Healthy Home Consultations & Natural Building Workshops

James Haim, known for his work teaching natural building with Cob Together, as well as for the founding and directing of the sadly now defunct Wilderness Charter School, is now offering Healthy Living Diagnostics consulting and summer workshops.

Hi James, what is Healthy Living Diagnostics?

Healthy Living Diagnostics does consultations for new construction and remodels, as well as conducting  home inspections on indoor air pollution.  I’ve been trained by the Institute of Bau Biology, an organization that started in Germany after WWII when people in new homes where facing health problems and they found that the newer materials and the tighter homes were making people sick.

What are the health consequences of living with these new toxic materials?  

The health consequences are numerous, varied and still not completely known.  Many of the effects of the chemical, electrical and biological toxic soups we are exposed to each day are cumulative over decades of exposure.  When it comes to Electromagnetic Radiation, many scientists are saying that our species is currently in the biggest health experiment ever known to man.  The World Health Organization recently declared wireless radiation, like the type emitting from cell phones and towers, as a type 2B carcinogen.  Studies done in the 70’s showed a correlation between childhood leukemia and transformers on power poles.  Many doctors and scientists are pointing to EMFs for diseases such as autism, alzheimers, heart conditions, diabetes and many other conditions.  The health consequences from molds or offgassing from new materials are also many and varied, but include headaches, nausea, skin rashes, sleeplessness, lung problems, fatigue and even death.
So if someone thinks their house is making them ill, what kind of recommendations would you make?
Usually my house survey includes a list of around twenty recommendations.  With someone who is already ill, I recommend they visit Dr Brigid Crowe, a  naturopath at the Hidden Springs Wellness Center.  Dr Brigid is very familiar with the symptoms of environmental toxins and has a depth of knowledge on how to test for and how to cleanse the body of pollutants.  My recommendations may range from not sleeping with your cell phone next to your head to calling in a mold remediator to remove mold from under a home or even replacing your mattress with one that is not off-gassing or magnetized.
When toxins in the home are allergenics, not everyone will react to them, right?

Different people will react differently. With a whole family in a home, maybe only one or two of them are experiencing difficulties.  With allergens, we’re looking at particulate count.  Someone might have a wool carpet in their home to which they’re allergic or a heating system that could be upgraded to reduce particulates.  If you have a forced air system, just the ionization of the air can cause dust to build up in the house.

What about new construction?  How does your service help someone who’s going to build a new house?

Before site selection, I test for electromagnetic fields.  Somebody might see a new beautiful lot and think it’s a great deal, but if they have transmission lines, especially if they’re major distribution lines, over the property, they’re going to have some really high electromagnetic fields.  If they have a radio or cell phone tower right near them pumping out EMFs, then I would recommend not to purchase the property.

Then I look at the healthiest material choices and make recommendations on the heating and cooling system, water systems, furnishings, health care products and all the finishes from paint to tile sealants. I also look at the electrical plans in the home.  For example, removing the electrical fields from one’s sleeping area during new construction or wiring the home with Ethernet cable are two inexpensive things folks can do to improve the health of their home.
If you change from standard materials to the ones with lower toxicity, will your house be a lot more expensive?
No and yes, there might even be reductions in cost.  If you want a naturally built home, then you’re looking at straw bale, light-straw-clay or cob.  Some of those building methods can have a higher price tag, but some can cost less, depending on how it’s done.

You also teach natural building, right?

For the past 7 summers, I have taught natural building workshops.  At the workshops, we do foundation to roof; and we look at cob, straw bale, light-straw-clay and cord wood, alternative foundation materials and living roofs.  We consider materials that are in the local environment.  Here in Southern Oregon, small diameter wood is really prevalent, so we integrate that into our design.

Why would someone want to use natural building techniques rather than standard building methods, is it healthier?

Yes it is healthier, but it’s also good for the environment, more comfortable to live in, more beautiful and more fun to build.   Sourcing chemical free biodegradable materials from close to your home is much better than trucking in chemically laden plywood from a thousand miles away.  Applying a clay finish on your walls, helps to control humidity and offers a diversity of texture and hues, bringing beauty as well as health.  Working with friends or workshop participants while you help sculpt a home is very rewarding and a lot of fun


It’s easy to integrate natural building into the current building systems.  Straw bale is already recognized in the State.  Light-straw-clay has also been code approved here.  There hasn’t been a full code approved cob home in Oregon, but there’s been cob integrated into many homes. 
Plus, depending on where you live you may also be able to build a structure under 200 square feet with out any permit at all.

Who should come to a workshop and why?

Some people think, “this could be a really fun vacation”, others are looking at building their home or small cottage. We’ve had people as old as 70 and as young as 2, and we pride ourselves on having a good balance of hands-on with sit-down presentations and discussions

My workshops are offered by Cob Together which stands for Creating Organic Buildings Together.  There’s a 4 day Introduction to Natural Building from July 5-8th, which I’m giving with Taylor Starr, where participants will experience mixing and building with cob, using light-straw-clay and making earthen plasters.  I’m also offering a 3 week Apprenticeship Program where we will construct a hybrid sauna and cob oven from start to finish.
To contact James Haim for a Healthy Living Diagnostic assessment of your house or office, call 541-488-0916.  (You can read more about this program on the web at – services – healthy living diagnostics.)  The 4-day Natural Building Workshop with Cob Together is July 5-8th on the banks of the Little Applegate River.  The 2012 Apprenticeship Program is August 5-25th in Ashland, Oregon.  You can read all the information about these courses and register online at, or call James at 541-488-0916.

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Melanie Mindlin

Melanie Mindlin, local sustainability maven, is an instructor with Siskiyou Permaculture, coordinator of the Southern Oregon Time Bank, and Ashland Planning Commissioner and the founder and designer of the Ashland Cohousing Community. She maintains the Ashland Sustainability Inventory, is an active member of Transition Town Ashland, and an avid backyard gardener.
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