Book reviews: Is your home healthy?
UPdate spring 2005

My House is Killing Me
by Jeffrey C. May
John Hopkins University Press
$24.95 Canada

When I first received My House is Killing Me, I loaned it to a friend who had recently become ill in her own home (but not elsewhere.) After several weeks, she returned the book. “Was it useful,” I asked. “Oh yes,” she sighed, “but its tiring. Every time I read a bit, I have to get up and go clean some place else. I had to buy my own copy. Its going to take me a while to get through it.”
The subtitle,The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma, says it all. Author Jeffrey C. May focuses on common allergens including dust, dust mites and other critters, and yeasts and moulds in their many forms. May, an indoor air quality professional, looks at where these substances may be silently and invisibly accumulating in many houses. He shows how to track allergens to their sources; leaky shower stalls, dryers that vent into garages where moisture accumulates, dust mites in carpets, closets and bedding. Finding and eliminating allergens can go a long way to overcoming allergies and asthma.
Don’t ignore the warning signs is one of May’s main lessons. The faint smell of oil, the musty smell or stain on the ceiling can be indications of problems which are serious. Track problems to their source. May draws on his experiences with clients to show how he investigates problems, determines the cause, and finds a solution. He provides many easy to follow recommendations, although not all the diagnosis or solutions are in the ‘do it yourself’ category. Many of problems he describes require an expert with specialized tools to detect. An excellent book.

Homes that Heal
by Athena Thompson
New Society Publishers
$35.95 Canada

Our homes are our third skin, writes Athena Thompson in Homes that Heal . How we design and live in our homes is as important to our health as what we put on our skin. Thompson’s book is full of “Jane, Liz and Steph” stories, through which she contrasts the conventionally build or renovated home, and the habits of its inhabitants, with the a healthy home, based on principles of building biology. Thompson is motivated by her concern for children’s health, and believes that the choices people make about their homes are essential factors in their children’s health.
Homes that Heal introduces you to your house in a new way. Thompson takes the reader behind the paint colours and furnishing designs, which is where the attention of most home owners stop, and draws attention to the often unnoticed. The wet spot on the wall, the vent pipe that doesn’t vent outside, the “new” smell from a piece of furniture, the appliances multiplying on your kitchen countertops all mean something, and they all may be affecting your family’s health.
Homes that Heal is a very chatty book, enjoyable and easy to read. It covers a wide range of issues. It’s an excellent introduction to 21st century air quality issues. Homes that Heal focuses on newly recognized sources of ill health, low level chemical exposures, and shows how we can live more happily, and healthily, by making more conscious choices.

The Sick House Survival Guide
by Angela Hobbs
New Society Publishers
$27.95 Canada

What distinguishes The Sick House Survival Guide from other books on healthy homes is its attention to the impact of electromagnetic fields (EMF). Hobbs bases her book on her own experience tracking down the environmental factors which made her severely ill. Her hypothesis, based on this experience, is that high EMFs in combination with low level chemical exposures can make people severely hypersensitive, and that overcoming sensitivity requires dealing with both types of exposure.
We live in a time when the electronic gadgets are multiplying in every room of our homes. Outside our homes, cell phone towers, power lines and other high concentrations of electromagnetic fields are being spawned.
There isn’t a lot of research yet on the effects of electromagnetic fields, and Hobbs’ book may be dismissed for this reason. But, as with chemical sensitivity, the experiences of individuals dedicated to reclaiming their health may be all that we have to work with for decades until research science catches up. There seems to be evidence that there is a group of people who are extremely sensitive to electromagnetic fields. The Sick House Survival Guide may be a gift to people in this category, and to health practitioners who work with them. It certainly raises valuable questions for all of us. A very practical and helpful book.