Whether sleeping, hanging out, doing homework or slamming the door, your children spend one-third of their time in their bedrooms. Because of their size, it’s harder for children to fight off environmental pollutants, so improving the environment in your children’s rooms creates a healthy advantage.
Luckily, when it comes to kids’ rooms, there are many eco-friendly options. “You need to give kids a good space to use their imaginations,” says Melody Emerick, a principal at Emerick Architects in Portland, who has two daughters and who, in 2008 with husband Brian, built one of the first residential homes in the country to earn a LEED Gold certification. “A natural, well-crafted room does that by creating a space that’s functional without exposing your kids to harmful elements, which is important to me as a parent,” Emerick says.
Here are four ways to improve the health of your child’s room without sacrificing its style.
Furniture made from plywood and particleboard often uses adhesives and resins containing formaldehyde, which can off-gas for up to five years. Look for pieces made from natural wood with nontoxic sealants. “You can also buy great vintage items for kids’ rooms and refinish them yourself,” suggests Jessica Helgerson of Jessica Helgerson Interior Design in Portland. “Kids grow out of things quickly, so don’t buy for one particular size or age. Thinking long term saves money and resources.”
Every kid needs floor space to play or spread out a project, so it’s important to have a soft surface. Avoid synthetic carpet fibers that often contain chemical treatments and can collect pet hair, bacteria and other residue, which are then continually released into the air. To make a soft landing, choose an area rug rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. “I’m a huge fan of kids having a good-size floor area,” Emerick says. “Choose natural fibers like wool, which clean easily and hold up under kid traffic.”
That new paint smell is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene and styrene, which can cause headaches and respiratory problems. “Off-gassing is a major health issue, and very often, products that off-gas will have that smell,” says Helgerson. “Those chemicals are not just in paint. Other culprits are wallpaper and vinyl roller shades.” Fortunately many paints and stains — including kid-favorite specialty products, such as colored wood stains and chalkboard and metallic sheen paints — are now available in low- and zero-VOC options. If you want wallpaper, avoid wallpapers with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coating, and choose patterns that use water-based inks and FSC-certified or recycled paper.
ACCESSORIES AND TOYS
While your child may dream of a bedroom filled with toys and plush animals, those very same toys can be made with toxic finishes or be magnets for bacteria and dust mites. Think of other ways for your kids to exercise their creativity. “Kids want to have a sense of authorship,” Emerick says. “One way to do that is to give kids a pin-up area. Install natural cork panels on a wall, and your kids can constantly change the images they pin to it.” You can also rethink what you consider to be toys. “My kids don’t have many toys,” Helgerson says. “Have your kids build houses and forts out of old cardboard boxes, which you then toss into recycling. Or let them use sticks to build a tepee, and when they’re done, the sticks can become compost.”
JUST FOR KIDS
To simplify accessorizing a kid’s room, Yolo Colorhouse, the Portland-based eco-friendly paint company, has added organic fabrics to coordinate with its zero-VOC Sprout Collection for children’s spaces. The fabrics — 3 prints in cotton knit and cotton sateen — are 100 percent organic, certified by Global Organic Textile Standards, and printed in the United States with nontoxic, water-based inks. The patterns are gender neutral and have circles, building blocks, pinwheels, and dots and dashes scattered across them. Yolo teamed with Brett Bara, the author of Sewing in a Straight Line, to develop simple patterns that are available as free downloads. Patterns include a baby quilt, bedding and a plush toy bird. Fabrics are $36 per yard and can be ordered at yolocolorhouse.com.