Category Archives: The Healing Home

Reclaimed Slate Floor: Part II

Getting ready to start work:
This is the sub-floor that we started with. Our home contains absolutely no ply-wood. In most cases where ply-wood would be used, we used rough-cut hemlock from a very local, small, saw mill. We certainly didn’t save any money this way, but we felt it was the best choice considering our situation. And it did result in a very solidly constructed building!

Our “unique” sub-floor presented a bit of a challenge, since it was not the typical, even and uniform surface. Before anything else could be done, the whole thing had to be sanded down as best as possible. Even after all of the sanding we still needed some sort of an underlayment. This was another difficulty as most of the products typically used were far too toxic for us. Finding the information that we were looking for, including full ingredient lists and safety data proved to be very difficult. We were also under time constraints for this project.

We ended up going with Homasote. This product has it’s good points and it did work out well for us. I think there are probably better options out there, but I didn’t have the time of resources to find them.

Homasote, the good points:

  • It’s made almost entirely of recycled materials
  • It is completely recyclable
  • In general it has really good ratings on it’s MSDS-as low as possible for it’s eco toxicity and on the very low end for personal toxicity (the main concerns being dust when cutting, which is always a concern with this type of product)
  • It was readily available at our local hardware store
  • Very reasonably priced in comparison to other products of this sort.
  • Relatively easy to install
  • The company itself has a fairly good history (to the best of my knowledge), including being the oldest manufacturer of recycled building materials in the US. They also recycling the water used in the manufacturing process.
  • formaldehyde free

Homasote, the draw backs:

  • The main drawback is that several of the ingredients are less then ideal. It’s mainly composed of recycled post-consumer paper and newspapers, which are pretty chemical laden to begin with.

  • The newspapers are mixed with paraffin wax, which is a petroleum product. Most people consider it to be fairly benign, but our family avoids it, and as many other petroleum products as possible, as a general rule.

  • This probably wouldn’t be an issue for most people, but my initial research lead me to believe that wheat was also used in it’s production (I am still unsure if this is correct or not). This is probably a wonderful choice for a lot of people out there. Within our family, there are several people with serious wheat allergies, so this too is an area where we need to use caution.

  • And finally, after we had installed it, I found a reference to it being treated with a very small amount of “copper based bio-cide”. I’ve never been able to figure out the exact chemical they are referring too. And, in looking again for the sake of this post, I can no longer even find the place where I saw it mentioned.

The Homasote is the gray colored board shown in the bottom corner of this picture:

After researching our options, full-well knowing that it was going to be covered with several layers and be quite well sealed in, we decided that it was a reasonable option for us. I did insist on a great deal of precaution being taken with the installation. All of the cutting was done outside and all of the dust cleaned up afterward. The room was sealed off from the rest of the house, well ventilated to the outside and thoroughly cleaned afterward, including running our air purifier on high for quite some time.

I thought I could get away with two posts on this subject (I originally thought it would be just one! Silly me!), but I’m finding that there is still a lot left to say, so stay tuned for Part III!

Reclaimed Slate Floor: Part I

Getting to the more practical side of our Healing Home series, the first project that I would like to share with you is our slate floor. This is one of my favorite features of the house so far.

This room made up the entire first floor of the original Little House. It’s 13′ x 13′, with the hearth taking up approximately 5.5′ x 5.5′ in one corner, just to give you an idea of the scale we were working on. Once finished, this room will ultimately be a combination of a mudroom for the family, and a studio for me.

Living in the middle of the woods, with soon to be four children, in a part of the country that has an entire season devoted to mud, this floor really needed to be durable and easy to clean! Obviously, the first priority was that it be safe. It was also important to me that the entrance to our home and my work space be beautiful, even through all of the muck!

We had decided on slate, long before we even knew we would be adding on to the Little House. In fact, I started collecting slates before we even broke ground for the Little House itself. If you are planning on using salvaged materials for your home, it can take years to find just what you are looking for. It’s wise to start looking as soon as you decide that you will be building or remodeling. Make a regular habit of checking newspapers, freecycle, craig’s list, your local dump, salvage yards, anywhere that you might find something of value. And there are things of value out there if you look hard enough! Sometimes it just takes a little patience and perseverance.

Why slate?

  • From a health standpoint it’s about as inert as you can get.
  • By using mostly salvaged slates we managed to lessen our environmental impact.
  • Slate is extremely durable, which is both good for us as homeowners and good for the earth.
  • Easy to clean, easy to care for.
  • It’s a natural material
  • It has a beautiful understated elegance to it, a sort of rustic, farmhouse aesthetic that greatly appeals to us.
  • Once it’s lived out its existence as our floor, it can still be reclaimed for many other purposes, whether it be in the form of a different floor, a back-splash, or even just as stepping stones along a garden path.

The slates themselves came from a variety of sources. They were one of the first things that I started collecting when I knew that we were going to be building. I wasn’t even certain what exactly we were going to use them for, but I did know that we would use them. I got a couple of boxes off of ebay; leftovers from someone’s remodeling project. A lot of them came used from our local salvage building material stores. We had two such stores (I highly, highly recommend looking into similar resources near you!) that we frequented during the building process and over time my stash grew up nicely. It was nearly three years before we were finally ready to do the floor. I ended up ordering a bit of extra, directly from a quarry, but the majority of the floor is made up of salvaged slates.

My criteria for the tiles themselves was pretty simple. They all needed to be the same thickness (very, very important!). Ours are all 1/4″, which is pretty standard. I actually really love the look of random size and color, so I was very open to what I found. I basically narrowed my specifications down to all of the naturally occurring slate colors with the exception of the reds and rusts. I find the gray/green/purple color combination very pleasing and the red shades just made it too varied, and didn’t quite suit my vision for the room. There is quite a bit of black slate in there too, but I think it offsets the other colors nicely.

I think that’s about it for the “why”, stay tuned for part II, where I will detail the “how” with a over-view of the supplies and products we used for each layer.


What is a Healing Home?

First off, I want to say that there is a book by Suzy Chiazzari titled “The Healing Home: Creating the Perfect Place to Live with Color, Aroma, Light,and Other Natural Resources” . I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read it. Judging by the premise, it sounds like an interesting read. I feel a bit awkward about using a phrase, and perhaps a concept, coined by someone else. Though I do get the feeling that the book is coming at it from a very different angle then I am. The fact of the matter is that I’ve yet to find another descriptive phrase that encompasses what I’m looking to convey. I’m afraid that’s one of the limits of my own creativity.

Diving right in here…

I’m still working on the answer to this one myself, but I find little pieces of it here and there as I go along and this is what I have gathered so far…

I’ve heard many times over that the key to healing from Chemical Sensitivities rests in safe housing. After living through the process myself, I firmly believe this to be true. Four years ago I couldn’t get out of bed most days. I was on oxygen regularly. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be too weak to speak or raise a glass to my lips. I suffered neurological impairment to the point that I couldn’t remember how to spell my own child’s name, and couldn’t make my hands cooperate in zipping a zipper.

I still have my limitations and I still have to be very cautious, but after 2 ½ years of living in a healing home, I’m now able to be out and about in public, to care for my children and generally lead a productive and satisfying life.

As a domestically minded person, I firmly believe that the right sort of dwelling, the sort that is nurturing and health giving, can have a huge positive impact on quality of life for any number of ailments, not just the ones with an obvious association! The reverse also seems to quite obviously be true, but for now we are going to stick to the positive side of things!

You can build the safest house on the planet and it can be sterile and cold. You could build an incredible, eco-friendly home that slowly poisons its inhabitants. You can create a home that is chemically neutral (as much as that’s possible), eco-friendly, and completely inaccessible for the people who wish to live there. There is many a home that has been dreamed of or conceived, that for practical or financial reasons can never be materialized. For all of that effort, none of these houses would be healthy. What does make up a healthy home?

For one thing the entire process and the home itself needs to be looked at holistically. You can’t just say I want to build a green home, go out and follow that desire, and expect to achieve a healing home. You may get lucky, and end up with one by default, if so, I think it’s highly likely that you were actually taking other matters into consideration, whether you realized it or not!

I will go into detail about the various aspects of a healing home in the future, but for now I want to just give you a general over-view of the criteria as I currently see it. I also want to give a context through which to view our various projects. So that together we can see where we were successful and where we may have fallen short.

  • First and foremost is has to be safe, safe from any substances, people or phenomena that are likely to cause bodily, mental, or spiritual harm.
  • It has to be affordable to within the means of its inhabitants.
  • The Healing Home should make use of a wide variety of natural materials.
  • It should co-exist well, within a greater community and the local ecosystem.
  • A Healing Home would ideally utilize technologies and systems designed for working towards energy independence and lessening global impact.
  • A Healing Home takes wise advantage of local resources.
  • A Healing Home is one that is filled with natural materials that inspire creativity, spirituality, and feelings of loving gratitude. It is a welcoming space to all that enter. It is a place of beauty and pleasure.
  • A Healing home is highly accessible to it’s inhabitants.
  • On the other side of things, the people living in a home have a huge impact on the general feeling and over-all benefits (or potential harm) of that space. True healing can never take place in a home full of anger, harsh voices and fear. A Healing Home is one where the members of the household work towards a predominate feeling of peace.

No home will have all of these aspects perfectly functioning. The main idea is giving each element thoughtful consideration and trying to incorporate different aspects as you are able. I think that fostering mindfulness about even the most mundane aspects of a home goes a long way toward meeting many of these goals.

I know that a lot of this sounds highly impractical, but I promise that when we get down to the nitty–gritty my meaning will be clearer and it won’t seem like such a tall order. A challenge, to be sure, but not impossible!

These are just some of my beginning thoughts. I want to again encourage people to please add on to my theories or question them or outright reject them! I really would like to open up a dialog about this. Please feel welcome in adding on in the comments section.


I’ve been featured…

It seems that my blog, and specifically my Healing Home series, have been featured on The Canary Report, a website chalked full of information on MCS. Thank you Sussie, for the glowing review! For those of you who have not been to the site, you should head on over and do a little (or a lot!) of reading. There is some very important information to be found there, regardless of your current health status.

While I am very pleased to have made this connection, and I would be more then happy to share future posts with The Canary Report, it’s brought to light something that I have perhaps been negligent in. I just happened to come across this, and while this particular experience was quite delightful, it’s lead me to wondering where else on the web my photos and writing might be. Considering the fact that a large amount of my photography features my children, I’m finding this thought a bit alarming. While it is only a small step towards protecting us, I will be adding a disclaimer to my site asking that anyone wishing to reproduce what is found here, please contact me before doing so.

Regarding the Healing Home, I have a lot of information to share and many posts in mind! My plan is to work them in with my regular posting as I find the time and inspiration to do so. I’ve been jotting down ideas I’d like to share and subjects I would like to discuss for a while now, so I promise there will be some good stuff coming, but you might have to be a bit patient. These posts take a lot longer to write then a regular post, but I think you can probably expect the next installment before the end of the weekend!


The Healing Home

I’m very pleased to announce the advent of a new category, here at my little corner of the web! The Healing Home; a series of posts featuring practical ideas on building, remodeling, and living in a house with physical, mental, spiritual, and global health in mind… and oh, so much more! I truly hope that others will join me on this journey and leave comments on their personal experiences, making this a wonderful resource for anyone interested in reclaiming or sustaining health through thoughtful dwelling.

As many of you know, my children and I were diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, along with a myriad of related ailments, back in 2004. Our path towards a diagnosis was a long one and our search for safe housing, equally long and daunting. After a year long, desperate search for a suitable home, we decided that our best option was to build what we needed, and thus the Little House project was born. In July of 2007, we were blessed with the opportunity to expand out tiny home. Work on both the original structure, as well as the addition has been on-going ever since.

I remember, when we first started down this path, being really shocked at what I perceived to be a distinct lack of practical information on healthy building practices. I’ve learned a few things along the way, and now I understand completely. I think the reasons are very similar to what I assume is the reason behind the lack reports on personal experience by parents raising chemically sensitive children: when you are in the thick of it, you barely have the time and room to breath and exist, much less document it. And once you are on the other side, you’d really rather not have to think about it ever again! There is too much living to catch up on!

That said, there is so much that we have learned through this experience that we really want to share, in the hopes of making the process just little easier on others. I am, by not means, an expert. But what I can offer is this…the details behind our own project. I can tell you all of the products we used, why we used them and how they worked out in the end. It’s one of those simple little things that I know would have been a huge help to us at the time. I can only hope that it will be a help to someone else out there.

This is a complicated subject and I intent to cover a whole lot more then just building supplies. Everything from the global and environment impact of our choices to aesthetics, trying to live in harmony with your land and accommodating a family, both during the building/remodeling process and after, and much more.

It is my hope that you will enjoy and benefit from this series as much as I enjoy sharing it with you!