About ten years ago, when five-year-old Alex Hollender was diagnosed with asthma, he was living with his family in a converted century-old barn in Long Island. “It was the worst environment for him,” says his father, Jeffrey, president of Seventh Generation, a natural household products company. “He was frequently sick, and there was no way to make it better for him.”
A specialist—who had no idea Jeffrey’s company sells nontoxic household products—explained to Jeffrey and his wife, Sheila, that for many asthma sufferers, a cleaner, more hypo-allergenic home environment is the most effective treatment. Jeffrey and his oldest daughter, Meika, also suffer from frequent and often extreme allergies, but Alex’s health was “paramount in the decision to build a new house,” says Jeffrey. The Hollenders left the damp barn on the family’s Long Island property and sought land in rural Vermont on which to build a healthy home for their family.
After choosing property in Charlotte, Vermont, Jeffrey and Sheila sought help from Tom Cullins of Truex Cullins and Partners Architects, a firm in which all forty-two architects are LEED accredited. With Tom and their good friend and builder, Jeff Bradley of Bradley Construction, they found nonallergenic materials that wouldn’t pollute the air inside their home.
Since the Hollenders moved into their new home, Alex suffers from asthma only when he gets a cold. “This house has been ideal for all of us—it’s a very healthy home,” Jeffrey says.
Whole house decisions
Air exchange system and humidifier: The Hollenders chose an air-exchange system that’s more commonly found in buildings than private homes. Mitsubishi heat-recovery units bring in fresh air to two high-efficiency (93 percent) York hot air furnaces. This air-to-air heat exchanger works by exhausting stale indoor air to the outside and simultaneously replacing it with fresh outdoor air. The clean, incoming air is automatically preheated or pre-cooled. Additionally, because the two air streams never mix, there’s no need to worry about cross-contamination. The system eliminates airborne toxins and viruses and reduces energy consumption. One of the Hollenders’ key considerations was maintaining the highest indoor air quality, so they easily justified the extra expense (more than $5,000).
The couple also chose a humidification system to ensure a balance of dryness and humidity in the house. Each furnace has a steam-injected humidifier, so as air leaves the furnaces, its humidity is adjusted to the appropriate level.
Insulation: The Hollenders chose dense-pack cellulose insulation instead of fiberglass, which can shed dust particles. “It’s really not much more expensive, and it’s a healthy step away from fiberglass,” says Joseph Petrarca, Truex Collins project manager. Because cellulose is a wet spray, which seals the wall as it dries, particulates can’t escape and enter ventilating systems.
Foundation: Untreated cedar was used in the foundation to eliminate the threat of outgasing from pressure-treated wood.
Flooring: Downstairs, the Hollenders installed natural maple floors sealed with water-based urethane. For the bedrooms and Jeffrey’s office, they chose Shaw wool carpets These low-pile, Green-Label carpets emit less than 0.5 milligrams of VOCs per hour.
Bedrooms: Given the high toxicity of traditional mattresses and pillows, Jeffrey and Sheila chose special bedding first for Alex, then eventually for the whole family. “Pillow and mattress covers are the most cost-effective way of mitigating the problem,” Jeffrey stresses.
Kitchen: Denla frameless natural maple cabinets are free of laminates and formaldehyde. Because granite countertops don’t have to be framed, there’s no need for pressed-wood framing, which can outgas formaldehyde.
Driveway: “We spent an amazing amount of time thinking about the driveway,” Jeffrey laughs, “because we didn’t want it too close to the house.” He and Sheila didn’t want the levels of carbon monoxide from vehicles to pollute the air in or near the home. The driveway winds up from the road to the back of the house and bends away, eventually weaving into the detached garage.