A healthy home can enhance your emotional and spiritual well-being. Here’s a look at the growing trend to detox your dwelling.

Discovering late in life that allergies to pets, pollen, and various grasses were suddenly interfering with her years of perfect health, Dr. Martha Stark, M.D., a psychiatrist/psychoanalyst on faculty at Harvard Medical School, started to study the effect of environmental impurities on mental and physical health. “What I learned was that all of us, every day, are being bombarded by pollutants and reacting in some way or another,” says Stark, who even found chemicals to be the culprit behind some of her patients’ depression, mood swings, irritability, insomnia, and headaches.

Later, when a water pipe cracked in an upstairs room of her Newton, Massachusetts, home, Stark’s environmental research suddenly moved from the great outdoors to inside her own personal living space. That leaky pipe and the threat of mold became something of a watershed moment for the amiable doctor, whose small disaster led her on a 13-year journey to eradicate mold and all other toxins from her home.

“That pipe burst was the impetus for me to transform my lifestyle,” says Stark.

She started out by remodeling her kitchen cabinets using Medite II, a formaldehyde-free wood composite adapted for home use by a Canadian firm called Rëdl Cabinetry, and installing granite floors set with chemical-free Thinset mortar instead of epoxy. Stark later added an Ionizer Plus filtration system for alkaline versus acidic water, Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) wiring to neutralize the space’s harmful electromagnetic fields, and Benjamin Moore’s Eco Spec WB zero-volatile organic compound paint. She even had the cellulose fiber wall insulation changed to Icynene foam that expands to become a more effective allergen barrier.  

While many architects and designers have embraced green home design over the past few decades by incorporating solar technology, geothermal heating and cooling systems, salvaged building materials, and water conservation features, among other energy-efficient building methods, today’s healthy home goes beyond enviro-friendly building: Homeowners now want to ensure that their homes are toxin-free and even hypoallergenic.

It took Stark more than a decade to detox her house, but thanks to pioneers like her, today’s homeowners can easily find resources to make their homes healthy. Businesses such as Green Building Supply (greenbuildingsupply.com), the Healthy House Institute (healthyhouseinstitute.com), and LuxEco Living (luxecoliving.com), among others, have proven to be invaluable research tools for homeowners interested in building health benefits into their living environments. 

Chaden Halfhill, the owner of Des Moines, Iowa-based Silent Rivers, a design and construction company focused on renovating existing homes to make them greener and healthier, explains part of the rationale behind this growing movement:

“It’s much different than someone driven by aesthetics who is just looking for the ‘wow’ factor,” he says, equating it to the health food industry. “More people are becoming aware of food sensitivities and making decisions to change their diets,” he says, adding, “Now, we are also realizing it’s not only about what we put into our bodies but what we put around our bodies that has implications for our health.”