Dear Renovator,

My wife and I have done a lot of thinking and studying about renovating our home. We’re planning a fairly substantial renovation with a large two-storey addition. We’re health- and environment-conscious, and we’d like this big project to reflect that as fully as possible. We’ve been reading about the healthy home concept. Can you tell us what that means, exactly,? Should we be asking our renovator to use particular materials, technologies, or design, for example?

Dear Homeowner,

A healthy home is one that is designed and built using materials and technologies that support the health, safety and overall well-being of the family. Top reasons a home is not healthy include: poor airflow, excess moisture (leading to mold and pests), and the presence of toxic elements including carbon monoxide, radon, lead, asbestos, and others.

Healthy homes incorporate a wide range of solutions and technologies, including:

  • Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every floor
  • Outside venting in appropriate rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms
  • Materials that emit non-toxic gases and are mold resistant
  • Bio-based insulation options such as soy-based and cotton-based insulation
  • Passive solar and quiet, energy-efficient hydronic (radiant) heating systems
  • A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to deliver fresh air and control moisture
  • SIP panel walls with higher insulation and triple-glazed windows to provide a much quieter and energy-efficient home
  • Tesla PowerWalls that provide energy savings and power backup to your home rather than a carbon-spewing generator when the power goes out.

A healthy home is really a system and only as “healthy” as the weakest room in the house. That’s why it’s difficult to fully embrace the healthy home concept through a single renovation, even one as substantial as a two-storey addition. If the home being renovated was built prior to 1990, it may have used materials with asbestos. These include insulation, plaster, tiles and others. In this situation, the addition can be built using state-of-the-art healthy materials, while other areas of the home contain known issues that undermine health and safety.

A complete design and build solution will consider these and other factors while starting with a “home audit” to ensure there are no existing toxic material such as asbestos or lead to be concerned about.

Lifestyle factors are also important: keeping a home clean to deter rodents and pests, to be contaminant free and well maintained. Neglected homes are more prone to moisture, pest invasion, and at risk of accident from deterioration, such as crumbling walkways and safety railings.

Patricia Liptak-Satov is OakWood’s Vice President of Operations. Oakwood is a fourth-generation family run business that began as a small carpentry and renovation business more than 60 years ago and now provides the largest suite of specialized Design & Build services in Ottawa.