WOODBURY (AP) -- Chuck Knight was turned on to the "healthy design" concept about 1 1/2 years ago when he was working on the new corporate headquarters for the American Lung Association of Minnesota.
The project inspired Knight, an architect with Perkins & Will in Minneapolis, to build his family's home under new health-oriented guidelines developed by the organization.
The Woodbury home, featured in the Parade of Homes Fall Showcase in the Twin Cities this month, is billed as the first home in the nation to follow the American Lung Association's newly revised builder guidelines.
The guidelines, which focus on indoor air quality, durability and energy efficiency, are an updated version of building practices introduced by the American Lung Association's Health House program in 1993. The practices cover everything from the foundation, framing and flooring to heating and air conditioning, insulation and the roof.
"I learned a lot from what Health House was doing -- what's behind the walls, HEPA filters, where mold potential could be -- that I was never aware of," Knight said.
Knight was especially motivated to build a "healthy home" because one of his four children suffers from mild asthma.
According to Knight, indoor air quality can be improved by implementing some relatively simple construction and maintenance practices.
The Woodbury house, for example, uses granular fill under the slab to prevent moisture and mold growth in the home and features large overhangs over the windows and walls to direct rainwater away from the house.
It also has soft foam Icynene insulation in the walls, floors and ceilings. The insulation controls noise and increases energy efficiency, while discouraging harmful allergens and mildew from getting into the home.
Additional features include a state-of-the-art ventilation system, radiant floor heating, a central vacuum system for easy cleaning in each room, and tile instead of carpet on the main level. Tile and wood floors are considered preferable to carpet because they harbor fewer pollutants and are easier to clean.
"When you spill -- and you will have spills in the house -- all of the moisture will evaporate in the radiant floor system," Knight said. "Just the little things make a world of difference."
Angie Lien, director of the American Lung Association's Health House program, said the program has built more than 120 homes in 35 states. It was developed in response to increased rates of asthma and allergies that coincided with the construction of tighter homes in the 1980s.
The organization estimates that 36 million Americans suffer from allergies or asthma, and many triggers for those maladies -- including volatile organic compounds, dust and biological contaminants -- can be found in the home.
"In the 1980s, we wanted to save on energy much as we do now," Lien said. "So the construction techniques began to change in tightening up our homes. We didn't bring in enough fresh air and exhaust out the stale air.
"With tightening up the homes, what we did is trap pollutants inside, which can be a health concern, especially if you have asthma and allergies."
Steve Klossner, a Health House technical consultant, said moisture is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to mold growth and poor indoor air quality. In the past, homes were being built more tightly without adequate regard to preventing moisture intrusion, he noted.
"And that lent itself to developing biological contaminants, because we got water where we didn't want it," he said. "And it also lent itself to allowing water into our wall and ceiling assemblies, and it would start to grow mold."
The Woodbury house will be tested for at least a year to monitor how effective the new Healthy Home guidelines are.
"We need good data to show the difference between where we are now and the impact of this kind of house for the future," Knight said.
Another Health House project, the 25-unit Jackson Street Village in St. Paul, is scheduled to open next February.
The housing complex, owned by RS Eden Inc. and managed by the Amherst Wilder Foundation of St. Paul, is intended for families that have struggled with chemical dependency and homelessness. More than 25 public and private organizations are working on the project, which is designed to be 50 percent more energy efficient than traditional construction.
Although the Woodbury home is a higher-end project, Lien noted that homes don't have to be expensive to have quality indoor air. Weekly vacuuming and removing shoes at the door to prevent moisture problems are examples of simple ways to improve indoor air quality.
"Our vision is that all people everywhere would understand indoor air quality and its impact on health -- their health, their family's health," Lien said. "And also that, no matter what income level you're at, you would be able to live in a healthy home environment."
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