Our guests, Chris Briley and Emily Mottram, architects, and Certified Passive House Consultants, are the co-authors of Pretty Good House, A Guide to Creating Better Homes. They explain how ‘the United States has no governing body that regulates toxins in building products.’ According to them, ‘we are at the mercy of the free market to act as the guardians of our health when it comes to our built environment.’
- Common toxic materials to avoid when renovating/building a home
- Some of the best materials to use
- Trigger words that should automatically create suspicion when looking for products
- Why ventilation and air quality are so important
- The mistakes people make when it comes to ventilation systems
- Simple ways to can keep your indoor air healthy
Pretty Good House is a guide to help you think through the critical issues of weather protection, air leakage, insulation and comfort, and vapor control. The book offers a way to consider the home design and building to ensure that all the important questions are answered before breaking ground.
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How would you like to improve your health and keep your family safe? You're listening to the Healthy Home Hacks podcast where we firmly believe in joining optimal health shouldn't be a luxury. Healthy Home authorities and husband and wife team Ron and Lisa will help you create a home environment that will level up your health. It's time to hear from the experts. Listen in on honest conversations and gain the best tips and advice. If you're ready to dive in and improve your well-being and increase your energy, you're in the right place. All right, here are your hosts, Baubiologists, authors, media darlings, vicarious vegans and avocado aficionados, Ron and Lisa Beres
Ron Beres 00:50
When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself. Art cannot become manifest; strength cannot be exerted. Wealth is useless and reason is powerless. - Herophilus
Lisa Beres 01:03
We talk a lot about toxins on the show 75 episodes and counting. But some people still don't understand that in order to achieve optimal health. Changes to diet and lifestyle are necessary. As our guests today are here to explain. The United States has no governing body that regulates toxins and building products. According to them. We are at the mercy of the free market to act as the guardians of our health when it comes to our built environment.
Ron Beres 01:32
It turns out there right. According to the Journal of Environmental Technology, the average home contains 400 chemicals. A study found that dust in the average home is laced with 45 chemicals and indoor air on average is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. And that's according to the EPA.
Lisa Beres 01:52
Our guests today are the co-authors of Pretty Good House, a guide to help you think through the critical issues of weather protection, air leakage, insulation, comfort and vapor control to ensure that all the important questions are answered before breaking ground.
Ron Beres 02:09
Chris Briley is a principal at Brightburn architecture for life, specializing in sustainable design. He is a certified Passive House consultant. He is a co-host of Green Architects Lounge podcast and a founding board member of passive house main. Chris is passionate about sustainability and is known for his expertise in high performance buildings.
Lisa Beres 02:30
Emily Mottram is the founder and principal of Mottram architecture, a boutique practice specializing in new homes and renovations that are beautiful, functional, comfortable, healthy and durable. She received her Bachelor of architecture from Penn State University and is a registered architect in Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
Ron Beres 02:51
Emily also teaches Building Science and Sustainable Design at community college and co-hosts live streamed BS and beer show a monthly building science show. She is also a certified Passive House consultant, Emily and Chris, welcome to the show.
Lisa Beres 03:14
We are so excited to have you both with us today. And I know we just want to dive right in. So, guys, what are some common toxic materials that our listeners should avoid when they're renovating or building their home?
Chris Briley 03:28
Great question. Emily, you want to take this one or you want?
Emily Mottram 03:31
I think either one of us could probably answer that. But if you're building materials, being asked to do something that seems like it inherently shouldn't do mold resistant stain resistant, a probably is not healthy and has some kind of toxic chemical in it to perform that action.
Ron Beres 03:47
I love it. You said that if this is something that doesn't normally happen, it's probably a toxic chemical causing a problem, right? I love that.
Chris Briley 03:54
It's sort of like trigger words like if you hear flame retardant. You have to ask yourself, why are they telling me that flame retardant? Yeah, I mean.
Lisa Beres 04:04
Yeah antimicrobial, right? You see that a lot. And you've seen people who are very like paranoid about getting sick and germs. Oh, that's great. They don't know that those are really toxic. Those applicate topical applications, like you said flame retardants, obviously, that can go beyond building products and into your sheets and your bedding and your furniture and your mattress and your children's products.
Chris Briley 04:28
Yeah, and it's definitely worth thinking about when you're building as well. I mean, a lot of people think about these things about their products that they bring into the house. But when you're building or renovating your house, you are building the environment that you're going to reside in for most of your time. So, it's really important to really be observant than.
Lisa Beres 04:49
Right. I mean, our home should be our sanctuary. And it's like I'm always blown away with how much emphasis people put on the aesthetics and constantly making sure that your home is like looking Instagram worthy Pinterest worthy at any cost, getting that cheap, formaldehyde laden everything and not really even thinking to ask those questions? Are there formaldehyde resins in here? And what kind of like topical treatments that you talked about? And how is this wood treated? Right?
Chris Briley 05:16
Right. In fact, we kind of have that ask yourself is this animal vegetable mineral kind of thing with each product we bring in, and we constantly bemoaning the fact that we don't have an FDA label for the things that we buy and build with like, you can go down to the hardware store, buy it, install it in your house, and we really have the Erin Brockovich method of enforcing road chemicals. And that's like, it's got to be dangerous enough that someone is sick enough to sue somebody that it becomes profitable for that company to do it, unless they are aware and altruistic about what they're doing, and money not being the bottom line. So, we kind of count on that.
Lisa Beres 05:53
That was well said, The Erin Brockovich style, I think that applies to so many things like we've had better manufacturers on same thing with mattresses, there's no regulations on flame retardant chemicals, really, they have to pass a smaller test, they can use whatever they want.
Chris Briley 06:07
And we have the SPC that will like enforce these regulations that have come to be but there's no one proactively going out there. As you said in the intro, there's no government body saying these chemicals are bad, don't put them in your building products. It's basically up to us to police ourselves. And so, as architects, we're we take on that role of being that chemical cop, and our clients have different sensitivities, and some are not sensitive, but we are trying to reduce that presence.
Lisa Beres 06:38
And everybody's sensitive to our carcinogen, right? I mean, at the end of the day, what would you guys say, is the percentage of carcinogens cancer causing chemicals that you see in the building materials?
Chris Briley 06:49
Well, since 80%, of all statistics are made up on the spot I'll say about 50%?
Lisa Beres 06:56
We're going to quote; we're going to start quoting you.
Emily Mottram 06:59
Yeah. And I was going to say to that, if you don't test it, or you don't think about it, before you put it in your house, you mentioned in the very beginning, there are 400 toxins in our house. So, it's really hard to tell, once you have all of those materials in your house, what is causing some of those issues. So, we've also I know, Chris and I have both worked with chemically sensitive clients, is you could get in and you could have done all the right things. And we can talk about some healthy building materials and still have a client that has a sensitivity to something that you can't identify, because you're just not sure, and we don't have a lot of great ways to test these things, either. So, it becomes that much more important for us to understand all of the things we put in beforehand. So, we can potentially narrow it down to a few things that could be causing it versus Well, it could be any of the 4000 materials we just put into this brand-new structure. And Chris and I are both big proponents for building much more airtight houses. And so now not only are we putting these things in the house, we're trapping it inside with you.
Lisa Beres 07:56
So, you are for the airtight houses, even though...
Chris Briley 07:59
Absolutely. I think there's like about four places in the book where we make fun of the builder that says house has to breathe, because and everyone says this.
Ron Beres 08:10
We are friend to some of those builders so just be gentle.
Chris Briley 08:12
This is what the book is for. I mean, because intuitively, they have the right idea like a healthy house leak. But an energy efficient house controls how it leaks. So, we provide the air that you breathe using a balanced mechanical ventilation using an energy recovery ventilator. So, we are actually hanging on to the energy in the house, and even the humidity in the house. But we're bringing in fresh air, and we're filtering that air. So, we're actually providing way more fresh air into this environment, as opposed to letting it leak through the failures in your building where your insulation becomes your air filter, which you're never going to change. So, we can be much more energy efficient by being tighter, airtight, and be healthier by providing that ventilation.
Ron Beres 08:58
So, you're given that air exchange. So, I think the rule of thumb was once every hour you want a full house air exchange is that process or no?
Chris Briley 09:06
You're talking to code officials?
Lisa Beres 09:10
Let's make up a stat.
Chris Briley 09:13
Like for house we should 4.3 air changes per hour, that would be to be energy efficient. But then we usually want more effort design a school is three air changes per hour.
Emily Mottram 09:24
Well, and I want to add to that, too, is what you're talking about with air changes per hour is just how much the shell of our building is leaking. That's not actually talking about the fresh air that we're providing to you with our mechanical systems, which is what we actually want you to breathe inside your structure. So, they're actually two completely different things that get interchanged as ventilation and how you want all of the air inside your house to be exchanged over a certain amount of time. The ASHRAE 62.2 standard is not written in that same language so it makes it sound confusing as to providing fresh air for the people that in there, because you're building shell leakage is coming from your basement, you're coming from your attic coming from cracks in your foundation, even outside air with a window open is just outside of the building. So, depending on where you guys live in the country of wildfire season or downtown in the city that is not terribly fresh either. So, your mechanical ventilation with it being through that. So, exchanging the air in your building and exchanging the air in your building shell are not interchangeable.
Ron Beres 10:30
Okay, well, Emily will air on the side of caution
Chris Briley 10:32
And exchange more?
Ron Beres 10:35
I just wanted to say that No, thank you. Thank you for not just being funny. Okay, here we go. So actually, in regards to materials, though, right, I was going to ask you, what are some of the best materials? I want to make this a trick question. You can't just go to Alaska and build an igloo. Or you could I want to make this a little more difficult. Maybe it's a warmer climate. Maybe it's more of a humid climate, Chris or Emily, what would you do what building materials are best that you'd recommend for any given situation?
Emily Mottram 11:03
Straw bales available everywhere. You can grow straw absolutely anywhere. Yeah, turning the panels, you can stack them as bales. You can turn them into panels, which make them easier wall systems. It's natural and sustainable, and actually helps with agriculture because they can use it as a cover crop, which means that they don't put chemicals on it when they grow it which means when it goes in your wall, it also does not have chemicals in it. So that one's one of my personal favorite right now. And who doesn't love a deep windowsill?
Ron Beres 11:33
But Emily isn't that more of a dry climate though. If it's humid you really can't use it as much right? So, it has to be a real dry?
Emily Mottram 11:38
Nope. Would work well.
Chris Briley 11:40
We've got a company here in Maine. That's making them Croft, we'll give them a shout out Croft is impressed drop panels and really about managing the moisture migration through your wall assemblies. I'm going to try not to geek out too much on and nerd out on how it works.
Ron Beres 11:56
What's your smiling Chris, I can see you smiling right now? So, you seem very excited about this.
Chris Briley 12:00
Yeah, I can't help it. We're we are so nerdy, but we try to dial back nerdiness.
Emily Mottram 12:05
We're trying not to be nerdy today.
Chris Briley 12:08
But we like to use bio-based materials to build with because they sequester carbon or they're a lot friendlier to the planet but also, they come they are naturally organic by themselves as long as we don't mess with them. So there's that aspect but as long as we can control how a building dries if we can keep the assemblies dry, then we deprive any mold and mildew spores any opportunity for proliferating within the wall system. So you can get a wall system that respire is let's say that breeds a house that requires built of organic materials. And you've got a great combination and that works in pretty much most climates.
Lisa Beres 12:45
Yeah, cuz I know. Are you guys familiar with Paula Baker Laporte?
Chris Briley 12:49
Not ringing a bell for me.
Lisa Beres 12:50
Prescriptions for Healthy House is the book and oh, that's the New Healthy Nest, I think is the name of their architectural company they do. It's not straw bale. It's like straw bale. What is the other one? Clay? No, it's clay. What is it? Like?
Ron Beres 13:06
I'm forgetting the term that Yeah.
Lisa Beres 13:10
They were in New Mexico for a long-time building homes like that. They're and they're actually fellow building biologists. I don't know why I'm going to look it up while we're talking. But anyway, they were all about the overhang, right? If you're going to build that kind of structure, you need a very low overhang. Because even in New Mexico, they get snow. And so, they kind of educated us on that and how that works. So yeah, even though there's the moisture, if you have the snow, not up against the house that works.
Emily Mottram 13:32
I would think Chris will agree with this, that water is the enemy of all of our buildings, no matter how you build. And so, if you pay careful attention to the nerdy building science that we love, you can often do most things in most climates with attention to good water management details.
Ron Beres 13:49
So, Emily, your homes don't have an indoor pool.
Emily Mottram 13:52
I'm not saying that would be open to it. But I think this actually wasn't one of my houses. But Chris's fellow podcaster did this tiny indoor pool and had ventilation system and it was like in its own little contained unit. It was like a swimming snake. So, I'm not saying it's not possible, just a lot more work. So, if we can, outside that usually makes things much simpler. We feel the same way about intentional indoor fires, too. If you can keep them outside. That's also better for your health.
Lisa Beres 14:29
Be a smart homeowner people. Yeah, so we talked about it a little while ago, some of the trigger words. So if someone's out shopping and they are looking for materials for their home, what are some of the trigger words they could look for that should be worry of?
Chris Briley 14:42
Well, there's antimicrobial, we've said, is it waterproof? Is it flame retardant? And another thing to think about is does it change state like paints because that means there's probably a solvent in it, or if it's a plastic, plastics that are made to be durable, they've gotten this bisphenol in them. And plastics that are pliable usually have phthalates.
Lisa Beres 15:08
For listeners who don't know what that is, we've talked about phthalates. They're an endocrine disrupting plasticizer chemical that actually gives flexibility and makes products soft. So, vinyl flooring, right? You would have phthalates and vinyl shower curtains and a lot of vinyl issues. And vinyl can also be used to make sense linger. So, you can find them in perfumes and scented products. But they're endocrine disruptors, they mess with our hormonal system. So, this is a big thing. Like even there was a big study years ago about the vinyl flooring releasing so many pallets, like that high level, they measured it and they found such high levels. So, people when they're getting a lot of like, we talked about these illnesses, and they're not connecting that to their environment at all right? They're thinking always like food must be something I ate, or they never think about their environment being linked to hormonal issues for sure. Right? A lot. No one's connecting those dots. I'm sorry to interrupt you. Yeah. And there's also the PFAS materials, things that are fluorinated. And you find that like in carpets. In fact, this is a stat I've used so many times, I should go back and check and see what's real. But if there's a stat that makes you not want to use carpet, never again, it's that the average carpet was taken out weighs three times what it did before. Oh, yeah, I believe it. That' gross. Well, the pillow, there's the stat about the pillow, your pillow weighs 10 pounds more, not 10 pounds, whatever. Twice the weight, it weighs twice the weight after 10 years or something from decimate droppings, and they're shedding and all that. And I was like people put so there was an urban myth. No, in fact, there is a study, I think it's University of Ohio or somewhere anyway, so I found the study. I was like, yes, that is an actual stat. Yeah, your pillow weighs more because you're shedding the dead skin and the dust mites are eating your dead skin, and then their droppings going into your pillow. It's very gross. But that's a fact. You got to change your pillow. Every two years, please, or at least clean it. But what Yeah, so to your point there, the carpet is crazy. I mean, it just houses everything right? It grabs on to everything.
Chris Briley 17:14
It does. And even most of them are off the shelf, you know, the bargain brands, they're usually treated, what are they treated with to keep them to make them so stain resistant. And so those are probably chlorinated chemicals of some kind. So, we just tend to avoid synthetics and plastics as much as possible. But I will say that it depends on I think that's a general statement. Some clients who are chemically sensitive, I had a client who is very, very sensitive.
Lisa Beres 17:45
Like living in a tent outside kind of type. Yeah.
Chris Briley 17:48
And in fact, I'll throw them they're starting an organization called Habitat for Canaries, where we're building her a house that she can live in, but then they're also creating a retreat for people just like her because the last place you can go when you're diagnosed with something like that as a hospital, where there's so many chemicals and everything, but she can't tolerate hydrocarbons of soft woods or the poly oxy phenols that smell so good.
Lisa Beres 18:09
New home smell, right?
Chris Briley 18:11
But if you think, Oh, I have to do a new house with no softwoods Wow, then what are you building it out? So, it becomes we have to find chemicals that work or it's concrete and steel and uncoated things, it gets very complicated very fast. And they have to be very tested to that individual. But I'm on a tangent I really.
Lisa Beres 18:29
Oh, it's so important because chemically sensitive people, it's a portion of the environment that's getting bigger and bigger and bigger, like, especially with all the electromagnetic radiation. And we've worked with, well, Dr. William Ray, I don't know if you're familiar with him, he passed away now. But his Center in Dallas, the Environmental Health Center, it's one of the very few places that people can go and stay in a clean room and actually heal. It still exists. I believe it's still run by his team. And then Dr. Lisa Nagy. And she's on Martha's Vineyard. She's also an environmental MD who trades so that these people can get their life back because right it's really, I mean, we've seen it, it's so extreme, they are sensitive to everything. And the only way they can heal is like through massive detoxification and that has to be done correctly, right? You can't just say oh, I'm going to avoid stuff for a little bit. It has to be detox out of the body and where it's just and with electromagnetic radiation there's studies showing that it's like magnifying that. So, I think we're going to be seeing more and more of that. Would you agree?
Chris Briley 19:28
Definitely. I think most people who like suffer from any EMF problems also suffer from a chemically sensitive I mean, I have yet to run into someone who doesn't have if they have one, they tend to have the other to some degree.
Lisa Beres 19:42
Yeah, it's going to be a miserable experience for those people. I mean, just to and I think we've all even had like a level of that with like, oh my gosh, the gas is making me nauseous the smell of gas or someone smoking even like across the room or perfumes right. And once you stop, I don't wear any perfumes or anything scented and then like if I'm around I was trying for a few months, I just almost want to fall over. Right?
Ron Beres 20:04
Yes, for sure. And I know we're focused on the chemically sensitive people. And that's important. It's nice to have hope out there for those people. But I think some of our other listeners are thinking like, Wow, I love to live in a pretty good house. Yeah, I really would like that. But it's expensive. What would be your response to that, Emily?
Emily Mottram 20:21
it doesn't have to be more expensive. I think that it's really a lot of careful planning one specifically for your climate zone, right, because we don't talk specifically enough about climate zones and what you should be doing in the areas and what things are available to you in your climate zone. But what we do talk about a little bit in the book is that you can design economics into your project Chris and I just presented a couple of weeks ago, and he said coroner's cost, and I had never heard him say that before. But like every dorm or every bump, every jog all the fancy things that people think they want to add on to their house cost money, but you can build a simple structure that's way healthier for you to live in, you can build a smaller structure, we talk a lot about building what you need, not for future resale value, there's probably somebody who wants what you decide you're going to build. We have people have a friend who builds tiny homes, and people don't necessarily want tiny homes, but they don't want 2500 square feet, either, which is our national average. And there's not a lot in the middle. And so, people are just looking for smaller things. I mean, you look at the people that live in New York City and 400 square feet, there are plenty of people who can live in a small space, but they think American dream big house, and they just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
Lisa Beres 21:31
They're really paying a boatload in New York City; they're paying five grand.
Emily Mottram 21:35
Oh my gosh, for 400 square feet, they're paying more than I pay to live in my hat, you know, so it's crazy. But I think be really realistic with yourself about what you actually need and what your outcome is. Because I think, you know, we're talking about healthy indoor air quality in the last couple of years. And all of this being stuck at home when spending that 90% of our time indoors. But now spending that 90% of our time in the same structure. We're spending it in our houses, we're working from home, we're starting to see that effect on people is really starting to be honest with yourself about what your outcome is, because people are now looking for connection and being able to go out and like I don't want to clean a 4000 square foot house, I don't want to manage a 4000 square foot house and up here in Maine, I don't want to heat it for sure. And so, I think that it doesn't have to be more expensive. And you have to look at both long term costs, what's it going to cost you to stay there because we have a tendency to see that people who build high performance houses stay in them longer, because they're so great to live in, you sleep better, they're healthier for you. They're in a great environment. So, think about the long-term cost of it. Your health, right? We talked about this; people aren't associating their space with their health. But if you start associating those things together, not spending as much time at the doctor not taking as much time off of work, we have to think about our lives in something that is slightly bigger than what the first dollar cost is for the house that we built.
Lisa Beres 22:55
Well said, what�s that saying? Pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later. I mean, we could say that with pay the architect now or pay the doctor later? A lot of it because you're right, people look at just the costs, like right now and they don't think about well, how much is that going to cost me later when I've gotten that formaldehyde exposure from these floorboards or kitchen cabinets or whatever that is?
Ron Beres 23:16
You know, we talked a little bit about ventilation and air quality, what are some ways our listeners can keep their indoor air healthy?
Chris Briley 23:22
Well, ventilation is a big component to that, like there are so many existing houses where there is no ventilation, it is just the leaks in the house or how many people cook and they never turn on the fan or how many houses are out there.
Ron Beres 23:38
Me, right? And you just gave me a look when you said that. I read into that or no.
Chris Briley 23:43
There are grease laden vapors are pretty toxic to you. So, it's like and we all experienced them, but it's just at certain levels. It is a toxin. So, introducing real ventilation to the house is one of the greater ways to do ventilation, ventilation with filtration.
Lisa Beres 24:01
Do feel like okay, if you're changing your Hvac filter regularly, do you feel like that's good enough? Or do you think people need a whole house filtration system?
Emily Mottram 24:13
They need a whole house filtration system they're not the same thing. Your mechanical system is exchanging the air and going around and filtering it which is great people who have furnaces are better off than people who have boilers who have no filtration. There are portable air filters that you can use. And I'm going to see this here because I really think that it's important to remind people that you need to not use ionizers and ozone depletion things that absolutely do not want that. So, when we say portable air filters, we're talking about just typical HEPA filters. We're talking about maybe a charcoal filter, if you do have something you're experiencing some VOCs because as Chris was saying cooking gives up VOCs are cookware if you are like me and you burn things, and to really hit on the point everybody needs a range vent hood it needs to be at least six inches wider than your range. So, don't let your kitchen designer convince you otherwise that it looks good with your cabinetry.
Lisa Beres 25:04
I believe rangehood needs to be six inches overlapping your stove.
Emily Mottram 25:09
Correct. It's more about capture area than it is about the actual I will think I see that often. Yeah, you're right. No, you don't. But you should. We are talking about it needs to be vented to the exterior. And if you never want to cook again, in your kitchen, go watch the BSM beer episode on kitchen ventilation where Ross who's an awesome mechanical engineer basically scares everybody and says you got to use your range vent hood when you're using your toaster. I was like, did he just say toaster? I'm never cooking again.
Lisa Beres 25:36
Our reasons to order in.
Emily Mottram 25:39
Lisa Beres 25:41
That's interesting. So many things nobody's thinking about. Okay, so when you guys design a house for a client, do you obviously use sway them to use a whole house filtration that can be a little costly? Is that like, we're not going to build the house? If you don't do that, or we're just going to encourage you to do that.
Chris Briley 25:56
We kind of take a hard line. I don't know most people come to us because they want that help. It's not like we're fighting that argument much at all. But I think that is something we would probably draw the line on is not having an ERP or some kind of air managing that the air in the house. Yeah,
Lisa Beres 26:14
so important. What do we take 23,000? breaths? I don't know why then other staff y'all need to let them off on our stats today.
Ron Beres 26:23
Yeah, before we go, this chemically sensitive proof house right. I'm curious, you mentioned portable air purifier, are you brave enough to mention a brand name of one that someone can get right now to so they can feel good about themselves? And like you know, for example, IQAir or whatever? Is there a particular go to one that you recommend temporarily for people?
Chris Briley 26:40
I don't Emily, do you have.
Emily Mottram 26:41
I'm not getting on my brand new. If you want to build, if you want to build a Corsi box, those are actually just four air filters and a box van taped on top. You have clients out there looking for cheap solution?
Lisa Beres 26:55
Yeah, that's pretty good. We have a post on that actually, that shows you how to do it. I couldn't believe it. I'm like, actually, that's what an air purifier is minus all the other hoopla of the carbon filtration whenever.
Emily Mottram 27:06
Carbon filters, some of them don't. And all of our mechanical engineers out there will want us to tell you to put the right filter and all of your stuff don't add a HEPA filter to a system that isn't designed for that kind of filtration. Because that's really hard on your systems. And it's going to cut down your airflow and you may actually be creating worse problems than you had previously.
Ron Beres 27:25
So how about a simple question here? So, furnace filter, what MERV rating? Would you recommend at least 13? Or would you go even higher?
Lisa Beres 27:30
Higher, the better? Right?
Ron Beres 27:31
I'm going to say what's the recommended? I'm just curious
Lisa Beres 27:36
For our listeners, we do have our recommended air purifier brands. So, I'll put a link to that Portable Air Purifier brands that you can see him pending on your budget. Obviously, they range anywhere from 100 up to 1000. And everything in between and depending on the square footage. So, because people always say which one's the best one? Well, it does depend on your needs and your budget. But anyways, so I had a question for you guys. Do you use fiberglass insulation? Or you don't use insulation? Do you only do the straw bale homes?
Emily Mottram 28:04
We did? A lot of. If you can only do one thing make it as tight as possible. But yeah, we definitely use lots of insulation.
Lisa Beres 28:19
Okay, I found the answer to my question that Paula Baker homes they're a straw clay. And I don't think they use insulation. The clay is the insulation, I believe. Right. And they really care about wet climates,
Ron Beres 28:29
Obviously. Okay, yeah,
Chris Briley 28:31
That one definitely seems like a dry climate bill type of material.
Lisa Beres 28:34
Yeah, it is. It is more of a dry climate. Yeah. Okay, so do you have like, do you like denim insulation? Like, what's your go to insulation? Because this is a big question. People always want to know.
Chris Briley 28:44
I think the pretty good house consensus is like the default installation we go to is cellulose or it's a dense pack cellulose because it's recycled product. That is the only thing is treated with is like a ball rate salt that makes it flame retardant. And so, it's very low in embodied carbon and apparent carbon. And it's mostly organic material, such as recycling. So, there's that a little bit to it, and we try to avoid spray foam tends to be the thing that builders gravitate towards, because it's easy, because you can solve everything just straight down. And in fact, they can hire subcontracted, come in and do it. But if you ever see that done, yeah, like they dress up in there and a hazmat suit and they go in and they're mixing chemicals on site and spraying it in and don't come in, don't come in while we're doing this. And you're like, what am I putting in my house? And so, we've done correctly, it should be an inert material when it's in there, but done incorrectly it can be really, you know, they can gas for a really long time and be wrong. So, like, and there's other reasons why we tend not to spray foam but and we also avoid like the XPS insulation, which is the extruded polystyrene, because it's usually polystyrene by itself, like the foam board like you see it in construction sites. It's rigid. It's usually Use for underground applications or like foundations or, but you'll see it all over the place. But because it can be used almost anywhere, the company is treated with flame retardants, and also the propellant agents that make that foam are like co2 times 1300, I think I can be wrong. There are different companies with different formulas, like the Supreme, a brand is not nearly as bad as some of the other Dow brands or whatever. But if we have to use something like that, we'll use EPS, which has expanded like a Styrofoam cup. So, the XPS, but we'd rather use like the Lavell, or a foam glass product underground, or, which is a newer product. In fact, Emily, I haven't even used it yet. I've proposed it like three times. And it hasn't happened yet. But Emily did it. So high five, yeah,
Emily Mottram 30:44
I've done it in a couple of projects recently. And what I love about it, the foam glass aggregate and global specifically as their factories are also all renewable energy. So, they're taking something they're recycling it, they're making it into a product. And by doing it, they're also using their factories to not produce more carbon in the atmosphere, because there's other installations like mineral wool, or fiberglass, and mineral wool is basically melting rocks, which takes a lot of energy, right? So, it's not inherently bad in your house, per se, was a good air barrier. So that actually works and doesn't filter things. But the carbon impact of that material is much higher. So, we're also trying to think beyond that to how's that. So, we use wood fiber, so you can get with fiber in a couple of different ways. And there's also sheep's wool, that tends to be more expensive, but some people are kind of into that. So, I have never used denim. And I'd really research that because just like we talked about all of our other materials, like what's actually in denim, like, I'm not sure how sustainable the denim industry really is. And so, does it have other chemicals in the denim? And then you're stuffing that in your walls, right? So, it would be great that people recycled it, maybe instead of throwing it, but like from an indoor environmental quality like what is in it? Am I going to continue to breathe that?
Lisa Beres 32:01
Yeah, right. So, are you going to get a button when you inhale?
Emily Mottram 32:06
A button when you inhale, you're really big,
Lisa Beres 32:08
Bigger problem than the denim No, it's yeah, it's really interesting. How many builders do you think are still using that pink fiberglass insulation?
Emily Mottram 32:18
Like is that still all of them? Like 95% were thrown out statistic, right?
Lisa Beres 32:26
I feel good about. Yeah, that's what I thought because I won't name names. I've talked about this before, but we live in Orange County. The art real house if you've ever seen the Real Housewives of Orange County, some of the what will one of the women I'm not going to say who she is, but she lives like literally two miles and not that we live in her neighborhood. But her beautiful neighborhood is on top of the hill from here on the bottom, the bottom where's the bottom? And they built a massive mass. I mean, the biggest house I think they've actually built in Orange County maybe. And it's like a hotel. And they were literally she was showing pictures of it online. I see all this pink fiberglass insulation. And I'm like, wait, you've got a champagne button. I probably just gave away who she is. She has a button in her closet to push for champagne. So, a little glass of champagne comes out of the closet to the closet while she's getting ready.
Emily Mottram 33:16
Wow, that's a level.
Lisa Beres 33:21
And like the ice cube maker that makes the round big ice cubes the big square and then puts in fiberglass. I just It blows my mind really like.
Chris Briley 33:33
Well it's things that you don't see that are usually harder cells like your wall system is now much healthier and more robust and is going to protect you to make you more comfortable. And some other builder might say well I can go do the same thing for like half the cost or like they can't by the way but by substituting a couple of things and then why would you cheap out there of all the places in your house to reduce costs. I mean, you're building envelope you get one shot to do that, right? Maybe two if you're renovating or whatever but getting your building envelope correct and getting your systems correct is would be second to that. And then if you want to change your countertop, go for it. It's much more ephemeral, these other products but that building envelope, man.
Lisa Beres 34:19
That's tripping investment. Yeah, that's your structure that's and then all the other stuff is like it literally is your foundation and then everything's on top of that. So that's a great point. But that many do the research read your book for sure. Pretty Good House a guide to creating better homes, plug
Chris Briley 34:35
Fiberglass, I will say you know like we've used it but very sparingly and we make sure it's formaldehyde free. They are at least thanks to like lead from 10 years ago, people are paying attention to where formaldehyde exists. You know, like you've mentioned that fire woods and stuff now you can buy cabinetry that's formaldehyde free. That's a good trick. Like if this is a synthesized wood product is held together with glue binders of some kind. And that could be from aldehyde.
Lisa Beres 35:07
It's kind of like BPA when BPA became really like public awareness because of the sippy cups and the baby bottles, they were like, don�t worry, don't worry, we're getting rid of BPA. We now have bps, and everyone's like, Oh, good. It's BPA free. So, kind of going back to that greenwashing. Like, Oh, good. It's safe. It's BPA free. They do this with pee fast, too, right. But wait, what's the chemical that you now use? What can we don't know? There's no information. They don't tell you. You've got to do deep.
Emily Mottram 35:31
We're just starting a new chemical. BPS and BPF are just the chemical cousins of BPA. So, it's BPA free, right cousin?
Lisa Beres 35:40
And yeah, exactly. And the average consumer doesn't know that. Right. So, they don't know. They just see the greenwashing. And so, they're like, yeah, it's safe. So.
Chris Briley 35:49
And I will like throughout, like in our book, we even espouse like, there's the six classes of chemicals, that method and they can go to sixclasses.org, for any listener out there. And it's a great way just to like, it goes through a lot of these same chemicals we're talking about instead of like trying to pick and choose, it really takes the tactic of avoid, just avoid when again, solvents don't use solvents, unless you have to, then you have to study and figure out what's in it. There's just like, the mental method that we all have to start using to protect ourselves, right?
Lisa Beres 36:22
We have to be our own detective and our own everything nowadays. I mean, we really do. And thanks to you guys writing a book. And it's such a great tool for consumers. So, they don't have to spend some teen years and go to get a science degree and an architect degree and all of this, like you're doing the hard work for them. And hopefully our podcast is and your podcasts helping people become aware of so that it's not so overwhelming, and that they can feel excited and inspired and have the tools and I love I when I was reading your backgrounds and bios, one of you had talked about, you know, we're not trying to create a perfect house. This isn't about perfection. And I thought that was such a great. We're trying to create a pretty good house. Right? That's right. That's exactly right. That's where the title came from. Right. It's like, I thought it was another good point.
Emily Mottram 37:09
It's the longest running joke we've been. No, no, no, no, no, it because we get the response when people don't get it when they don't pick up on the GOP at the good enough house. It's like no.
Lisa Beres 37:21
Yeah, no, but that's such a good point. Because I mean, you're always going to find little compromises. Sometimes you're choosing the lesser of the evils. Sometimes you're down to that with a particular leaving in your household products, right? Sometimes you're just people can get a little crazy. And they'll be like, Oh, but that has that that that then I'm like, Yeah, but you're stepping in the right direction, and you're reducing your body burden, right, by making a healthier choice. It doesn't have to be 100%. Perfect. We got to deal with preservatives over here or this over there.
Chris Briley 37:51
And so are your budget. It might be a part of that too. We can't all have dispensers in our closets.
Lisa Beres 37:58
I asked Ron and he said no, I was like when I get ready.
Ron Beres 38:02
I want unhealthy building materials instead.
Chris Briley 38:11
You want to breathe healthier?
Lisa Beres 38:12
I don't know it's a tough one. Oh my gosh, well, is there anything you guys want to leave with our listeners, any last little tips advice?
Chris Briley 38:21
They can go to prettygoodhouse.org. If we can just keep on plugging things, too cheap to buy the book, and you just want more free advice. Please go to that website prettygoodhouse.org, where we've got a lot of information there as well, because we're not going to retire from this book. But we really want to move the needle on the quality of building out there. And, you know, help the environment help people? How do you are?
Lisa Beres 38:46
Excellent. Guys, thank you for? And can people hire you if they don't just drop floorplan for another state? Or do they have to be building in your area?
Emily Mottram 38:56
Well, so I'm going to say that that's a complicated question. You don't actually have to have an architect to design houses all over the country. But if you are an architect, you have to be registered in the state that you are practicing in. So, Chris and I are both assumed Chris has registered in more than one state generally up here in New England you so we can practice a new custom home in the states that we are registered in. I also shout out to several people who have custom design plan sets that are available for people to purchase for their eight climate zones. So the other thing that I failed to mention earlier when you asked me about cost effectiveness is custom is always going to cost more so if you don't have to have a custom house start with some really great architecture designed architect or designer led houses in your specific area. And you can start there and the fewer changes you make the more cost effective it will be. Those generally can go in other places but be really careful and then do them in the right locations. Right. So, we talked just a little bit about climate zone. Chris and I are both in a cold climate. So, any houses that we design our it'd be appropriate for Florida, right? Going to have a opposite effect. Some architects or designers can work in that event where there are planets that are available but if you're an architect, generally you need to.
Lisa Beres 40:11
Okay, that's really helpful. I never actually knew the answer to that. So, listeners head to their site prettygoodhouse.org If you are interested in getting more information and to get the book, we will put a link in the show notes. And to learn more about Chris Briley. Find him on Instagram at Briburn_architecture. And to learn more about Emily find her on Instagram at Mottram arc, that's MOTTRAMARC.
Ron Beres 40:38
They will have all the links in the show notes or ronandlisa.com/podcast. Stay tuned next week friends and get ready to up level your health. See you then. Bye.
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