Home & Garden

For baby's arrival, create a healthy environment

Three cribs for an eco-friendly nursery. The Harper Crib, top, the Sparrow Crib, and myHaven crib, bottom. See story for details. Illustrates NURSERY (category l), by Megan Buerger (c) 2011, The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. (MUST CREDIT: Handout photos.)
Three cribs for an eco-friendly nursery. The Harper Crib, top, the Sparrow Crib, and myHaven crib, bottom. See story for details. Illustrates NURSERY (category l), by Megan Buerger (c) 2011, The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. (MUST CREDIT: Handout photos.) The Washington Post

Preparing for a baby's arrival can be exciting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to designing the nursery.

"New parents want a beautiful, safe and healthy space but don't always know where to begin," said Caroline McCandlish, 29, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified residential designer based in Reston, Va.

Decorating the baby's room with organic and sustainable materials and products is a growing trend. New parents, including those who haven't always been keen on green living, want the healthiest options for their baby.

For parents new to the eco-friendly marketplace, going organic can be a daunting task. "There's a lot out there," McCandlish said. "You just have to know what to look for."

As a start, she recommends seeking low- emission paints, LED light bulbs, organic cotton changing pads and solid wood furniture.

We spoke to McCandlish by phone and got the lowdown on creating a sustainable space for baby. Here is an edited excerpt.

Question: What sparked your interest in eco-friendly nurseries?

Answer: I want to start a family soon, so I began thinking about how I'd design my nursery. As a LEED-certified designer, I'm educated in how chemicals in building products can negatively affect indoor air quality. And this impact is even greater on an infant or child. Designing a healthy nursery and making sustainable purchases is not only healthy for our children but ensures the future health of our children's planet.

Q.: What are the health benefits to buying sustainable nursery products?

A.: Buying eco-friendly products minimizes exposure to volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. These are toxic chemicals often introduced through new furniture. Particleboard is one of the primary sources of formaldehyde (a highly toxic compound) in the home.

Also, because infants are in the primary development stages, they are considerably more vulnerable to the adverse health affects of VOCs than older children and adults.

Q.: What should you look for on labels of green products?

A.: Labels like "eco-friendly" and "green" are vague. Look for "low-VOC" or "zero-VOC" labels in furniture and finishes. One hundred percent solid wood furniture and all-natural finishes will have the lowest emissions. Engineered wood, such as particleboard and plywood that is also labeled low- or zero-VOC, is the next best thing. Products labeled "Greenguard Certified" have met strict chemical emissions standards, and wood that is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified has been responsibly harvested. Products labeled "Made in the U.S.A." are guaranteed to have no lead paint to meet our country's product safety standards.

With bedding and floor coverings, look for tags that denote all-natural fibers like cotton, wool, bamboo and linen. Organic fibers are even better because they've never been treated with harsh pesticides or herbicides.

Q.: Does it cost more to use organic and sustainable materials in a nursery?

A.: Nurseries can be inexpensive if you prioritize. Try focusing your green investments on the more frequently used items, like the crib and changing pads, rather than toys and clothes they'll soon grow out of. In fact, for some, the crib might be the only item they splurge on. I think organic products have become significantly less expensive in recent years because they've become so widely available.

Q.: What is the least expensive way to make a nursery more sustainable?

A.: Put a gallon of zero-VOC paint on the walls, and you'll instantly transform the room. Also, used furniture over 2 years old has emitted the majority of any harmful chemicals and can be spruced up with a new water-based finish or zero-VOC paint. And of course, the easiest and no-cost way to ensure the best indoor air quality is to open the windows often to let in fresh air.

Q.: What is the most important nursery item to invest in?

A.: The crib, hands down, because babies spend so much time in them. There can't be any chemicals or toxic paint that the child might chew on, pick at or ingest. Invest in a solid wood crib with a non-toxic finish that can convert into a toddler bed or a headboard. This way, your money goes a long way. For a list of new crib safety regulations, check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site: CPSC.gov.

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