In 1996, Barbara and Bernd Maier built their home close to Stuttgart. A year later, the home extended into the attic to create additional living space for the growing family. 'Everything was fine after the extension, at least at first. We felt comfortable and the children had more space', Barbara Meier recollects. But at the end of 2010, a crack appeared in the façade below the wall supporting the rafters, and condensation started coming through. This marked the beginning of their odyssey.
The first repairman came and fixed the crack. But the crack and the condensation were back again by the following winter. The second repairman came, and just as before, the crack was back the following winter. Then they approached a carpenter to ask their opinion. "He said the roof would need to be completely rebuilt. Otherwise we'd never be happy, and the problems would just keep getting bigger", Bernd Maier explains. The Maiers followed the carpenter's advice and decided to completely rebuild the roof. The result? By the next winter, the cracks had appeared across the entire house. This was because condensation had accumulated in the roof, which then worked its way out through the cracks in the façade. The company that built their home said the roof would have to come off again. An expert then came to inspect the property. Much back and forth followed as all parties considered and discussed what should be done, until it was decided to repair the construction again in 2014. The plan was to fill even the tiniest of cracks, so the condensation wouldn't be able to penetrate and enlarge them. The hired contractor used polyurethane construction foam, or PU foam, which is known to be quite toxic.
"At the time, I was quite persistent in asking whether there was a less-toxic alternative to PU foam. But the builder just laughed," says Bernd Maier. 'In total, around 40 cans of the stuff were pumped into our house. The indoor air was so filled with isocyanates and flame retardants that it became almost impossible to use the attic. Even ventilating for days on end only helped a little. Aside from that, absolutely everything was covered in a sticky, greasy film that kept coming back, even after cleaning.' The other issue was the health problems: Barbara Maier's eyes were inflamed. Bernd Maier was constantly hoarse and ultimately developed pneumonia. Their youngest son's lymph nodes were so swollen, that he could no longer turn his head.
The other son was constantly exhausted and unable to function properly. But at that time, the Maiers still had no idea that the cause of all this suffering was under their own roof.
They ended up going from doctor to doctor, but they were all at a loss. It wasn't until they consulted a naturopath that they were set on the right track. The Maiers did their own research and hired a building biologist to examine their home. An initial analysis brought a number of things to light, including very high concentrations of flame retardant. They then analysed the ambient air and took samples of the PU foam. That's when the devastating result came: the concentration of toxic substances was so high that the Maiers' home was no longer habitable. The building biologist strongly recommended urgent remediation work, which would have to include special safety measures. But that would have involved exorbitant expense – especially as around £ 49,000 had already been sunk into the house by this time.
Meanwhile, the Maiers had stopped using the upper floor of their home. The whole family lived and slept downstairs, where the problems were more bearable. Every evening, the living room was transformed into a bedroom with mattresses on the floor. They spent one and a half years camping out like this with almost no opportunity for privacy or any real alone time.
Barbara and Bernd Maier continued to search desperately for a solution, and eventually came across us. 'Baufritz immediately understood our problem and, importantly, took it very seriously. The building biologists from Baufritz provided extensive support and tried to find a workable solution to renovate and save the house,' Barbara Maier explains. It was clear to the Maiers that they could not sell the house in this condition. 'That would have just passed the health problem onto another family.'
But however they looked at it, the costs to remediate the toxicity were totally out of proportion. This led to the radical decision to demolish the existing house down to the basement level and build a new one in its place. The team that built the house in the first place also offered their services for the project. 'But we just couldn't take any more compromises. That's why we chose to invest in our health and genuine quality, with Baufritz.' This decision was followed by the next big move: they got rid of all their furniture and moved into a rented apartment. Now the Maiers had to live in even closer quarters, as the family of five spent the following months in a 55-metre two-room apartment.
'Everyone we dealt with at Baufritz understood our problem and wanted to support us as much as possible. That's how we managed to get from planning to moving in record time', Barbara Maier reports. This time, the family wanted to be on the safe side when it came to creating a healthy living environment, so they also left all of the interior decoration to us. After eleven months, the time had come: their new, healthy eco-home was ready. The Maier family was finally, quite literally, able to breathe a sigh of relief. 'Our top priority was to be able to live healthy and normal lives again.' This wish has been fulfilled. 'We are now well again and are enjoying our healthy home.'
What remains is a fundamentally different perspective on their environment. 'We have learnt a lot from Baufritz. For example, how many things contain toxins and other materials we don't need. These days we examine everything with a critical eye and always ask questions', Bernd Maier adds, 'We didn't consider these things when building our first home. But now we are convinced that anyone looking to build a home should ask themselves what their health is worth.'