Today my guest is Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP, founder of The Healthy Home Project. We’ll be talking about how she transformed a house project- by-project, using healthier, “green” materials, “all on a peanut-butter-and-jelly budget.” The Healthy Home Project blog follows the remodeling a 107-year old historic home in need of much TLC. Each posts features resources based upon a single theme, from healthier paints to safer disposal of household hazards. Resource links within the post are provided for more comprehensive information on each topic. Erin believes creating healthy spaces is one of the most important things we can do for the kids in our lives. She is a hospital-based project manager in environmental health, specializing in pediatric research and education. Erin has an MA in Environmental Education from New York University, where she received a fellowship from the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, and a BA in English from the Honors Program at The College of New Jersey. She is a Certified Clinical Research Professional through SoCRA. Most importantly, she is mom to two amazing kids. thehealthyhomeproject.org
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
The Healthy Home Project: Affordable Toxic-Free Remodeling
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Erin S. Ihde
Date of Broadcast: August 19, 2014
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio, where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world, and live toxic-free. It’s a beautiful summer day here in Clearwater, Florida, on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
Today, we’re going to be talking about one of my favorite subjects, which is remodeling, remodeling in a way that’s not toxic.
My guest today has remodeled a house. I guess, she’s in the process of remodeling a house. And she’s doing it in a non-toxic way. She’s blogging about. And she’s especially doing it for her kids because she’s a single mom and she wants to make sure that her kids have the least toxic, most healthy environment available. And we’re going to be talking about why that’s important, as well as what she’s doing.
My guest is Erin Ihde. She is a, in addition to all those things, I’m just looking at my notes here. She’s going to tell us about herself.
Hi, Erin. Hello. Erin? I can’t hear her. My technician is coming on. We just lost her. They’re calling her back.
So, I’m going to tell you more about her. She’s a hospital-based project manager in environmental health, specializing in pediatric research and education. She has an MA in environmental education from New York University where she received a fellowship from the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education.
She’s back now. Hi, Erin!
ERIN IHDE: Hi.
DEBRA: Hi! I have a little technical problem here, so just hold on a second. Actually, start telling us about how you came to do your healthy home project, and I’m going to just type to the technician here for a second.
ERIN IHDE: Well, I moved into this house just over a year ago. My children and I were living in an apartment at the time that
I found this house. We basically needed something very affordable, and needed a more long-term housing solution than where we were. And when I found this place, it was actually abandoned. There was nobody living here.
DEBRA: Oh, my God!
ERIN IHDE: So, it was in pretty bad shape. It needed pretty much everything done to it, so we weren’t able to live in it right away. I just figured why not make this a project where I can really use some sustainable materials and healthy paints, and basically, everything from start to finish. So it’s really been quite a journey.
DEBRA: What was it that made you be interested in doing it in a non-toxic way?
ERIN IHDE: Well, I’ve always been interested in environmental topics and non-toxic living pretty much since I was in high school. I was part of the environmental club. So, I proceeded from that time onward. I got my masters in environmental education, like you said. And I’m a hospital-based environmental health researcher, so I have that background to begin with.
It was really kind of a natural fit.
DEBRA: So, tell us why it’s so important for children—I totally agree with you, by the way, about this. I can see in my own body, as an adult, what an effect toxic chemicals had on me, and what a beneficial effect it had for me to remove toxic chemicals in our homes. But there are specific reasons why we have to be even more concerned about children. So tell us about those.
ERIN IHDE: Well, children have greater exposures to environmental toxins than adults do in three main ways. The first is pound-per-pound of body weight. Children drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air than adults. They respirate at a quicker rate, and they take in more water and more food than we do. So their exposure is different in that sense.
They also have frequent hand-to-mouth behavior, which gives them more opportunity to ingest toxins.
And then the third way, especially true with small children, is they tend to stay close to the ground where toxins often settle.
DEBRA: And also, another thing about them playing close to the ground, especially like kids sitting on the floor in homes, that when we are walking around with our shoes on outside, and then we come in the house, we start tracking all those toxic chemicals on the floor. And so this is one of the reasons to take off your shoes before you come in the house because otherwise, anything that you’ve stepped in outside is now on your floor. Kids are playing on the floor. They get it on their hands, they put it in their mouth.
ERIN IHDE: I’m so glad you said that because that’s one of the rules we have in our house as well. We have a spot by the front door and one by the back door where everybody leaves their shoes. It’s just an automatic thing now. But it is so important to take off their shoes when you come in the house.
DEBRA: It really is.
ERIN IHDE: Especially now it being the summer with pesticides on people’s lawns.
DEBRA: Yes. So what about rapid cell division, children having rapid cell division?
ERIN IHDE: During two different time periods that children go through, that being the infant developmental period and the adolescent years, those are times of very rapid cell division in kids. So these are critical windows of development. And compared to an adult, there’s also a greater timeframe from an environmental exposure to when a disease or health condition might manifest.
So those are just some other ways and some other reasons why environmental exposures in children are very different than those in adults.
Kids aren’t little adults. They’re unique and they’re uniquely vulnerable. So as adults, we need to do all we can to protect them.
DEBRA: I completely agree. I think you’re doing a fabulous job as a mom to be concerned about this and taking care of your kids. And I think that all mothers need to do this—and fathers too, and grandparents, and aunts and uncles. We all need to be watching out for kids.
There’s just so much evidence about children having illnesses now at earlier and earlier ages, things that we didn’t see before like when you and I were kids. We were much healthier than kids are now. And we really see it. And it’s something that we really need to pay attention to.
So, can you tell us more about indoor air pollution that motivated you to do this project?
ERIN IHDE: Well, I think of a house or a home, it’s like a bubble. Everything that’s inside the home, including all the toxins, becomes part of the environment for everybody who is in that home. According to the EPA, the indoor air is two to a hundred times more polluted than outdoor air. And most of us spend up to 90% of our time indoors. So, there’s a really large timeframe there for exposures to anything that’s inside the home.
Another thing to keep in mind is that older homes tend to breathe more than newer construction homes which are usually built to be energy-efficient and, therefore, more air tight.
DEBRA: And so, it’s important for the newer homes particularly. I always live in older homes for that reason. But the point is that if you have a lot of toxic things in a newer home, they won’t evaporate it out in the same way as they will in an older home.
In times past, we didn’t have so many toxic things, and we had what’s called a leaky house. Nowadays, new houses are tighter and we have more toxic things in them. So when you’re doing a construction project, it’s really important to be thinking about how toxic the paints in the walls and the floors, and everything that you put in the house. It’s really, really, really important to be considering these things.
Well, we need to go to break, but when we come back, we’re going to learn more about what Erin has done in her home, and you can go to her website which is TheHealthyHomeProject.org. She’s documented everything that she’s done in her blog.
We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Erin Ihde. She’s the founder of The Healthy Home Project, and what she’s doing is, as a single mom, she’s remodeling a house that needed everything to be done, as she says, on a peanut butter and jelly budget.
So Erin, let’s just back up a minute and tell us, I want to hear more about your process of deciding that you need to have a home and finding your home, and how you decided to make it non-toxic because I think that what you’ve just gone through in doing this is a journey that everybody needs to do. And many people are saying, “I wish I had a healthy home, but I can’t afford it.”
But you made it happen, and I want to hear more about how that happened for you.
ERIN IHDE: Well, as I mentioned before, the home that I found was not being lived in. It has been vacated some time before. When there was somebody living here, it had gone through a decline over several decades. It is an older home built in 1907. So it’s on the National Historic Registry.
DEBRA: How did you find this home?
ERIN IHDE: I found it online. I decided to go on the real estate listing, the main real estate listing website from my area, and it was late one night, and I thought, “I need to get out where I am. This isn’t a permanent solution, where we are.”
And I just don’t think I can afford anything. And I went online, and there was this house. And I decided to look at it a couple of days later. And the moment I saw it, I knew this was going to be something. It took my heart right away, I guess you could say, because the [bones] of it were beautiful. I could see that just looking past the crumbling walls and the holes and the ceiling and things like that.
DEBRA: Now, you had no experience doing any kind of remodeling before. Is that correct?
ERIN IHDE: Well, I have lived in two houses years ago, and I had done some remodeling in those houses, but not to the extent that this needed. So this was a whole different ball game, and I was also doing it by myself, so I was coming from a different perspective at this time.
It was beyond the scope of my imagination, really, what needed to be done.
DEBRA: So you went ahead and took this leap of faith, and bought the house, and you said before that you couldn’t live in it right away. So what was the first thing that you did in order to start doing the remodeling project?
ERIN IHDE: The day I closed on the house, I came in and I tore down a couple of ceilings. There were drop ceilings throughout most of the house, and in some places, there were even two drop ceilings, so I took down one, and I found another above that. And then I took that down, and I found a huge hole in the original ceilings. So that was the first phase, it’s really seeing what was behind some of what had been done over the years.
DEBRA: I’ve done quite a bit of remodeling and buying houses progressively that I’ve lived in, where I would buy a house, and then remodel it while I was living in it in a non-toxic way. And my ex-husband was very good at building. And so it was a good project for us to do as a couple.
And I remember one house that we bought as an investment house, everything had been covered up. It was an old house from the 20’s or something. But in the 60’s or some time like that, somebody decided to remodel. And so they covered up all the beautiful architecture.
When we went in there, it had this drop ceiling in the kitchen. And we just started ripping things out. There was this one point where I said, “You know, it would be really nice to have arch over this opening. Couldn’t we put in an arch?”
And we just started ripping it up. And there was an arch there already.
I love old houses, and I love taking down all that stuff.
So then, have you done all this work yourself, or did you hire people? How did you make it on a budget?
ERIN IHDE: Well, the first phase was just to get it in the shape that it needed to be for us to move in. So I wanted to make sure, especially having kids, that there is no peeling paint, that everything was clean. There was old carpeting here probably from the 60’s or 70’s. So all of that carpeting was taken out, the floors were refinished.
And something I mentioned on the blog is the carpeting I was able to recycle through a local carpet recycling company. And then the floors, I refinished using a whey, non-toxic, it’s made from whey, and actually the company that makes it, I think, is Vermont Naturals. And I think that gentleman was on your show.
DEBRA: He was on my show, and I use that product. It’s one of my favorite ones.
ERIN IHDE: So all the floors were refinished with that, the downstairs. So basically, that first phase was just getting it ready to move in, so not everything was done. But I did hire a contractor to help with some of the really heavy stuff, and an electrician, and a plumber.
For the technical stuff, I definitely hired people.
DEBRA: But you did a lot of the work yourself.
ERIN IHDE: I did. I came first in the morning to check on everything, and to get everyone organized for the day, and go over what needed to be done. And then when I could, I would come during my lunch break and check on things. Inevitably, there would be surprises that were found during the morning as things were uncovered and progress was made.
So that was a troubleshooting time.
And then I would come after work, and check on things again, and then do some work myself.
DEBRA: Yes, when we come back from the break, we’ll talk a little more about how you put it together because you did it, I think, on a project-by-project basis, which is how I do my remodeling too, instead of looking at it and saying, “Well, it’s going to be $100,000 to remodel this house.” We just go, “Well, how can we do this one little piece of it?” And that makes it a lot more affordable.
You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Erin Ihde. We’re talking about her healthy home project, where she’s remodeled a house herself to be non-toxic, and her website is TheHealthyHomeProject.org.
We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Erin Ihde. She’s the founder of The Healthy Home Project. They’re at TheHealthyHomeProject.org.
Erin, once you made this decision that you needed to do things in a non-toxic way, how did you find out about what was toxic and what wasn’t? I love to watch those home-decoratig shows on TV, but they’re always talking about paint and you do these different things, but they never look at what the health effects are. There’s just so much of what happens on TV is toxic.
So how did you find out what to do?
ERIN IHDE: Exactly. I watch all the different home shows, and I love it. I love seeing what other people do, but I did have that issue that what I see on TV isn’t necessarily something I want to replicate in my own home, just because I don’t know what products they’re using, and they’re not non-toxic.
So I have been getting your newsletter for a while. So I got a lot of great ideas from that. And also, I like to buy things locally, so I’ve tried to support as many things as possible from the area. And just from doing research, really, it’s how I found a lot of the things that I’ve used here.
DEBRA: That’s very good. I’m glad that you did a lot of your own research. I just want to make a comment about TV and about toxic things. I sometimes think, “Oh, I would love to have a home-decorating show where I could just tell people how to remodel their homes non-toxically, and to have an organic cooking show,” and all these things. I notice that they don’t have those on TV. And I think that the reason that they don’t have that on TV is because if they were to have a show, one show, like at the Food Channel for example, we’re to have a show about cooking organically, then that makes all their other shows wrong. It makes all their advertisers wrong.
And so it will be interesting to see what happens without getting this kind of information on TV because it’s one thing to have it, for me to be on a segment on the Today Show or something like that, or for Dr. Oz to say something about it, but to have a whole show where this is the lifestyle, where this is what we’re talking about, it just makes everything else wrong. And it is wrong. I have to say it. It is wrong.
And yet, we’re watching these shows. There’s so much in the media that is promoting the toxic lifestyle, the unhealthy lifestyle. It’s difficult sometimes to get a foot in the door. And that’s what I like so much about the internet is that I can say whatever I want to say on my website.
I’ll just have to start my own television channel on my website.
So Erin, what are some of the toxic chemicals you were concerned about?
ERIN IHDE: Well, there are about five main ones that are very common during the remodeling process, and also just in homes in general. One of those things is VOCs. That stands for volatile organic compounds, and they’re in hundreds of building products from paint to adhesives. They’re linked to cancer and respiratory issues, in addition to some other adverse health outcomes.
So it’s really important to choose a paint with no VOCs. And paint is something that we all use so often. A lot of paints claim to be no VOCs, but the claim actually refers to the base, and then in the coloring, it’s put in. It’s not no VOC.
DEBRA: That’s right. So when you’re choosing a paint, you need to make sure that there are no VOCs in the paint and no VOCs in the coloring. And that’s something you need to ask. It doesn’t say that on the label.
So which paint did you choose?
ERIN IHDE: I chose a product called Ivy Coating, and it’s made pretty local to me in Brooklyn.
DEBRA: I’ve never heard of them.
ERIN IHDE: I had never heard of it either actually, until a few years ago. I know the man who actually was involved with creating it, and it’s sold at a store called Green Depot, and there are a couple of those home improvement stores around the country, and it’s also on the internet. So that’s actually where I got it from.
DEBRA: Is that IV like the ivy vine? I-V-Y?
ERIN IHDE: Exactly.
DEBRA: I’m going to look that up. So what’s another chemical besides VOCs that you watch out for?
ERIN IHDE: Another one is lead just because this is an older house. So proper testing is the way to really know whether there’s a hazard present or not. So on my blog, I covered a little bit about lead testing I had. For example, one of the floors upstairs was painted, and before it could be sanded, we needed to test the paint to see if it contained led. And thankfully, it didn’t, so we could go ahead and sand the floor.
DEBRA: What other chemicals?
ERIN IHDE: Flame retardants are a big one right now. It’s a really hot topic in the media. The Chicago Tribune came out with a whole series in 2012. That really put the issue on the map. So many home furnishings from mattresses to sofas are manufactured to meet the California Flammability Standard, which is called TB117. And even though it’s just a law in California, it’s been used as a standard across the country.
Thankfully, that standard has just recently changed as of January 2014, but there’s still a phase-in period.
DEBRA: I need to do a whole show just on that because there are some things about that new standard that aren’t quite exactly right. And I don’t want to be mysterious about this, so I’ll just simply say that the way the new standard is worded, it actually makes it illegal to just use a natural fiber because of the way it’s now a smolder test. And there are all kinds of technicalities.
And so, whereas before, you could just have a natural fiber covering, or make something out of a natural fiber, and it would pass the test—now, it doesn’t. Not because it’s flammable, it’s just the way they test it.
And so now, it’s opened the door for the way they test to have things that are very flammable materials, not require fire retardants.
I don’t want to get into that whole thing, but it’s just to know. It’s a step forward in California to not require fire retardants, but there are still problems with it.
We need to go to break. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Erin Ihde.
And she’s the founder of The Healthy Home Project at TheHealthyHomeProject.org. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and you’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Erin Ihde. She’s the founder of The Healthy Home Project at TheHealthyHomeProject.org.
Erin, right now, your summertime project is to remodel the bathroom. Tell us how that’s going.
ERIN IHDE: Well, it’s still a work in progress. I can tell you what I’ve done so far. One of the first things was to remove the old, vinyl floor tiles because vinyl is such an issue, especially in older homes. I first had them tested to see if they contain asbestos because older vinyl tiles sometimes do. And thankfully they tested negative, as well as the mastic, which is the adhesive underneath the tile.
So once that was done, I [fold] those up, and we put down a recycled content porcelain tile, which has 40% pre-consumer-recycled material in it. And it’s also made in the USA, so I was very glad to find that resource.
DEBRA: Good choice.
ERIN IHDE: One of the other steps was to tear down the 1970 paneling which is made from MDF, or medium-density fiberboards. The reason I wanted to take that down is because MDF, especially the older kind, contains formaldehyde, which is in the glue that bind the shredded wood together to make the paneling.
So, even though I knew the paneling had the majority of the off-gassing completed many years ago, I just wanted to remove it because it doesn’t really work in a high moisture environment as well.
DEBRA: No, it really doesn’t. And this is one of the problems with MDF and those similar kind of compressed boards, is that even if the off-gassing is done, if any water gets in there, and I know they’re using it on the outside sheathing of houses now, again, by new subdivisions, and you can see that board just right there. And it’s just sitting there out in the rain, and there’s nothing to protect it. And it just falls apart. The resin doesn’t hold it together.
And so that’s not a good thing to have in your bathroom. You’re absolutely, totally correct about that.
ERIN IHDE: I’ve seen that in new construction, and my neighborhood as well. It’s very surprising to see that used in the exterior. It does fall apart. It doesn’t hold up.
So after the paneling came down, the walls were severely damaged. So they were patched and skin-coated, and sanded, and then I used Ivy Coating primer, and Ivy Coating paint to fill everything up and make them look like new.
I also found two light fixtures at a store called Green Demolition, which is a store that sells fixtures and other home remodeling, everything from cabinets, everything you possibly need for remodeling. And it’s taken some other construction projects.
So it’s basically used things that are for resale, and all the proceeds go to charity which makes it really great, win/win situation.
DEBRA: I’ve gotten a lot of things. Another term for this, if somebody run into find one locally, listeners, you just look under architectural salvages is what it’s called in the yellow pages, architectural salvage. And when I was in California, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and there were so many old houses they were taking apart all the time. And I got so many beautiful doors and windows and marble, marble for $5 a foot, square-foot, and things like that.
And here, we don’t have so many where I live now in Florida, we don’t have so many old houses that are being demolished.
But Habitat for Humanity has a chain of stores called Renew, I think it is. And so they’re always looking for materials that are left over on construction projects. This is one of the ways that you can do things that are inexpensive. You have to use your discretion about looking at the materials of these used items to make sure that they’re non-toxic.
But people are just pulling out whole kitchens full of cabinets, and all these things that just cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. And you can go to architectural salvage and get it for nothing. It’s pretty amazing.
ERIN IHDE: Exactly. So many of these things I got for this house, I bought that way, and I paid just a fraction of what it would have been in a home retail.
DEBRA: And it goes with the style of your 1907 house.
ERIN IHDE: Exactly.
DEBRA: That’s so great. So what part of the bathroom are you working on now?
ERIN IHDE: Well, the part that I’m doing now is, I have an old cast iron enamel bathtub, and I had read one or two articles about these old tubs possibly containing led in the glaze. And so I thought, “Well, let me just test mine and see.” And lo and behold, it came up positive. And I was really surprised.
So what I’m going to do now is re-glaze it. The other option would be to replace it entirely, but I don’t want to create more waste in the landfill, so I’d rather just re-glaze it, and then I’ll use some recycled tile around the tub around. So that’s the last step.
DEBRA: Good. So then when you finish the tub, it’s just there. You don’t have a shower in the bathroom. It’s just the tub?
ERIN IHDE: it is. There’s a shower there too.
DEBRA: Okay, so it’s a separate shower?
ERIN IHDE: It’s the same. It’s actually all the same. So It’s a tub with the shower right there.
DEBRA: Oh, I see. Good. So what else do you have left then to do for the bathroom? So then that would be it?
ERIN IHDE: Yes, that’s pretty much it. Just the one light fixture needs to go up. I took out all the molding, the old molding, so I need to put up some new molding. And that’s pretty much it, once the tub area is done.
DEBRA: Can I ask you how much did it cost you to remodel your bathroom because if you were to go to a contractor or watch a TV show, it’s like $35,000 or $50,000 or something like that?
ERIN IHDE: I would say, one bill is still pending, but I can probably just a rough ballpark would be no more than $3000.
DEBRA: Yes, so I want everybody to hear this. You can remodel your bathroom in a non-toxic way for $3000.
ERIN IHDE: I don’t even think it was that much.
DEBRA: Yeah. I know, I know. I understand. When my husband I were remodeling, we remodeled a whole bathroom. We ended up having a mold problem, and we had to remodel the whole bathroom. We tore it all out down to the studs. But you know, we had a little insurance check that didn’t cover it, but we spent the insurance check on the plumber, and the technical kind of people, because they had to put in new pipes and things like that.
But in terms of the work, the walls, the tiling and all those things, we were just buying a can of paint and saying, “Okay, this weekend, we’re going to paint this.” And then we would just paint it. And then we would figure out, “Well, how much money can we spend on tile now?” We did it as a series of weekend projects.
ERIN IHDE: That’s exactly how I’ve done this. It’s been about three months, so it definitely wasn’t done in a week or anything like that. It’s been step-by-step, figuring out what I need to do next, then what I need to purchase next. And then, just going out and doing that piece.
DEBRA: So this is something that anybody can do. I just really want to get this point across that you can do a lot of the labor yourself, even if you’ve never done it before, or you go to some place like Lowes or Home Depot. Those are do-it-yourself places. Everything is arranged so that you can take those materials home and do it. They have instructions. They have workshops. They have instructions online. A lot of stuff can be done, if you need to hire somebody, you can hire a handyman, instead of a contractor. I just want everybody to think that they can do this. If you need a new home, if you need to remodel something, you can do it in a toxic-free way. You can do it in an affordable way, that it’s absolutely possible to do that.
So we’ve got about one minute left. Any last words you’d like to give?
ERIN IHDE: I would just like to echo exactly what you just said that that’s really why I made the blog and the website, is to empower other people to be able to make these same changes in their homes whether they’re just painting a wall or redoing an entire house. It’s absolutely doable and I hope that the resources that I have on the site and some of the stories I tell help other people to do the same thing.
DEBRA: Well, you’ve done an excellent job. I can see that you’ve done your homework, and I think this is a great resource and an inspiration for people. Again, her website is TheHealthyHomeProject.org. And you can see everything that she’s done and see how you can apply that to your own home. I know that sometimes it seems a little scary to look at doing home improvements, but they can be done. They can even be done by single moms. They can be done by couples. It’s easier than you think, that’s what I’ll say.
Thank you so much for being with us, Erin. Again, her website is TheHealthyHomeProject.org. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. Be well.
ERIN IHDE: Thank you for having me.
DEBRA: You’re welcome.