Is Your House Making You Sick?

Protect yourself from pollution and chemicals inside your house

100% Natural Hemp Draperies by Kevin Russo EcoManor
100% Natural Hemp Draperies by Kevin Russo EcoManor. Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Headache? Got the sniffles? Is life getting you down?

You might have the flu, or you could be suffering from sick building syndrome, a baffling range of ailments triggered or aggravated by air pollution inside your home or office.

Our buildings are filled with synthetic materials, and some of them can literally make you sick, causing headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and other symptoms. Plywood, pressboard, and other manufactured woods emit formaldehyde. The stone used in concrete can release radon. Fiberglass insulation may be capable of causing lung cancer in the same way that asbestos does. Even your carpeting can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that vaporize and emit gasses.

"Walking into a modern building can sometimes be compared to placing your head inside a plastic bag that is filled with toxic fumes," says John Bower, founder of the Healthy House Institute and author of books on healthy home construction.

Just the sound of this chemical cocktail is enough to make your head spin: Acetonitrile, methyl methacrylate, styrene, aliphatic hydrocarbons, ketones, alkenes, esters. 

The solution? Whether you're building a new home or remodeling an old one, Bower recommends that you follow three key principles:

3 Steps to a Healthier Home

1. Elimination

Remove the materials that emit toxic fumes. This is no easy matter, because everything from the floor to the roofing may contain harmful chemicals. Learn how: Reduce Toxins in Your Home

2. Separation

Some things just can't be eliminated, but you can still protect yourself. Use sealants or foil backed drywall to separate living quarters from materials that contain harmful substances. There are at least 6 Alternative Wall Coverings Instead Of Drywall.

3. Ventilation

Controlled, filtered ventilation may be the only way to insure that the air we bring indoors is clean. Learn more: 

Ready to get started? Here are some excellent guides for designing environments that are safe and healthy.

Resources for Healthy Home Design

Healthy House Building for the New Millennium by John Bower
From the founder of the Healthy House Institute, here are detailed house plans, step-by-step instructions, and black & white photographs. Although published more than fifteen years ago, this manual remains a classic in the field and valuable for those who suffer severe chemical sensitivities.

The Healthy House: How to buy one, How to build one, How to cure a sick one by John Bower

This hefty volume lists the many sources of household toxins and how to avoid them. While some of the information may seem alarmist, The Healthy House is packed with useful information.

Prescriptions for a Healthy House: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders and Homeowners by Paula Baker-Laporte and Erica Elliot

With 300+ pages, Prescriptions for a Healthy House is an all-purpose home building manual for persons who suffer chemical sensitivities. The authors discuss the construction process, recommend materials to use, and provide guidance for keeping the home free of harmful chemicals.

The New Natural House Book: Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically Sound Home by David Pearson

The author who popularized the Green Architecture Movement with The Natural House Book published in 1989 offers more resources to help you build a healthy, environmentally friendly home.

My House Is Killing Me!: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma by Jeffrey C. May

Written by an air quality investigator, this book tells how to protect your family from substances inside and outside the home that cause health problems.

Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction: Builder's Guide by David Johnston and Scott Gibson

This book may be sold as a Builder's Guide, but any homeowner should be able to tell a builder what it means to be green. Get on the same page with this book.

The Healthy Home: Beautiful Interiors That Enhance the Environment and Your Well-Being by Jackie Craven