It looks like the perfect rural idyll: Sunlight floods the living areas through the big picture windows; the view crosses fields to a distant valley. Three ducks in the garden hunt for slugs, while hens and rabbits round off the family's menagerie. A few years ago Stefanie and Jochen Pilhofer were still happy city-dwellers and wouldn't have dreamed of living this way. Then 45-year-old Jochen, a professor of business administration, found work at htw saar, the Saarland University of Applied Sciences in Saarbrücken and gladly moved back to his roots with his family in tow. Initially the couple and their three daughters moved to a village in France, right on the German border. Next they moved to Saarbrücken city centre where they lived in a newly renovated apartment in an old building just a few minutes' walk from the University. The Pilhofers loved it so much that they would have bought the place there and then.
Everything appeared to be perfect. But as they moved into the new apartment, trouble moved in with them. 'Our eldest daughter started to look very different. She was pale and weak, and barely able to walk to school. Then (from one day to the next) our middle child started to suffer so badly from allergies that she needed medicines to help her sleep', Jochen recalls. That was where their problems began. 'For a whole year we consulted one doctor after another. There were tests for everything, even a brain tumour, but no conclusive results.' Yet every time the 13-year-old visited her grandmother, she came back feeling refreshed, with rosy cheeks. Her parents were puzzled. They slowly began to suspect that their home had something to do with their daughters' problems. 'Looking back, we realised a few things. Before we arrived, the flat had been completely renovated in the conventional way, with no consideration for building biology – and we moved in almost before the paint was dry. I can't bear to think about the toxins and pollutants that must have been in the air.'
The couple made two decisions: 'Firstly, we wanted to get out of that flat as soon as possible. Secondly, since we had now learned about building biology we didn't want to compromise and settle for an unhealthy home.' Then they remembered homebuilders Baufritz, with whom they'd been in touch in 2005.This is a family firm from Allgäu specialising in healthy buildings which are tested for pollutants. It uses only top-quality, healthy and environmentally friendly wood and natural materials for its tailor-made, architect-designed homes. 'Initially we'd been in touch with two other builders, but it turned out they couldn't give us what we wanted – or indeed what they'd promised. Baufritz is really unique in that respect: For us it's the only company that's truly consistent in thinking through healthy living, down to the last detail', Jochen explains. Baufritz gives its clients a firm guarantee of a healthy building, (in black and white) by conducting comprehensive assessments of the ambient air quality before they move in. 'I don't know any other builders who do that.' The couple had decided to build their own home quickly and in the countryside, far from the city and its environmental pollution from (things like) exhaust fumes and microwave radiation from mobile phones. They found the right plot in a small town 25km from Saarbrücken. (but thought it better to be safe than sorry). The family first had Baufritz building biologists check it for geological disturbance, electrosmog and radon gas.
This was a family no longer prepared to accept half measures, and not just in terms of a healthy home. They also wanted to ensure they could live harmoniously together, and they built not one but two houses – one for the parents and another for the daughters. A covered walkway links the two buildings in this unique home. 'The children won't want to sleep right next door to their parents forever', says Jochen Pilhofer. 'We still all live together, but we each have some private space too.' It's something everyone enjoys. The three children can make as much noise as they like in their building, while their father still has peace and quiet to work next door.
The family moved into their certified healthy Baufritz home in May 2014, and it wasn't long before the impact became clear. 'Our daughters' health immediately began to improve. Barely two weeks later, both were symptom-free and no longer needed their medications.' Some effects did persist, as the eldest daughter remains very sensitive to high-frequency radiation, as emitted by mobile phone transmitters, microwaves and cordless phones. 'She'll notice straight away if we've got a mobile phone turned on, for example in the car. She gets a headache.' The family therefore switches off all mobile phones at home. Since Baufritz houses are fitted with a special electrosmog protection layer as a preventative measure, they are shielded from up to 99% of the electromagnetic radiation outside. Indoors, the Pilhofer family consciously avoids wireless LANs and the associated radio waves.
Their thorough approach to healthy living doesn't always go down well. 'Occasionally a visitor is irritated when we ask them to turn their phone off', Jochen explains. 'A lot of people find the idea of building biology very abstract and think it's a bit wacky. But we know you can measure everything, and prove it scientifically.' For the Pilhofers, it works: the proof is that their daughters are doing well again now they live in a Baufritz house.