Designer Homes Get Allergy-Friendly, Green and Gorgeous

in Features, Healthy Home
Published: September 14, 2013

Concord Green Home


Photo © Eric Roth

From the outside, it has all the charm of a traditional New England farmhouse, complete with a manicured yard and a welcoming front porch. But behind its elegantly simple exterior, Concord Green is a feat of healthy architecture.

Designed for a client with serious allergies and chemical sensitivities, every inch of the award-winning Massachusetts home was carefully considered, and each material was painstakingly researched in order to maximize air quality and minimize chemical irritants, molds and other triggers. Strict protocols were also put in place for the building site, where smoking was banned and hidden areas such as wall cavities were carefully cleaned before they were sealed.

“We specialize in healthy, energy-efficient homes, so that’s something we do without question on every project,” says Stephanie Horowitz, architect and managing director of ZeroEnergy Design, whose Concord Green home is a whopping 50 percent more efficient than the local building codes require. “But the unique aspect of this project is that we had to be extra sensitive to the client’s unique needs.”

Heating/Cooling/Air Filtering: A heating system that relied on ductwork where mold, dust and pollutants could gather was out of the question, so Horowitz installed in-floor radiant heating on the main floor, and hot-water radiators on the second and third floors.

A whole-house HEPA filter helps to remove allergens and irritants from the air, while an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) system pulls fresh air in, even in the dead of winter. The ERV keeps energy consumption down by using the warmth and moisture of the air that’s on its way out to heat and humidify the incoming air. In summer, the system helps to circulate cool air that’s fresh, and not recycling indoor toxins.

Flooring: Reclaimed pine gives the main floor a warm, traditional feel and – unlike carpets – doesn’t attract dust mites. A safe, water-based sealant was applied to the flooring before it was installed, keeping chemical triggers to a minimum. On the second level, wood flooring was also used, but it was coated with ECOS floor paint – a durable, no-VOC covering that is specifically designed for floors.

Cabinets and Counters: Reclaimed cabinets from another kitchen were used alongside custom cabinets made from Columbia Forest Building Products’ formaldehyde-free plywood. To make the counters as chemical-free as possible, Horowitz opted for a custom-cast concrete countertop, which offers durability and aesthetics without compromising air quality.

Wall Finishes: For people with asthma or chemical sensitivities, paints can be a serious trigger, so Horowitz went with Mythics, a brand out of Massachusetts that offers durable paints – minus the off-gassing VOCs and toxins. To make absolutely sure they were safe for this client, samples were given to her to try out for several weeks before the crew applied it to the walls.

Insulation: In order to ensure air control, and to minimize the chance of moisture infiltration and mold growth, Horowitz wanted to make sure the home was completely airtight. Coating the entire exterior with rigid foam insulation not only helped with that goal; it made the home remarkably energy efficient. Spray foam was the product of choice for the interior, because the client could be away from the home while it off-gassed. “It’s a nice product in that it packs a decent R-value per inch and increases the air tightness of the home,” she says.

Extras: Since the entire building shell was made from pre-constructed panels, it allowed for quick assembly – which minimized the amount of time the materials were exposed to moisture, molds, pollens and other possible triggers.

“The client had moved from space to space with her family, and it was always something else – contaminated ductwork, mold in the basement that was seeping into the basement – so it was like this endless quest for a home that didn’t make her sick,” says Horowitz. “And that’s what was so rewarding: to hear her say, ‘Not only is my home beautiful and efficient, but this is the healthiest I’ve been in the past decade.’”

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Photos © Eric Roth

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