Recovering Indoors in South Dakota After Six Years of Homelessness: The Upton Family’s Mold-Resistant, Low-Tox Housing Success Story



The Uptons’ new house in South Dakota.


March 30, 2017

By Christa Upton

On April 4, 2010, I hobbled out of our moldy home, never to step foot in it again. The clothes on my back were new from Walmart the day before; the purse I took was washable and would be washed later that day.

Fast-forward almost six years later—years of sleeping on driveways, in the van, on kitchen floors, in camping cabins, in “bad” rental houses, in a camper and in a shed—and I nervously sat in our van as my husband Steve drove up to our new house.

Could I sleep in it? Could we keep it from getting moldy? Would I get better?

On February 8, 2016, I began my journey upward, a journey of hope and healing.

Within eight hours, my digestion began to improve. I could eat meat without severe pain for the first time in five weeks!

My energy has gone from about 1% of normal (in January 2016 in town) to 25% of normal now. That’s a huge increase.

Many symptoms are clearing up or getting much better, despite setbacks from unavoidable chemicals (such as from medical supplies).

My pain levels are far lower. My heart is working normally much more often. I am able to be on the computer and Wi-Fi without symptoms. My digestion is better than it has been in over eight years.

I fully expect this upward trend to continue as my body heals.



The house sits high on a hill, in part to minimize the likelihood that flooding will become an issue.


Our moldy house was in Indiana.  After talking with an engineer who had built an MCS house for his wife, we knew we needed to go west.

This also resonated with my “gut.”  I just knew Indiana, and the rest of the Midwest where our families were, was too wet and moldy.

We put out feelers in several states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho and Nevada.  And one “odd” place–the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I had grown up visiting my grandparents there, and I remembered the semi-arid climate, fresh air and beautiful country.



The backyard vegetable garden.


We found a rental house in the Black Hills with a landlord willing to let us out of the lease if I did badly.  That in itself is extremely rare.

Within literally one day of being here, I knew we had made the right decision.  I felt like someone had taken a weight (a heavy, humid, moldy weight) off my shoulders.

It was August, after all. Mold counts in the Midwest were climbing ever higher.  The dryness, elevation, and lack of pollution here felt amazing to me.

I never wanted to go back and still can’t imagine going back to a humid place to live.



The Uptons enjoy the many dry, sunny days in the Black Hills of South Dakota.


We chose the location to build our house carefully: semi-arid, elevation 4,000 ft., many days of low humidity and sun, high on a hill in the neighborhood, only two neighbors on the same hill, paved roads three miles away.

Towns are 12-15 miles away. No herbicides within half a mile, no fogging for mosquitoes within 12 miles (and not in prevailing-wind drift path).

We’ve done our best to keep our foundation high and dry by building up the site, adding French drains, and choosing a Swedish-style shallow, frost-protected foundation.



The floor plan for the house.


We chose wool insulation, plaster walls, and additive-free Portland cement to help keep the indoor air quality as high as possible.

The slab cured over 30 days. The builders used flashing over the house sill (I love this).

We filled the house with mold-resistant items: ceramic and porcelain fixtures, metal cabinets, steel countertops and steel appliances.



The Uptons’ kitchen.


We left sink pipes exposed so that leaks would be found quickly. The dishwasher is installed under a steel worktable (no wood).

We summarized our experiences in a book, which contains precise details about all of these steps and others that we used to minimize our mold risk, EMF issues and chemical exposures.




A bedroom features natural, unpainted walls.


I cannot tolerate paint (even no-VOC), but I love how the plaster turned out creamy-white.

Both this and the “industrial” look of the kitchen and main living area are softened by colorful curtains and pretty, homemade quilts.



Fresh vegetables from the Uptons’ organic garden.


This spring, with the help of friends, we even put in a garden. I am absolutely amazed at how abundant our harvest turned out from this organic garden, despite the semi-arid climate!

A friend plowed in some cow manure, but otherwise all we have used on it are water, some Epsom salts for the tomatoes, and hand weeding.

We are enjoying and freezing tomatoes, beets, green beans, zucchini, peppers and more.

I am so thankful for this climate, the technology to build this house, and the great gains I have made in health.



About the Uptons

Steve and Christa Upton first met at Taylor University in Indiana, where they were both music majors. They married in 1992. Their children are Nathan (19), Alyssa (14) and Sarah (11).

Sarah has spina bifida (wheelchair-bound) and related conditions.

Christa relates that she has been “tired” most of her life, even as a child. She grew up in a moldy area, though not in a moldy home. She also did not sweat much for most of her life and has had recurrent stomach problems. However, despite these things, she was able to dance, run and walk regularly, and to do regular aerobic exercise.

After moving into the house with the mold problem, over the course of about a year, Christa’s food tolerance dwindled to just a few foods, her heart began to beat very fast and erratically, and she became bedridden due to extreme exhaustion. She could barely make it to the bathroom for months in a row. Previous minor pain turned into full-blown chronic pain, and she developed multiple chemical sensitivity.

Until moving into their current home, the MCS continued to get worse and worse.

The couple decided to build their own house after staying for two weeks with an engineer who had built a home similar to the one that they are living in now. He recommended the book Healthy House Building for the New Millennium (Bower). With that as a springboard, they planned and built their house with the help of local experts.


The Upton family.

Christa previously taught piano and dance, and she served as a church volunteer in various areas including children’s choir and missions.

When Christa became bedridden, she began writing children’s books. She blogs at the website Black Hills Picture Books, where she writes about a variety of subjects including mold, recovering from illness and building the house.

Before quitting his job to take care of Christa and Sarah, Steve worked full-time as a musician in public schools and then as a musician/technician in local churches. He has done master’s degree work in theological studies in worship and liturgy, and is looking forward to going back to work as Christa moves further toward recovery.

Their book is called Building a House for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Mold-Resistant, Low-Tox Home. It is available for $4.49 in Amazon Kindle format (free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers). A hard-copy version is available for $22.08 from Create Space.

Free how-to videos on the topics of installing ceramic tile and creating plaster walls also are available.



Kindle version of the book

Hard copy version of the book

Video tour of the Uptons’ home

How-to video on installing ceramic tile

How-to video on creating plaster walls

Christa Upton’s blog


From Paradigm Change

Information relevant to those pursuing mold avoidance is discussed in the book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance, written by Lisa Petrison and Erik Johnson.  It is available for free in PDF format for those who sign up for occasional emails on mold avoidance topics from me. It is also available as an Amazon Kindle book.

The book is the basis for the Facebook group Mold Avoiders, which now has more than 7000 members.

For updates on additional information about recovering from mold-related illness, sign up for occasional newsletters from Paradigm Change. You also will receive a free copy of the book Back from the Edge, which provides information about the extraordinary life of mold avoidance pioneer Erik Johnson.

The Paradigm Change Publishing page of the website provides information about a number of additional books of interest to those pursuing mold avoidance.

Find out about new information about recovering from chronic illness and living a healthful lifestyle by liking the Living Clean in a Dirty World page on Facebook.

Links on this page are in orange (no underlining).

Thanks very much for reading this blog.