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Selecting the Site of Your Healthy Home

By HHI Staff

Deciding exactly where you will build your healthy house is one of the first decisions that must be made. It is also one of the most important. However, the criteria used to select a healthy site are different from the criteria most home buyers and Realtors are accustomed to using. For example, real estate people often place a higher value on a corner lot than one in the middle of a block. From a health standpoint, a corner lot is sometimes less desirable because it will be exposed to exhaust gases from traffic on two sides.

 

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If you build a house in an area that has very poor outdoor air quality, it will be difficult to maintain good indoor air quality. The reason is simple: if the air is bad outside, that same air will be brought in via a ventilation system. It is certainly feasible to use air filters indoors to improve the quality of air that enters your house, but it is far easier to start with clean outdoor air in the first place. If there is only an occasional outdoor air problem, then a fairly simple air filtration system will suffice, but if it is always very polluted outdoors, a major (and often expensive) filtration package may be in order.

 

While living in a house surrounded by pristine outdoor air is highly desirable, employment, schools, or family may dictate that you remain in an area that is less than perfect. In that case, an efficient air filtration system may be high on your priority list. If you are considering a move to a less polluted locale, you should make a list of the pros and cons of where you are and compare it to a similar list for where you are planning to go. Then you can compare both lists to see if a move is in your best interest. Also consider doing what you can to reduce outdoor pollution wherever you live. For example, encourage the farmer down the road to switch to organic methods, or ask the electric utility company to mow rather than spray chemicals under its power lines.

Site Analysis

 

The first step in analyzing a piece of property for building your house involves walking around to see what is in the area. When visiting a site, look for potential pollution sources. These include natural features as well as man-made structures. A stream that periodically floods its banks could mean a wet foundation; a swamp or field of ragweed could be a source of mold or pollen. A gasoline station or factory could pollute the surrounding neighborhood. Farm fields, orchards, or manicured lawns could be routinely sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers. A neighboring house with a creosote blackened chimney could be a sign of unwanted wood smoke in the winter. High voltage power lines nearby may mean exposure to EMF radiation.


Also consider traffic patterns. Busy streets or highways will mean exhaust gases. Less-traveled gravel roads can be very dusty when there is traffic. A house located near the back of a subdivision will have less traffic than one near the entrance. Based on a variety of studies, the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) regards diesel exhaust as “a potential occupational carcinogen,” a good reason not to live next to a busy highway.

 

Consider the prevailing wind direction. Since the wind isn’t always blowing, this might be good information to get from neighbors. The best house location will be downwind of the cleanest air and upwind of any pollution sources. Check out the neighborhood for landfills, orchards, or power lines rights-of-way that may be routinely sprayed with herbicides.

 

Once you have selected a building site, you will need to decide exactly where on the parcel the house will be located. With a very small lot, there may not be many choices, but with several acres, there could be several possible locations. Pick high ground to get the most benefit from the wind and for good drainage. Try to choose a site where trees won’t need to be cut down. Trees provide shade and produce oxygen.

 

Consider using native plants or a ground cover of some type for landscaping rather than a manicured lawn to avoid chemical lawn treatments and exhaust gases from lawn mowers (or use an electric mower). There is even a name for doing the lawn this way: Xeriscaping. It refers to creative landscaping for water and energy efficiency. For example, cacti and yucca plants can be appropriate in a hot dry climate, and ferns grow well in the woods. Prairie grass may be a good choice if you live on the plains. Your county agricultural extension agent can help you select plantings that require low maintenance and are native to your area.

 

There is no part of the country that has perfect air quality at all times of the year. The Southwest was promoted as being good for asthmatics, then newcomers brought in pollen-bearing plants. A woman who recently moved to Hawaii for clean air discovered that part of the year some areas smelled of volcanic sulfur. In spite of such problems, you can find relatively clean pockets of good air in nearly every state. It just takes some driving around, looking at various areas, asking questions, and applying some health-related criteria to find the best spot. Learn what is within a two- or three-mile radius of a building site before making a final decision. And don’t rule out a site just because there is a pollution source less than a mile away. Every site is unique, and prevailing winds, hills, or woodlands can provide protection for a spot even though the air is polluted just down the road.

 

Subdivision Restrictions

 

If you plan to build your healthy house in a subdivision, be sure to check to see if there are any restrictions that are tied to the deed or are related to a homeowner’s association. These may specify what kind of roofing and siding are allowed, the type of landscaping, or even the size of the house. It may be easier to search for another lot than to try to fight a restriction. However, if a site is otherwise perfect, you may be able to point out the health advantages of a change in policy and have a positive impact on the entire neighborhood.

 

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Selecting the Site of Your Healthy Home:  Created on May 31st, 2011.  Last Modified on June 1st, 2011

 

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