Redesigning a child’s room is more than just picking a color scheme. Selecting finishes, furniture and embellishments is a truly personal way to convey your love for the child and your hopes for their well-being. Even if you consider yourself an expert when it comes to decorating, you may not be sure how to go about creating a healthy, eco-friendly space. Contrary to general opinion, considering environmental health does not have to be expensive or overwhelming. Anyone can create a green design with some informed decisions. Below we have our top tips for an eco-friendly kid’s room.
Tip 1: Reuse
Many baby and kid items are used short-term, yet have plenty of life left in them. Don’t be afraid to re-use hand-me-downs, check out Craigslist and yard sales (make sure you check for any safety recalls first). Reuse of second-hand furniture requires no additional resources to manufacture and therefore better for the environment. Additionally, older furniture is pre-offgassed, meaning the glues and /or coatings are not still releasing chemicals into the air
It’s an easy to add color to a piece of furniture. But consider what the finish may add to the room. Keep toxins to a minimum with the remaining tips.
Tip 2: Educate Yourself and Don’t Just Rely on Eco-labels
There are many clever marketers trying to capture the attention of parents. When you’re preparing a haven for your child, take some time to learn the true definition of eco-labels.
For example, everybody has heard the term “VOC”, volatile organic compounds. Most parents looking for low VOC or no-VOC products. VOCs include hundreds of compounds, such as benzene, toluene, xylene, and trichloroethane. They can affect indoor air quality. But the term “VOC” was coined to categorize substances that have the potential to participate in the formation of photochemical smog. A product labeled with low or no VOCs does not mean it’s safe or good for your health — it simply means it does not promote pollution in the outdoor environment.
Tip 3: Provide Enough Time to “Off-Gas”
If you have the luxury of time (like when decorating a nursery some months before the big day), allow the room to off-gas or air-out before use. Off-gassing is what happens when toxins from common household goods like mattresses, window treatments, furniture, and paint are released into the air.
With paint, for example, there is no consensus about how long it takes to off-gas. At one end of the spectrum, there are those that say it’s over when the odor has dissipated; and, at the opposite extreme, that it can go on for upwards of 10 years.
So when applying paint or other “wet products” like a sealant on the floor. Properly ventilate and allow for a curing time after application (longer period for winter months).
Tip 4: Avoid (Urea) Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance. But it is also produced industrially for use as a preservative, disinfectant, and for the manufacturing of many types of glue, resins, and other materials for building products. Think of MDF, plywood, cabinets, doors, etc. Some paints, adhesives and other wet applied products release formaldehyde as they cure.
Different types of formaldehyde such as phenol formaldehyde and urea formaldehyde are used to make adhesives. Urea resins and are used in the production of plastic laminates for flooring and countertops, melamine ready-to-assemble furniture and inexpensive cabinets.
Why be concerned? Inhaling air containing low levels of formaldehyde can cause burning and watery eyes. As levels increase, it causes burning in the eyes and throat, nausea, fatigue, and difficulty in breathing. High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. The amount released is greatest when a product is new and decreases over time.
Typically, people want to renovate for a child (especially newborns), they apply new paint and put in new carpet or floors. Then they buy new furniture. Finally, they clean with a disinfectant. Get the picture? These actions layer in formaldehyde and other toxins into the room.
Check the labels of the products you are bringing in. Look for furniture with the claim no added urea formaldehyde. This means that the product may contain some natural formaldehyde but the manufacturer has not added any urea formaldehyde to the adhesives or binders. It contributes no additional pollutants into our environment.
Tip 5: Look for Sources of Phthalates
Some phthalates used to soften PVC are known reproductive and developmental toxicants. Phthalates mimic estrogen and therefore are highly toxic, especially for the developing fetus and children. Therefore, they have been banned from children’s toys and other things kids put into their mouth. But phthalate exposure can come from pipes, doors and windows, resilient flooring, carpet backing, wall coverings, window treatments and furniture. Even outlet covers can have PVC and phthalates.
Phthalates are classified as an SVOCs (semi-volatile organic compound). They pollute the environment for the life of the product, by unbinding from the source and sticking to surfaces and house dust. Over time, they are inhaled and ingested by everyone in the home.
During your renovation, opt for PVC-free whenever possible. If you are uncertain if a product contains phthalates, review the MSDS (material safety data sheet).
Tip 6: When Selecting Materials, Keep Maintenance in Mind
To maintain a child’s room, we routinely turn to cleaning products to remove dust and grime. Yet powerful cleaning agents are likely among the most toxic chemicals in our home. Typical products can be filled with perfumes, VOCs, and petroleum-based chemicals.
Consider how you can maintain the space without using hazardous cleaning agents. Kids spend a lot of time on the floor. Instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, you might want to replace it with wood flooring or other non-toxic hard flooring that can be steamed clean. You can place floor tiles or natural fiber rugs on top of the hard floor. When buying or securing items for the space ask yourself “Can I clean this up with a damp rag or microfiber cloth?”
Yes, there are other elements to elements to ensuring a healthy home for your children and loved ones. But with a little knowledge, the process does not have to be intimidating. Most of all you should enjoy the experience of creating and take comfort in the fact you are doing your best to create a healthy environment for your child.