Designing for Allergies

Designing or remodeling a space that will be occupied by someone with severe allergies or sensitivity to materials due to a medical condition is serious business. Accordingly, the burden to ensure your remodeled or new space is as safe as possible ultimately lands on the homeowner’s shoulders. As a remodeler, you can take steps to help the homeowner make informed decisions:

1. Plan, plan and plan again. When dealing with severe allergies or sensitivities to materials, your plan should be in a three-ring binder and have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for every material to be used.

2. Remember, designing and remodeling is a process. Remain organized and diligent during the process. Someone’s health or life may be riding on your choices.

3. Green, eco-friendly products are just the starting point for your material selections. Beware of “Green Washing” or false claims. To my knowledge, every U.S.-based manufacturer is required by law to keep MSDS sheets for every product used in their plants and products. Any responsible manufacturer should be willing and able to supply you with those sheets.

4. Be sure you have the necessary contacts to procure the documents you need or the homeowner requests. Supply an MSDS for every material used, especially adhesives. Make sure you have the cure rates for each material. A long cure rate could mean the client has to deal with some odors for a while. This may or may not be an issue.

Review everything for accuracy then encourage the client to take the whole package to their doctor(s) for their review. Organizations such as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America,, and The American Lung Association,, can be good resources.

5. Before construction starts or materials are ordered, your plans and budget should be completed.

6. If property is governed by community associations, make sure the management and/or board of directors has approved the plans and materials. If you plan to be running air handling equipment to provide extra air filtration during construction, make sure the homeowners make management aware of it and are in agreement with whatever additional noise that equipment might create. You may also need to ask for an area to be designated where materials can be cut outside the living area.

7. I recommend a daily review of the project and materials and the jobsite should be as clean as possible at the end of the day. From a homeowner’s perspective, I would also advise that the contractor be certified by the EPA for dealing with lead dust and other harmful agents even if the home was built after 1978. That type of experience can prove vital to successful completion of your project.

8. This is the perfect time to inspect for mold and prevent future mold problems. Even if no evidence of mold is found consider having the entire area sprayed with a mold preventer before the walls are closed back up. Pay extra attention to the sink and dishwasher area as well as near windows. I suggest a mold preventer that is registered with the EPA, is water-based, non-leaching and doesn’t emit VOCs.

Jeff Kida founded DDS Design Services LLC, Villa Park, Ill., that specializes in designing and creating kitchens and baths.