Design a Healthy Nursery

Learn how to rid your child's room of potential hazards and improve air quality.

Contemporary Nursery with Gray and White Striped Walls

Contemporary Nursery with Gray and White Striped Walls

Anyon Interior Design

Photo courtesy of Anyon Interior Design

Infants and young children are particularly sensitive to environmental toxins. So, it’s essential as you plan your nursery or child’s room to take care to eliminate as many potential hazards as you can. One major concern is "outgassing" or "offgassing," interchangeable terms for the release of gas that has been dissolved or trapped in a solid. You know the lingering odor of fresh paint, new furniture, or wall-to-wall carpet? That’s offgassing, and you want to avoid it in a baby’s room. Mary Cordaro, Healthy Building and Indoor Environment Consultant, tells how:

As you shop, stay away from the prime offenders. These include wall-to-wall carpet, anything with any vinyl content (including wallpaper and blackout shades or curtains), any manufactured wood product like MDF or plywood (even the ones labeled “green”, with one exception: Purebond Hardwood Veneer Plywood), polyurethane foam, and fabrics with permanent treatments (ant stain, ant wrinkle, antimicrobial), and any product or material that’s been treated with antimicrobial chemicals.

Don't buy based on any "green" certification alone. Even the Greenseal label isn’t a fail-safe guide, because it doesn’t cover everything; a product that bears the Greenseal label could still contain levels of toxins too high for a baby’s sensitive system. So, start with Greenseal, but then check for potentially hazardous ingredients.

Any remodeling or decorating products you buy for your baby’s room should be 100 percent free from formaldehyde (both phenol and urea), isocyanates (such as in polyurethane), glycols, toxic adhesives, and the odorless chemicals that never go away which include phthalates, flame-retardant chemicals, antimicrobial and pesticide treatments and stain resistant chemicals. Paint should be labeled "Zero-VOC" and contain only the lowest amount of chemicals called biocides (not just "No-VOC" or "Low-VOC").

Allow enough time for odors to dissipate. Build in a cushion between the time the work in the baby or child’s room is finished and move-in day. How long? A good rule of thumb is that it’s safe to start using the room when someone with a well-attuned sense of smell (pregnant women often have heightened olfactory senses, for example) cannot detect any odor at all in the space. Fresh air exchange, moderate temperatures and low humidity will speed up outgassing.

Provide adequate ventilation. Fresh air exchange is essential in any space, so open windows to allow good circulation. If you live in an area with poor outdoor air quality, you should still crack the window, but run an air filter as well—one with both a HEPA filter and as much as 20 lbs. of carbon for particulate filtration.

Control moisture. Many parents use a humidifier in their child’s room, but it can load the space with mold-producing moisture. If you’ll be using a humidifier, also invest in a hygrometer, a device that measures humidity, so you can make sure the moisture levels stay below 50 percent.

Stay unplugged. Electronics create EMFs (electromagnetic fields), manmade frequencies that interfere with the body’s own electromagnetic properties. Keep EMF levels as low as possible by eliminating all but the most essential electronics from the baby’s room. For example, stick with a basic baby monitor, not one equipped with Wi-Fi.

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