Tiny House Living: Indoor Air Quality

gerber daisyA little over a week ago I finished up a 2-week intensive training in Permaculture Design. It was an awesome learning experience and got me thinking about tiny house design in new ways.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Permaculture, it is a term coined in the 1970’s  by Bill Mollison that follows a core ethic: to care for the planet, the people who live on it, and provide equal distribution of surplus. Permaculture design encourages folks to look to biological processes as a means of solving environmental problems and creating regenerative sources of energy, building materials and edible as well as medicinal plants for all peoples.

To be able to discuss solutions we had to go over the issues. Many of our Toxiclectures over the course of those two weeks had a lot to do with toxicity and public safety & health. It gave me pause to think about the quality of life provided by living in a small space. I find my quality of life to be equal and/or greater than living in a larger home.  One thing we definitely considered when building La Casita was material off-gassing. That’s one reason we really looked to reclaimed material but also a reason we tried not to use chemically produced paints, inks, varnishes or lacquers. We definitely used Great Stuff and the adhesive on the sheeting off-gassed. We attempted to balance that with the use of milk-paint and no-VOC paints indoors as well as tung oil on the Cyprus siding. Check out Ryan’s list of best low-VOC paints and non-toxic paints!

There’s a lot of toxicity to battle in daily life I had no idea about such as trichloroethylene (TCE) which is considered a potent liver carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute. This chemical is in lacquers  varnishes, paints, printing inks and adhesives. Benzene, a chemical in gasoline, plastics, oils, paints and rubber is known to cause skin irritation as well as many other health issues such as leukemia and bone marrow diseases. Formaldehyde is a third common chemical in products including particle board, facial tissues, grocery bags, natural gas and nail polish to name a very few. Exposure has been linked to asthma and cancer.

english ivyThe good news is that these chemicals can be absorbed by house plants! NASA conducted a study that explored the abilities of plants to provide better air quality. That research consistently showed that certain plants remove toxic chemicals from our indoor environments. In a tiny house carbon monoxide is an added concern. We have fans and often crack the windows but there have cold nights and we’ve noticed we aren’t getting enough air in our loft and wake up groggy and disconcerted. The top five plants that they found to clear the air of the three chemicals above and reduce carbon monoxide levels indoors are bamboo palm, chinese evergreen, english ivy, gerbera daisy and Janet Craig. To learn more, find the full report here.

There is a lot to consider when building and living in a small space but for mejanet craig plant indoor air quality ranks as one of the most important changes I can make to my overall well-being living the tiny life. Living in La Casita I’ve definitely learned that it’s the smallest of changes that make the biggest difference.

Your Turn!

  • What concerns about living the tiny life do you consider most important?
  •  How do you limit toxicity in your daily life?
  1. What exactly do you mean by “chemically produced”?
    Could you please list some paints, inks, varnishes or lacquers that aren’t “chemically produced”?

    All paints and finishes (indeed everything) contain chemicals. Sloppy thinking and writing leads to ideas like “chemical-free” products.

    “Dr Neville Reed, a director of the RSC, said today: “I’d be happy to give a million pounds to the first member of the public who could place in my hands any material I consider 100% chemical free.””

    • Feel free to check out this video for more research on the subject if you would like to know more:


  2. Well if we’re going to incorporate these plants into our indoor tiny spaces, how? With limited space and bench space where do we put these plants. And how many plants are we going to need inside to counter-act all these nasty chemicals? I imagine you would need more of these plants so that they could be rotated from inside to outside to allow them a chance at more light for a while.

    • You need at least one plant per 100 sq. feet in a pot no smaller than 6″ in diameter. What we did was build shelves across a couple of our windows to make space to grow. The plants in the NASA study are all “true” houseplants meaning they thrive indoors year round but can be set outside in the warmer months. Most of the plants tested evolved in tropical or sub-tropical climates were they received filtered light which in turn allows their leaf composition to photosynthesize efficiently under relatively low light. It’s actually the soil doing the work of cleaning the air of chemicals. I always assumed that the plant was doing all the work but come to find out it’s actually the microorganisms in the soil that are attributed with capturing volatile chemicals in the environment which I found really interesting.

      Hope that helps!

  3. I guess my main concern is just finding a tiny house with more than one bedroom. Really want to give my daughter her own room plus storage space for the items we have and maybe bring into our future tiny house.

    This is a great article and I did not realize that having a tiny house indoor air quality would be a problem but, it makes sense.

    • Are you trying to build a tiny house on wheels? I have a friend who built a tiny house on a foundation so he could have more space. Another friend who is on wheels built 2 loft spaces as two separate bedrooms and it’s great for a guest but it’s not very private.

      Indoor air quality is not necessarily a “problem” in a tiny house but just another thing to consider. I learned a lot about it and just wanted to share some of the research that is out there.

  4. I’m more concerned about cooking odours in a tiny space. That stuff can really hang around and get into your clothes and fabrics if you don’t vent well. In good weather I like to cook outside but that’s not always convenient (especially in wasp season!)

  5. Indoor air quality is a key important factor in today’s lifestyle. indoor air should always be tested and maintained for a long and health living. it is the small price which we can pay for a good longtime effect. Anyhow when their are infants and babes in the home i highly would not recommend planing any major indoor plats as they may have some harmful micro organics which can cause some allergies. if you don’t agree https://www.airconcern.co.uk/blog/how-are-newborns-affected-by-indoor-air-pollution

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