Buying a Tiny HomeTiny Living

Tiny homes for clients with chemical and EMF sensitivities

Ben Garratt, the founder and owner of Tiny Healthy Homes, is not your typical tiny house builder. 

His company, located in North Vancouver, BC, is focused on custom designing and building tiny homes from non-toxic, repurposed materials, products with low electromagnetic frequency (EMF), and non-volatile organic compounds. 

“Most of my clients these days are either contacting me because they like the designs that I do or they have an existing health problem that they’re trying to mitigate by having a home built that’s non-toxic so they can have a neutral space to live in while they try to figure out what it is that’s making them ill,” he said. 

For clients who have chemical and electromagnetic frequency sensitives, there are a few considerations to keep in mind, many of them involving a level of attention to detail not typically found in the building industry.

Tiny homes for chemical and mold sensitivities

Ben is meticulous in keeping “ingredient lists” for his homes and planning each detail with his clients’ health in mind.

Photo: Tiny Healthy Homes

“I have clients who are really chemically sensitive, mold sensitive, or EMF sensitive. It causes conditions like chronic fatigue, or Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is one of these conditions that has, I think, something like 21 trigger points. It can be a difficult one to pinpoint. So, if we’re able to build a house with the least amount of materials, the least amount of ingredients, hopefully this lessens the chance of them being allergic to something like a random adhesive that was used on a bathroom tile.” 

“If we’re able to build a house with the least amount of materials, the least amount of ingredients, hopefully this lessens the chance of my client being allergic to something like a random adhesive that was used on a bathroom tile.” 

A “healthy home,” in Ben’s company, is one that makes use of the fewest materials possible, eliminating as much variability as possible. For example, if using pine for a home’s walls, the studs and trim should be pine as well. 

Ben chooses his materials intentionally and evaluates each building practice before implementing it. For example, he says while spray foam makes for great insulation, it only works well with other “dead” materials. 

“Spray foam is perfect if you’re renovating a bus or a van with a metal chassis, but with wood, wood expands and contracts each season with moisture and the spray foam becomes more and more rigid each season. And it only takes two seasons in Canada for the spray foam to not be a vapour barrier anymore. Instead, I use a healthier material like mineral wool or straight sheep’s wool.” 

Photo: Tiny Healthy Homes

Ben makes it clear that people must ensure that the air quality within a tiny home is at least as good or better than the air quality outside. 

He said all the homes he has built have a heat recovery ventilator system which act as the lungs of the building. 

“So we have two fans, one at each end of the house. Breathe in and out. Working together to pull fresh air into the home. Always with the fresh air also comes cross ventilation,” he said. “And that means that you’re getting the stale air out and bringing fresh air in.” 

For the walls of a tiny home to be able to breathe and prevent the possibility of becoming wet and developing mold while retaining heat, Ben and his team also use permeable vapour barriers. 

“It’s kind of the difference between going for a run in a plastic poncho and going for a run with an Arcteryx Technical rain jacket. You know, your body has a chance to breathe. The wall should also have a chance to breathe. If there is any moisture accumulating anywhere, it has a chance to be released.” 

EMF sensitivities and WiFi in tiny homes

For his clients with electromagnetic sensitivities, Ben makes use of his previous training and experience as an electrician. He carefully evaluates electrical box placement, lighting fixture types and placements. The WiFi/router needs to be strategically placed so that people cannot be irradiated by an initial blast of this signal in a certain radius. 

The goal, no electromagnetic currents running under the mattress, where you sleep, or in areas where you would sit for long periods of time, like the office space.

“We design the home so there are no transformers directly underneath the mattress where you would sleep, for example. Just little things like that. There’s a tiny house that we’re building right now where we’ve got two electrical panels. The first panel is hosting the essential services, so the fridge and the heating. The power then goes to another panel with everything else. That panel can be switched off at nighttime. Our client has a FOB, like a garage FOB, that she can touch to the wall and it will just turn everything else in the house off altogether. So that she can try and have an EMF-free sleep.” 

Ben said he designed a shipping container home for an Ontario woman who was waking up with headaches and regularly suffering from brain fog because of her EMF sensitivity.

“She was working downtown and she had to just drive out of town and sleep in a car to try and find a place that wasn’t being bombarded with WiFi signals. Having an electrically quiet sleeping space is really important.” 

Ben designed the shipping container to have windows and doors covered with metal mesh, mechanically fastened to the whole shipping container so that WiFi and cell phone signals could not get in. 

Photo: Tiny Healthy Homes

While Ben hopes that other construction enterprises will adopt some of his building practices, his main focus is to raise awareness of the use of all-natural and non-toxic materials. He believes that, while his clients have sensitivities that significantly affect their daily lives, that doesn’t mean everyone isn’t suffering to a lesser extent from exposure to unhealthy home materials and designs. 

“I see my clients as canaries in the coal mine, they are the sensitive ones that are becoming sick from these things, who are sort of waving the flag for everyone else.”

Ben also organizes weekend instructional courses for anyone interested in taking their tiny home adventure to the next level. 

These courses give participants ideas and information to start a tiny house project off on the right foot. 

Participants are able to learn about the design and building process of a tiny home in as little as two days, while participating in hands-on activities. 

From January 2023 to March 2023, Ben will schedule educational workshops in British Columbia. Subscribe here to receive notice of the dates in advance: https://www.bengarratt.com/subscribe

 

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