Sometimes I wonder where I found the strength to endure twenty-five years of Bau – Biologie development. Although the prog­ress was at times discouragingly slow and the financial rewards less than supportive, much encouragement along the way reinforced my belief in this valuable body of knowledge. My commitment to it has been renewed again and again.

I am entirely aware that a single person cannot do it alone. To disseminate a rele­vant body of knowledge, there needs to be a collaboration of people who are captured by the same mission. I think we have begun to achieve this. Bau-Biologie, or Building Biol­ogy, has found its niche in society. This newest edition of Prescriptions for a Healthy House, which includes contributions from many of the continents leading Bau-Biologists, is a milestone along the way.

Authors’ note: Rather than have a conven­tional foreword written in praise of our book, we invited Helmut Ziehe, founder of the Inter­national Institute for Bau-Biology & Ecology, to write about the history of Bau-Biologie, where our inspiration for the book originated. In 2004, Helmut suifered a severe stroke. His students rallied to his side and carried on the work of the Institute with a renewed sense of commitment. Helmut continues to progress in his recovery with the same courage and perseverance with which he single-mindedly ran the Institute against all obstacles for so many years to the great benefit of his students. His language skills have had to be slowly and painfully relearned. Knowing the effort it has taken him to write this foreword, we are hon­ored and touched.

It has been said that we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us. When we consider that the average North American spends 90 percent or more of life indoors, the significance of this statement becomes appar­ent. In this era of unprecedented technologi­cal advancement, it stands to reason that we would use our knowledge to create indoor environments with exceptional vitality that would enhance our health and our sense of well-being. But this has not been the case.

Indoor air pollution is one of the top four environmental health risks identified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Scientific Advisory Board authorized by Congress to consult with the EPA on tech­nical matters.1 Indoor pollution is estimated to cause thousands of cancer deaths and hun­dreds of thousands of respiratory health prob­lems each year. Millions of children have experienced elevated blood levels of contami­nants resulting from their exposure to indoor pollutants.2

How has this sad state of affairs developed? Since the oil embargo of 1973, we have placed a high priority on energy efficiency, creating buildings that are increasingly airtight. Con­currently, the building industry has promoted inexpensive synthetic building products and furnishings that are mass-produced and re­quire little maintenance. Since little attention has been paid to the toxicity of these prod­ucts until very recently, consumers have re­mained largely ignorant of the health threats they pose.

The average person has little background in chemistry and makes the false assumption that building products must be reasonably safe to be allowed on the market. The disturbing truth is that, according to the EPA, there are now more than 88,000 chemicals in common use.3 Many of these have been associated with cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, and neurological and behavioral problems. Furthermore, “as amazing as it may seem, there are no mandatory pre-market health testing or approval requirements under any federal law for chemicals in cosmetics, toys, clothing, carpets, or construction materials, to name just a few obvious sources of chemical exposure in everyday life.”4

The limited testing that has been imple­mented rarely takes into consideration the on­going, low-level exposure to the hundreds of chemicals we inhale or absorb simultaneously throughout our daily lives. The toll on human health resulting from exposure to the chemical soup surrounding us is finally becoming clear. In 1986, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 15 percent of the population suffered from chemical sensitivities.5 Based on current unofficial reports by physicians specializing in environmental medicine, that number is rising rapidly. These figures do not include people who unknowingly suffer from problems either directly or indirectly related to chronic, low-level toxic exposure. All too often symptoms are falsely attributed to the normal aging process.

Exposure to toxins in the indoor envi­ronment, even at low levels, has been linked to a vast spectrum of illnesses ranging from chronic sinus infections, headaches, insom­nia, anxiety, and joint pain to full-blown mul­tiple chemical sensitivity and other immune system disorders.

In spite of overwhelming evidence of the health risks, the majority of new construction in the United States continues to create envi­ronments that harm human health. There is, in fact, nothing complicated about creating a healthy building. The solution is composed of many simple but important steps. Many safer alternative materials and methods of design and building are becoming readily available. Nevertheless, the homeowner who desires to create a healthy building or remodel an exist­ing building is still a pioneer facing the follow­ing major obstacles:

• Building for health is not the current stan­dard of the construction industry. Al­though most architects and builders are now aware that health problems are asso­ciated with standard building practices, the industry in general has not responded with appropriate changes. There are no set and sanctioned prescriptions to fol­low for healthy building. In the nine years since the publication of the first edition of Prescriptions for a Healthy House, several

organizations have emerged with the pur­pose of demonstrating and rewarding the creation of healthier, more energy efficient, and more ecologically friendly homes. The American Lung Association has built ex­emplary model homes. Several voluntary rating and certification programs, such as LEED-R, Green Seal, and the National As­sociation of Home Builders’ Green Rat­ing System, and various county and state guidelines have emerged to promote the creation of healthier homes. The Califor­nia Air Resources Board has defined strin­gent environmental codes that have been adopted throughout the US and have in­fluenced manufacturers of building prod­ucts. As encouraging as these advances are, there is still no guarantee that a new home built today will support the health of its oc­cupants.

• The homeowner receives false informa­tion. Most building professionals are un­informed about the details of healthful de­sign and building. The prospective client who has heard about healthful building is often advised by professionals either that there is no need for concern or that health­ful building is cost prohibitive.

• There is a dearth of concise information. If homeowners are still committed to creat­ing a healthy house and have managed to find an architect and builder who are re­ceptive to working with them, then they must undertake together the daunting task of educating themselves and others. Dis­tilling enough information to create a set of specifications for a project is an under­taking requiring extensive time and dedi­cation.

• Even if healthy materials and practices are

specified, a lack of quality control may re­sult in a major degradation of the building, which in turn can lead to occupant health problems, decline in energy efficiency, and structural damages. These damages maybe especially difficult to discover and costly to repair when they are hidden in wall cavi­ties or other inaccessible spaces.

Tire purpose of this book is to take the mys­tery out of healthy house building by walk­ing the owner/architect/builder team through the construction process. We explain where and why standard building practices are not healthful, what to do differently, and how to obtain alternative materials and expertise. The Resource List in Appendix В provides sources for all products and services printed in bold type in the text.

We hope you will find this 3rd revised and updated edition of Prescriptions for a Healthy House to be a useful tool in your quest for healthier living.


Until about 35 years ago, indoor air pollution was a very limited phenomenon. Since that time, two basic things have changed in the way buildings are constructed. First, thou­sands of synthetic chemicals have been in­corporated into building materials. Second, building envelopes are sealed so tightly that chemicals and occupant-generated pollutants remain trapped inside homes, where they are inhaled into the lungs and absorbed through the skin. Prior to the energy crisis, the typi­cal home averaged approximately one air ex­change per hour. Now, in a well-sealed home, the air is often exchanged as infrequently as once every five hours, and that is not enough to ensure healthful air quality. Furthermore, the synthetic building materials used to seal out air and water often result in the trapping and condensation of water vapor in the walls, leading to mold and structural deterioration.

There are two basic approaches to solv­
ing the indoor pollution problem and creating healthier living environments. The first and more mainstream approach in North Amer­ica involves eliminating as many pollutants as possible from within the building envelope and ensuring an airtight barrier on the inside so there is less need to worry about the chem­ical composition of the structure and insu­lation. This approach addresses for the most part conventional frame construction and the prevention of water intrusion. Filtered or clean outside air is then mechanically pumped in, keeping the house under a slightly positive pressure so that air infiltration is controlled. If one does not have the luxury of clean, vital, and refreshing natural surroundings, then a certain amount of isolation and filtering may be essential.

The second approach involves building the structure of natural or nontoxic materials that are vapor diffusible or “breathable.” Building materials are chosen for their capacity (hygric

capacity) to reach a state of equilibrium with the natural surroundings on one side and the indoor environment on the other, creating a comfortable interior climate by moderating natural conditions without distorting their nurturing aspects. This approach is based on the precepts of Bau-Biologie, or Building Bi­ology, which views the natural environment as the gold standard against which built envi­ronments should be measured. Our home is considered to be a third skin, with our clothes being the second. By Building Biology stan­dards, a home that nurtures health is not only free of toxins and synthetic materials. It also achieves a natural balance of ionization, re­duces the influence of human-caused electro­magnetic fields, avoids building over naturally occurring geopathic disturbances, and much more. Building Biology recognizes the genius of nature and the failure of industrialized building to fully understand natural laws in our attempts to create vital environments with the synthetic materials that are prevalent in conventional construction today.

Although little known in this country, the term “Building Biology” was translated from the German and introduced into the English language in 1987 by the founder of the Inter­national Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology, Helmut Ziehe. The institute has since fostered a dedicated and multidisciplinary following of practitioners who have used these principles to create healthier living environments for their clients. Paula Baker-Laporte and John Banta are both students and practitioners of Building Biology.

In this 3rd edition of Prescriptions for a Healthy House we have invited some of our Building Biology colleagues to contribute in their areas of expertise. Among these writers are experts in the fields of inspecting, diagnos­ing, repairing, and furnishing homes. Many of them focus on the work they do to remedy buildings that have, over time, become un­healthy environments for the people who live in them. With the inclusion of these essays we hope to extend the usefulness of the book to those wishing to turn their existing homes into healthier living environments.

Dispersed throughout the book are rel­evant medical and building case studies, the stories of real people from different walks of life with whom the authors have personally come into contact over the past few years. What they all have in common is firsthand experience of the consequences of living in unhealthy environments. They have agreed to share their stories with you.

Building or renovating a home involves making thousands of choices. Whether you are working with conventional building meth­ods and materials or with natural, “alternative” ones, this book has been designed to walk you through the construction process and help you to make choices that will promote your health and well-being and the optimum ser­viceability of your home.