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
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.