Healthy Building: Is It Possible?

As we traveled the country on our year-long sabbatical one of the things we paid close attention to was building options. I also spent months researching to find the best options for Sabbatical Ranch. 

We loved experiencing the thermal mass properties of adobe-style structures which are popular in the arid southwest. Desert temperatures drop significantly at night, but earthen structures remain warm as they slowly release the heat they gained during the day. Likewise, as temperatures climb during the day, they remain comfortable as a result of cooling off overnight. 

Through research I also discovered that earth is one of the healthiest building materials available. In America wood is probably the most common building material, but all things cellulose are especially prone to toxic mold (see here and here). Metal buildings tend to be cold when it's cold and hot when it's hot. Concrete doesn't have as good of thermal mass properties as earth. And from everything I've heard, it's not a matter of if but when concrete is going to crack - which then leads to water damage and mold.

In any case, what kind of roof can you use that isn't going to eventually leak? I recently talked with a gentleman who had cut into some wood in the roof of a mobile home that had leaked. It had mold growing and he got such a hit that his eyes became extremely sensitive to sunlight. He would shut all the blinds and when he went outside he couldn't get sunglasses that were dark enough. Sun sensitivity is a fairly common symptom of mold toxin injury.

There are a variety of ways to build with earth, some dating back thousands of years and some of those ancient structures are still standing! Some of the best are adobe and rammed earth. (Interestingly, people have tried to repair some of those ancient structures using Portland cement which then cracked and resulted in additional damage.) There are also a number of recent innovations such as compressed earth block and superadobe. 
Mesa Verde National Park
One of the reasons earthen structures are healthier is because they breath. This allows humidity out rather than trapping it in and creating a perfect environment for mold to grow. Concrete doesn't breath. You'd think stick-built houses would breath but most building codes require vapor barriers that trap moisture inside. (Should your neighbor have the power to dictate how you live with universal building codes? No! Therefore they have no right delegating that power to government.)

We've only been talking about the structure, but the interior design can also be a major factor in how healthy or unhealthy one's living environment is. Carpet, paint, plastics, furniture and a zillion other items can off-gas toxins for quite a long time. And most Americans spend the majority of their time indoors where air pollution is reportedly five times worse than outdoors. 

Getting outdoors as much as possible, especially around lots of trees or open bodies of water, has been shown to provide a measurable health boost (look up "forest bathing"). Toxic mold opportunistically grows in the built environment the way weeds do in disturbed soil. In the competition of a healthy forest both are kept in check and other toxins are also reduced.
View from Hunter Meadow at Sabbatical Ranch
In the context of healthy building, designing for outdoor living as much as possible can create wonderful, beneficial opportunities with a healthy landscape and shelter available as necessary. An easy way to start is with outdoor dining. But you can add elements such as an outdoor kitchen, lounge area, shower, etc. And imagine growing your own nutrient-dense, chemical-free food!

Another very significant factor in building is financing it. Sadly, the phrase "financing it" often implies going into debt. The Old Testament warns against this:

“The borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”

Proverbs 22:7
And the New Testament tells Christians:

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”

Romans 13:8
If you want to find out how America was deceptively transformed into a debtor nation, read The Creature from Jekyll Island. You'll understand the true cause of inflation and never look at dollars the same way again.

So how do you build for healthy living and do it without going into debt? And what about healthy interior and exterior design? These will be topics of future posts. 

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