New Highlands home is nothing to sneeze in

May 12, 2009

By David Hayes

Ceiling fans use natural air movement in lieu of the fumes of air conditioning systems to provide heating and cooling, while a window in the wall touts a healthy insulation system. By Greg Farrar

Ceiling fans use natural air movement in lieu of the fumes of air conditioning systems to provide heating and cooling, while a window in the wall touts a healthy insulation system. By Greg Farrar

If the fine folks behind “Extreme Home Makeover” were to build a house for a needy family addressing their hypersensitivity to allergies, they may produce a home like one in the Issaquah Highlands.

Bennett Homes has built a showcase Healthhouse “5 Star Built Green” home with every possible allergen-free material, using strict standards set by the American Lung Association. It’s known as the ALA home for short.

During a tour of the new home, construction manager Wes Colin said all of the ALA home’s features are available for the average homeowner.

“But I highly recommend you get these features built right into the design from the get-go,” he said, adding it would be too difficult to retrofit a normal home with some of the features.

The ALA concept starts with its very foundation. Colin pointed to the crawl space with a view of the Icynene spray foam insulation system. It seals the home by expanding to completely fill gaps that contribute to air leakage.

“This makes for a healthier, quieter and more energy-efficient home,” he said.

The first obvious feature is hardwood floors throughout the home, made from prefinished bamboo, an environmentally friendly wood product finished with a toxin- and allergen-free topcoat.

“Carpet equals bad,” Colin said.

Most vacuums, he said, suck up only some allergens and without an industrial strength HEPA system, they just get moved from one room to the next.

Aileen Gagney, asthma and environmental health program manager for the American Lung Association, agreed that the biggest threat of allergens come from what gets stuck in the carpet.

“There are dust mites, insects, insecticide all getting tracked onto carpet,” she said. “When carpet is removed from most homes, the teams are in full hazmat gear.”

To help vacuum what does get tracked in, the home features a central vacuum system. It features a self-cleaning filter and antimicrobial bucket for easy disposal from the garage to the garbage. Debris is never airborne.

“The central vacuum system, I recommend that’s worth retrofitting into an existing home,” Colin said.

Even the utility room floor uses Marmoleum, a natural product designed with antibacterial properties to help prevent household mites from multiplying.

Many of the materials throughout the house, from the paint to the recycled-glass/cement bath vanity, don’t emit volatile organic compounds, or VOC.

“Essentially, a VOC is that new carpet smell or that new paint smell that affects people with emphysema, COPD or asthma,” Gagney said.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a progressive condition that makes breathing difficult.

To improve the air quality throughout, the ALA house features an air purification system. It automatically purifies the air eight times per hour. The TrueSense air filtration system uses fresh air from the outside, keeping the air homeowners breathe cleaner longer, rather than recirculating the same, stale air.

Even the ceiling fans installed throughout help move the air around naturally, rather than using a coolant-infused, central-cooling system — yet another design that helps lessen toxins and fumes from entering the air.

Colin said the ALA home is the only house Bennett will build specifically in the Issaquah Highlands with all of those air quality components. Perspective buyers will have to work with the builder to get such features in future construction.

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