Cob houses and dust mite allergies?
December 30, 2013 1:10 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are interested in building a low-cost house (in India, where we live). We've been researching building materials/technologies and cob is something that interested us. But we aren't sure whether cob houses might be prone to getting dusty (in particular, dust-mitey) and set off my allergies.

So far allergy tests have only shown a moderate to severe reaction to dust mites, and very mild reactions to mold, pollen, etc.

Can anyone help me figure out whether dust mites may thrive in a home made of cob, because of the material itself but also because of the curves and not entirely smooth walls you seem to get? And do you have ideas for other allergy-proof low-cost and ecologically happy building materials?
posted by miaow to Home & Garden (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure about dust mites (though I do know that "dust mites" are unrelated to dust, and are more likely to be a problem where there is shed skin, like in bedding). But you might be interested in reading this discussion of mold in cob houses. Sounds like it tends to be climate-specific and maybe not such an issue in your climate, but also very hard to fix after the house is built. If you click through that link to see, it's part of a forum board specifically on cob houses, so it might be a good place to read or ask more detailed questions.
posted by instamatic at 7:02 AM on December 30, 2013

I had to Google what cob was...but I'm currently living in a mud brick house and I have the worst dust mite allergies known to mankind.

Admittedly, it's the middle of winter. I'm not sure where you are, but we're in HP...and my allergies have always been fine here. We only come in winter because we don't want to have to do the anti malaria stuff for the kids...or me. So I can't speak about summer.

The thing I've found in India is that dirt is generally a problem. I'm a bit anal, but one of the things I always bring over with me is a really, really good quality dustpan and brush. So much detritus gets tracked in to the house (and hotel rooms) it makes a big difference. My mother in law doesn't have carpets on her floor at all. Yes, it's bloody FREEZING, but mopping/sweeping is no problem. If I had carpets and was here in warmer months, I'd be buying a Dyson vacuum cleaner.

My mother in law is an incredibly clean person, and there is no dust on the walls but the walls are uneven. I'd use one of those horse tail type brooms to wipe them if you decided to go with the cob. Would you whitewash? She keeps her front door closed mostly so dust isn't a problem. Ceiling insulation would be worth investigating for allergies and sustainability. We have none. Did I mention FREEZING?

(The mud brick part of the house was made 45 years ago... my husband has since had a few modifications made and they were done in concrete which is perfectly India flat.)

Happy to ask my mother in law more questions or answer about my observations if you like.
posted by taff at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cob is not better or worse for allergies than other construction types, but with all types of building, you need to do it right, check references of the builder you contract, visit his other houses and check the atmosphere. The most important thing to avoid is mold, which is very dangerous, and even more so for people with allergies, and you can sense a moldy atmosphere right away, when you are there. Even if you react lightly to mold now, this is something that can develop badly. Neither mold nor mites can thrive in a dry house. So dry is the main focus of your future house - how can you achieve that in your climate? Moisture comes from the outside - do you need a large roof? And moisture comes from insufficient ventilation, specially of kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms - make sure these spaces can be cross-ventilated.

With dust mites, the building is rarely the problem. You need to ventilate very well, and you need to keep all your textiles squeaky clean - that means carpets, curtains, bedclothes, towels, rags for cleaning, the clothes you wear, toys made out of textile (like teddybears). At one point in my life, I washed everything at 60+ degrees every day. Anything that couldn't be washed was thrown out, so no carpets. Luckily, I began to grow out of my allergies when I was 28, and now they are very light (but mold still hits me harder than it does other people). Now I have carpets that I take out and hang up once a week in the summer, and vacuum in the winter.

It can be difficult to combine good ventilation with pollen-reaction, but here ventilation is the more important thing. You'll have to keep down any pollen reaction with pills. This applies to all construction types. I know some people believe air-condition is enough, but over time, you get a really bad environment for allergies in a home that isn't thoroughly cross-ventilated three times a day.

I live in a cold climate, but my brother's former house was a cob house, and he has terrible allergies - no problems with the house, even in wet seasons. On the other hand a cob house in Morrocco almost got me with it's mold, due to very bad ventilation and general management there. So I don't think climate is an issue.

Whitewash is a good thing, it works as a disinfectant.

And did I mention ventilation...
posted by mumimor at 8:31 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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