SAFER BUILDING MATERIALS FOR PEOPLE WHO CANíT
TOLERATE MANY COMMONLY-USED CHEMICALS
By Miriam Finkel, Kata Orndorff, Ariel Barfield, and Faith Spaulding Ecologic News, Volume 17, No. 2, Spring 1999
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic for most people diagnosed with environmental illness (EI) or multiple-chemical sensitivity (MCS). Many buildings make these people ill because of formaldehyde and other chemicals that diffuse into the air from materials used in construction and/or furnishings.
The following list of safer, less-toxic materials was compiled by Kata Orndorff, Ariel Barfield, Faith Spaulding, and Miriam Finkel, members of the Human Ecology Action League of Southern Arizona. Although we four have had many years of experience with the health effects of toxic materials, none claims to have any particular expertise with regard to architecture or building construction. With that limitation, we have done our best to organize this report in a useful and logical way.
The information below has come from a variety of sources: books, consultations, and advice from others who have been involved in building their own safe homes. In most cases, the list contains several alternatives within each category from which to choose. Because reactions to chemicals vary from person to person, whenever possible, sensitive individuals should obtain samples of materials before deciding to use them
CAUTION: ONE TOXIC COMPONENT CAN MAKE THE ENTIRE PROJECT UNSAFE!!
Termite problems can be minimized by not using any structural wood (framing or studs). Use a pure sand barrier under and two feet around the cement slab. Use copper or galvanized steel metal termite shields where termites might enter. If termites enter, use boric acid or other least-toxic termite treatment at point of entry.
FOUNDATION:Plain concrete with no curing agents (accelerants or retardants) and no fly ash or other toxic additives
Sodium silicate: Dilute for application in thin coats only. Use non-softened water, or the floor surface will be crusty. (Source: Hill Brothers Chemical Company, (520) 795-9351 or (602) 272-9363)
AFM concrete sealers
FOUNDATION WATERPROOFING REQUIREMENTS:
Do not use tar-based or petroleum-based sealers. Below the slab: 12-mil polyethylene moisture barrier with 2 inches of tamped sand on top to prevent contact with concrete. (Concrete causes holes to form in polyethylene.)
Above the slab: 6-mil polyethylene moisture barrier
Untreated reinforced concrete
Masonry brick, block, or stone set with plain cement mortar
Lightweight steel joists, studs, and trusses: oily residue removed with detergent
Straw bale if fresh, clean, and dry, and with proper nontoxic cementitious "thoroseal" water proofing
Wood framing is acceptable only if the lumber is pesticide-free and kiln-dried and if termite prevention steps are taken.
MS Metal Sales enameled steel ("ProPanel II") (paint not needed)
Stucco (cement, sand, and lime) on metal lath without acrylic additives or polystyrene foam
ProPanel II enameled steel
Cement, clay, or metal tile
Aluminum, copper, tin, or galvanized steel: oily residue removed with detergent
Not needed with straw bale framing
Pink Plus with MiraFlex Insulation, made by Owens-Corning
Cementitious magnesium-oxide foam
Certain Teed's Insulsafe
EXTERIOR VAPOR BARRIER:Untreated building paper
INTERIOR VAPOR BARRIER:
Seal seams with 3M 8086 Shelter Seal tape.
Tu-tuf #4 (4 mil cross laminated polyethylene)
INTERIOR WALLS & CEILING:
Limit the number of interior walls. Use metal studs for termite control.
Foil-backed drywall (U.S. Gypsum's) with foil toward inside of room; seal seams with Ace brand adhesive aluminum foil tape.
Plain plaster on metal lath
Plain plaster on Gypsum lath
Brick with plain mortar joints
Pesticide-free, kiln-dried lumber with no visible signs of mold
Ceramic wall tile set with wall tile grout containing no acrylic additives,/p>
Untreated reinforced concrete
Untreated concrete, smooth polished, sealed with cement-based nontoxic material (See section on Caulks, Mastics and Sealants.)
Ceramic tile in cement mortar with cement-type floor tile grout containing no acrylic additives (See section on Caulks, Mastics, and Sealants)
Brick, slate, or marble (See section on Grouts)
DOOR & WINDOW FRAMES:
Anodized aluminum, porcelain steel, or enameled metal
Solid wood sealed with non-toxic sealer, such as AFM sealer.
WINDOW REQUIREMENTS:Able to be opened
WEATHER STRIPPING:Metal bound felt strip
PLUMBING REQUIREMENTS:Incoming water: copper pipe connected with 90% silver solder
DRAINS & VENTS:Copper, brass, or iron pipe
WIRING & ELECTRICAL FIXTURE REQUIREMENTS:Steel conduit (E.M.T. or rigid type)
HEATING, AIR CONDITIONING, VENTILATION:
Degrease all machinery before installation. Acetone is acceptable for degreasing because it is so volatile that it out-gases immediately. Use galvanized ducts, cleaned with white vinegar, insulated on the outside. Provide accommodation for special filtration of recirculating air. Air intake area should be free of automobile exhaust and other pollutants. Swamp coolers should not be used.High efficiency electric heat pump mounted outside
CABINETS:Metal with baked-on finish
If set on plywood, use exterior plywood, which contains less formaldehyde than interior plywood, and seal it with a nontoxic sealant.Ceramic tile with cement mortar
SHOWER STALL:Ceramic tile with cement mortar
SOME SPECIAL MATERIALS:
GROUTS:For ceramic tile -- Portland Cement "Thin Set" (no fungicides)
CAULKS, MASTICS & SEALANT:Exterior caulking -- Dow Corning Building Sealant #790 or equivalent
WOOD:Use solid wood if possible. Presswood should not be used.
No structural waste, particularly wood or paper, is to be left in backfill. Use nontoxic, all-purpose cleaners for final cleanup.
APPLIANCES REQUIRED:Electric range, hot water heater, washing machine, and clothes dryer
Bare floors with washable area rugs preferred. If standard carpeting must be used, seal in the adhesive by applying AFM Carpet Guard to the underside before installing and periodically, depending upon traffic, to the surface. Synthetic jute or cloth backings are less toxic than latex backing. If padding is used, make sure it is tolerable.
Avoid upholstered or fabric-covered furniture because such fabrics are treated with fire-proofing and stain-proofing chemicals.
Wood (Avoid aromatic woods such as redwood.)
A built-in vacuum system is more efficient and easier to use than a vacuum cleaner. Use plain concrete around the building. If asphalt must be used, use a top quality that will not need frequent refinishing.
The process of outgassing VOCs can be speeded up by closing the building, turning the heat on high for 8 to 24 hours, then opening up the building to let it air out.
SOURCES AND REFERENCES: