Woman builds herself a gorgeous, tiny, healthy, "chemical free" house
Flame retardants, formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds shouldn't be in any of our houses, but for those with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), they are a disaster. The tiny house concept has been a godsend for not a few people suffering from MCS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), Fibromyalgia and other auto-immune illnesses; it gives them a chance to live in a home that is built without any of the paints, glues, plastics and chemicals that they react to, usually in a place far away from pollution and other irritants.
It's not easy to do. Corinne suffers from severe reactions to chemicals, and built her own tiny house out of carefully selected and tested materials. It is a lovely modern design, but it is also really healthy. She not only researched all the materials, tested them, and built a house out of them, but she has created a terrific blog documenting it, with extensive resources for others suffering from the same sensitivities. None of this was easy.
Much research has gone into this site as I found it difficult to find out what really is in the materials that were going into my new house. Information from other blogs has been fact-checked. Books, Material Safety Date Sheets, consultants for the chemically sensitive, and environmental organizations have greatly informed my posts.
The home is 20 x 8 feet, built from plans by from Leaf House, a contemporary design shown on TreeHugger here. I have always thought that this kind of shed roof makes a lot more sense for a tiny house than the cutesy gabled standard; there is a lot more space in the loft when it runs the full width of the house.
It was not an easy process. Healthy materials cost a lot more money and are often heavier. Since there is a limit of 10,000 pounds on trailers that can be towed behind cars, that is what the trailers are rated for. But MgO board (magnesium oxide board) is a lot heavier than plywood so she pushed up against the limits. Cotton insulation needs thicker walls. There were a lot of changes that had to be made.
Factor in another couple of months to order samples and test materials for your own sensitivities. If you get sick easily, this will be a long and protracted stage as you find out what you can't tolerate by getting sick over and over. There needs to be time for recovery between testing. Definitely err on the side of caution as your sensitivities will increase once in a clean environment.
There are a couple of interesting things about the plan, including the loft access; instead of having a ladder or steep stair, there are a few steps up to kitchen counter height, from where you can climb easily into the bed.
At the other end is a small bathroom with a shower and a small Sun-Mar composting toilet, which is not working out well. Corinne finds that it is too small and cannot evaporate the liquid generated by even one person. (I used to have this problem with my first composting toilet; I installed an overflow and would pipe it into an old water jug. but then you have to find a legal place to dump it.)
Tiny houses built as trailers are exempt from the building code, so it is much easier to experiment, which Corinne has done extensively. People involved in construction may disagree with some of her decisions and choices, (like insulation; she is using a lot of bubble-wrap Reflectix insulation, which the company says is R-21 but Martin Holladay says really R-1 and " can be used to make Halloween costumes, but should never be used as insulation"- no wonder the heating and cooling bill is so high.)
Pedants like me might also complain about her calling the house "chemical-free"- everything is made of chemicals. Magnesium oxide, anyone? But it is catchier than "my VOC/phthalate/flame retardant/formaldehyde-free house."
However, except for those minor quibbles, it is a remarkable piece of research, design, construction and documentation on her blog, My Chemical-Free House.