Structure Home - Custom Home Construction
Structure Home - Custom Home Construction
Sustainably Speaking - Custom Home Construction


June 2015
Home Maintenance Tips for Summer

Below are 10 summer maintenance upkeep tips for you. Be sure to reference your home warranty book that came with your home. The home warranty book should have the best recommendations for your home's ongoing upkeep maintenance, cleaning instructions and other useful information. If you have an annual home warranty plan, you should review your plan's coverage and reach out to the warranty repair companies or research good licensed repair companies.

  1. INSPECT YOUR GARAGE. Check garage doors and openers, adjust as needed, and lubricate as necessary (consider having garage door serviced by a professional annually). This is a good time to clean your garage floor (hose it down, sweep it, or mop it pending flooring type) to prevent slip hazards, pest invasions, stains and pockmarks.
  2. MONITOR YOUR HVAC LINES AND DRAINAGE. Monitor air conditioning condensation lines regularly to ensure water is draining from the primary line and not the secondary, call a licensed professional to repair if draining from the secondary line. This is also a good time to change return air filters. Weather permitting, try to keep cool with fans and/or open windows to allow cross ventilation instead of running your HVAC system.
  3. CLEAN GARBAGE DISPOSAL, KITCHEN AND BAR APPLIANCES. Clean kitchen appliances inside and out, including refrigerator coils. Once a year, vacuum the refrigerator coils underneath the appliance. Check all interior lights of appliances are in working order. In addition, clean your garbage disposal. Grind a small quantity of ice or lemon slices to clean garbage disposal or add a half-cup of baking soda followed by a half-cup of white vinegar and after 10 minutes, flush with boiling water.
  4. CLEAN AND PREPARE YOUR YARD. Clean outdoor furniture, children's playing equipment and air out cushions. Make sure you have adjusted the exterior lights and sprinkler timers for summer and drought watering. Summer watering is suggested to be best after sunset and before sunrise to reduce evaporation caused by wind and heat. With new drought regulations, be sure to find out your areas time-of-day restrictions. Taking one day off a week from watering your lawn, could reduce your water use by as much as 10%. Additionally, you or your professional landscaper should prune trees and shrubs around the yard. A few minutes spent pruning could improve your plants in the yard, and in return you get thicker foliage, more flowers, and healthier plants.
  5. CLEAN DRYER VENTS. Look into hiring a professional to clean your vents or if you are going to do it yourself, be sure to unplug the dryer before you clean it. Vacuum the clothes dryer's exhaust duct at least once a year. Don't forget to plug it back in and make sure gas is on, when you are finished.
  6. TEST AND RESET GROUND FAULT CIRCUIT INTERRUPTERS (GFCI) BREAKERS. Press the test button and use a voltage tester to make sure the power goes off.
  7. INSPECT AND RECAULK TUB/SHOWER AREAS WHERE NEEDED. Be sure to do it right or call a professional. You will need to determine the correct type of caulk for your project. The key is to completely remove the old caulk, clean, smooth, dry the surface and replace it with the new caulk.
  8. CLEAN WOOD CABINETRY WITH MANUFACTURER RECOMMENDED PRODUCT. Be sure to refer to your homeowner book or contact the subcontractor directly for product recommendations. Do not use water. Inspect hinges and glides, and service as necessary.
  9. CLEAN CARPET AND OTHER FLOORING. Refer to your manual or contact the subcontractor for cleaning product recommendations. Hire a professional to clean the flooring.
  10. REVIEW AND UPDATE YOUR EARTHQUAKE/EMERGENCY KIT(S). For ideas on what should be in your emergency kit here is a list by the CA Department of Public Health:

May 2015
Healthy Building: Is there cause for concern?
Special Guest Blog By: Paula Baker-Laporte, EcoNest Co.
  • The EPA has recently stated that indoor air pollution is widely recognized as one of the most serious potential risks to human health.
  • The average American spends 90-95% of their time indoors.
  • There has been a 70% increase in childhood asthma over the last 20 years.
  • Prior to World War I the world was largely free of man-made chemicals. Currently, there are more than 4 million registered. 80,000 of these are in common use. Less than 1,000 have ever been tested for their effects on the human nervous system.
  • There is no toxicity data on 4 out of 5 of the most commonly used chemicals.
  • 250,000 new chemical substances are created each year.
  • Although chemicals acting in combination can drastically potentiate the toxic affects of one another (a well known fact in the pesticide industry) there has never been any study on the effects of chemicals in common use in new construction acting synergistically in a new building.
  • Prevelancy Studies conducted by three states have revealed that as many as 15% of the population currently suffers from chemical sensitivities.
Categories of Indoor Pollutants

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's)
Organic compounds
are chemicals, naturally occurring or synthetic, which contain carbon hydrogen bonds at a molecular level. They can be solid, liquid or gas.
Synthetic organic compounds
are primarily derived from petrochemical - oil gas or coal.
Volotile organic compounds
- substances that readily release vapors or "outgas" at room temperature. They are a major source of human toxic overload in the environment and can affect any organ of the body.
Primary organic compounds
are directly derived from gas oil and coal and include propane, butane, benzene, xylene, paraffin, toluene, and styrene.
Intermediate organic compounds
derived from primary V.O.C.'s include formaldehyde, phenols, acetone, isopropanel and acetaldehyde.
End products
include solvents, waxes, lacquers, synthetic detergent, paints, and synthetic fibers.
Most common sources of V.O.C. outgassing
in construction include plywood, particle board, adhesives, paints, finishes, cleaning products, carpeting, plastics, and fabrics.

Although technically some pesticides may be considered to be V.O.C.'s their use has more far reaching consequences in terms of human and environmental health. Whereas other toxins discussed haven been introduced into the environment inadvertently as an undesirable byproduct of other building activity, pesticides have been specifically created for the purposes of destroying plant and animal life.

Pesticide Facts

  • Most pesticides are synthetic chemicals derived from petroleum. They were first developed as offshoots from nerve gas used during WWI.
  • A National Cancer Institute study indicated that the likelihood of a child contracting leukemia was more than six times greater in households where herbicides were used for lawn care.
  • According to the New York State Attorney General's office, the EPA considers 95% of the pesticides used on residential lawns to be probable human carcinogens.
  • 2,4-D was a component of Agent Orange and is used in about 1,500 lawn care products.
  • Pesticides have been linked to the alarming rise in the rate of breast cancer.
  • Besides causing cancer, pesticides have the potential to cause infertility, birth defects, learning disorders, neurological disorders, allergies, and multiple chemical sensitivities, among other disorders of the immune system.
Common sources of pesticides in new construction

  • Soil treatment under structures
  • Sill plates
  • Wood windows
  • Construction supplies that have been warehoused in pesticided facilities and which arrive on the site contaminated
  • Paints
  • Carpets
Common construction practices that lead to future pest problems for occupants

  • Tree stumps that are not removed from premise construction
  • Litter of material and food that create habitats for unwanted wildlife
  • Use of woods with fungus mold or insect infestation
  • Failure to properly screen openings and vents
  • Failure to create a weather tight building
Toxic Byproducts of Combustion

Fuels burned indoors

Toxic byproducts of combustion are produced when gas, oil, coal, wood, and tobacco are burned indoors.

Harmful emissions include:

  • nitrogen dioxide
  • nitrous oxide
  • sulfur oxides
  • hydrogen cyanide
  • carbon monoxide
  • carbon dioxide
  • formaldehyde
  • particulate matter
  • hydrocarbons
Sources of toxic byproducts of combustion include:

  • Any appliance with a pilot light
  • Cooking appliances that are inadequately ventilated
  • Garages that are insufficiently isolated from living space
  • Backdrafting from unprotected mechanical equipment
  • Byproducts from open fireplaces and wood stoves
  • Flue gasses that are drawn into living space when negative pressurization occurs
  • Cigarette smoking
Naturally Occuring Pollutants

Radioactive Contaminants

High radon levels in a home can build up to values thousands of times higher than outdoor levels equivalent in affect to thousands of X-rays per person on an annual basis. It is simple and inexpensive to abate in water and air if planned for in the initial construction.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals in trace amounts can be found in drinking water. Metals such as aluminum, copper, and lead can accumulate over time in human tissue causing liver, brain, and kidney damage. Water from each well must be tested individually since two wells separated by a few hundred feet can have very different water content. Municipal water is usually disinfected to kill biological contaminants but very few facilities are able to remove heavy metals, pesticide residues and other contaminants. Most add chlorine and fluoride which ends up in our drinking and bathing water.

Biological Pollutants

Biological pollutants include pollen, house dust, mites, and mold. Strategies for reduction include air and water filtration, control of moisture, avoidance of surface materials and appliances that trap dust such as carpeting and baseboard heaters.

Electromagnetic Fields

Electromagnetic fields are perhaps the most controversial of pollutants. A myriad of studies have appeared over the past two decades with claims and counter claims as to whether or not EMF exposure causes certain types of cancer or increases incidence of miscarriage. The official government stance is that individuals should exercise prudent avoidance.

In fact electric and magnetic fields are two separate but related phenomena.

Electric Fields Magnetic Fields
Flow in straight lines in all directions from sources unless conductors attract them. Radiate out from the source, flowing in loops.
Can be easily shielded. Difficult and expensive to shield. (Even lead is not effective.)
Attracted by conductors such as metal or salt-water bodies, including people. Penetrates all normal building materials.
Present when switches for machinery are off or on. Only occur when appliances are switched on and current is flowing.
Not widely recognized as a health threat in conventional circles at the time of this writing Safe exposure limits not regulated by the U. S. government. Sweden has set safe exposure limits.
Reportedly affects the nervous system and can cause insomnia, anxiety, depression, and aggressive behavior. Reportedly affects cellular function and has been statistically linked in some studies with increased cancer cell growth rate, Alzheimer's, miscarriage, and birth defects. Some sensitive individuals report physical reactions when in elevated magnetic fields.
Electrical code permits but does not mandate reduced electric field wiring. Electrical code offers protection against exposure to magnetic fields produced by wiring in the structure.
Proper use of electric field meters requires expertise. Easily measured with a gaussmeter.

Common sources of EMF pollution:

  • Improper wiring that produces net current
  • Motorized equipment
  • Proximity to overhead power lines
  • Subpanels where hot and neutral field cancellation does not occur
Planning & Design Considerations

Choosing the right site

  • Free from air and noise pollution from traffic
  • Upwind from regular pesticide applications
  • At a distance from high tension wires
  • Good air circulation
  • Free of geopathic zones
  • Uncontaminated soils
  • Radiologicals in water or soil
Healthy heating

  • Radiant
  • Does not fry or trap dust
  • Is energy efficient
  • It is healthiest to have temperature variation. We do not serve our health, and we inordinately increase energy consumption, by demanding constant temperatures in all four seasons
Healthy air exchange

  • Fresh air exchange by natural means or by mechanical means where conditions require it
  • Allow for moist air to leave building while avoiding negative pressurization
  • Sufficient through-roof range venting
  • Good natural cross ventilation
Mechanical room

  • Good drainage so hot water heater does not create flood damage and mold when it does break
  • Does not open into living space or mechanical equipment has power venting or sealed combustion
  • Motorized equipment isolated from living space
Water management

  • A good roof - preferably sloped with a decent overhang
  • Positive drainage away from all points along the perimeter
  • Impermeability and excellent drainage management at basement and crawl spaces to prevent mold
  • Design for inevitable water disasters by building in floor drains at mechanical and laundry rooms
  • Hold gypsum board off the floor in wet rooms
  • Filter chlorine and other contaminants out of bathing and drinking water
Electromagnetic field protection

  • Proper location for motorized equipment
  • Require that electrician take care of any net current in the wiring, as detected by a gaussmeter. Do not count on the electrical inspector to catch all violations.
  • Have circuitry run so bedrooms can be isolated to the greatest extent that is practical and so that electricity to the bedroom can be shut off while occupants sleep
  • Have wiring runs go through circulation space not living space
The Healthy Building Process

  • Select an architect and builder who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Healthy Building.
  • Create clear written instructions for special project procedures and materials selections and work with the builder as a team member.
  • Select durable, easily maintained materials.
  • Alert builder to these facts: there may be longer lead times; a comparable level or quality is expected as with standard products and that if the GC is experiencing difficulty with a product to call for a reevaluation; in order for substitutions to be considered, an MSDS and physical samples must be supplied to the architect or owner.
  • Avoid soft absorbent materials such as carpeting.
  • Select the least toxic finishes available.
  • Work with your builder and architect to create an owner's manual that explains the regular maintenance tasks and safest maintenance products.

April 2015
A Deeper Understanding of Healthy Home Design and Construction: Avoid Electromagnetic Fields
Special Guest Blog By: Oram Miller, BBEC, EMRS

Now that sustainable design is more prominent in building circles, deeper levels of knowledge on how to create healthier homes are emerging.

Europeans have known for decades that reducing electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, is just as integral to a healthy home as non-toxic paint. The building biology profession teaches this knowledge here and in Europe, where it is known as Bau-biologie. Courses and certification in the US and Canada are provided by the International Institute for Bau-biologie and Ecology (

I am a practicing building biologist based in Los Angeles. Over seventy percent of my clients are EMF-sensitive, yet they represent just 3-5% of our country's population. However, up to one-third of all people using modern wireless devices experience symptoms related to their use and do not know it.

The FCC bases its safe exposure levels on thermal effects from outdated research, totally ignoring abundant research on biological effects at much lower levels. Research on the health effects of wireless devices is widely accepted in Europe and elsewhere. Countries outside the US that pay for the health care of their citizens are removing Wi-Fi from schools, day-care centers and hospitals at the same time that we are ramping up its use. They know that these technologies are like cigarettes in the 1960s. New communication technologies that avoid radio frequencies are being developed. See links to abundant research on these dangers at my website,

We advise clients to reduce use, increase distance and favor hard-wired connections for telephones, Internet, media, security and HVAC needs. Faster, more reliable and more secure connections than with Wi-Fi are the result, and there is no effect on health. Always-transmitting Wi-Fi routers, cordless telephone base units, and baby monitors are like ashtrays with burning, lit cigarettes continuously filling the room with smoke, but the harmful radio frequencies are invisible and odorless.

As architects and builders, clients who are already sensitive to these fields or who are health conscious will ask you to help reduce them. For these people, my profession stands ready to assist you in building a house that avoids EMFs in the first place, along with low-toxicity from finishes and materials and strategies to avoid mold.

For the rest of your clients, they will want wireless for everything. They should still be advised about the risks of its use, and routers and Wi-Fi access points should be kept away from bedrooms and home offices where people sleep and sit and turned off at night.

Steps should also be taken to avoid other EMFs that are also harmful. Indeed, besides wireless devices, other EMFs need to be avoided by everyone. The US has no safe exposure guidelines for AC magnetic field exposure, and levels in the hundreds of millGauss are considered safe. Yet Switzerland has a safe exposure level of 10 mG, Israel's is 4 mG, and Sweden's safe level is 2 mG. What do these other countries know that we don't know?

Magnetic fields from wiring errors are present in up to one-third of homes. These are NEC violations missed by code inspectors. They can be avoided, tested for and repaired.

Modern grounding practices allow current to flow on unintended grounding paths, including metal water service supply pipes and incoming coaxial cable sheathing. These parallel paths allow return current to flow back to the neighborhood transformer that should all be on the neutral conductor of the electric utility drop service. This is all explained on my website and in electrician Karl Riley's excellent book, Tracing EMFs in Building Wiring, which we use as part of the curriculum for teaching our advanced EMF students.

Sleeping areas have excessive AC electric fields in most homes, preventing deep, rejuvenating Stage Four sleep and nighttime release of melatonin. We recommend metal-clad wiring with (hardwired) bedside controls to kill power to AC power cords plugged in within 6-8 feet of all beds while asleep. Insuring the avoidance of all types of EMFs around the bed is fundamental to our approach.

This represents a previously unknown level of health-promotion in your practice. Yet, just as with tobacco, asbestos and lead in gasoline in the past, EMFs and other building toxins are also becoming recognized as important health hazards worthy of being avoided in building design for health-conscious clients.

For more information, see Oram's website,

March 2015
Supporting the EPA WaterSense® "Fix A Leak Week"

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and WaterSense® have established "Fix a Leak Week" which is an annual event celebrated in March. This year, we celebrate it on March 16-20, 2015. This event was established to improve water efficiency and raise awareness. Americans are becoming more aware of the smart use of our water resources by finding more water efficient fixes, uses and resources for future generations. This week long event of "Fix a Leak Week" is a time Americans check their household fixtures and irrigation systems for leaks. Water is essential to the survival of Earth. Only one percent of the water on the planet is available for human use. Salt water and fresh water frozen in polar caps are not available for human consumption and some water sources are not available for human access or use. It is time we tune into our own water use.

To begin, an easy way to understand our own water use is to take a look at our own water bills. Be sure to review each monthly amount due as well as the monthly amounts of water used. Spend some time getting to understand your water bills and seasonal activity. Now, for this week, take some time to investigate your households plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems for leaks. Here are a few of our "Fix A Leak Week" tips, fixes and examine tricks.

March 16 Post:

Fix a Leak Week Post on Toilets

March 17 Post:

Fix a Leak Week Post on Showerheads

March 18 Post:

Fix a Leak Week Post on Irrigation and Hoses

March 19 Post:

Fix a Leak Week Post on Faucets on Thursday

March 20 Post:

Fix a Leak Week Post on Water Meter on Friday

All the "Fix a Leak" materials we have sited above were retrieved from The EPA WaterSense ( Be sure to take some time to visit their informative website.

February 2015
Do You Know Your Power?
Special Guest Blog By: Dominique Smith at USGBC-LA

Every month we open a bill from our energy company. Our power is measured in kWh and dollars. Few of us have the time or the tools to analyze this in detail...until now. There's an app for that!

I am participating in the Chai Energy Pilot Program, and my Chai (Gateway in picture below) arrived in the mail last week. It is connected to my Internet router and communicates with my smart meter. It relays energy use information to my iPhone on every appliance that is plugged in and turned on in the house. It doesn't stop there, my Chai also lets me know that the fridge door was left open on accident. Then, it lets me know that a new higher efficiency fridge would save me $5 dollars a month and there's a rebate that I can use through my energy provider to get it.

Energy Efficienct Tracking

The Chai Energy Pilot Program has major potential to change people's energy use habits at home. Having a predictable energy bill and real-time use data is a game changer.

Here is a video about Chai Energy

Knowledge is power!

January 2015
5 Tips for Helathier Indoor Living Space
  1. Use Natural Cooling Ceiling Fan/Indoor Air Quality
    • Ceiling Fans / Fans
    • Skylights
    • Cross-Ventilation
    • Roof Overhangs / Awnings / Trellises Skylight in hallway at LEED Silver
    • Window Treatments: Blinds / Shutters / Drapes
    • Shade from Trees
    • Attic Fans / Solar-Powered Attic Fans
    • Whole House Chimney Effect
  2. Take Advantage of Natural Lighting
    • Solar Lighting Tubes
    • Open Blinds / Shutters / Drapes
    • Skylights
  3. Install Hydronic In-Floor or Baseboard Heat
  4. Obtain a Photovoltaic (PV / Solar) Study for your home
  5. Improve Indoor Air Quality Central Vacuum System in Master Bedroom
    • Install an Air Purification System
    • Keep a Healthy Level of Humiditiy - Dehumidify / Air Home
    • Clean Floors Often (mopping and vacuuming with safe products)
    • Remove Shoes at Front Door or Put a Mat at Entry Doors
    • Purchase Healthy Indoor Plants Read WebMD's Ways to Improve Indoor Air

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