Monday 14 October 2019

Building biology: Fair City screenwriter Laura Canavan Hayes on how she detoxed her Clontarf home to help her allergies

2 Seaview Avenue Clontarf, Dublin 3

Asking price: €770,000

Agent: DNG (01) 833 1802

The front lounge is painted in a midnight blue
The front lounge is painted in a midnight blue
The modern kitchen extension maintains the period house atmosphere
The red brick exterior of No2
A living area utilises a natural skin rug
A bedroom painted in forest green as an aid to sleeping
Allergy-prone screenwriter Laura and her son Maurice

When I told my friends I was kitting my home out according to the principles of building biology, they thought I was nuts. At first.

But there has been a recent sea change in Irish attitudes towards family health and the environment and a desire to take a better look at what each of us can do in our own homes to help save our planet - whether that's more recycling, cutting out plastics or growing more food in our gardens.

I was first introduced to building biology by Lucie McCullough, a close friend of mine, who is a professional building biologist as well as an interior designer.

Building biology is a construction science which analyses the impact of the indoor environment on your health. A sick building diminishes our life while a health-supporting building enhances it. It emphasises the use of natural building materials as opposed to synthetics. It's as simple as that.

The modern kitchen extension maintains the period house atmosphere
The modern kitchen extension maintains the period house atmosphere

After renting for a few years myself and my husband Ronan ended up buying in Clontarf at 2 Seaview Avenue. We have a deep love for period properties and the 1890-built terrace had been restored by its previous owners. Older homes are often more healthily built when it comes to materials and ventilation.

An extension at the back had been added, with modern velux windows to maximise light. The period look here was sustained with a Victorian Salvage and Joinery kitchen. We loved it instantly.

Since we bought No2 we have made every effort to ensure that every product used in our house, from paint to furnishings, has been carefully researched to be as non-toxic as possible.

Myself, my sister Alison and my friend Lucie, have all experienced health problems with allergies. So when we had our own children, a healthy living environment was paramount.

The entire house was done in Benjamin Moore Natura, a zero-VOC and zero-emissions paint which is certified allergy and asthma friendly. It's more expensive but entirely worth it. The front hallway is decorated with Barneby Gates wallpaper, which is PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified and made only from sustainable and properly managed resources.

The carpets are mostly pure wool, cow-hide and sheepskin - all natural materials and using botanical dyes, free of chemical washes and formaldehyde.

The red brick exterior of No2
The red brick exterior of No2

We installed a triple water filter by Royal Doulton. It was the first to filter water from the River Thames.

Some water purification systems also remove good, naturally-occurring minerals leaving empty, tasteless drinking water but Doulton's is designed to take out bad contaminants only, while protecting the natural, healthy minerals that make water taste great. Tests have found lead concentrations nearly 15 times over the legal limit in North Dublin drinking water so having a filter is of huge importance in our area. I also have a fluoride filter.

The house, which is three doors from the Coast Road and the sea, is entered via the hall which leads to an open plan reception with the kitchen beyond and a TV/chill-out room at the front. We went for a very dark midnight blue in this room, which has a cinema effect when the lights are down.

There are fireplaces in both rooms which were also designed for ventilation when the house was built.

We put in a wood-burning stove as they have a thermal efficiency of about 80pc versus 20pc with open fires. They are also less smoky, safer and contribute to better air quality. The space under the stairs became cluttered so we had a superb carpenter build an oak wine cellar for us, with lighting and reinforced glass doors with a lock. The kitchen leads to the newly landscaped garden with a black slate patio/bbq area and a mature herb garden where we grow our own fennel, oregano, rosemary and lavender. There's a large planting bed (which we filled with organic non-contaminated soil) for salads, vegetables and fruit. All of the products that we use in the house are eco-friendly.

Upstairs is the main bathroom and beside it, a bedroom and an office which looks out to garden and the sea. I'm screenwriting for Fair City and currently working on turning the Mamie Cadden (Dublin's notorious back street abortionist) story into a movie. This is a great work station for writing.

Allergy-prone screenwriter Laura and her son Maurice
Allergy-prone screenwriter Laura and her son Maurice

Another set of stairs leads to a master bedroom, spanning the entire front of the house, with large windows and an original fireplace, flanked by Victorian Salvage Company bookshelves.

The walls are deliberately coloured in a dark forest green, soothing for sleep.

The adjacent toddler's bedroom has fitted wardrobes and drawers. When we decorated, we actually had the plaster taken off the walls so we could see what was underneath and test for mould - thankfully none!

Victorian houses were well constructed limestone and red-brick structures and the house is well-ventilated, so we've never had an issue with damp or mould. It's prevalent in Ireland because of our weather and how we seal up our homes. We have a lot of inherited antique furniture in our house which we have had thoroughly checked through for moulds. Antiques are prone to it.

There's a complete attic conversion, which is a lovely space with fitted wardrobes, velux windows on either side, both with sea views, and an ensuite with shower. Opening the windows in the morning to look out over Clontarf and the city waking up is a real pleasure.

Lastly, we hard-wired the house with ethernet connections, which go straight into devices via an adaptor so you can turn off the wifi if you want. Ethernet is 100 times faster, more economical in the long run, and much safer.

Clontarf is 10 minutes from the city centre and the airport. St Anne's Park is an incredible spot at the weekends with an organic farmers' market, and food and artisan stalls, including an eco-refill one.

But now we've just been offered the chance to acquire a house in the area with an incredibly large garden, which we've always wanted.

So we've placed No2 for sale. We hope that the next owners love and enjoy it as much as we have. And that it helps them stay both happy and healthy!

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