It’s a wonderful thing to hear about people that have created a healthy home environment by decorating using non-toxic and natural products. When Dr Clare Sherriff, Architectural Historian, had the opportunity to build her own new home, she was determined to make it as healthy as possible from the very start. She had no previous building experience, however Clare knew it was something that she just had to do for the sake of her own, her partner’s and her dog’s health.
Over to Clare…
“In 2017 I had the opportunity to get planning for a small end of terrace house and felt it was the right time to build a toxin and chemical free home. Over a few years I had become more and more interested in how location and the materials used in our homes could affect our health".
“A few years previously, I developed a thyroid problem. My man and my dog were also not well despite living what we thought was a healthy lifestyle. An enlightened health practitioner suggested that I should also look at my home environment. This was a eureka moment. I lived in an old house in the country. It never crossed my mind that the house we lived in could affect our health. We eventually found that underground water - it was close to the Thames - was a possible culprit. Volumes of underground water can create an electromagnetic charge which seeps up into the buildings above. Geopathic stress – where the earth’s magnetic field is disrupted - cannot in it itself cause illness, but long-term exposure is believed to weaken the immune system and health problems may develop. My passion and long-term research springs from this single discovery. Where you live and the materials used in your house can affect your health".
Clare had, through her work over the years, studied some building techniques but that wasn’t her particular area of interest at the time. Through her research for her new home she began to understand more about different materials and how they can impact the health of the occupants.
“It seems evident now, from what we are learning, that when chemically made materials outgas into airtight interiors we are creating potential problems for ourselves. I think the biggest thing we should learn from the past is that buildings should be allowed to breathe and that natural materials are not harmful to us or the environment".
“Finding products which were chemical and toxin free was a big hurdle though. The architectural technicians who worked on the specification had never done anything like this before. The building trade were on the whole not interested in the concept. The builders who did the house were however very helpful. I remember the guys who installed the insulation were over the moon that they weren’t itching and sneezing and coming out in rashes which is what happens when they install chemically made insulation. Their hands were really soft from installing the wool insulation".
For anyone thinking of embarking on a similar project, what is your top piece of advice?
“My top piece of advice is to key into ASBP and to work with someone who has previous knowledge of working with natural products. I’m now living in the Healthy House for another year and a half whilst I build another one. I’m finding that although the materials are all great they do stain very easily. That’s something I need to address for the new build".
It’s a shame you hadn’t found us at that time! We have a lot of experience of many different products and would certainly have been able to advise you on which would have been best to use in different locations as well as the kind of performance you might expect from them. Some products, like the Earthborn Claypaint for example, would certainly not be recommend for high traffic areas or walls that need wiping a lot, although it’s perfect in bedrooms and quiet living areas. Although it was not available in the UK back in 2017, we now have some other great products that are perfect for high traffic areas, like the Graphenstone GrafClean for example. GrafClean is breathable and washable even though it has a high lime content. It has all the benefits of lime (breathable, CO2 absorption, anti mould, better air quality, water based etc) but with the flexibility and toughness of graphene as well.
Tell us about what’s next for you.
“My next new build is a contemporary design, timber framed and clad in timber and flint with healthy house credentials i.e. a chemical and toxin free build. We are just about to put in planning. I’ve just recently launched the hhiyh.com website and will be posting blogs on various subjects and hope to get the hhiyh message more out there in 2020".
Great stuff! We can’t wait to hear more about your journey into the world of outgassing of toxic chemicals from building materials (and the cocktail mix that we naively create in our homes from different products) into interiors is a fascinating and concerning area of research.
Further information about Clare's healthy home projects and research can be found at
Photographs used with the kind permission of Clare Sherriff.
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