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Building the Healthy Home on Shelter Island

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

The typical home is made of building components that are manufactured of chemicals suspected of being responsible for illnesses.

We are careful about the food we eat, but careless about the air we breath when we are enclosed in our increasingly sealed homes for much of the day. The collective evidence about the way unregulated chemicals affect our health, something we have been reading about for many years with increasing alarm, asks architects like Jeff Feingold, a healthy interiors architect on Shelter Island, to consider how building material choices can affect your health.

Pollutants can enter the home through consumer products, cleaning solvents, plastics, furniture and combustion appliances. They can also be carried into our house in building materials including plywood/ compressed wood, construction adhesives, insulation, floor coverings and paint. Plywood and compressed wood for example sheathes our houses inside and out and is used in kitchen cabinets and other built-ins. These panel products are typically made with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Construction adhesive are used generally everywhere inside the home particularly in the installation of floors and in cabinet work. This material, as well as paint can be high in volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). According to the EPA, VOC’s can cause headaches and eye, throat, and nose irritation. Chronic exposure over the course of a lifetime may be linked to certain cancers and liver and kidney damage. Insulation and more specifically, foam plastic insulation (often just known as spray foam)—contains toxic flame retardants and other chemicals that can exacerbate, and even cause, asthma. Floor coverings, piping and even wire coatings are made with PVC and are very suspect. Prolonged exposure to PVC can cause damage to the nervous and immune systems and decrease bone strength. It may also increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.

A good approach to the problem is to set goals and priorities for your project. A priority, for example might be to focus on finding safer alternatives on interior materials, high-volume materials or areas served by children. There are websites and other design resources for finding healthier materials and improving the conditions in which you live.

Jeff Feingold Architect provides architectural services on Shelter Island NY. He is very interested in providing healthy interiors and creative architectural services. Jeff earned the Healthier Materials and Sustainable Building Certificate certificate at The New School in 2020.

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Steve Schappacher
Steve Schappacher
May 10, 2023

The architect of the residence in the photo is SchappacherWhite Architecture.

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