Is your home safe and healthy?

From the walls to the flooring, from the lights to the curtains… every single item in your living space has a direct connection to your health. Get ready to look at your home in a new light

Drawing of home and family using grass

Everything from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the food we eat, and the personal care products we use, now contains low-level amounts of toxic chemicals. At the same time our children’s health is declining in epidemic proportions. Could there be a connection between the two? What if I told you that your own home could be a major contributor in both these scenarios? Would you know if your home is helping or harming your family’s health?

“But wait a minute,” some of you are already saying, “there’s no problem with MY home, there couldn’t be, it’s: Brand new; Perfectly clean; Just remodeled; MINE!

I know, I know. We all assume our homes are safe and healthy places. After all, look how much we spend on them! Our home is often the single largest investment we make in a lifetime; what more could there be to it than that? Actually, there’s quite a bit more to it and you’re about to find out.

Problems can quickly arise after people move in, especially if they are already sensitive or have health challenges such as asthma or allergies. The tricky thing most people face with these kinds of “beginning” health problems is that people don’t realize they are being triggered by their home. Even if they do suspect it’s their home, it can be difficult to pinpoint the main source, as all these chemicals interact with each other and you start to live in a sort of chemical soup which leaves you feeling generally unwell.

Recognizing that you are allergic or reacting to something in your home can be challenging. Most people are familiar with common allergens such as cat and dog dander, pollen, and dust. But in our homes we are exposed to so many other environmental substances in our air, water, food, and personal care products that pinpointing all the triggers has become a highly complex problem. We are rarely exposed to one single chemical or substance in isolation but rather an interacting mixture of many that can fluctuate throughout the course of a day. Usually the process of elimination is where the most answers are found.

The Healthy Versus The Unhealthy Home

At first glance this title may bring to mind ideas of dirty, germ-ridden, bug-infested homes versus sparkling clean, beautifully decorated, well-maintained homes. There are many obvious health problems associated with the first home: cockroaches make most people cringe and they create all kinds of problems.

But what I want to talk about is a whole other arena in which what may look new or clean and beautiful is actually highly toxic and dangerous to your health.


» Carpets

Carpet has been associated with a growing number of health problems. In a typical carpet, toxic chemicals may be found in the fiber bonding material, dyes, backing glues, fire retardant, latex binder, and the fungicide, antimicrobial, and antistatic and stain-resistant treatments

Man and woman putting a new carpet at home
The most common carpet backing, synthetic latex, contains about 100 different gases, which contribute to the unpleasant and harmful ‘new carpet smell’

Outgassing from new carpeting can persist at significantly high levels for up to three years after installation. The most common carpet backing, synthetic latex, contains approximately 100 different gases, which contribute to the unpleasant and harmful ‘new carpet smell’.

Besides these chemical toxins, other characteristics are associated with carpets. They act as “sinks” and “emitters.” As a sink, carpets hold onto substances such as dirt, dust, dead skin, pollen, dander, etc. They can also absorb humidity and liquid from spilled drinks and children’s accidents. As emitters they can absorb and then re-emit substances such as odors and Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs]. When you consider all these factors, carpet can be quite a biologically and chemically active source of pollution in the home.

If your mind draws a blank when you think about what to put on your floors besides carpet, be reassured, there are many lovely alternatives available today. There are hard wood floors, bamboo, tile, pigmented concrete, natural linoleum, and cork to name the most popular ones. Throw rugs work well with all of these floor coverings and they are easy to keep clean and freshen. Just take them outside, shake them off, and let them enjoy the fresh air for a while. Once you’ve oriented yourself to this cleaning routine you won’t ever want to go back.

» Closets

Did you know?

In homes where aerosol sprays and air fresheners were used frequently, mothers suffered from 25% more headaches and 19% more depression, and infants under six months of age had 30% more ear infections and 22% higher incidence of diarrhea, according to a study at Bristol University in England that was published in New Scientist in 1999.

Most bedrooms contain a closet of some sort to store clothes in. Some are built into the wall with doors covering them, some are recessed open spaces without doors, some are a freestanding piece of furniture called a wardrobe. Like our modern day bedrooms, today’s closets have become multi-functional sections of our bedroom that are used for hanging clothes, storing unused clothes, gathering dirty clothes, and providing a home for toys, photo albums, stamp collections, and things that won’t fit in the garage any more. What does your closet look like?

Ideally, your closet should contain your clothes and any other inert items needed on a daily basis. There should be no chemicals, no freshly dry-cleaned clothes, no hobby and craft items, no cleaning products, no cat litters, etc. Closets need ventilation so do keep doors open from time to time; otherwise they can start to smell strange and even grow mold. If you do notice any unusual smells remove everything and find the source. Don’t put some fragranced product in there to mask the smell.

Avoid using mothballs and try a non-toxic alternative. An old-fashioned approach is to store your clothes in an airtight container and add natural pieces of cedar wood. Some people are sensitive to natural cedar smells though and may need to use some dried lavender instead.

» Wall coverings

I don’t recommend wallpaper, especially vinyl wallpaper, for two reasons. First, it stops your walls from breathing, and second, the glue required to fix it to your walls introduces more chemicals. If moisture gets trapped behind it, mold can grow. Vinyl also outgasses noxious fumes. When it comes to the interior surface of your walls, natural plaster is best. It allows your walls to continue to breathe and remain healthy. Natural pigments can be added for color.

Fresh air is an integral part of healthy indoor air quality

» Windows

Without fresh air and adequate ventilation the everyday pollutants we generate in our homes have nowhere to escape and so accumulate to dangerously high levels indoors. Oxygen levels become depleted and carbon dioxide levels rise causing drowsiness, headaches, and poor concentration. Is it really so surprising that asthma is skyrocketing and is the number one reason for absenteeism in schools? Our children are deprived of fresh air while at the same time bombarded with pollutants. What else can we expect their little lungs to do?

The good news is, it’s easy to open a few bedroom windows and let fresh air in. It won’t cost you an arm and a leg either. Would you rather pay a heating bill or a medical bill? Fresh air is an integral part of healthy indoor air quality. If your home is built correctly in the first place you will be able to conserve plenty of energy and open your windows at the same time. We sleep with our windows open at night all year round: wide open in the summer, slightly open in the winter, but always open. Over the course of an eight hour night oxygen supplies diminish, especially if you have more than one person sharing a bedroom. This one simple thing—keeping windows open to some degree at night—can be a key factor that contributes to people waking up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Try it yourself and see. If you live where the outside air is heavily polluted you may have to close your windows and run an air purifier instead. In this situation, sometimes you can find a period of the day or night where outdoor pollution levels drop; it just takes a little detective work.

Make the most of these times by opening your windows and letting your home breathe.

» Window coverings

Most window coverings are made of synthetic fabrics treated with chemicals to make them wrinkle resistant. The recommended dry cleaning process further contributes to their chemical content.

What do you mean?

Offgassing or outgassing

Many standard building products contain synthetic chemicals. At room temperature these products can release vapors called volatile organic compounds [VOCs]. This process is called offgassing or outgassing and it can last from days to years. We are then exposed to these chemical intruders in the air we breathe, creating serious health hazards. Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, damage the nervous system, and suppress the immune system.

Synthetic materials are not only made from petrochemicals, they also generate static electricity, which attracts dust. Static electricity is what gives you that little electrical shock or spark when you touch something, for instance after walking around on synthetic carpeting and then touching a metal car door. Some people are very sensitive to static electricity and find it makes them feel agitated or nervous; some people have difficulty sleeping.

Even natural fabrics can be problematic because ultraviolet light breaks them down over time, creating dust and the need for frequent replacements. If you must have fabric window coverings, as a general rule choose certified organic materials. Other alternatives to fabric are naturally finished wood shutters, louvers, metallic venetian blinds, or bamboo roll downs. I have even seen windows that have retractable shades sandwiched between double windowpanes.


Whether you believe electromagnetic radiation causes health problems or not, at least take a precautionary stance when it comes to the bedroom. Better safe than sorry. In my personal experience as a Building Biologist when EMR is reduced in the bedroom, people sleep better [including babies and children] and feel more rested in the morning.

The tricky thing about EMR is that it is invisible and the strength of some fields can fluctuate, depending on the time of day and on whether an electrical appliance’s motor is running or not. We want to ensure that the head of the bed, and hence our heads, are not being bathed in electromagnetic radiation all night long when we are trying to sleep and rejuvenate.

The best air freshener is fresh air

» Fragrance

Many people today, have become addicted to fragrance. By now you are probably asking, “How can someone become addicted to fragrance?” or “What’s bad about fragrance?” To answer these questions you need to ask what fragrance is made from.

A single fragrance can contain as many as 600 different chemicals! Wearing perfume is probably one of the simplest and quickest ways to add to your body burden. Air fresheners contain chemical fragrances. Many fragrance chemicals affect the brain and nervous system. Some effects are immediate and transitory while others are chronic.

The healthiest choice for a little aroma is to use a small amount of pure grade, organic essential oil. Make sure chemical solvents have not been used in their extraction process. To disperse an essential oil, I prefer small electrical diffusers rather than ones you suspend from a light bulb. Light bulb diffusers tend to gather dust and can change the properties of the essential oil when heated. They can also burn or fry the oil, producing polluting byproducts. Keep in mind that even pure essential oils can be irritating to some people.

Candles in a bedroom can create a soft and relaxed mood. Choose candles made of pure beeswax or non-toxic soy without aromatherapy additives, and avoid candles with lead wicks.

If the reason you got started using fragranced products in your bedroom is because it has a bad smell, find the source of the smell and fix it rather than distract yourself with chemicals. The best air freshener is fresh air.

» Furniture

The main thing to look out for is furniture made of particleboard and plywood. Particleboard is used so extensively because it’s cheap to buy. New furniture made of particleboard is the worst offender for offgassing large amounts of formaldehyde. With existing furniture, check the bed, the back of bedside tables and drawers, desks, and worktables. If you discover particleboard you can either seal it or get rid of it. Choose solid wood furniture finished with something non-toxic like beeswax.


Some children like to have cuddly toys close by while they sleep. The question to ask is, what are these toys made from? There have been many concerns raised in the last few years about PVC [better known as vinyl] toys and the chemicals they contain. Take an inventory and see how many PVC toys you can find. Replace as many as you can with toys made from traditional materials such as wood, cloth, and natural rubber. These alternative materials were often used for toys before the rapid increase in plastics and are among the best alternatives.

And let there be sunlight

Natural sunlight is also important for a clean, healthy home. Sunlight is made up of many different rays and contains large amounts of ultraviolet [UV] radiation. There has been a lot of debate in the last few decades about UV light. Is it good or bad for us? To avoid generalities, it’s helpful to look at the individual effects associated with the three components of UV light. UV-A is responsible for the tanning effect in humans, UV-B seems to activate the synthesis of vitamin D and the absorption of calcium and other minerals, and UV-C which is mostly filtered out by the Earth’s ozone layer, is germicidal, killing bacteria, viruses, and other infectious agents.

Woman opening the curtain to let sunrays come inside her homeDr John Ott, in his book, Health and Light, offers clarifying insight, saying that UV light in large amounts is harmful, but that in trace amounts, as found in natural sunlight, it acts as a “life-supporting nutrient.” Bacteria, viruses, and mold can proliferate in homes where natural sunlight is blocked out by curtains, blinds, shutters, or furniture. People and pets who live in homes like these can develop the medical condition known as seasonal affective disorder [SAD] resulting in depression, mood swings, and lethargy. Simply allowing natural sunlight into your home and supplementing with full spectrum lighting in darker rooms is equivalent to giving your home a tonic.


With multiple bathrooms comes increased plumbing. Increasing plumbing increases the possibility of faulty parts or workmanship. Undetected slow leaks, can harm the building and the inhabitants’ health. Burst pipes can wreak havoc within minutes. Dislodged seals around drains in showers can create more undetected leaks.

Woman taking a shower
During a 10 minute warm shower, you absorb through your skin more contaminants than you would from drinking a gallon of the same water

Hair and debris in drains can lead to blockages, overflows, and sewer gases.

The volume of humidity and condensation produced by multiple showers and baths each day creates moisture challenges which if unchecked can lead to mold problems.

Let’s take a closer look at the bathroom in layers.

  • Never use carpet in a bathroom; it will inevitably become damp, inviting mold and bacteria infestation.
  • Good ventilation is critical. Install an exhaust fan that moves enough CFM [cubic feet per minute] of air to effectively remove moisture.
  • Half bathrooms, which may only contain a toilet and small washbasin, should have a window that opens. Fresh air is the best air freshener. Mechanical ventilation is also essential in a half bathroom.
  • Showers should have glass panels to contain water.


1. Paints and stains
2. Pool and spa chemicals
3. Pesticides and other poisons
4. Household cleaners and disinfectants
5. Aerosol spray products
6. Art and hobby chemicals
7. Batteries
8. Automotive products
9. Solvents and thinners
10. Sharp instruments such as medical syringes and lancets

Our water now contains numerous toxic chemicals and residues including pesticide residues, heavy metals, arsenic, lead, radon, and industrial chemicals, some of which were banned years ago. All of these chemicals can react with each other creating their own new toxic substances.

During a seven to ten minute shower in warm water, you will inhale and absorb through your skin more chemical contaminants than you would ingest from drinking a gallon of the same water. Is it any wonder some people don’t feel well after taking a shower? Water filtration in homes has become essential. Depending on your budget, at least install shower filters in bathrooms.

» Lighting

Unfortunately, most of us spend over 90 percent of our time indoors where ordinary light bulbs do a poor job of reproducing the full spectrum of light created by the sun. The imbalanced light produced by ordinary bulbs causes eyestrain and fatigue, distorts the color of objects, and reduces contrast. Though you might not spend a lot of time in your bathroom, some of the activities we perform there, such as tweezing eyebrows and shaving, greatly benefit from more natural light. In particular, applying cosmetics in full spectrum light will produce much better results. You may find some of your color choices are not as attractive as you thought once viewed with natural light. It’s good to know what everyone sees when you step outside! Full spectrum light bulbs provide a more balanced light by filtering out the excess yellow and green light emitted by ordinary light bulbs. And they last four times longer than ordinary bulbs.

» Water heaters

Electric hot water heaters do not generate combustion by-products and are therefore considered cleaner than gas hot water heaters. However they can generate strong EMR. Check your hot water heater, and if you find high AC magnetic fields have an electrician look at the wiring.

Never use carpet in the kitchen


Kitchens are the heart of our homes. Deep within all of us is an ancestral memory of gathering around the hearth for warmth, food, friendship, and to experience a feeling of connection to the place we call home.

Man and woman cooking in the kitchen
Nowhere in the house are small improvements felt as much as in the kitchen

Our kitchen needs to be vitally connected to the rest of our home. Like the heart that pumps the life force and blood throughout our body and the emotional center that when nourished sustains us in our busy and often unpredictable lives, kitchens help keep us alive. Kitchens have dramatically changed over the years, particularly since World War II when the family structure began to change.

I believe that if we put our attention back on the kitchen, if we orient ourselves towards health and remember our home is a living organism, then family and friends will return to the kitchen and we will rekindle the nourishment needed to strengthen and protect our bodies in these environmentally harsh times.

For a healthy kitchen

  • Never use carpet in the kitchen, it will inevitably become damp from spills and accidents inviting mold, and if kitchen carpet is not kept meticulously clean the daily deposit of food debris will invite pests. Area rugs can be used for decoration or a little extra cushioning underfoot in spots like in front of the kitchen sink.
  • Windows need to open to allow the moisture generated from cooking and cleaning to escape and let fresh air in. Also, a sturdy ventilation hood should be installed over the stove. This needs to be vented to the outside of the house.
  • Any built-in items such as kitchen cabinetry should be free of synthetic formaldehyde.
  • Large EMR-generating appliances such as refrigerators should be placed away from places where people spend large amounts of time and preferably needs to be placed against an outside wall.
  • A point-of-use water filtration system should be installed and attached to the kitchen water tap.
  • Water pipes should be made from non-toxic materials.

Volatile organic compounds

Usually a combination of chemical elements such as xylene and ethyl benzene. Found in industrial solvents, gasoline ingredients, and various construction and maintenance operations.Toxic to nervous system, some heavily used VOCs [benzene] cause cancer.

» Ventilation

A healthy kitchen needs great ventilation. Everyday cooking and cleaning generate significant amounts of indoor pollution. Opening windows while cooking or running the dishwasher will help, but for best results, install a good quality range hood above the stove and properly vent it to the outside of the home.

» Cabinets

What is Formaldehyde

An extremely irritating, strong-smelling gas. Very soluble in water. Formaldehyde is widely used in many products including building materials such as particleboard and insulation, and synthetic materials such as carpet, fibers, and cosmetics as a preservative. Formaldehyde off-gasses from many materials. It can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed and is linked to many health problems such as cancer and nervous system damage.

Many kitchen cabinets contain formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals. With time these levels will drop but what will happen to someone’s health in the meantime from breathing in these fumes on a daily basis? I am also concerned about storing food in new cabinets with high formaldehyde levels. I have found no studies done on the possible contamination of food stored in high formaldehyde cabinets, but it seems plausible that as chemicals volatize in confined areas like cupboards, these chemicals could contaminate the food stored there.

I posed this question to Jack D. Thrasher, Ph.D. who was a toxicologist/immunotoxicologist and author of the book, The Poisoning of Our Homes and Workplaces: The Truth About the Indoor Formaldehyde Crisis. He replied, “Since formaldehyde easily forms covalent bonds it could bind to food. After all, this is the mechanism by which formaldehyde antibodies are determined.” Anyone fancy formaldehyde-flavored cereal for breakfast?

Open the kitchen windows and ventilate the space. You could also paint a special sealant on the cabinets to try to stop the chemicals from escaping. If you are planning to build a new house or remodel your current kitchen, be sure to choose formaldehyde-free cabinetry.

» Small appliances

Many kitchens contains a vast array of smaller appliances that are all plugged in and ready to go. The main health concern here is the amount of EMR being generated unnecessarily. Even if an appliance is not in use, it will still create an AC electric field while plugged in.

Take stock of your own kitchen and see how many smaller appliances you have which are plugged in. Can any of these be unplugged while not in use? Can any of these be stored and put away until needed? It is much simpler and quicker to clean your healthy kitchen when you have fewer appliances to navigate around.

» Cooking utensils

Over the years, concerns about cookware continue to surface. In the 1970s aluminum cookware was linked with Alzheimer’s disease because of the elevated levels of aluminum found in the brains of some Alzheimer’s patients. Many people have since phased out using aluminum pots, pans, and cooking foil as a preventative measure. As a first step, I would recommend getting rid of any non-stick pans and replacing them with glass, stainless steel, or cast iron; all of them are tried and true for safety.

» Food storage

Another important consideration, besides the type of cookware you use, is how you store your food. Some plastics can leach chemicals like hormone-disrupting phthalates into whatever they come in contact with. If you currently use plastic containers to store food in, switching to glass would be a better choice. Instead of the plastic sandwich bags we send our children to school with, use natural cellulose sandwich bags. These switches are easy and simple. Nowhere in the house are small improvements felt as much as in the kitchen.

» Flooring

Kitchen floors are subjected to much wear and tear, dampness, and large amounts of food debris. Hard surfaces are the best for kitchen floors. If a little extra cushioning is required in key areas of the kitchen where you stand for large amounts of time, such as in front of the sink or stove, a thick throw rug or mat will usually do the trick. These will need to be vacuumed or shaken outside on a regular basis.

Did you know?

A host of modern day ailments can be directly attributed to artificial lighting—ailments such as fatigue, depression, decreased performance, diminished immunity, reduced physical fitness, and possibly impaired fertility.

Exposure to artificial light, without a healthy balance of daylight, has been associated with hyperactivity, as well as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, electrical brain-wave patterns, hormonal secretions, and the body’s natural cyclical rhythms.

The hormone melatonin, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain during darkness or dim light, causes sleepiness; when it is overproduced through excessive exposure to dim lighting, it can indicate the clinical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD syndrome].

The Family Room

The family room is one of the most frequented rooms in the house and consequently often contains, and is used for, all kinds of everything. Today’s home typically has several television sets: one in the family room, one in the kitchen, and one in the bedroom. The average viewing time is four to six hours a day.

man and woman enjoying watching TV at home
Check the safe distances and positioning of all the television sets in your home, particularly those in bedrooms

What you may not know is that TVs do a lot more than throw pictures up on a screen. They also give off small amounts of ionizing radiation in the X-ray band near the screen, and the entire set emits a broad band of non-ionizing frequencies including 60- Hertz power frequencies, radio frequencies, and light frequencies. As a general rule, the larger the screen, the stronger the fields will be, unless you have a large projection-screen model, in which case the stronger fields will be near the projection unit.

Remember to check the safe distances and positioning of all the television sets in your home, particularly those in bedrooms.

Magnetic fields can enter your home from the outside if you live near a high-voltage power line

All things electric

» Wiring

What you are about to read may be shocking to your health— pun intended! Have you ever heard of Electrobiology? It’s the study of the effects that electricity has on the human body. You may have heard of EMF, which stands for Electromagnetic Fields. A more accurate term when discussing these phenomena is Electromagnetic Radiation, or EMR. When people say “EMF” they are usually only referring to AC magnetic fields, whereas EMR refers to both AC magnetic and AC electric fields, both of which can affect our health. In Building Biology we use the term EMR. The only indications of a problem may be subtle health effects like having difficulty falling asleep at night or waking up tired in the morning, both of which could be attributed to dozens of other reasons.

AC electrical fields can result from a variety of things including unshielded and ungrounded wiring in walls, faulty wiring, faulty installation by the electrician, and unshielded and ungrounded electrical appliances. AC magnetic fields can result from net current on water pipes or gas pipes and certain appliances.

In general, electrical appliances that remain plugged into the wall, even when not in use, will still create an AC electric field. Magnetic fields can also enter your home from the outside if you live near a high-voltage power line. As you cannot shield yourself from these fields the only way to prudently avoid them is to live away from such locations.

» Phones

Phones are another main feature of both homes and offices. Traditional or standard telephones connect directly to a telephone wiring system. These are the ones you have to plug into the wall and the handset is connected to the base with a curly cord. These older models have been replaced in many homes with the cordless/wireless phone. These phones are popular because of the flexibility they provide.

Wireless phones are similar to traditional phones with one exception: their sound signals are transmitted in the radiowave and microwave frequencies [RF]. Studies have shown that the RF radiation’s heating effect on the brain can affect cognitive function, memory and attention, and can weaken the blood/brain barrier, whose function is to prevent potentially dangerous chemicals from reaching sensitive brain tissue.

I decided to get rid of the cordless phones in my home and have gone back to traditional phones, which have lower EMR, and no RF.

[To know how smartphones are harming your health, read: The innumerable ways your smartphone is harming you]

» Computers

Computers can emit strong EMR like television sets. The biggest difference is that computer users usually sit within a foot or two of the screen, especially if the keyboard is attached. Is your computer close to a sofa or chair where people often sit? Remember to keep at least 30 inches from the front of a screen and at least 40 inches from the sides or back of the computer.

» Lamps

If you have upright lamps or table lamps, check to see if they have three-pinned plugs or not. If your plugs have only two pins they are ungrounded and can emit strong AC electric fields when plugged in as well as AC magnetic fields when switched on. As we often sit close to our lamps to read, we come in contact with these fields. The simplest solution is to move your lamps three to six feet away from where people sit, as the strength of fields diminishes with distance.

From a Building Biology perspective your home is your “third skin,” your outermost layer

» Your home is a living organism

An architect may spend a lot of time designing the proportions and the look of a house, how many rooms, where to put the refrigerator, and so on, but you’d be surprised how few architects know anything about how to design a healthy house or about the health impact the building materials they specify have on the occupants.  Aesthetics are no guarantee of health.

Family of four enjoying at their residence
In order for a home to be healthy, it needs to facilitate a balanced exchange of air and humidity, just like our physical lungs do

I am no architect, but when I discovered Building Biology and how the health of a building affects the health of its occupants, I began to understand buildings from a completely new perspective that I found fascinating. Anyone with an ounce of intuitive sense can grasp these basic concepts easily. Women and mothers in particular do very well; I think it’s because of our nurturing tendencies. Building biology is a very nurture-oriented science. It all begins with considering your home as a living organism — rather like having another member of the family. After all, doesn’t a home require a certain amount of time, energy, and care, just like everyone else?

Did you know?

In a study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, in collaboration with the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. Like most of us, the people tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live near an industrial facility.

Scientists refer to this contamination as a person’s “body burden.” Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied.

From a Building Biology perspective your home is your “third skin,” your outermost layer. Your physical skin is the first layer and your clothes are the second layer or second skin. As you start thinking of your home this way, and how it interacts with you and your family, you realize it’s all interconnected. Everything from the materials used to build your home, to the furnishings inside, to how you care for it, need to be considered in an overall plan for health. You have to think holistically and you have to think in terms of systems. When everything works together to support everything else in this way an optimally healthy environment is achieved. To use an anatomical example, if you were attempting to build yourself a healthy body from scratch, and you could choose each major organ and any supporting systems, wouldn’t you choose the healthiest, strongest organs you could? After all, your body has to last you a lifetime. It would be no use choosing a really healthy heart but then using really flimsy veins and arteries: that system would break down sooner or later with catastrophic results. This is one of the key differences between the conventionally designed homes we see everywhere today and the healthy design that we are talking about.

Let me give you some more analogies to take this idea further. In order for a home to be healthy it needs to be able to facilitate a balanced exchange of air and humidity, just like our physical lungs do. This process is a form of breathing. A breathing home needs to be able to allow humidity and air to move in and out of its walls. Homes need to be able to keep warm or stay cool, just like we do. Thinking this way creates a whole new relationship to how things are supposed to function within our homes. It makes it more personal and easier to understand once you have got the basics. And guess what? You’ve already got most of the basics because you have your own body as a study guide! For example, don’t you feel better when you get some fresh air and sunshine? Well, so does your home. Doesn’t high humidity or low humidity affect how comfortable you feel? Well, it affects your house this way too.

This is how I propose we learn about our homes, how to live in them, and how to take care of them. You may even discover some intriguing things about your own health along the way. In fact you might find it an interesting experiment to use a personal health problem you may be currently challenged by and identify the parallel in your home and see if it needs fixing.

Excerpted with permission from Homes That Heal (and Those That Don’t) by Athena Thompson. Published by New Society Publishers (October 2004); ISBN: 0-86571-511-4

This excerpt first appeared in the March 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Athena Thompson
Athena Thompson has over 24 years experience as a Natural Health Specialist with undergraduate and graduate degrees in Natural and Environmental Health Sciences. As a certified Bau-biologist™ [Building Biologist], Athena is considered a leading proponent in this internationally recognized approach to healthy construction. She is also an Advisory Board Member of the International Institute for Bau-biologie and Ecology based in Clearwater, Florida.


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