Assume for a moment that you are house hunting. Your real estate agent contacts you and is very excited about a real bargain, a house going for 20 percent less than market value. Upon further inquiry, you learn that the house contains lead paint and asbestos insulation and sits on a bed of radon-emitting granite. It is located in a flood plain, has poor drainage, and smells a little moldy. The previous owners have died of cancer. With this new information, the home now seems to be less than a bargain.
Our health is priceless and when buying, renovating, or building a new home its ability to nurture health should be our top priority. Unfortunately we are faced with a building/ real estate industry that does not make health a top priority. Builders often include many amenities such as three-car garages, whirlpool baths, extra rooms, and fancy fixtures, faucets, and appliances while ignoring even simple health safeguards such as nontoxic paints, floor drains, and carbon monoxide monitors. Appraisers focus primarily on size rather than quality, and real estate agents often promote the visual cosmetics of the home. However, much of what makes a home healthy is not visible to the naked eye.
How much more will it cost to build a healthy home? This is frequently the first question posed to Paula by her clients. The answer usually lies somewhere between zero and 25 percent more than standard construction. In some cases, little or no extra money is required to build and maintain a healthy home. A few examples are listed below:
- Additive-free concrete costs no more than concrete with toxic admixtures, provided that climatic conditions are appropriate for the project.
- Zero-VOC paints are now readily available through most paint manufacturers.
- Shortening wiring runs with careful planning not only will reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields but also will save money.
- Unscented and nonchlorinated cleaning products cost no more and can be just as effective as compounds containing harsh chemicals.
In other cases, healthier alternatives are more expensive initially but more economical in the long run. For example:
- The most inexpensive types of roofing to install are comprised of tar and gravel or asphalt shingles, but the useful life of these products is much shorter than that of many of the less toxic roofing systems discussed in Division 7.
- Although forced-air heating is less expensive to install, a properly designed gas-fired, hydronic radiant floor heating system is not only more comfortable and healthier but also virtually maintenance-free. Higher initial installation costs will be outweighed over time by lower heating bills and more comfort.
In some areas your decision to “go healthy” will cost more, and you will be faced with some difficult choices. We will try to offer you facts and a range of alternatives so that your choices can be well informed. In many instances there is no right answer. Sometimes your decision will come down to a trade-off between luxury and health. But then, what is luxury without health? You could ultimately spend a fortune on medical bills and lose your quality of life.
Furthermore, as responsible citizens of the world we must weigh our building choices from an environmental perspective. The cost to the environment of many current building practices is astronomical. Our children and grandchildren will ultimately pay for our excesses and waste. To weigh the environmental cost of our choices, we must consider their lifecycle impacts:
- We can choose products that are locally produced from renewable resources.
- We can choose to build less by building with well-designed and efficient plans.
- We can build-in energy efficiency and longevity.
- We can make solar heating, solar electricity, water catchment, and ecological waste management our budgeting priorities.