Guest Blog: Modern Architecture and Design Society (MA+DS)
“In 2013, Adam Reiser and his family found out that their beloved house was filled with a dangerous toxin that was making them sick. After deciding to tear it down, they were unable to find a builder to help them rebuild a healthier, safer home – so they did it themselves. Today, their house is the Shelter model home – and one of the healthiest houses anywhere in America.”
That’s how Adam Reiser, lawyer, runner, and diet and lifestyle trainer, changed his life, becoming a leading advocate for designing and building a healthier house. We had a chance to talk to Adam (temporarily ensconced on-site in an Airstream with his family – including a very large dog) while his personal quest to build a healthier home was approaching completion, providing a unique opportunity to get deep inside the bones of this unique project.
The resulting structure, a 2000 square-foot masterpiece with amazing city views is, according to Reiser, “one hundred percent toxin-free.” This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Consider that walls are typically stuffed with artificial insulation, glue and paint routinely off-gas semi-toxic chemicals, carpet and plywood can contain formaldehyde, and the list goes on and on. To build a totally healthy house required a complete re-imagining of the most fundamental elements of modern homebuilding, and a combination of solutions that might literally not be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
The foundational material of the home, according to Reiser, is the Nexcem wall block, an insulated concrete foam building material that looks like a cinder block, is totally fireproof, and inhibits mold (a major drywall problem) but cuts like wood while maintaining breathability for healthy air transfer. By covering this base material with magnesium oxide-based board (an ancient material used in the construction of the Great Wall of China, according to Reiser) instead of drywall, and by using mineral wool insulation (which doesn’t off-gas at all) the fundamental structure of the home immediately becomes healthier by magnitudes than typical “green” design.
Of course, not everyone can (or needs to) totally rebuild their existing home. Fortunately, Jason Ballard, co-founder of Treehouse, a Dallas-based green building retailer and Reiser’s partner and consultant in this build, has some good news. Ballard told us that even traditional wood construction can be relatively healthy if the builder pays attention to wood sourcing, and if chemical-free insulation is used.
And more good news – a large portion of the home’s finishes are the sort of thing that you might think of when you consider more traditional “green” builds. Exterior wood cladding is recycled from construction pallets, and the interior flooring is made, in part, from recycled basketball courts! In addition, the home boasts water collection and recycling, and windows situated to maximize cross-breezes for energy efficiency.
The final question is, of course, the cost. Perhaps surprisingly, the home priced out at only about $150/square-foot. Not cheap, but for cutting edge green, health living, not unreachable. Today, Adam Reiser and his family are in their home, happy and healthy. And though Shelter Home Building, Reiser continues to learn, educate and build, bringing healthy homes to more families every year.
The Modern Architecture + Design Society produces architecture and design events across North America.
Photo credit: Jamie Leasure, Modern Architecture + Design Society