Building the NewenHouse Kit Home: Natural Gypsum Drywall and Ultra-Low Electromagnetic Field Construction

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Sonya Newenhouse, Ph.D. is an eco-entrepreneur who enjoys providing practical and creative solutions to help individuals and organizations live and manage green. Her firm, Madison Environmental Group, provides LEED green building and sustainability consulting services. She is also founder and president of Community Car, a car sharing organization in Madison Wisconsin. Currently she is developing NewenHouse, a business that will provide super-insulated sustainable kit homes.

The solar hot water panels are now installed and the windows arrived from Canada. Before the windows were installed, David reminded me to order the drywall panels and have them delivered directly to the second floor with a boom truck. This greatly reduces hassle and saves time because otherwise we would need to carry the drywall awkwardly up the stairs to the second floor.

Reducing drywall waste: I met with the drywall contractor, Doug Hurth, a week prior to create a detailed estimate of the drywall sizes we needed in order to reduce waste. Drywall comes in three standard sizes (4-by-8, 4-by-10, and 4-by-12). Doug carefully calculated the coverage we needed for the second floor and mapped out a plan for the best use of the standard size panels. While we planned our drywall order a volunteer, Danna Olsen, discovered an article that highlighted cautions about using drywall containing synthetic gypsum. Ironically, many drywall manufacturers display their pride in using synthetic drywall as it’s a recycled product and provides LEED points. It turns out that synthetic gypsum drywall may be linked to causing migraines and corroding electrical wiring. Rather than wait for the science to uncover the results, I’m using the precautionary principle and avoiding synthetic drywall. Our building supplier, Nuzums, found a drywall plant in Iowa that makes natural gypsum drywall for the same cost and it’s readily available. Because this brand also sells drywall with synthetic gypsum, we needed to specify the order to come from the Iowa manufacturing facility.

Drywall panels are delivered to the second floor with a boom truck. Photo By Sonya Newenhouse.

We only ordered the drywall for the second floor because we still need to grind the concrete slab (to create a terrazzo look and feel). If we brought in the drywall to the first floor it would be in the way of the floor grinder. It’s also easy to deliver drywall to a first floor.

More on migraines. Luckily I have never had one. However, in addition to being careful about our drywall order we are also using the precautionary principal for our electrical wiring. I hired an electromagnetic fields consultant, Spark Burmaster, to provide us guidelines to reduce the electromagnetic fields in the house. He suggested three primary design guidelines, plus some more which are too detailed for a 600-word blog entry. We are using only metal conduit and metal boxes; we’re locating the panel in the storage shed, which is part of a three-season semi-attached porch off of the north side of the home; and we are not installing wires behind the headboards of the beds in each bedroom. He suggested a special panel and a method to wire that will make it easier to repair if we notice a problem in the future and a way to reduce fields through the water line. Finally, he suggested we use cables and land lines for computers and phones to reduce the fields. We’re not sure we can give up our wireless lifestyle, but we decided to wire the house for cable and landlines if we choose to do so in the future. In the meantime, we plan to turn off the wireless router when we go to bed. Nighttime is the most critical time to reduce electromagnetic fields as your body rebuilds its immune system while you sleep.

Sonya describes drywall delivery and drywall sourcing. Video By Sonya Newenhouse.

I have learned so much from Spark and am fortunate that such an expert lives in Vernon County. Maybe it’s not a coincidence as this county also has the largest number of organic farms per capita in the entire nation. Many people who live in Vernon County are intentional about choosing a healthier lifestyle.

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