THE small HOUSE CATALOG

Custom plans, drafting + Design

non toxic building materials

BARR non-toxic foundation sealer review

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner

A review about a liquid waterproof membrane… it's gotta be dull, right? Well, it all depends on your experience. If you're someone who's had to deal with many of the noxious products that go along with conventional building you might, like us, be quite interested in an article like this. I'm going to tell you about BARR™ by Chem Link, which is simply a non-toxic, non-carcinogenic concrete sealant, ideal for foundations. Chem Link doesn't stop with BARR, they boast an entire catalog of non-toxic caulks, adhesives and sealants. And let me tell you: these guys are serious about making good products. The only difference I've found between Chem Link products and conventional ones is that Chem Linkproducts are safe to use.

Feline safe!

Feline safe!

Let's chat about BARR, the product we just put on the foundation of The Beekeeper's Bungalow. It's basically a liquid waterproofing membrane that goes on with, say, a paint brush or paint roller, and cures by exposure to moisture. Once cured it produces a continuous elastic - feels like soft rubber – seal. It's 100% solvent-free and is compliant with all known environmental and OSHA requirements. Although it has a slight odor akin to pine tar, it can be used without respiratory protection – even in enclosed work spaces. It cures to an elastomeric rubber that is resistant to thermal shock and won't crack in cold or soften in high temperatures – like many conventional asphalt or coal tar based coatings. The Chem Link data sheet for BARR specifies a surprising number of applications, although we used it simply as an exterior waterproofing agent for our concrete foundation walls. Like all of Chem Link's products, BARR has been tested and shown to be non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. As do-it-yourself builders who are exposed to the products we use, these are extremely important features to us. For all those contractors who are knitting their brows in doubt of a 'green' sealant holding up to its conventional counterparts, THE small HOUSE CATALOG will be the first to tell you – and show you - that BARR is in no way sub-par in terms of quality and performance. Barr is a superior choice for builders, homeowners, anyone in need of a good sealant.

BARR's Pros:

  • It's non-toxic for you – and others – and the environment.
  • It's non-carcinogenic. You won't mind your wife (or husband and kids) using it.
  • It produces a fantastic soft seal (even our foundation contractor – a professional who has built more than 150 houses – was impressed by the quality).
  • It comes in various sizes – up to 5 gl. pails.
  • It can be purchased online and delivered – or picked up locally by finding a distributor via Chem Link at 1-800-826-1881.
  • It's easy to apply, all you need is a throw-away paint brush, a 1.5" nap and roller or a squeegee. We just used a brush.
  • It's easy to clean up. It won't wash off with soap and water but it's not greasy and comes off with a little rubbing alcohol. A word to the wise: just be sure you have enough alcohol on hand – we had only enough for a one arm cleaning!
  • It's low odor.
  • And, lastly, it has a low-VOC content.

Looking for BARR in the Seattle area? Visit ATLAS in downtown Seattle at 6111 South Charlestown Street & 6th Avenue South. 

Visit Chemlink to read the published article.

Bioshield "Aqua Resin" floor finish review

Shawn A. Dehner

I took a few weeks off from work recently to celebrate the close of summer and all the chores involved in it (interior and exterior house painting, siding, etc) with a week's getaway, but also to finish sanding and whitewashing the floors of our home in anticipation of move in. 

We have never bought raw wood flooring and finished it ourselves, though we've flirted with the idea since first thinking about building and remodeling over a decade ago. The idea was somewhat intimidating because of the finishing. Twenty years ago, as a very young man, Shawn helped his roommates apply a polyurethane coating to a floor and it was a difficult endeavor indeed. The polyurethane rippled and buckled in areas and was generally a beast to apply by an inexperienced crew. Anyway, despite having had a lot of good experiences with things we're unfamiliar with since then, the idea of applying a coating to a flooring was still a little intimidating. I feared having a similar experience, though I figured floor coatings of all sorts had probably come a long way since the early nineties...not to mention the power that learning bestows on one over the decades.

For our floor coating we tried a product made by a company specializing in non toxic coatings called BioShield. The product is made in Germany. It's called Aqua Resin Floor Finish and comes in a huge variety of colors.  The product is a stain and finish in one.  One interested in purchasing this product should also be aware that there is another product by the same company with a similar name that is the stain only and does not contain polyurethane, so choose according to your individual needs. From the bioshieldpaint.com website: "Tinted, semi-transparent, water-based finish for interior floors and furniture. Use Aqua Resin Floor Finish for priming and finishing heavily used surfaces. High abrasion resistance. BioShield Aqua Resin Floor Finish is formaldehyde free."  We had installed the floors early in the building process and then proceeded to work and walk on them throughout the finishing of the house in order to give them a good used look (we were aiming for rustic and wanted to avoid a super slick engineered look in our floors). By late October of this year, the floors were well trodden and quite dirty from shoes indoors, drywall dust and just general hard wear. In other words, nearly perfect. I say nearly perfect because I intended to do a thorough sanding before applying the finishing coats. The sanding work cleaned up the wood beautifully, removing all the surface grime and deep construction related scratches and gouges. It was time to apply the first of the three recommended coats. The company recommends applying the product with a short nap roller, which I did. I used the same smooth nap that I did for interior wall painting.  

Bioshield Aqua Resin in the Beekeeper's Bungalow

The first coat was pretty rugged to put on - meaning that it took some true physical effort. I worked room by room, area by area, but given that the floor plan is somewhat open, this generally entailed completing large areas at a time. The first coat was sucked into our flooring very quickly and seemed alarmingly uneven in application at first. I was worried that I would end up with lines and areas that were darker than others, and at the close of the first coat, I had a bit of this going on. I found it a little tricky to load my roller in such a way that I could get all the way across flooring areas without having to break and then re-apply the material. This breaking and then re-starting the process left lines that I didn't like. The first coat was also extremely light. I hadn't expected to need three coats, but I found that this was an exactly perfect recommendation for the finish to reach its full color potential. Despite my trepidation about the first coating (applied in the small bedroom so I could have a chance to get used to the product and apply it properly) I followed the recommendations of the company and allowed it to fully dry (they suggest allowing 4-5 hours between coats with a one week full cure time) and then sanded the overlap areas lightly. I found that this removed the glaring overlap nicely. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the application of the second coating. For one thing, it rolled on much more smoothly. The first coat is a work out because your floor is really thirsty and taking in lots of the product. But the first coating also leaves a slightly slick plasticized coating over the wood and the second coating adheres very nicely to this first coating. I found the second coat not only easy to apply, but interesting in that it almost seemed intuitive. By that I mean that the second coat seemed to take more evenly in terms of coloration, layering in more color in the areas that had turned out lighter in the first coat. The third coat was similar in that it was easy to apply, smooth and seemed to coat with a nice regularity. As I applied the material, I got better at loading my roller and not overlapping too much. Where I had slight overlap lines, I tried to lightly coat and then sand gently to avoid stark lines and blend the product. This worked pretty well. I also found that working with the boards as groups to be helpful in applying. I went with the grain for the most part, but found the application perfect going against the grain and across boards as well. The upstairs of the house has sloped ceilings and I had no problem with cross grain application in those areas where I couldn't stand properly or where my roller wouldn't fit except by working across the grain. In fact, it worked extremely well. 

The final coating is white and glows with a faintly warm pink tone that relates to the flooring underneath (southern yellow pine downstairs and western white pine upstairs). The upstairs wood we face nailed and I really like the effect of the slight darkening around the nails with the whitewash overlaid. It's very rustic and cottage-y. Overall, this is a product I would both recommend and plan to use again (that blue is calling out "someday" to me in a not uncertain whisper). Bioshield specializes in non toxic finishes and I felt very comfortable using the product despite the polyurethane. The product contains less than 115 grams of VOC per liter. There is an odor to the product which airs out quickly and I can't detect at all once dried. The resulting surface is slick to the touch and has a lovely lustrous shine to it - light plays beautifully on it. The feel of the floor surface is stronger and sturdier feeling than any of the pre-finished flooring that we've ever bought before. The whitewash effect is perfect for a rustic look or a beach type cottage and the white brightens the room marvelously while allowing nails and knots and other wonders of woodgrain to show through and please the eye. The surface also has a really nice hardness to it. It's definitely sealed. Water and other liquids are totally repelled from the wood and wipe up easily. I am thoroughly pleased. Aside from the slight rigor of the first coating's application (and the tedium of the sanding - which could easily be remedied by renting a large floor sander rather than using the little orbital sander that I did) this was an easy, no fuss and no fear process. Rippling was never a problem, I had a smooth, beautiful application without having to do any more than read the label and follow the directions. 

Bioshield Aqua Resin floor finish is a non-toxic polyurethane "whitewash" for wood floors.

Bioshield Aqua Resin floor finish is a non-toxic polyurethane "whitewash" for wood floors.

My only suggestion with this product is to purchase more than is recommended in terms of square footage, especially if you want a lot of color in the flooring. We ordered ten liters to start based on Bioshield's suggestion that the product covers 140-160 square feet per liter. We ended up ordering another five liters and I think once the stairs are done, this will be perfect for our desired look. A more experienced person or someone desiring a lighter color for the finished product might find the manufacturer's recommendation perfect. Further, one should pay attention to the warning by the company to not over-agitate the product prior to application. You are aiming to mix the product gently without shaking it to the point where air bubbles form. Apparently, if you over shake the product, the air bubbles may show up in the floor coating. I was a little nervous about this (the fear of rippling polyurethane runs deep, I suppose) and because the product comes in a squat bottle with a small spout, I wasn't sure how to go about mixing at first. I tried inserting a paint stick into the small spout and this was unsurprisingly a complete failure. I settled on slowly rotating the bottle upside down and in all directions while avoiding actively shaking the material. This worked well. The product should definitely be mixed well before using. If not, you won't get the color and may not get the proper polyurethane mix in the blend either. 

I had a great experience with this product. I loved the quality, the ease of application and the beauty of the final product. I expect that by the feel of the finished floor it will last a good long time. 

The Scandinavian Wall

Design PhilosophyShawn A. Dehner

The Scandinavian wall design enables a single piece of insulation (e.g. a fiberglass batt) to be fully inserted into a stud bay without being interrupted - and therefore compromised - by electrical wiring, gang boxes, plumbing and other systems. It also allows a vapor retarder or barrier to be installed continuously, without excessive puncturing, over the studs and insulation. The results are walls that greatly reduce air and moisture migration.