The Next Frontier: Healthy HomesUsing Natural Material Helps
For the most part our homes are poisonous environments. From their construction to the décor we furnish them with to our cleaning products they are spewing hormone and endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and neurotoxins into the air.
While we have become conscious of how our processed food is killing us, our awareness of our toxic environments lags behind, according to Peter Sabbeth, principal of Modern Green Home in Bridgehampton. “Few people pay attention to it and it needs to be big,” he says. The more we all ask for nontoxic materials the more pressure will be put on the manufacturers and suppliers.” One thing he has noticed people requesting is a system to automatically turn off Wi-Fi at night.
Fortunately, there is an upswing in nontoxic building materials. While almost all lumber products contain formaldehyde, there are some including particle boards that can be requested toxin-free. Ditto with paints and finishes. Most contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but there are increasingly more being produced with low to zero VOCs.
Though rare, some homeowners are paying attention to the home health factor. When Jessica James built her Montauk home she had health in mind. “I didn’t use anything that outgases.” All her interior doors and kitchen cabinets were recycled from her parents’ 1920s house in New Jersey. Ground level floors are porcelain while upstairs floors are salvaged antique wood. Even her mantelpiece is a beautiful piece of driftwood.
Perhaps most important was her decision to allow drafts to enter the space. She chose the least efficient front door – a barn door that “doesn’t close like a clam,” thus allowing clean air to infiltrate. “I’m not a subscriber of recycled air.”
The concept of a healthy home “has recently come on the radar of homeowners due to lead paint, black mold, products that gas off and other allergies that trigger health issues like asthma,” says eco-conscious builder Frank Dalene of Telemark in Bridgehampton. As the only Building Performance Institute accredited contractor east of the Shinnecock Canal, Telemark is in the process of being certified as a Healthy Home Evaluator.
Architect Bill Chaleff of Chaleff and Rogers has been designing healthy homes for decades. “It’s the only home we know how to build.” He uses traditional materials — those that have “been around for hundreds of years — wood, tile, masonry.” Another way he eliminates toxins is to use ventilation to reduce carbon dioxide and moisture, which fosters mold. The cavity-free construction he employs in building the home’s envelope is “inherently resistant to mold and mildew.”
Besides our physical health, East Hampton interior designer Barbara Feldman believes a home “can affect our mental and emotional wellbeing.” Raising a ceiling height “makes you feel better immediately.” Some of her prescriptions for a healthy home include using natural materials — wood, stone, bamboo, and natural fibers; mood-enhancing colors – soft neutrals, blues, greens — and plants to purify the air.
Air purification is a must. It might be too late to order nontoxic materials for your home but investing in a good air purification system is a step in the right direction.