Manataka American Indian Council




Healing Homes

by Lori Leah Zack


Janus Welton, Eco-Architect, discusses Healthy Building Design

Principles utilizing the concept of Bau-Biologie (Building Biology)




ECOLOGY- Healthy Building Design Principles


Indoor Air Pollution The Problem:
Until 25 years ago- indoor air pollution was a limited phenomena. Two things have basically changed to contribute to this increasing health problem.

First of all, thousands of chemicals and plastics have been incorporated into building materials since WWII.  And secondly, Since the Energy crisis of the 70's , super- insulated and sealed buildings were built with the intention of energy efficiency, and could not "breathe" out the chemicals and in with the fresh air.   The Solution: Two basic Schools of Thought have arisen to solve Indoor air pollution.

The first concept known as isolation and filtering is best applied to isolate from a toxic outdoor world. There are some people with such severe health problems living in areas where the outdoor pollution is magnified where this technique makes a good deal of sense. The concept is to eliminate the pollutants from the building envelope and seal the building tightly from within. Then clean , filtered air is mechanically pumped in -keeping the structure under slightly positive pressure to control air infiltration.

The second concept has been the natural and historic approach in indigenous buildings through-out the world. This has also been re-introduced and popularized by the German Bau-Biologie (Meaning literally Building Biology) movement. In this approach, the building is thought of as a third skin and viewed as a permeable organism and constructed of natural, non-toxic materials that breathe. Thus the building skin interacts with the natural world and facilitates a balanced exchange of air and humidity. This methodology is preferred by Environmental Architects and Building Biologists.

Common Sources of Pollution in Standard Construction: The Problem:
Standard building and construction materials have been developed that contain toxic, volatile organic compounds , and petrochemicals that will out gas when newly constructed or installed . Such common building materials do have non-toxic , but these need to be specified by the architect and it takes a TEAM commitment from the Developer/ Owner, Architect Designer, and Construction Contractor to achieve the goals of creating a non-toxic project that is healthy and free of sources of indoor air pollution. Specifications can be made by certified Environmental Architects or Bau-Biologists and Costs for such substitutions can run anywhere from 0 to 25% over standard construction costs depending on the strategies and specifications.

Common Building materials in standard construction that can cause health problems are broken down in the following categories:

The main sources of such pollutants are:
VOC's = Volatile Organic Compounds are chemicals with carbon hydrogen bonds at the molecular level. These chemicals found in carpets and all kinds of products out-gas and release a slow dose of chemicals into the indoor environment and continue to do so for months. Most VOC's are synthetic petrochemicals used in formaldehyde, phenol, acetone, etc. and are used as adhesives in plywood, particle board and other wood composite products. Composite wood products are chemically treated woods such as particleboard, chipboard, plywood, sill plates, and chemically treated manufactured sheathing products. Other materials, like asbestos, can cause severe health problems and those exposed are urged to seek out experts in mesothelioma law.


Presently about 80,000 synthetic Voc's are commercially available and found in standard products:

- Solvent based Paints, sealants, finishes, adhesives, solvents
- carpets and carpet pads
- plywood , particle board, wood paneling
- insulation
- Asphalt and products containing asphalt such as impregnated sheathing, roofing tars, asphalt driveways, etc.
- Building materials containing mildew, mold, or particles which will create an environment that prevents mold growth.
- Toxic Cleaning products and Solvents
- Pollutants from Combustion By-products such as gas, oil, coal; woods and fuels burned indoors consume valuable indoor oxygen unless outdoor air is added. All combustion appliances contribute to indoor air pollution especially in airtight energy efficient buildings. Fireplaces, woodstoves can give off hazardous fumes and need to be well ventilated. Garages should be isolated from the living spaces to prevent noxious fumes
- synthetic fabrics, dry cleaned garments
- air fresheners, aerosol products, cleaning products and body care products
- insecticides , moth balls , pesticides are classified as Voc"s but are even more of a health threat

Health Risks

Can create toxic overloads in any organ of the body and threaten the immune system. Some of the more common symptoms include:
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 increasing number of allergies.  Also immune system disorders for the more sensitive and neurological problems, especially with babies on new carpets, are recorded .

Alternate building materials, techniques, and finishes should be designed and specified and constructed to minimize Voc's. Use of natural and non-toxic materials - Replace finishes with non-toxic ones. Discontinue use of toxic household and personal care products.

Insecticides, Mildew-cides, Herbicides, Biocides:

Insecticides, mildew-cides, herbicides, biocides, both found in building materials and applied on site can present very dangerous health risks. These are poisons that were first developed as offshoots of nerve gas in WWII. Most are synthetic and made from petroleum and are designed to kill a variety of plants and animals. They are odorless and often invisible and difficult to detect. They are composed of active ingredients to kill the target organism and inert chemicals to deliver , preserve, or make application easier. Many people assume that they are " safe " and that government and the EPA are protecting them. In fact the EPA bases approval on "EFFICACY" or the ability to kill the targeted pest , and not on SAFETY. Pesticides and herbicides can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or swallowed.

Health Risks
The health risks have been well documented.
The National Cancer Institute study indicated the likelihood of of a child contracting leukemia was more than 6 times greater in a household that uses herbicides for lawn care.   The American Journal of Epidemiology reports more children with brain tumors and cancers were found to have more exposure to insecticides than healthy children.  According to the new York State Attorney general's office, 95% of pesticides used on residential lawns are considered probable Carcinogens. by the EPA.  Pesticides have been linked to the alarming rise in the rate of breast cancer.  Besides causing cancer, pesticides have the the potential to cause: infertility, birth defects, learning disorders, neurological disorders, allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities, and immune system dysfunction.

In new construction you can lower pesticide exposure by not treating soil under the building and by eliminating standard building products containing biocides and instead create construction techniques that create physical barriers.  In all projects, eliminate the use of pesticides.

Electro Magnetic Fields Electromagnetic Energy is ubiquitous. Sunlight produces natural electromagnetic waves. But there are a variety of man-made sources that are not benign.  60 hertz Electromagnetic fields are reffered to as EMF's are generated by all electrical devices that operate off our electric power system. These include power lines, lights, appliances, and computers. Electric fields can b measured in Volts/ Meter and in many cases can be reduced. Magnetic filelds are measured in Gauss or miligaus.  We also have waves generated from radio and Transmittors, cellular phones and other wireless devices called RF waves.  Microwaves and microwave appliances are known to change the cellular structure of food. Microwaved food is not recognized by the body cells in the normal way. Health risks: There can be serious health risks from exposure to any of these EMF's while the issues have been hotly debated for many years US studies disagree. Studies in Europe have indicated the following nervous disorders, insomnia, depression , anxiety. But other research suspects EMF's of contributing to Cancer, especially leukemia, Lymphoma, thyroid and brain cancers.

The methodology is too exhaustive for this discussion however, a few tips are suggested:

Transformers in low voltage lighting put off large magnetic fields- Locate transformers in a remote location away from human sleeping and working areas.  Keep a 4-6 foot distance from appliances with transformers on the wall plug and keep safe distances from computer screens, tv's etc.  The ballasts in fluorescent lighting emit EMF fields. Avoid fluorescent lighting in work areas or on a ceiling below a bedroom.   Shield refrigerators and put them on dedicated circuits and away from sleeping, living and work spaces. 


We are surrounded by grids of Electric currents that are carried on all improper wiring, conduits and the pulses of current always vary. Avoid sleeping or working over main water , sewer lines , near metal conduit , and avoid metal beds and box springs which conduct electric current into the human body.  Bau-Biologists take a body voltage measurement of humans in their beds to determine how much voltage is transmitted into the body and provide methods of Grounding and shielding beds.  Electric currents in existing homes can often be controlled by simply shutting off the circuit breakers at night . There are even devices that can be installed near the bed to do that.

Naturally Occurring Pollutants
Some naturally occurring substances such as radon, radioactive contaminants, trace metals, house dust, molds and pollens can have harmful effects on humans.  All buildings should be tested for High radon levels are mitigated by radon specialists  Heavy metal can build up in the body tissues and cause damage to brain , liver, and kidneys. Test drinking water for contaminants and use water purification devices.
Biological pollutants include pollen, house dust, and mold spores, and pollens need to be detected and eliminated.  Air filtration systems , cleaning ductwork and preventing moisture / mold build-up are all common solutions.

The Solution
Strategies for Source Reduction of Indoor Air Pollutants
1. Eliminate sources of pollution
2. Substitute healthier materials
3. Exercise prudence when using unavoidable toxic substances
4. Cure materials before they are installed within the building envelope
5. Seal materials so they will off-gas less

Eco-Design Principles
In this current time of diminishing natural resources and escalating building costs, it has also become the responsibility of those who design and build homes and public or workspaces, to pioneer ecologically harmonizing, responsible, and sustainable buildings and environments.

Strategies and Eco-Design Principles
-  Orientation and Site Design Strategies to maximize solar exposure and utilize wind currents.
-  Use of Daylighting strategies and passive Solar design and cooling
-  Design building with Climate Design Strategies customized to prevailing climate
-  Implement Energy Efficient design and renewable energy strategies
-  Specify "Green" and Sustainable Materials.



This excerpt is a companion piece to "Creating Healthy Buildings" that will appear in next months' Smoke Signal

or Janus Welton's website, go to:


Excerpt from: "Healing Homes" with Feng Shui and Ecology by Janus Welton, A.I.A., Architect, EcoArch DesignWorks

To read the whole article, go to:


Other Resources:

Submitted by Lori Leah Zack




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