Wednesday, December 22, 2004

House of clay targets healthy living

New home to be healthy and environmentally sensitive

Express Staff Writer

Molly and John Bailey talk with Healthbuilt owner JT Smith about the clay walls in their new second-floor bedroom. The as-yet-unfinished walls will be finished with a dirt and clay plaster. Photo by Willy Cook

There is at least 5 tons of clay in the walls of the new second-floor bedroom in John and Molly Bailey's remodeled Hulen Meadows home.

The bedroom's 20-foot by 20-foot southern wall alone has more than 7,000 pounds of straw, sand and clay. Much of the earth that went into the clay was taken from the ground outside the home and laboriously carried up to the second floor.

From the outside, the Bailey remodel looks rather ordinary, but the unassuming appearance belies careful thought put into the home's environmental sensitivity and healthy living attributes.

The clay walls in two of the home's rooms and one hallway are non-toxic, a reliable source of insulation and top-notch sound buffers. The home's radiant heating system, which was installed in floors and walls, will be powered by solar panels on the roof. All of the home's electrical wiring is either encased in industrial strength sheaths or installed behind reflective shields to cut back on electrical fields that could otherwise emanate into the living space.

The ceilings and non-clay rooms are insulated with natural cotton fiber insulation. Drains and pipes are made of cast iron to cut down on noise. Only water-based stains and zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints were used.

"From an energy standpoint, the solar and the radiant and the clay walls make it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter," John Bailey said. "I've always lived in old houses. The old houses I lived in—none of them had sheetrock."

So for the Baileys, the benefits of the thoroughly thought-out remodel are threefold: aesthetic, environmental and healthy.

For the home's general contractor Tim Carter of Tim Carter Construction and healthy building contractor JT Smith of Healthbuilt, the project is another step in an ongoing education in healthy building.

So far, the remodel including the second floor addition has gone together smoothly, and the owners appear satisfied with the nearly completed project.

One of the less obvious benefits of the clay walls will be that they regulate humidity in the home because they will be able to absorb and release moisture, Carter said.

On the healthy building attributes of the project, Smith is the expert, although this is the first large-scale project he has undertaken.

"Yes, it costs more, but you're looking at up-front costs," he said. "I think you find that when you live in a healthier home, you are less irritable and less stressed."

Smith has a degree in environmental science from the University of Colorado and has worked with Solar Energy International and as a carpenter. He has interests in Feng Shui, gardening and meditation, and his current venture is a culmination of many of his experiences and education.

"I was working on all these houses and saw so much waste," he said. "There wasn't enough soul in them. I thought helping the planet is a good thing, but what seemed greater is helping the human condition and building houses healthier."

According to his promotional brochure, Healthbuilt's goal is to support customers' health and to improve productivity and well-being.

And he pointed out there are steps anyone can take to make their homes healthier.

Smith said 95 percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum including toxins shown to cause cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, as well as allergic reactions.

He said there are several easy steps people can take to help reduce health risks from common household toxins.

Reduce the use of artificially scented products like air fresheners, fabric softeners, perfumes and deodorants. Open the window at night, even just a little. Avoid using pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in the home and garden. Purchase a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Or, if you're like John and Molly Bailey, you can take it from the top, and cut many of the common household hazards out of your life altogether.

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