Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website www.greenhomebuilding.com, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built and consults about sustainable building design.

April 12, 2009

Toxic Drywall and the Ills of Modern Building

I just read this article about the toxic effects of new houses that used drywall material shipped from China to the US in the last few years. Many people are getting quite sick and can no longer live in these contaminated homes. Nobody quite understands exactly what the cause is, except that the suspect drywall seems to emit toxic sulfuric fumes, especially under hot and humid conditions. These fumes are so corrosive that they can turn copper pipes black. It is estimated that at least 100,000 homes are likely affected by this problem, many of them built during the height of the housing boom when domestic drywall material was harder to find.

Wow. What a devastating example of the imbalance that exists in our modern times. Contractors, wanting to provide more wealth for themselves and those buyers who expected to soon turn around and make a profit on the houses they bought, turned to Chinese producers of building products. To meet the demand the Chinese carelessly threw together raw materials that appeared to be safe enough to use and shipped them across the ocean to the eager market. Everybody was making money...so why not?

Compare this to a more wholesome, sustainable scenario, where only local, natural materials are used for building, and speculation is not driving the economy. This never would have happened.

Thousands of lives are being ruined by this situation, through loss of health and economic loss, paying for houses that cannot be safely lived in. What a double whammy! The author of the article assumed that these houses would eventually have to be torn down to deal with the problem; I doubt that this is true since it is quite possible to pull out all of the drywall and start over with that phase of the construction, which is actually one of the last stages of building. Still, the impact is enormous.

If anything is to be learned from this, it should be that we need to take a serious look at how we go about using resources and making money.

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